Richard Bacon MP for South Norfolk and successful author of ‘Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it’ was the guest speaker at highly entertaining and informative ProgM event held in Central London.
Securing Richard’s attendance was a coup for ProgM. Merv Wyeth (ProgM Chair) confessed that the evening represented the culmination of months of stalking and some mild harassment to ensure the committee ‘got their man’.
Steve Wake, Chair of APM Board, introduced the evening with a personal story about the seminal Committee of Public Accounts, Eighth Report “The Proper Conduct of Public Business,” that had started him out on the road of earned value. This set the context for Richard to explain what, if anything, had changed in twenty years!
Richard did not ‘pull his punches’ and his early assessment of the consequences of failed major projects was uncompromising:
“Don’t be surprised, he told the assembled, if what you end up with:
• is a mess that is way behind schedule,
• damages your organization,
• traumatizes your staff,
• costs much more than it is supposed to,
• and doesn’t work!
As a member of the highly influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Richard has been exposed to the full range of major project horror stories.
While Richard’s focus was on the really big projects that cost the most and carry the greatest risk, his advice is equally applicable to those smaller scale projects, that many of us have personal experience of, and, irritatingly, somehow have an uncanny habit of achieving a sub optimal outcome.
Richard’s assessment of the causes of failure reveals the same olde problems with which we are all familiar:
• very high staff turnover
• lack of information
• lack of knowledge about costs and sloppy financial management
• lack of key skills
• poor project management
• lack of procurement capability
• risk aversion and risk ignorance.
So why do we get it wrong, seemingly again and again?
Richard’s answer lies in human nature - “it’s behavior stupid’’ … Get this right and then we are on the way to successful delivery. Yet, and here is the ‘conundrum’, while senior managers handle and live comfortably with ambiguity successful project managers are programmed to nail down scope at the earliest possible stage.