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When Doesn’t Formal Planning Enhance the Performance of Government Projects?

PAQ, Vol. 44 No. 3, 331-362 (2020)

The public service faces an increased number of complex projects. Literature argues that adapting an effective planning strategy is important to enhance their performance. In particular, organizations need to enhance project planning as risk levels rise. This theory has received support in the private sector where firms are adaptable in their planning practices, for example invest more resources in planning when facing projects with higher levels of risk. However, lack of adaptability together with poor risk management raise questions regarding the effectiveness of this theory in the public sector. A study of 992 projects confirmed that managers in the public sector do not adapt their planning efforts to the risk levels they face. Results further suggest that managers in the public sector should follow formal planning procedures in high-risk projects, but keep to a flexible planning strategy (e.g., Agile) in low-risk situations. We suggest that government departments use a planning strategy that is appropriate to the risk levels of their projects.

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