Public-private partnerships: Operations and project management


Operations management and project delivery
Business plan

» Transparency and communication
» Goals and measurement
» Product specifications
» Planning
» Risk management

Decisions and accountability

» Clarity
» Governance Committee
» Scientific Steering Committee
» Disagreement resolution
» Governance integration

Project management and partnering skills

» Project management skills
» Project plan

Three key managerial ingredients contribute to successful partnership operations:

1. Transparent business plan
2. Clear governance rights and decision-making process
3. Professional project management and partnering skills
Best practice and options to consider

1. Business plan

  • Transparency and communication. A business plan with full details of operational components on project and resource matters is a critical output from the negotiations - and an essential component for innovation delivery. It needs to be part of the legal contract, and be widely communicated and referred to within all parties’ organizations. 
  • Goals and measurement. A core part of the business plan is a defined set of goals and success criteria that have quantitative and qualitative measures. This enables a common view of key outputs and timescales so that parties can monitor and review performance. 
  • Product specifications. The shape, scope, utility, and technical characteristics of the products sought from the PPP need special attention and definition. These may change as discoveries are made, but the Syngenta Foundation recommends a baseline of expectations. Parties do not always discuss aspects like standard-setting, reliability, and validation of scientific data and information enough at the outset. This can become problematic. Partners need formally to agree characteristics and standards in writing. Novel ideas often emerge during the discussions, and they can help prevent unaligned or unrealized expectations. 
  • Planning. For many people, planning is not an attractive pastime! However, given the usual complexity of PPPs, planning is a vital professional activity that can really facilitate outputs. Transparency, congruency and deliverability with other internal R&D commitments are very important. Work invested in planning here can give early indications of conflicting priorities and a need for solutions.
  • Risk management. Best practice involves the definition of critical paths, key milestones with inputs from all parties, together with risk analysis and mitigation options. These can really help teams to understand their inter-dependencies and identify potential problem areas for resolution.

2. Decisions and accountability

  • Clarity on governance and decision-making within the business and project delivery plans can really help to accelerate PPP progress. This is a material aspect. Contracts will usually define overall Governance Committees. 
  • Governance Committee. Each PPP needs a body that takes a strategic overview that makes forward-looking decisions on direction, and helps to resolve material problems before projects stall. This committee needs to have recognized authority and decision-making rights in all partner institutions, or it will be ineffective and counterproductive. Membership of the governing body and frequency of meetings should be fit-for-purpose and focused on delivery of outputs. 
  • Scientific Steering Committee. A scientific body is also usually needed that supports and monitors technical progress, addresses scientific and associated resource issues and assists scientists with problem-solving. Another key role is to oversee annual scientific project and resource plans.
  • Disagreement resolution. Disagreement can sometimes emerge at the operational project level. The Syngenta Foundation recommends support-mechanisms for project teams (e.g. assigning senior project sponsors from all parties who share a “hot-line partnership link”). This can help to resolve disagreements and move the partnership forward without having to raise every issue with senior management committees.
  • Governance integration. Decision-making is usually easiest and gains support through integration in the home institutions’ usual organizational processes. Unilateral decision-making can create internal conflicts.

An example of good practice is that all parties fully harmonize the PPP milestones and annual timetable with the annual budget and project portfolio cycle. This approach requires investing enough time ensure common understanding of each other’s internal processes and decision-making rights.

3. Project management and partnering skills


  • Project management skills are very important for effective partnering and efficient delivery of the desired PPP outputs. The scope and content of the project leadership role(s) (depending on the number of projects) require definition and agreement. The best PPP project leaders will be strong conceptual thinkers with an aptitude for problem-solving, who use the diverse ideas and approaches from both the public and private sectors. Realizing the synergies is PPPs’ major rationale and benefit.
  • Project plan. A well-defined project plan containing all parties’ major activities and resource requirements is strongly recommended. The best plans are formed when all contributors are fully engaged with its creation, feel ownership, and commit to its delivery. Project management skills and tools can assist with this process. The need for definition of the critical skills, process linkages, and timely availability of resources cannot be over-emphasized. Cross-cutting project planning provides high transparency and levels of trust. It can also significantly reduce the risk of non-delivery.