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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

How 'Relational Project Management' can help NHS providers to deliver projects collaboratively

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

John Copps describes how Relational Project Management can help NHS organisations manage complex projects around collaboration.

The future of the NHS lies in joined-up working and collaboration across places and systems. For this to be effective, changes to structures and systems is needed - and already underway.

As these change projects take place, it is critical to understand what it is that will makes them successful.

We can describe this in one word: people.

The NHS's greatest strength is its people. More than a million people make up the current NHS, from clinical to management staff. Whilst a focus on ‘people’ is always a defining feature of patient care and workforce strategy, it can often go missing in the day-to-day business of project management.

Faced with pressure to deliver on time and to budget, ‘process’ often takes over at the expense of ‘people’. Take for example the projects that start with a clear sense of direction and good intentions, but turn into box ticking routines, ‘tasks for tasks sake’, and finger-pointing when milestones are missed. I’m sure many readers will know what I mean.

To correct that, the NHS needs tools and approaches that put people at the heart of change and can manage the complexity that comes with the pressures to increase integration and meet the demands of growing demand.

What is Relational Project Management?

Simply put, Relational Project Management puts human relationships at the centre of projects.

Over the last decade, Mutual Ventures has undertaken dozens of projects across the NHS in primary care, community services and acute trusts, as well as local govenrment. Relational Project Management was sparked by the realisation that relationships with and between colleagues, stakeholders and partners are what makes or breaks the success of all these projects.

Relational Project Management is about establishing and embedding the conditions to get the best out of people. It recognises successful outcomes rely on respectful, healthy relationships within the team, and a belief in resolving difficulties. The key is to have the whole project team and stakeholders onside, working for the same outcome, focused on their tasks, and enjoying themselves.

This underpinning ethos is similar to that of ‘relational practice’, an approach that is becoming widely used in nursing and medicine and promotes relationships with families, colleagues and partners as the key to successful services.

What does it mean to manage a project ‘relationally’?

Relational Project Management involves a way of thinking and series of principles that will suit NHS organisations. Key to practicing it are the simple questions: is the nature and quality of my relationships helpful to achieving the goals of the project? If not, what am I going to do about it?

Tried-and-tested tools, including ‘check-ins’ at the start of meetings, stakeholder mapping, techniques for building relationships, and guidelines for how to have difficult conversations, all help build healthy and productive project relationships.

Crucially, Relational Project Management doesn’t replace established approaches such as PRINCE2 – rather, it is designed to work with them to provide a new lens through which to view projects based on the centrality of human relationships. Good Relational Project Management still relies on many of the same best practice principles that will be familiar to any experienced project manager.

Ultimately, project management in the NHS relies on respectful relationships, and a belief in resolving difficulties. Where teams work together and relationships are good is where you get the best result – managing relationally can help you do that.

To learn more about Relational Project Management, download Mutual Ventures’ guide.

Download PDF • 936KB

To speak to us about our approach, get in touch with


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