Thank you to Lindsay Scott, Director of Project Management, Recruitment Business, at Arras People, for letting me know about a recent presentation by David Pitchford, a senior official at the Cabinet Office.
Pitchford is the Executive Director of Major Projects within the Efficiency and Reform Group which is part of the Cabinet Office. Pitchford delivered what Lindsay Scott called an “amazingly frank assessment of the state of major projects within the UK Government”.
"Nobody in the UK Government seems to know how many projects they have on the books, nor how much these are likely to cost”.
He also disclosed what those inside government have long known - that projects are launched, and continue, without agreed budgets.
The absence of budgets could explain why Parliament was told that the Defence Information Infrastructure would cost £2.3bn when the Ministry of Defence had secretly estimated the total lifetime cost to be £7bn.
It could also explain why the media and Parliament was told initially that the cost of the NHS IT scheme, the NPfIT, would be £2.3bn when the Department had secretly estimated its total lifetime cost to be £5bn. The cost turned out to be around £12bn.
And it could explain why the new senior responsible owner of a C-Nomis IT project for prisons said: "I knew we had problems when I asked for the budget and was told there wasn't one."
Pitchford also disclosed that projects are launched without business cases. Indeed the NPfIT was launched by Downing Street and the Department of Health without a business case. As the years went by, the business case for the NHS IT scheme was secretly drafted and repeatedly re-drafted as requirements and justifications changed.
It’s not even clear today whether the business case for the NPfIT Summary Care Records database has been approved by the Treasury - even though the Coalition is committed to the scheme. Which implies that the Coalition is, to some extent, going along with the project management anarchy which Labour tolerated.
Pitchford went on to say that there is an obvious lack of programme and project management skills and experience within Government Departments. Many senior responsible owners - who are appointed to be responsible and accountable for risky projects - lack the appropriate experience, he said.
He listed what he has discovered so far are the reasons for the failure of UK Government projects:
1. Political pressure
2. No business case
3. No agreed budget
4. 80% of projects launched before 1,2 & 3 have been resolved
5. Sole solution approach (options not considered)
6. Innovation gamble (never been done before)
7. Lack of Commercial capability - (contract / administration)
8. No plan
9. No timescale
10. No defined benefits
Lindsay Scott puts it well on her “How to manage a camel” blog:
“With the removal of waste high on the agenda, the Government must start setting up projects to succeed rather than fail. It must also open up a culture where honest assessment and challenge is the norm.
"Maybe then reviews like the Gateway process will start to deliver. The culture of ‘making decisions correctly’ rather than ‘making the right decision’ needs to be consigned to the past.
How to manage a camel - Lindsay Scott's blog
The biggest problem with government IT? - this blog