Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Shackleton's Way: Leadership lessons from the great Antarctic explorer - Book review

Shackleton has been 'up there' as one of my heroes as long as I can remember and certainly since back in the late 60s/early 70s when I first took up mountaineering and looked forward to a career on the Navy/Marines - bet that surprised a few of you. So I had a reasonable awareness of his leadership ability.

As a result I actually bought this book for my son who was working on an assignment on Leadership last year - he was looking for exemplars and, to me, Shackleton was an obvious choice. Sadly the book's pristine condition told a story of its own.

Anyway, I retrieved the book and embarked on a journey of reliving Shackleton's adventures - at least that was the hope. Unfortunately the book suffers from a lack of flow and therefore becomes a bit of chore.  Basically every chapter has three sub-chapters: the storyline which often feels contrived and constructed around PowerPoint headings; a summary of the key lessons; and then a sub-chapter on how someone has been strongly influenced by Shackleton's style.  To me the book suffers as a result and becomes laboured through trying to do too many things and none of them particularly well.  The book consequently also suffers from the lack of a narrative - at one stage I wondered if I would enjoy reading the book better by just sticking to the first sub-chapters. The biggest disappointment though is the almost deification of Shackleton - I just don't feel that would be Shackleton's Way and although a great leader he was no saint.

I believe every aspiring CFO needs to understand Leadership and demonstration of Leadership separates the 'great' from the merely 'good' CPO.  Although the key points for CPOs will be found in the book, this isn't the book I would recommend.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Gove turns his guns on procurement and programme management

One time thought to be a contender to become PM, former Secretary of State for Education, and Secretary of State for Justice has set his sights on public sector procurement and programme management professionals today, in a Comment piece in the Times. I will watch with interest the Letters section to see if CIPS reply.

Gove does a fine job of cataloguing procurement and programme management disasters. Indeed, many of the cases he cites are those I have blogged about in the past and/or used as case studies when training.  I will spare you an echoing of the cases; the average man or women on the street is familiar with many of them anyway.

While it is interesting that Gove has put pen to paper on a subject dear to many of us, what is particularly interesting is who he considers to blame - the 'Sir Humphrey's but not the Ministers.

Gove calls for a shift to weekly reporting on progress to Parliament of procurements and programmes. Would there be enough Parliamentary time and, if there was the time, would we see any interest from MPs?

Controversially he also wants to
see the names of civil servants responsible for these programmes to be published, their explanations for failure (or success) recorded and those who've failed be removed while those who can demonstrate clear, measurable, success get promoted. I know this concept- let's call it accountability - may be somewhat revolutionary for our civil service.
This is an interesting notion but isn't Gove missing the point about why we have Ministers in charge of government departments?  It is the democratically elected politicians who have to call those in their own departments to account.  It is the democratically elected politicians who have to rein in the pursuit of unrealistic political timescales.  It is the democratically elected politicians who have to develop the skills to scrutinise and manage professionals to ensure that they deliver on their objectives. Yes, perhaps civil servants need to use a louder voice in explaining to politicians the risks of pursuing some projects. But you can't just point the finger at the civil servants without recognising a failure of political performance management.

Also worrying is the implication that civil servants are being influenced by lobby groups. Can he really believe that, and if he does, why doesn't he blow the whistle on what really amounts to corruption.

This, one time, very influential political may well have lost a lot of his power, but should he ever regain it, CIPS will have a major problem if they don't educate the former Secretary of Education now.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Approval processes, the Queen and Parliament

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to approval processes for big investments, not just procurement. Part of my thinking has been concerned with how you would define a good approval process and evaluate the 'As-Is' - my early thinking is that it would exhibit the following:
  • Robust governance at the appropriate level;
  • Clarity of who owns and is accountable for the business case;
  • Consistency in application;
  • Visibility and transparency - knowing when a given need is in the process and what's happening;
  • Understood by users;
  • Pragmatism;
  • Integration with the wider eco-system.
How do those attributes sound to you?  What else would you include?

Anyway, news that the The Queen is now seeking approval from parliament for £369m of repairs to one of her homes was timely.  Basically Parliament hold the purse strings and need to approve the cost of the repairs at Buckingham Palace, but the current issue is why, within 12 months, has the estimated cost rose from £150m to £369m for the ten-year refit?  

We are told that last year's estimate "was one of several estimates" and didn't include inflation!  Hold on, what is the current rate of inflation, isn't it just under 1%, over the next ten years will that be radically different?  Of the 'several estimates' received last year, what was the range, and was there some selective presentation of the figures to secure last years approval in principle? It's surprising they didn't blame it on Brexit too.

I think it may be interesting to understand why such an investment is now needed - was there no investment in recent years in preventative maintenance? Is this all reactive?  Surely those managing the Royal Estate should be concerned with preventative maintenance and there shouldn't be a need for such a massive investment?

But let's also remember that this latest discussion is about approval to invest the now £369m. When I discuss an integrated approach in my list of attributes of an approval process, I'm referring to integration with what happens after approval has been granted.  I want to see approvals within stated tolerances and subsequent governance and scrutiny in the contract award and implementation, including project management. Without that Parliament would be buying a promise and abdicating responsibility for ensuing actual value for money is achieved, not just the aspiration.  There's another interesting question here, if you recall Westminster Palace is also in need of a massive refurbishment - is there no strategy for looking across the portfolio and planning accordingly?

Friday, 18 November 2016

Brexit preparedness and armoured vehicles - what's so hard about that for procurement?

Just in case you wondered why I hadn't blogged recently, it is quite straight-forward, I've been very busy on my day job and haven't found much to say or add to the current procurement debates. I've also been really frustrated with obvious lack of preparedness to the Brexit vote - I wrote an article in Public Money and Management in March 2015 which warned:
... there is growing discomfort in many countries with their membership of the EU.  Those working in public procurement policy and practice would do well to consider the 'what if' scenario if the threatened exits from the EU materialize as there would be significant repercussions. (PMM, Vol 35, #2,  March 2015, p.95).
Well the news this week certainly suggests my warnings should have been heeded more widely across the UK public sector.

However, excuse that bit of "I told you so" - what do you make of the story in today's Times: 'MOD accused of sham contest for armoured vehicles contract'?  The gist of the story is that there are insinuations that the MOD is engaging in a procurement process while already having made up its mind what the outcome will be.  Apparently, the "preliminary market engagement" has been worded in such a way as to reduce the options to one, even though, functionally, it would appear there are significantly lower priced alternatives available!  The process is underway at the present and this stage closes on Tuesday coming.

I wonder how the MOD assessed the risk of this procurement exercise? What will happen in the rest of the procurement process?

If it turns out the potential alternative providers chose not to bid, then the media and those bidders will say it was a fix and the tax payer may have lost out - we would never know.  If the competing products don't match the needs of those on the frontline but because of media attention is awarded anyway, the frontline users suffer and also the best provider misses out on their competitive advantage. If the alternative providers do submit the required responses and then subsequently aren't shortlisted, it will be perceived as a fix and a very costly fools errant for the bidders.  If the alleged preferred supplier wins, at what is considered to be an inflated price, there will be questions, perhaps even allegations of corruption.  If the process is scrapped ... I could go on but you get the gist.

This procurement has all the hallmarks of not being a CV enhancer - why on earth can we not think procurement risk and manage it?