Quarkside

11/01/2011

SRP: DCLG ICT healthcheck

Filed under: Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 10:19 am
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DCLG has a large impact on local authorities.  We expect some improvements (aka reductions) in reporting requirements and the signs look healthy.  For example the current SRP has:

1.3 Remove reporting burdens on local government from central departments

  • 1.3.i. Abolish Comprehensive Area Assessment and cut local government inspection (Completed)
  • 1.3.ii. Identify exceptional areas where central government needs to retain an oversight role (Completed)
  • 1.3.iii. Develop a single, reduced, list of the data requirements placed on local government by central departments, working with other departments and local government (In progress)
  • 1.3.iv. Develop and implement a process for managing new data requirements from departments, and from their associated inspectorates and regulators (Yet to start)

Let’s hope that DCLG also links up with the Cabinet Office SRP targets for ICT.

If the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) study the inter-relationships between departments, agencies and local authorities, then they will surely find a complete lack of a coherent ICT policy.   Each department still seems to have an isolated approach to data management.  Interoperability between systems, or collaboration on shared services, is not on every department’s menu.  They all need a common approach to Information Governance.

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10/01/2011

SRP: Cabinet Office smoke screen

Filed under: Governance,Policy,Strategy,Technology — lenand @ 8:46 am
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It’s good to see from the latest update that the Cabinet Office has taken responsibility for structural reform of ICT (Sections 1.9 to 1.13).  It was intriguing to see something which is entirely sensible:

1.9.i. Increase the Chief Information Officer’s power to integrate ICT across government. (Completed)

But, it begs a few of questions:

  • When was it completed?
  • What was the instrument for increasing that power in central and local government?
  • What tools have been provided to enable this integration?
  • Who is the CIO?

Research of earlier transparency web site records show that:

  • The July baseline only included 5 items in Section 1 (Civil Service Reform).
  • The October 2010 Progress reports can only be generated for months from November 2010 onwards.

There have obviously been a number of changes to the Cabinet Office SRP, but where are the documents?

There are lots more completed actions – but the results do not seem to have been published.  This more like a smoke screen than a telescope for transparency.

09/01/2011

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.

BUT BUT BUT

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

To:

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?

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.

15/12/2010

Letter to Private Eye

Filed under: People,Politics,Process,Standards — lenand @ 9:32 am
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E J Strobes

Dear Sir,

Through various organs, it appears that the Headmaster has procured the services a Senior Spinstress, a certain Kristina Murrin. Not that I have anything against antipodeans – but couldn’t he find a local girl with equivalent qualifications? Goodness knows what her “Sticky Wisdom” is doing to our poor dear kiddies in the Civil Service. Even the Torygraph quotes her book as advising people to “build a personal bravery plan”, “fill their minds with freshness” and “stop sending memos”.

Her thirteenacles stretch across all the Departments charged with implementing the coalition Government’s Structural Reform Plan. Every Minister and the Deputy Headmaster are charged with sending her a monthly report, which they have dutifully done since August. Unfortunately freshness of ideas seems to have taken over. They have ignored the wisdom of 50 years, and invented a transparency process that is obscured by seven diaphanous veils.

Presumably, they have stopped sending memos, although Wikileaks may have had the same effect. So Butterfingers cannot now be held accountable for dropping the ball. The personal bravery plan must be next on the list as they prepare for the outside world, where implementing really means delivery of a plan. The Department for re-Education has provided us with a most instructive exemplar of how to appear A star by avoiding the old school rules.

Yours faithfully,

Dr A

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.

13/12/2010

Risk Revolution. Catastrophe Killer.

Filed under: Risk — lenand @ 3:20 pm
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The BP blow out is the best recent example of the impact of a low probability, catastrophic impact risk.  Quarkside was asked to investigate this aspect of risk management twelve years ago by the Nationwide Building Society.  It was interesting to open the eyes of directors to the unthinkable risk of blowing out their business.

Quarkside can’t claim any credit, but it is noteworthy that they survived the dash to de-mutualisation and the recent credit crunch.  They must have studied a range of catastophic scenarios and taken avoiding action in good time.

The methods used were published in a paper given to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 2002.  Perhaps of interest to psychologists, the method was called Confidence Management – as the reverse of risk management.  It is much easier to approach a senior manager with “What is your confidence level of achieving success?” than, “What is the risk of failure?”.  Very simple, but it worked in practice.

The elegance of the method means that confidence (or risk) can be consolidated across projects, programmes and enterprises.  It is scalable across district councils, unitaries, county councils, government departments and UK plc.  The objective is to ensure that the chief executive, at whatever level, can see the most important objectives at risk – whether it is profit, reputation or society outcomes. This is explained more fully as the Risk dimension of the 7-Dimensional Information Governance (7DIG) Framework.

The Structural Reform Plan is perhaps the most significant change programme for a generation.   The investment is minimal, the benefits in avoiding catastophes may save a government.

Why not give it a try?

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.

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.

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