Quarkside

06/01/2011

PASC 3: Learn from success, not just failure

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

3. Have past lessons from NAO and OGC reviews about unsuccessful IT programmes been learnt and applied?

Too many past and present failures demonstrate that People have not learnt how to manage complex programmes consistently. Internal programme management skills have not been developed sufficiently. Contracting out so much of the work is evidence of a lack of internal skills and abrogating much of the responsibility the big suppliers, who are not averse to earning extra income.

Prince2 was developed by OGC with public sector programmes and projects in mind. Prince2 clarifies the desired Outcomes and People responsible for controlling the Assets and Processes to reach measurable Outcomes on Time, with regard to Risk throughout. It is no accident that the Eurim information governance basic principles of information governance  have been adopted by Quarkside as a mantra. The use of Prince2 entirely supports the seven dimensions of information governance.   Another disappointing example is the amateurism of the Prime Minister’s Structural Reform Plans (SRPs). There’s no apparent Prince2 programme management regime. It looks like an unco-ordinated set of To Do lists and no evidence of a transparent risk register. The avoidance of standards is endemic. In the private sector it could be a career limiting offence.

Quality assurance and risk assessment must be performed by independent bodies, not the prime contractor. Even internal staff cannot be relied upon to expose failures of people who may be planning their career path – but collecting evidence will be hard.

Finally, the question is too narrow in the sense that it is possible to learn from success, not just failure.  I remember a quotation from a project management guru.  “A good project manager resolves problems, a better project manager avoids problems before they happen.” Paradoxically,  the career of the better, risk aware, project manager is worse – because the success is below the management radar.

10/12/2010

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.

09/12/2010

No 10: SRP shambolic progress

Filed under: Policy,Politics,Process,Risk — lenand @ 9:17 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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