Rank and yank

In the last newsletter I mentioned Cabinet Office minister ‘Mad’ Maude’s proposal to assess all civil servants into a forced distribution and fire the bottom 10%. A reader pointed out that the very same has been argued to be the cause of Microsoft’s demise. You can read more here:


Maude is set to deploy a dispiriting and damaging initiative on the civil service. Maybe we should call him misery-making Maude. And when he has done his deed, who will be held to account?

What Maude fails to understand is that it’s the system that governs performance. Rank and yank will only serve to damage the system. Is that Maude’s job?

Another mad’n

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP is Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts. In a recent pronouncement she proclaimed her desire to see more shared services in the public sector to save money. This is despite also acknowledging, in the same missive, that the current shared services ventures have failed to deliver the savings they promised! Isn’t that the epitome of madness?

Her committee summarises it thus: ‘They cost £1.4 billion to set up, £500 million more than expected, and in some cases have actually cost the taxpayer more than they have saved.’ And that is an understatement.

‘Mad’ Margaret thinks the answer is to do the wrong thing righter. She thinks the Cabinet Office must show much stronger leadership (i.e. bully government departments to share). She thinks Departments that join in must give up their own ways of working and adopt a single system suitable for all. She thinks this is the reason – lack of standardisation – for shared services failing to achieve economies of scale.

What Margaret doesn’t understand is that standardisation will drive costs up.

You can read more here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news/shared-services-report/

The eminence grises

Of course Margaret isn’t mad, despite the fact that she hasn’t done much outside politics, she is considered a campaigner and stalwart. Margaret has, simply, been duped by plausible ideas. And who is doing the duping? Secondees from the consultancies that make millions from shared services ventures; read just the most recent article about this shocking phenomenon here:


Margaret should do one sane thing. She should insist that all future contracts for shared services provided by these consultancies should include provisions for the costs of failure to be borne by them.

Better project management?

Another feature of the do-the-wrong-thing-righter thinking promulgated by the regime is the idea that better project management will fix the problems. So we have an announcement by mad Maude of something called the new Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), a partnership between government and Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

The promotional blurb tells us that ‘The MPLA’s objective is to improve the skills of senior project leaders across government to help them deliver complex ICT and other projects… the MPLA should have a positive impact on the successful delivery of government’s most important projects, reducing the risk of embarrassing and expensive failures – and of uncomfortable visits to the Public Accounts Committee.’

That’ll do it.

You can read more here: http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=20469

Is Prince 2 world class?

To the same end thousands of public-sector managers have been trained in PRINCE 2 by central government agencies. I am often asked for my views on PRINCE 2, so I put them into a little animation. You can view it here:

Beyond the costs of initial failure

While the various forms of industrialisation are driving costs up in the short term, an unintended long-term cost has been brought to my attention. Because the public sector is obliged to follow strict ‘professional’ procurement rules (designed by numpties), we now see the beginnings of burdensome long-term costs.

To the procurement ‘professionals’ market-testing means going out to re-procure on a regular basis. A recent survey revealed that deals costing over £50 million a year cost £1.5m (on average) to re-procure. When both parties’ costs are taken into account, this can cost as much as £8m. It is a giant cost trap.

In the words of the report’s authors: ‘The tendering process in its current form costs more than the savings it delivers.’

And I wouldn’t bet on the ‘savings’ being real. See the report here:


User testing?

The last time I talked to the people designing the service for the Universal Credit (newsletters passim ad nauseam, and if you missed it all, my prediction is the UC service will fail), they told me all would be OK because they were doing ‘user testing’.

In Vanguard’s world user testing would mean taking someone who needs to claim benefits and working out how to serve them – give them what they need – to achieve the objectives of the UC – i.e. make it economically beneficial for them to be working, ensuring that working does not become an economic penalty.

But we learn from a DWP report that ‘user testing’ means getting people in a room, asking them for views of how they might interact with the service based on reactions to ‘wire-frame’ (i.e. dreamed up) internet site designs.

It is to involve the ‘user’ – someone who needs support – in a ‘what if, maybe, what do you think’ exercise. Those who have needs won’t actually get them met, and you can be sure the DWP people will be focussed on ‘how can we build IT that will enable them to do what they think they want?’ But what will this teach them about solving peoples’ problems in the purpose of the legislation?

As a mole tells me: ‘… unfortunately it’s turned into an IT-led initiative. But the bulk of the leadership are unconsciously incompetent; starting with the firm belief that to solve a big problem, you need lots of people, over a thousand at the moment.’

If the UC service was developed using the Vanguard Method it would require very few people and true user testing would enable a prototype that would probably cost less than the awful work on ‘user testing’, let alone the hundreds of millions being spent on IT, reports and project management. You can read the ‘research’ here:

Click to access rrep799.pdf

DWP ‘loses’ reports on UC

Campaign4change reports a failure of the DWP to find reports on the UC:

Has DWP lost £400,000 worth of Universal Credit studies it commissioned?

You have to wonder why.

An insider’s view

Joe McDonald was national clinical lead for IT at NHS Connecting for Health. He has written an account of life at Connecting for Health:

‘The only acceptable news to be fed up the chain of command was good news. Good news kept the show on the road and the longer we could keep the show on the road the greater our chance of success. Messengers with bad news were routinely shot pour encourager les autres. We all had to become ‘good lieutenants’ to survive and keep paying the mortgage. Doubly true if you were on a short term contract…’

Read more here: http://ukcampaign4change.com/2012/07/27/an-insiders-view-of-the-npfit/

More desperation

Another blogger writes about the same phenomenon:

‘Shortly before I stopped working for Government I attended a particularly dispiriting conference. The theme was ‘Delivering More With Less’. I went to a session on ‘Re-engineering Government Procurement’ and listened to assorted ‘experts’ and senior figures claimed that the thing to do was to sort out procurement processes then hand it all over to SAP and Oracle. I could have thrown myself out of a high window had we not been on the ground floor.

One speaker wondered out why things were so often going so badly in government despite their having invested in ERPs and there was a sense of bafflement when I asked if he had considered that things were going badly precisely because they were using ERPs.

Indeed, in a recent White Paper I suggested that trying to do e-procurement on an ERP was like trying to fetch your groceries in an Abrams M1 Battle tank rather than the family hatchback.’

Read it here:

Don’t Take Your Tank to the Mall, Mrs Worthington

Policy-based evidence

Professor Colin Talbot writes:

‘The government’s Troubled Families report is an excellent example of policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy. It is full of spurious generalisations and dubious conclusions and is deeply flawed.

The first thing to note about all of this is that the policy ‘problem’ and solutions were prescribed long-before this ‘research’ took place. The Prime Minister ascribed last summers riots, in part, to ‘120,000 troubled families’ whose definition has shifted while the number has remained suspiciously stable. The 120,000 figure is again repeated in Casey’s report, without any evidence or definition. Poor academic analysis from somebody who has bumped about Whitehall.

It seems, frankly, more designed to boost Casey’s credentials than to learn anything serious. As someone who’s bounced about from policy roles in homelessness, rough-sleepers, anti-social behaviour, ‘respect’, and victims she probably needs some credibility to demonstrate why she knows best about troubled families. I very much doubt this quick ‘Cook’s Tour’ of troubled families will earn her much respect however.’

Read more here:


PR Dave

David Cameron, our prime minister, was a PR man. Ministers think they need stories, ‘narratives’ as they call them in Whitehall, to impress us with their initiatives. But while Dave banged on about the Big Society funding was withdrawn from many local voluntary organisations; while he bangs on about who will pay for health and social care, the costs are rising as commissioning drives up failure demand. And so on.

The items above illustrate the fear created by Dave and Co. Dave wants to hear from the likes of Casey, he and his ministers don’t want to hear anyone who questions the narrative. It truly is a policy-based evidence regime.

The Evidence Tour

More about how Whitehall initiatives make services worse and drive costs up on the Evidence Tour – also lots on evidence of what works!

Seats are filling up. We have a couple of additional dates. Herewith the schedule:

Crawley, Wed 5th Sept at 10.00am
Kingston upon Thames, 5th Sept at 3.00pm – FULL
Stone, Thurs 6th Sept at 2.30pm – FULL
Wrexham, Fri 7th Sept at 10.30am
Bideford, Tues 11th Sept at 1.30pm
London, Tues 18th Sept at 3.30pm
Caerphilly, Wed 19th Sept at 2.00pm
Carmarthen, Thur 20th Sept at 10.30am – FULL
Doncaster, Mon 24th Sept at 4.00pm
York, Tues 25th Sept at 2.00pm
Manchester, Wed 26th Sept at 1.30pm
Carlisle, Thur 27th Sept at 10.00am
Durham, Fri 28th Sept at 9.30am
Bristol, Tues 30th Oct at 2.30pm

To reserve your place: pr@vanguardconsult.co.uk