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Being a Critical Friend

How many times do we hear the term about PMOs being the ‘critical friend’ to our Project Managers, Programme Managers, SROs and others? Do we really understand what it means to be a critical friend?
In this session, we were joined by Neil Goldsmith, a professional ‘critical friend’ who gave us all the insights about performing the role of critical friend well.
We found out what it really means to be a critical friend and how you can become an effective one. We also got some insights into what form it takes, the different approaches and techniques to use.
Neil has performed the role of critical friend in some of the highest profile projects and programmes over the years and is still called on by various government departments today to provide that role. He has plenty of stories to share that will help you form your own insights and takeaways on how you could be performing the critical friend role.
The session was very much about Neil telling his story with some questions from the audience along the way. There is no slidedeck so just sit back and watch the session.

Recorded Session


What We Liked

Just some of the things we liked about the session:

  1. Neil’s very straightforward, tell it as it is – warts and all. A really insightful session about the upsides and downsides of being a critical friend.
  2. The bit where Neil when being a critical friend will tell an organisation they really should have a PMO! It’s nice to know the PMO community has a friend out there in the field spreading the word.
  3. The story about programmes going really wrong and how a critical friend can only go so far – if the programme director doesn’t want to hear it, or the environment is just dysfunctional, critical friends are not what is needed here.
  4. Where the term critical friend comes from ( the academic world) and how critical friends became a thing in the project management world.
  5. That ultimately critical friends are providing a review and assurance service – and really they should be independent of that project/programme if not the organisation as well.
  6. Good critical friends will have lots of experience – and they would have experienced their fair share of failure too – if you’ve not failed, how can you really help others from failing too.
  7. It was a good reminder about the Gateway Review process – because critical friends tend to work at the different stages.
  8. If you’re interested in seeing the process that professional critical friends work through, you can access it via the IPA assurance review toolkit.

About Neil

I am a high risk and mission critical Gateway Team Leader and have undertaken over 70 reviews. I have over 30 years’ experience of IT and the change management of business led IT projects. I specialise in ICT strategy, programme management, business re-design and the set-up of new organisations. I have worked in both the private and public sector. I have worked with outsourced IT suppliers and PPP arrangements.  My work experience includes Director of Systems Technology for the largest company in the Simon Engineering Group, Business Systems Manager for the Post Office, and prior to this I spent many years in consultancy, including some computer audit assignments, working for both Price Waterhouse and Ernst and Young.  I have conducted a number of strategy reviews including work in France (partly in French) and Japan for major international companies. I have conducted manufacturing strategy reviews and supply chain management reviews. I have experience of a range of public and private sector organisations and industries. I have been a visiting lecturer in strategy at Sheffield Business School and have published papers in journals on IT strategy.
I have undertaken due diligence reviews for acquisition and I have worked in the finance sector. I have led the merger of companies and organisations.
I have successfully set-up new executive agencies for the British Government, including working directly to a Government Minister, and I have managed very large IT business systems programmes from inception to roll-out. I am a chartered member of the British Computer Society. I have led reviews in most Government Departments and the Police. I have also undertaken strategic reviews for the Police.
I have conducted a number of reviews in Scotland, across all sectors, and Northern Ireland.
I worked in an assurance role for the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office when the NPfIT programme contract for £1.2BN was novated from Accenture to CRS and later when the contract with Fujitsu was terminated and transferred to BT.
I have been a non-executive for assurance on the CSC Programme Board and previously the London and South Boards for IT for the Health Service. In this capacity I have undertaken reviews of all of the large Acute EPR implementations in the South and London LSPs.


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