Project magazine Richard Bacon interview December 2013

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Project magazine Richard Bacon interview December 2013

  1. 1. -* .ril uu%= ru ffi frT ffi tr h l- T INCREMENTAL BENEFITS IS THE CRITICISM OF THE GOVERNMENT'S UNIVERSAL CREDIT PROGRAMME FAIR? .t ,ffi il *r ww ffi #w #f fr ilr
  2. 2. frf'nTHE PR0JECT HTNTERvIEW pin or no spin, it's commonly accepted - governments will make mistakes. But can we do anything about it? It's a permanent Parliament paradox but the seemingly unanswerable question is one that South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon tackles in hrs book Conundrum. The boo( a^alyses failu'e in'rany h gh-prof e UK publlc sector projects, includrng the National Programme for lT in the NHS, the Child Support Agency, Passport Agency and Student Loans Company. Along with co-author Christopher Hope, senior political correspondent at The Daily Telegraph, Richard says one key reason for repeated prolect fatlures rs recruit ng civil servants on the basis of their cognitive abilities in terms of playing with ideas, rather than their ability to deliver. He quotes former head of the Nationa Aud t Off ice, Sir John Bourn:"The top jobs should go to those who have successfu ly managed programmes and - = - - G = - - = i. t4 proiect DE0EMBER2or3
  3. 3. t. II11 : l I . :,ri,s-. ',.. ,: li;r#i, j..+ prolects in health, social, welfare and taxation as well as construction and defence. At the moment, they're given io those helping ministers get through the political week." Richard believes, to a large extent, Bourn's words still ring true, "Ministers have a limited pool of pre-determined talent to choose from in hirng the permanent secretaries who run civil service departments. These are very seldom professionals with prolect ma nagement experience. "More people are needed in Government with a deep understanding of project management and a successful track record. " The Conservative MP, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, was inspired to write the book after seeing too much go wrong for too long. He outlines his passion for project management. "With lust about everyrl'ing you see, feel, touch and experience in the world, somebody, somewhere has prolect managed it. It is ceniral and ubiquitous and yet in both Parliament and Government we don't know how vital it is. "That to me is a problem for the profession that it needs to do something about." D dft ,f,crry* ffi:.F.,*rrr a thrhwa:.-tr ..MORE PEIIPLE ARE NEEDED Iru GOVERNMENT WITH A DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF PRtlJEGT MANAGEMENT AND A SUCCESSFUL TRACK REC[lRD.'' DECEMBER 2013 projegt
  4. 4. ,,THE PR[lFILE OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS PERCEPTI()il IN PARLIAMTNT "lthink its making progress," Richard says when qurzzed over Parliament's v ew on project management. "l don't think ts there yet in terms of its status, by any means, but the advent of the Major Projects Authority, the way rt has been rece ved and the calibre of the people nvolved, is positive. "The profile of prolect management rs rising but do we have a series of perrnanent secretarles across Whitehall wrth serious backgrounds in project management? We don't yet but we should." He says new mrnisters eading departments often lack any understanding of the tension between managing large organisat ons and the political process. "They may understand electoral timetables but they often don't fully understand the negatrve impact these may have on managing projects successf u1 ly. " The book's case-study chapters detail examples of very srgnif icant project failures - including the recent lnterC ty West Coast Ma n Llne franchise. "The 12 case-study chapters deliberately straddle different governments. "l wanted to make the point that this is not a party political book and that farlure happens under governments of all parties. " Richard welcomes the MPAs Malor Project Leadership Academy, which is building the skills of senior project leaders across Government. He believes rt will improve percept ons of the profession across Whitehali, leading to better performance. He urges cautron though: "l don't think itl a silver buLlet that will solve a I prob ems, and there may be a danger of creat ng a crop of attractive, valuable peopie whom the private sector tnes to poach. That aspect needs careful management. " IMPLEMEI,ITAII0N AND IDE0L0GY Richard quotes Labour MP Stella Creasy saying: "Governments should notlust start projects or pol cies - the public expects them to be able to f nish them too. Essentially, implementation is as important as ideology in po itics. " ln other words, Wh tehall needs to back up promises with action. And the way you do that, says Richard, is by giving them the tools to de iver. "lf everyone becoming an MP had a deep awareness of project management from day one, then there would be more chance that they wou d al operate towards the same oblective - better project de ivery. " An MP training proqramme in the discipline of project management wou d be beneficial, but probab y unreal stic, he adds. "To become an MP you have to devote so much time to t that it often prevents you from spending time on other things that would give you more experienc."," says R chard. "People often compiain that MPs don't have enough experience, but if they did, they probably wou dn't be MPs " It is another conundrum wh ch brings Richard back to his frrst po nt about having the right people in post in the first place. He uses the announcement of Dav d Higg ns as the new HS2 chief as an example. "lts the best thing that has happened to the prolect. David Hlggins has the righr combination of background and experience. "Of course the question remarns, 'why you wouldn't get someone of that calibre right from the beginning?"' Longevrty is another challenge, according to Richard. Repeated faillngs can often be connected to rapid turnover of both minrsters and civil servants in their ,+1il'.:i:''. ::'-::, -]: '' .-' . 1. RISING.'' .Sl'd:{r:. l-*l' project DEcEMBER2ol3
  5. 5. departmental roles. Richard argues: "This strongly militates against the possibility of things being done well. There are some things that I hold ministers responsible for but this book was not an attempt at apportioning blame. It's not an attack on the civil service or an attack on ministers - I really wrote it to understand better why things go wrong quite so often." PE(}PTE MANAGEMENT "ln a way, this is a book pleading for better project management, " explains Richard, "but it is also about better management of people." The latter part of the book ts focused on behaviour. By including a 50- year history of attempted civil service reforms which have under-delivered and disappointed, the reader can see the impact of human behaviour. "My contention is, if you really want to get improvements, including improvements in projects, then you need to manage more closely how people actually behave. In order to do that, you need to understand why people behave the way they do and, to do that, you need to understand where behaviour comes from. " On page 340 of the book, Richard makes this point abundantly clear. "Where does our behaviour come from? Schmoozing, scheming, consensus building, mediating conflicts, developing trust, abusing trust, mutual fear, total domination, reconciliation under the pressure of circumstances, the development of rivalries, the repairing of ruling coalitions. Which of these behaviours do you recognise?" Richard points out that they are all well-observed behaviours of chimpanzees, adding: "Primatologists remind us that the roots of politics are older than humanity." He says: "We are social primates who are pre-wired to behave in certaln ways to defend our position. To get the best out of people you have to study what makes people tick. lts not an accident if you look at the big organisations who come top in the'best-to-work-for' surveys, whether they're in manufacturing or services, public or private sector, that they're organisations that place a sustained premium on how they look after and bring on their people. "lts not an add-on, its part of what they are and the consequence is they have great people and do great things. " He adds: "A lot of failure stems from behaviour. We should spend more time understanding how people behave, which will help us navigate through the problems we are facing. " So where do we start? This. of course, 15 tne conundrum tr 'j'r:ji F, ii. i,rr ffi;l r+s.i DE0EMBER2ol3 proiect

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