Monday, May 23, 2005

An everyday tale of government incompetence and deceit

The National Audit Office released one of its dull but worthy reports last week. As far as I know it wasn't picked up by any of the mainstream media outlets. Entitled "Driving the Successful Delivery of Major Defence Projects: Effective Project Control is a Key Factor in Successful Projects" it is an attempt to get the MoD to stop cocking up its procurement projects by finding out how the private sector does it. As the introduction to the report notes:
the last 20 years the annual Major Projects Report has highlighted the variable performance of the Ministry of Defence’s (the Department’s) highest value defence equipment procurement projects, many of which have suffered cost overruns and delays.
You really have to hand it to the NAO though. Their internal team, ably supported by a battalion of consultants have broken new ground in the fight for efficiency in the public sector. You can see it there in the title.
Effective Project Control is a Key Factor in Successful Projects
I cannot believe that it is necessary for a project costing (presumably tens of thousands of pounds) to reach such a consumate statement of the obvious. The MoD procurement people are meant to be professional project managers! This is like telling a chef he needs to switch the cooker on for Pete's sake. Frankly the NAO is a waste of space if this is the best they can come up with.

Anyway, what else did the report say? The press release states:
The MoD uses the same set of tools and techniques for monitoring projects as similar commercial organisations but the balance between their use varies. For example only 44 per cent of project teams used external cost or money spent as an explicit measure of progress achieved compared to 78 per cent of commercial project managers surveyed.
Yes, you did read that right. In less than half of the MoD projects surveyed was cost considered a key performance measure!! Frankly I'm completely gobsmacked that 12% of the commercial organisations didn't measure exteral spend - as far as I can see there is no mention of which particular ones don't report cost, but my guess would be that this is due to an error in the response or the analysis rather than an accurate reflection of the facts.

The press release goes on to say:
On the other hand, compared to the commercial survey, more MoD teams are using a joint risk register with their suppliers which is a good way of ensuring that both parties have a common understanding of the challenges of a particular project.
Now, read that again. We are invited to believe that the MoD are outperforming the private sector in certain areas. But the wording is just a bit strange. "More" MoD teams are using joint risk registers, not "a higher percentage" of MoD teams. Time to dig.

In fact, according to the full report, every project methodology in the survey was used to a greater extent by the commercial teams. The press release can only mislead in this way because 97 MoD teams were surveyed and less than 30 commercial organisations. Any reader looking only at the press release would come away thinking that the public sector was performing acceptably compared to the private sector. In fact their performance is abysmal. In some key metrics the MoD is using key tools half as much as their private sector counterparts. Forecast to completion, and critical path analysis are only used on about 50% of MoD projects!

One has to wonder about the competence and/or independence of Sir John Bourne and his people when such a blatant attempt to dress up incompetence in the public sector can be published on his watch.

So there you have it. The deceitful stating the obvious to the incompetent. Your government in action.