Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Public procurement meets super-hero comics

He spoke but mere mortals couldn't see him. He spoke our language but used new words - he spoke FIST. We could see Bernard Jenkin nervous and deferential, here was a man who talked of toy hovercrafts, the fastest computers, bombers, fighter jets, and nuclear submarines. He took risks but gave examples of delivery at half the cost in half the time. He had the Public Administration Select Committee talking about super-hero comics as a procurement change management tool. It was 18 March 2013. It was the 5th session of the Public Administration Select Committee Inquiry into procurement. This was a new way. This was a new day. It was the day Lt Col Dan Ward USAF came to town - or rather it was the day he gave evidence by video link.

So what is 'FIST'? It is an acronym for "a pattern of thinking": Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny. It is concerned with reducing complexity in the procurement process and specifications.

Asked why, in his experience, procurements fail he provided three simple answers:

  1. Engineering mistakes;
  2. Communication failures; and
  3. Management failures.
Adopting FIST and breaking bigger projects into much smaller chunks didn't removed the risk of failure, but it means the failures are smaller and identified earlier with less impact.

He provided a wonderful example of a threshold for cancellation being included in a contract, so that once the threshold of 15% was exceeded everyone knew the contract was cancelled - simple but effective.

He also referred to the culture of rewarding success with bigger and bigger budgets with a simple solution, "okay you did really well, now let's see what you can do with half the budget"

So, how do super-hero comics come into the story? Well Lt. Col. Dan Ward USAF was asked how he managed to get his message across - he adopted change management principles and as part of his communications wrote super-hero comic books. Yes, simple but effective.

This was an impressive evidence session and I think it is a useful education resource. I recommend watching the session as part of your own personal development, and yes, you will be able to watch the Committee reading comic strips too. It's in two parts accessible here and then here.

I am clear that this will not be the last we've heard of FIST and rightly so.

The full transcript of meeting can be accessed here

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