I like learning from failure says Sir Peter Gershon

Thank you to Ken Young for letting me know about a talk given by Sir Peter Gershon at an Association for Project Management conference in London last week. At the same conference David Pitchford, an official at the Cabinet Office, revealed...

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Thank you to Ken Young for letting me know about a talk given by Sir Peter Gershon at an Association for Project Management conference in London last week. 

At the same conference David Pitchford, an official at the Cabinet Office, revealed that the government has little idea how much its projects are likely to cost

Peter Gershon is a former senior civil servant and an adviser to the Tories on efficiency savings. He is also chairman of Tate & Lyle. When he headed the Office of Government Commerce, he advised the then Prime Minister Tony Blair on the setting up of what became the National Programme for IT in the NHS - NPfIT. 

He was one of several officials, supplier delegates and ministers who attended a meeting at Downing Street in 2002, which was chaired by Blair, at which the NPfIT was agreed in principle.  

A summary of Gershon’s talk is reported by Ken Young on the Register. Gershon said:" There is going to be less money for projects, but we will see a reduced tolerance for waste from the public. Failed projects will have an implication on how the public views the government."

The level of failure is as high in the private sector “but the problem is that public projects are often on a bigger scale, have greater accountability, and impact more on people's lives. This means the media often has a field day… It's almost in the DNA of the public sector that you make the decisions correctly and follow due process rather than make the right decision."

He mentioned the NPIT. "A project can last way beyond the minister in charge of it. For example, the NHS IT Programme has had five different ministers in charge. Each minister has somewhat different ideas about where a project should be going.”

Questioned by an APM member on why there is a focus on learning from failure rather than success Gershon said: "Actually I quite like learning from failure. I think we learn a lot that way."

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I couldn't agree more. Senior officials often ask why the media reports more failures than successes. The answer, perhaps, is that not a lot is learnt from watching planes that land safely. 

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