Quarkside

14/12/2010

SRP: DfE delays obscured

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 12:29 pm
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Is DfE playing games with reporting on their Structural Reform Plan?  Just let somebody else compare the DfE Baseline from July with their Progress Reports from October and November.

Here are three Quarks

1. Avoidance of finishing tasks

The baseline plan has 41 Actions and 14 milestones.  One can observe that 22, more than half of the actions have no end date.  How very convenient for bureaucrats: job is done when they start – there were no promises to finish.  Can you imagine this state of affairs in a private sector plan?  No.  It is is a recipe for sucking up resources without control or scrutiny.  There are now 30 actions considered to be started and, presumably, ongoing.  Most of these have don’t even have an end-date.

Can you imagine a teacher starting a unit of the curriculum without some concern about when it is due to finish?  They’d be sacked.

2. Avoiding previous months delays

The October report had 3 missed deadlines.  They were sort of carried forward until November or ‘Autumn’.  They have melted from the list of things ongoing or items due to be completed in November.  When do we expect the White Paper now?

The November report said “the Department did not miss any deadlines”.  Isn’t this a tiny bit misleading because there were 5 milestones due to be completed. What has happened to them?

3. Introducing new Actions

New action seem to have crept in to the things in the To Do list.  This is known as ‘Scope Creep’ in the trade.  It is the first hint in predicting potential disaster. Uncontrolled change is the second most important cause of project failure. For the record, wrong initial scope is the primary cause of failure.  All changes need an impact assessment that is approved by the project sponsor, such as the PM, and made fully visible.

For comparison look at how well SIF introduces changes to the specification for interoperability between systems – and how it has been treated by the DfE.  Professional versus amateur.

The risk is that the Implementation Unit might have cursorily scanned the DfE report for red lines, found none and assumed that all is well.  A hard nosed programme manager would immediately smell a rat.  Every complex programme has delays: no delays caused me to look deeper.  Quality Assurance reviews on all the other 13 plans are just as likely to reveal similar hidden changes.  We are still in the dark about when tasks are may be completed.

This is not the way to run the country’s strategic reform policy.

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13/12/2010

Kristina’s kidding PM

Filed under: Governance,People,Risk,Standards — lenand @ 8:14 am
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The director in charge of the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit would appear to be Kristina Murrin. Her own agents proudly proclaim her initial qualifications as “… educated at Cambridge University, where she read Social and Political Sciences, specialising in child psychology“.  I have great respect for her excellent credentials:  “She is co-author of a book, Sticky Wisdom: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work, that urges workers to “build a personal bravery plan”, “fill their minds with freshness” and “stop sending memos”.“, reports the Telegraph.

Unkowingly, there may be some substance in Quarkside’s original criticism of the Structural Reform Plans progress, “This is primary school level planning, not the way to control a national reform programme.” Child psychology and abolition of memos have never, to my knowledge, featured in any training course on Programme Management.  She may have great value as an inspirational speaker and Departmental Director, but from the evidence Quarkside has seen, unlikely to have directed a major programme in the private or public sector.

The risk is that inspiration completely overwhelms the perspiration and plodding needed from the ranks below the leader.  The last thing we want for transparency is creative spinning of uncorroborated ‘evidence’.  The predictable problems of kiddy control could be avoided by the appointment of a hard-nosed programme director who can winkle out risks and publish professional progress reports.  Programme management needs standards.

Any volunteers to become the new Government CIO?

12/12/2010

Structural Reform Plan: No Control, all at risk

Filed under: Objectives,Politics,Risk,Standards — lenand @ 10:42 pm
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Assuming the No 10 Implementation Unit can update the Structural Reform Plan to the UK Prince2 Standard, then the next step is to follow up with a monitoring and control process that ensures proper transparency. Putting it simply, it only needs the application methods of that are at least half a century old. The Polaris project, the Boeing 747 development, oil exploration projects and new car developments have all relied on sound programme management experience.

Programmes allow for interdependencies between projects. They allow for levels of uncertainty and risk. They have strategies in place for corrections when targets are missed. Political programmes are no different. The Structural Reform programme (sic) is so important that it should be controlled with equivalent quality control mechanisms.

A To Do list for a plan and an excuse list for monitoring and control are simply not fit for purpose. At best it is a waste of effort; at worst it misleads the Prime Minister and the Government that they are in control. Very soon there will be so many red lines that they will have to forget it or start again.

In fact they may as well bite the bullet and re-plan now. The current progress headings are only:

  • Status: A limited set of obscuring phrase
  • Deadline missed: Just a repeat of the action from the flawed plan
  • Reason: An excuse for missing a target

OGC guidance should have told the Implementation Unit to create a baseline plan for calibrating the control process. The baseline plan needs the baseline dates for starting work on products and the baseline dates for completion. The monitoring document needs additional columns for:

  • Current estimated date of starting work on product (EDS)
  • Variance from baseline plan (Weeks)
  • Red Amber Green traffic light to indicate level of corrective action required (SRAG)
  • Date Started (DS)
  • Current estimated date of product completion (EDC)
  • Variance from baseline plan (Weeks)
  • Red Amber Green traffic light to indicate level of corrective action required (CRAG)
  • Date completed (DC)
  • Comments on deviation from baseline. If everything is going to plan, there is no need to comment.

Fixing individual Departmental SRPs to produce reasonable progress reports should not be too difficult to achieve.

The next stage feels like telling Grandma in No 10 how to suck eggs. There’s no Risk Register. There’s no Risk Register. There’s no Risk Register.

Not only should every Department have a risk register; there should be an overall risk register that consolidates and ranks the programme risks. The nature of a risk register is forward looking; it would tell the PM what the Departments are doing to avoid the worst outcomes.

An overall risk register will help to break down the Departmental silos; they will have to talk if there are any interdependencies. That’s enough for this blog.

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