SRP: DfE December deceptive progress reports

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Risk — lenand @ 11:34 pm
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It’s good to see the latest SRP updates and the new web pages for each Department.  The new pages are referenced with a number that purportedly matches to the baseline – so much better.


Just looking at DfE, the baseline in July just published 3 priority areas.  The December DfE update has  6 Priority areas.  When were the extras added?  Where is the change control that justifies the increase in scope?  Not only that, the contents have changed, for example, from:

1.1  Allow all schools to apply for Academy status

1.2  Enable the takeover by an experienced education provider of underperforming schools

1.3   Make it easier for new providers to open new Schools


1.1 Increase the number of Academies

1.2 Introduce new Free Schools

1.3 Introduce new University Technical Colleges

It may be that the new priorities are better – but the programme is transparently out of control by any normal standards of programme management.  It’s no better, or even worse, than the November report where the DfE obscured delays.  Uncontrolled change is a key indicator of risk in a programme.

Is Kristina aware of the importance of what is happening? Are the other departments being equally devious?  Should the PM be told?


PASC 7: Procurement = Parson’s Egg

The seventh of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

7. How well do current procurement policies and practices work?

The evidence is mixed. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Most local authority projects work to budget and many are delivered on time. The headline problem is the failure of big projects. There’s an adequate OGC Gateway process. It just isn’t followed, or improperly understood. If private sector projects are aware of a great risk of failure, they will often cancel projects on behalf of the shareholders.

Good programme management, and all that it entails, is the missing ingredient. The best programmes integrate the work of clients and suppliers in a working partnership. They have common goals and clear leadership. There is clarity of governance and accountability.

Complete outsourcing is a recipe for rip-offs. The client must have matching skills or employ an independent programme management consultant.


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?


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.


SRPs avoid PM standards

As Quarked previously, the baseline (Draft) Structural Reform Plans (SRPs) for each Department are almost acceptable. There’s just about enough to begin a reasonable job of monitoring and control. There are actions with start dates and end dates. There are also milestones.

What is missing are definitions of what has to be delivered by an end-date. Quarkside believes that all public sector projects are expected to use Prince2 for project management. It is almost written in stone in Local Government. As everybody who has been trained knows, Prince2 “Focuses on products and their quality“.  In other words it is ‘Product based planning’.  A plan is only considered complete when it has described WHAT should be DELIVERED by a specific date, WHO should deliver it and the QUALITY criteria for acceptance.  All these points rely a documented and agreed Prince2 Product Description.

Number 10’s Implementation Unit have misunderstood the guidelines, or have chosen to avoid them. You can identify a product deliverable because it is (usually) a concrete noun in the Product Breakdown Structure. The SRPs use a verbal description of an action eg Home Office

  • 3.2.ii “Introduce English language requirements for spouses”.

Are these requirements a statute, a regulation or a ministerial memo to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate? Delivery implies the complete acceptance of a specific product. An alternative might be:

  • 3.2.ii “English Language regulations agreed by Parliament and applied in Border Control”

Quarkside is not making a political point or just being pedantic. The first definition has many options on what the end product might be; the second is more specific and would be linked to the Product Description.   In fact 3.2.ii in the Draft SRP does not give an end date, showing uncertainty.  Prince2, using Product Flow Diagrams, would enable an end-date to be calculated.

Action based planning must have its devotees.  Notably that’s the path followed by Microsoft Project out of the box.  MS Project, unsurprisingly, does not follow the UK standard but is easy to tailor for Prince2 methods.

Martha Lane Fox has called for the use of standards  Not only does it increases the interoperability project managers, it is the most effective way of controlling projects.   The good news is that it is not be a big problem to change the Draft SRPs and produce a Prince2 plan with a useful Product Breakdown Structure.  When this process is done it always uncovers things that had originally been considered.  It improves the Plan.

The current Plan is little more than a ToDo list.  That style is suitable for planning a foreign holiday for a group of thirteen people. It is not suitable for the far reaching political reforms of the coalition government. Prince2 is the Standard.  The No 10 Implementation Unit should have ensured that each of the thirteen Departments understood and used Prince2 for both the Plan and the control mechanisms.

It’s not too late to produce a final plan that follows the Prince2 Standard.  Then we can produce a transparent monitoring and control process.


No 10: SRP shambolic progress

Filed under: Policy,Politics,Process,Risk — lenand @ 9:17 am
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The Prime Minister launched 13 draft Structural Reform Plans (SRPs) in June.  Departments set out their reform priorities and the actions they would have to take to achieve them, including a specified timetable and measurable milestones. Under the initiative each department had to produce a monthly progress report, holding the Secretary of State to account to the Prime Minister if they are not on track.  Quarkside has not studied all in detail, but the structure of the plans looks sound.  There is a consistent layout and it is easy to see what is expected.

However the monthly updates are shambolic.  Granted the layout is consistent but they do not conform to best practice in progress reports.  With the intention to increase transparency, they are more likely to obfuscate than clarify. Some examples to illustrate this career threatening statement may elucidate:

  • The reference numbers are not carried forward, it is difficult to know which deliverable a progress line refers to.  All good systems would refer to a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) number for ease of reference.
  • Missed target lines are in red, but they don’t give any indication of the changed date or the action to be taken to recover the plan.  This is not control, it is an ineffective observation.
  • The status column only has a choice of complete, not complete, not started, work started, work ongoing. and still not complete.  This is primary school level planning, not the way to control a nation reform programme.
  • The reasons for failure to meet targets look more like excuses and not a lot of value.  They just lose credibility without plans to get the programme back on track.
  • There is no risk register to give any idea of the seriousness of any delays.  Every project needs a risk register – it looks like the product of amateurs, not professionals.

That’s the bad news. Looking at the Quarkside principles, the Process is bad, the Governance is pathetic and the Technology is antiquated.  Could we respectfully request that the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit takes some crash courses in effective Programme Management Office (PMO) processes.

The good news is that is all recoverable. Watch Quarkside for some answers in future blogs.

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