January 2021 UK Project Management Round Up


BREXIT, Covid-19, Big Pharma: News and Lessons Learned



By Miles Shepherd

Executive Advisor & International Correspondent

Salisbury, England, UK




Well, here we are at the start of a New Year, the second year of this decade (see the UK report for January 2020 for discussion of the issues around such a stance).  Usually, this report is a review of the past year to see how the UK project scene has evolved but as 2020 has been such a strange year, I’ll take a different approach.  We started the year with a major challenge and were then confronted with a second; both are to a greater or less extent, still hogging the headlines, and both hold some lessons for PMs, political and traditional.  So, let’s look at BREXIT and Covid-19 and their impact on the project world.


This is the major challenge that started 2020.  To be pedantic, BREXIT had actually happened on 1 January 2020 as that was when UK formally left the European Union (EU).  Since then, we have been in the Transition Period that terminated on 31 December 2020.  HM Government has been negotiating the post transition trade terms with the European Commission (EC) which represented the remaining 27 members of the EU.

There were essentially two options for these negotiations: a complex negotiated trade package that spelled out precise terms for all areas of exchange between UK and EU on the one hand and a standard World Trade Organisation (WTO) package based on general rules applicable to trade where no other agreements are in place.  These were presented to the Great British Public (GBP – not to be confused with the currency) as Deal or No Deal.  Deal comes in various flavours, such as Canadian or Australian to denote specific variations such as how agricultural produce is treated, or how tariffs are applied.  UK politicians, whatever their affiliation, portrayed No Deal as disastrous which limited the negotiations options.  EU politicians insisted that every aspect needed to be agreed or no deal was possible.

Operation Stack (Photo: BBC)

Against this background, shuttle negotiations were conducted by the UK team led by various Ministers on the UK side and M Barnier for EC.  Progress was painfully slow with both sides refusing to budge from doctrinaire positions.  By the start of December, agreement had been reached on the majority of aspects but there were several major sticking points and it looked like there would be no agreement and thus No Deal would kick in on 1 January 2021.  To make matters worse, cross channel travel was suspended resulting in a huge backlog of traffic unable to leave UK in the run up to Christmas.  The result was a major traffic jam, with Operation Stack (the preplanned holding of traffic in the area around Dover) supplemented by an even larger holding of commercial transport at Manston Airport where some 5000 trucks were parked for 4 days over Christmas.

Manston Airport (Photo: William Edwards (AFP)

The immediate reaction was to think this is what a No Deal BREXIT would look like with major shortages of fruit and vegetables (to say nothing of meat and other goods).

Fortunately, this blockage was resolved quite quickly and a valuable lesson learned, a point I will come back to shortly.  No doubt conspiracy theorists will think this was a manufactured situation to build pressure on the negotiations.  Whether this is true is immaterial as some form of agreement was achieved on Christmas Eve.  All that was left was the formal signing of the treaty, done on 30 December after UK Parliamentary ratification.

To the external observer, these protracted negotiations looked tortuous, petty and unprofessional; views buoyed by jingoistic press reports on both sides of the Channel.  The reality is somewhat different and progress seems to have finally resulted from good selection of negotiators in UK and a change in strategic objectives.  Those interested in the nuts and bolts of the end game should refer to leading articles in The Times (Bruno Watersfield 24 Dec 20 and Tim Shipman 26 Dec 20) or other reputable newspapers.  There are a number of lessons to be learned from these protracted negotiations, beyond some simple political matters…


To read entire report, click here

How to cite this report: Shepherd, M. (2020).  BREXIT, Covid-19 Variant, Big Pharma: News and Lessons Learned, January 2021 UK Project Management Round Up. PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/pmwj101-Jan2021-Shepherd-UK-project-management-update.pdf



About the Author

Miles Shepherd

Salisbury, UK


 Miles Shepherd is an executive editorial advisor and international correspondent for PM World Journal in the United Kingdom. He is also managing director for MS Projects Ltd, a consulting company supporting various UK and overseas Government agencies, nuclear industry organisations and other businesses.  Miles has over 30 years’ experience on a variety of projects in UK, Eastern Europe and Russia.  His PM experience includes defence, major IT projects, decommissioning of nuclear reactors, nuclear security, rail and business projects for the UK Government and EU.  Past Chair, Vice President and Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM), Miles is also past president and chair and a Fellow of the International Project Management Association (IPMA).  He was a Director for PMI’s Global Accreditation Centre and is immediate past Chair of the ISO committee developing new international standards for Project Management and for Program/Portfolio Management.  Miles is Chair of the British Standards Institute’s Committee on Project, Programme and Portfolio Management and has been involved in the development of Uk’s BSI 6079 for more than 25 years.  He was involved in setting up APM’s team developing guidelines for project management oversight and governance.  Miles is based in Salisbury, England and can be contacted at miles.shepherd@msp-ltd.co.uk.

To view other works by Miles Shepherd, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/miles-shepherd/.