UK Government projects fail, why?

Why do UK government projects fail time after time? Is it something to do with the way things work, or not? Could it be true that our political leaders are part of a culture which lacks insight, expertise and critical thinking? One may ask, does minimal accountability lubricate failure and allow mendacity and spin free reign over facts?

Politics, noun. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Ambrose Bierce (1842 – 1914)

In other words, the blame-avoiders fudge as the blamers heap pius-waffle on their heads. Coupled with £billions wasted and failed rpojects. Furthermore, huge amounts of emotional energy are squandered by bickering people who claim to have our best interests at heart. How will we stop  the waste, pain and serial stupidity anytime soon?

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle

Institutional incompetence

As you’ll know, there are serial cost overruns like failed IT systems and so on. Is it surprising that witnessing chronic governmental folly, over many years, breeds cynicism? Above all, not much changes, apart from the faces blurting soundbites.

Moreover no matter how much money is available, no matter how excellent a policy, implementation is generally poor to disastrous. Unsurprisingly, large amounts of wasted money, time and human wellbeing result. For example, where is a gold-standard, proven method for achieving economic results? Equally important is the ongoing consumption of money on unstructured projects like Brexit. Can it be true that the weekly cost of leaving the EU is £600M, if correct it’s a tad more than the battle bus savings.

Road to hell

Many years ago, my (very small) company won a key public sector contract. There I was, big-break in hand, moving into a world I didn’t know. Learning about how things work was essential. With innocent enthusiasm, I attended relevant conferences.

As an attendee, I learned that public projects and effectiveness don’t go hand-in-hand. Imagine, I found three separate and barely connected worlds (diagram below):

  • Policy Making (power, politicians, mandarins, concepts, ideology, clean hands, expedient)
  • Policy Interpretation (senior-ish officials, embattled, pressurised, compliant, clean hands)
  • Policy implementation (middle-order & downwards, blame-able, powerless, capable, made-cynical, dirty-ish hands)
The governments project delivery intent.jpg
INTENTION

It stands to reason that the intention of any government is something like the diagram above. In this model citizens get fabulous promises from politicians, they’re all met in time and under budget. In your experience or belief, is this generally true?

how thing work and why government projects fail.jpg
REALITY

missed point

For one thing, I learned that the main people in each universe didn’t know each other. No wonder major UK government projects fail. Coupled with the fact the top people didn’t attend the same events. Likewise, Ministers often showed up, minions in tow, and then only for a short time, spending time with the lucky few.

In a like manner, policy makers appeared at conferences run for their ilk. In like manner and with great show, if senior politicians attended, these harassed, incredibly-important-people dashed in and out of events, dripping with power, surrounded by apparatchiks avoidant of mortals.

As a result, the Policy Interpreters, appeared to have (and probably didn’t enjoy) a nut-in-a-cracker perspective? In other words, whatever is dreamed up, they must deliver and nothing else can matter, including figuring out how to achieve a real-world result.

missed opportunity

It is hard to avoid the fact that the Policy Making world and The Policy Interpretation worlds depend on the Policy Implementation people.

Imagine working in a hugely pressurized, capricious environment where the top people “don’t get it” and can change things on a whim. With this in mind, if asked and listened to, how many implementers would love to help fix things? I could cry.

I wonder how much opportunity and present-capability/insight is ignored and wasted? As a result, how much potential and possibility goes down the tubes along with the billions or so lost to “Fraud and Error”?

a road to hell?

When you get right down to it, the process is broken. Is it fair to say it begins with a lack of insight and ends because nobody cares? Might it be more truthful to say there is no enforceable consequence for needless failure, so why bother. If you don’t believe me, consider the costs to our nation of the Brexit failure and the wastage around that.

disconnected, dishonest

Ask yourself, is there much contact between the three bubbles beyond transmitting diktat… downwards? In this case, what happens to effectiveness in a world free of accountability? What price almost-plausible deniability? … until the reality of failure is inescapable. Unsurprisingly, once found out, the game centres on blame.

a problematic culture in a flaky bubble

Secure in a bubble of rightness and inner-circle-compliance (or else), policies are created and unlikely delivery mechanisms groan to life. I ask you, does self-evident incompetence and failure shock us? Are promises to “learn the lessons” all there is?

As Janis (1971) suggested when he coined the term ‘Groupthink‘, we are victims of (slightly tweaked):

  • dysfunctional decision-making process used by compliant groups
  • the ignoring of alternative practical and humane courses of action
  • the irrational (and dishonest) discouragement of ‘disconfirming’ opinions

Why don’t we all demand better? Much, much, much better? Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is this statement,

If we can’t change we’ll wind up where we’re heading.” proverb

Large Scotch anyone?

© Mac Logan