back to article 'Silent' staff stood by as £100m BBC IT project tanked – DG

The BBC's new director general Tony Hall says staff should have spoken up about the catastrophic Digital Media Initiative (DMI). The utopian media storage project cost the BBC almost £100m since 2010 (and some £81m before then) before it was formally abandoned in May, with the corporation opting to use off-the-shelf software …

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Burnt cakes

I just burnt some cakes, not my fault the oven didn't tell me it was too hot. Wife has suspended me but when I asked for hefty bonus for trying, guess what she said, 'you're not working for the BBC'. Real life eh.

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Happy

Re: Burnt cakes

The oven did try to tell you. You know all the smoke and the foul smell; yep, means something is burning. You just didn't want to pay attention and now it's garbage.

*The "you" in that example isn't you, you. It's the hypothetical cook/executive :)

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Re: Burnt cakes

... and if you would have worked for the BBC and would have spoken up ... you would have to apply for asylum in Russia as well ...

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Pint

Re: Burnt cakes

Journalists too stupid to stop acting stupid ? Slow News Day El Reg ?

That's the difference between the BBC and Hollywood. The mere mention of "hefty bonus" contract details would have been worth a mini-series.

Seriously, if you want a publishing deal, go to the Tabloids, they know value when they see it.

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Re: Burnt cakes

Cake burner, eh?

You'll go far. May even get to rule England one day.......

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Re: Burnt cakes

Do you not think he needs to master making bad sandwiches also? To rule England I mean. Isn't this the country that there is this persistent feeling embedded in the population that making a sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do? That by eating sandwiches in pubs at Saturday lunchtime the British seek to atone for whatever their national sins are.

Or is sandwich making a prerequisite to burning cakes?

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Management don't want to know ..

The reason management don't know is management sends out the message that they don't want to know.

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Re: Management don't want to know ..

That's the real problem. When one of the lower-level staff sees a problem they can either tell their manager, who doesn't want to pass it up in case he gets blamed for the bad news, or they can bypass the hierarchy and contact someone nearer the top. That can be risky, I somehow don't think the BBC is the sort of organization that would tolerate it. The whistleblower would likely either be slapped down and told to go through channels, or be sidelined for being a "troublemaker".

The result is that everyone knows, officially or not, but it never rises above a certain level of middle-management.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Management don't want to know ..

Open Door Policy. It goes something like this:

"We are going to face huge problems here..."

"Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions."

"OK. Scrap the project."

"That's not a solution. Now get out and get on with it."

Ahhh, "management" skills, eh?

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Re: Management don't want to know ..

@Phil

I have been in the situation where I spoke up and was ignored. Then I bypassed my manager and went to the director. Then I found that they didnt really care and my attempt to put the company first was worth less than going along with stupid and pointless plans that failed. I left the job.

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Re: Management don't want to know ..

"The reason management don't know is management sends out the message that they don't want to know."

Yup, same everywhere. I director I once reported to (now harmlessly redeployed) gave this response to an early warning of impending problems

" I don't want to have this conversation"

OK, I didn't mention it again, and when the shit hit the fan, I produced my (in)famous A4 black notebook[*] - where I record all instructions, suggestions and tasks with dates and contemporaneous notes for context - and smiled supportively.

I can duck really quickly.

[*] I recommend Windsor and Newton 150 g/m2 sketchbooks. Produce one of those in a meeting and PHB has a wobbly.

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Coat

Re: Management don't want to know ..

Or you get labelled as not having a "can do" attitude. I have yet to understand what the difference between having a can do attitude and being a mindless yes man is...

I got the coat last month...

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Re: keithpeter Re: Management don't want to know ..

"..., I produced my (in)famous A4 black notebook...." Excellent advice. And always make sure you have all the emails saved so you can print them out, just in case someone from management decides to get editorial with the email archive. If you are a contractor and need to prove you have done as requested this can be a key tool. And spot the scapegoating stage of the project early - that's when the people that carry the can meet up to decide which patsy will actually be getting the blame for a failed project (usually not the person actually to blame for the project failing).

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Unhappy

Re: Management don't want to know ..

Spot on. It's what you get when higher management doesn't want to hear about problems and potential failures, only how well everything is going. Actually having problems is always seen as failure on the part of the people further down the tree, and punished. So middle management en masse basically gets scared to tell anyone above them that something is seriously wrong - and what little status filters back up is a censored and glossily polished imitation of the truth. At the time things need to be fixed, no-one wants to say it's needed; by the time it can't be hidden, it's too late. And when things eventually get so bad that it can't be ignored any longer, the guys at the top - who are wholly responsible for the toxic culture they rule over - blame anyone but themselves, hunt out and punish the "guilty", and start the whole poisonous mess all over again.

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Re: Management don't want to know ..

As someone who has worked in the UK and a number of countries around the world - this is a VERY UK class structure problem. Management & Upper class don't listen to the workers and the workers don't feel it is their place to tell management as they won't listen anyway.

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That's going to lave a mark -- not.

A news organization that makes it a practice to not hear opinions and facts that it does not like? Humorous.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

It's common practice with left wing outfits.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

"It's common practice with left wing outfits."

You're clueless aren't you. Are you American?

The BBC has only recently lost the Chairman of Barclays (Marcus Agius) from the BBC Board. And that only because it got too embarrassing for him, with questions being asked at the Barclays AGM in public; the same questions asked of the BBC never got anywhere.

In recent years there has been plenty of widely reported Barclays-related material (bonuses, tax dodging, Barcap in general, Bob Diamond in particular) appearing in well known lefty media such as the FT, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. There was generally zero coverage of those topics on the BBC (broadcast or website).

Elsewhere in the BBC you've got well known lefties like Robert Peston and the PPE at Oxbridge economics editor Stephanie Flanders.

The chances of someone mildly left of centre like Alan Bleasdale (Boys from the Blackstuff, BBC, and GBH, C4, etc) getting a similar work commissioned by BBC in recent years are zero (Sinking of the Laconia doesn't count).

Not the kind of behaviour you'd expect from a "lefty" outfit, but exactly the kind of behaviour you'd expect from a supposedly independent outfit who were worried about their funding being cut if they upset the wrong people.

It's even the kind of behaviour I've seen in allegedly "world class" private sector organisations where the "continuous improvement" message is widely preached, but suggesting improvements that might require inconvenient facts to be exposed is likely to be a career-limiting move for the suggester.

You're clueless aren't you. Are you American? (repeated in case it didn't sink in the first time).

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Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

It's standard practice in business.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

Barclays misled shareholders about source of £3bn

'I will defend Barclays bonuses'

Barclays 'let down society' says Church of England

Barclays' Salz Review blames bank culture

No shortage of adverse Barclay's stories on the BBC news website.

When the BBC start advertising their jobs in newspapers other than the Guardian I might start believing they are attempting to overcome their bias.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

I am sure they have left wing and right wing birds too in the US.

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Meh

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

"You're clueless aren't you. Are you American? (repeated in case it didn't sink in the first time)."

I believe the proper term is "squared" not "repeated", but then, what do I know, I'm an American.

(I do agree the comment "It's common practice with left wing outfits." went ignorant way beyond to call of duty, cluelessnesswise)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That's going to lave a mark -- not.

>When the BBC start advertising their jobs in newspapers other than the Guardian I might start believing they are attempting to overcome their bias.

BBC News' Political Editor is former chairman of the Young Conservatives and the current Governor of the Beeb is former Chairman of the Conservative Party. You need to head over to C4 to get lefties of this calibre.

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Pirate

Yet Another Reason

If you ever need a reason not to buy the bloated tv license, this is it,

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Re: Yet Another Reason

Babies and bathwater - unfortunately.

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Def
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Re: Babies and bathwater

You can lead a baby to bathwater, but you can't make it drink?

True enough, but I don't see how that applies here. ;)

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Baloney

Re: "Hall told Ariel this week:I want an organisation that can take risks and do things that are difficult, and learn from our mistakes as opposed to 'You made a mistake, out you go'."

I call bullshit. In these types of environments the person raising the alarm is flagged as the person who will become scapegoat when it inevitably hits the fan. Taking risks, by definition, is risky.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Baloney

And then the person speaking up is only labeled as a "troublemaker", "not a team player", "negative influence", "pessimist", "not loyal", "dragging the [project] down", "lacking motivation", "unimaginative and can't see the big picture", "a complainer", "a royal pain", "a loud mouthed jerk", "a moron"...

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Trollface

Re: Baloney

I think you are being too negativist, so shut up. I would like to see some progress. Rome was not built in a day, so work smarter, not harder. I will be away on holidays the next two months btw, so I expect you to manage. Be grateful for this trust and delegation.

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Devil

Re: Baloney

The guy suspended TOLD them it need scrapped. BBC Research told them it needed scrapped. But they insisted on "full steam ahead" even though the guy suspended was brought in because they KNEW it had hit an Iceberg. BBC Management is in the wet place in Egypt.

You should hear any of the Cringeworthy replies Senior folk make on Feedback.

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Six Stages

Phases of a big project

- Enthusiasm,

- Disillusionment,

- Panic and hysteria,

- (optional)Daily status meetings,

- Search for the guilty,

- Punishment of the innocent, and

- Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_phases_of_a_big_project

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Why would I?

I work in a very, very large global company. I watch as similar projects get proposed, get funding, tank spectacularly, and then one middle-manager is moved or demoted (and leaves) and the rest of the project managers, IT staff and business teams involved shake themselves off, gather in another room, give themselves new titles, and do it all over again. I once wrote a report protesting one project in my work area (and where I have expertise) trying to make clear why they shouldn't be doing what they were doing and how it was going to hit the wall, and about when the crash would happen. Since I am generally liked, I was told kindly to get back in my box. The project duly hit the wall, only one month later than I had predicted.

I decided to save my breath to cool my porridge. But then, we don't get paid from taxpayers' money.

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Re: Why would I?

I think these things always happen, it's just that they happen slughtly less often at successful firms.

The winner wins because he makes fewer mistakes, not because of a monopoly of good management and foresight.

I guess it's like war, a bit of luck and making fewer mistakes...

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Re: Why would I?

@xerocred - agreed. As a senior manager - that’s how I look at it. If I get more right than wrong I am doing well. The other side is to mitigate your mistakes as early as possible.

Humility and self-belief also help

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"Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, ..

The statement about not raising the issue could also be taken to read as: None of the workers dared to tell the management (for some reason).

If you can't speak to management about problems, then that's normally because there's a problem with the management and how they'll react to challenges.

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Re: "Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, ..

Except EVERYONE repeatedly DID tell Management!

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Anonymous Coward

Glib, facile, and unconstructive

"I want an organisation that can take risks and do things that are difficult, and learn from our mistakes as opposed to 'You made a mistake, out you go'."

It's easy - and fashionable - to say that. (Though I'm reminded of the saying "'I want' never gets"). Making it possible is much harder, and would require him (for example) to delve down and actually find out how first-level and second-level bosses treat their people in practice. In a well-managed organisation, it's relatively straightforward. The CEO tells his direct reports what he wants, and so on down to the lowest level of management. Each manager watches his direct reports vigilantly, and makes absolutely sure they can't abuse their staff without his knowledge. It's not easy, but it's straightforward - like telling the truth, or keeping one's promises.

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Re: Glib, facile, and unconstructive

I concur it's straightforward and not easy, but the problem with your example is that it is still a top-down model. Proper management requires multiple information flows in execution. You also need bottom up and across tiers, but in appropriate ways. Directives obviously have to be top down, but the information informing those directives needs to be bottom up. Across tiers tends to be for implementation purposes and to avoid the information loss inherent in bottom to up then up to bottom that would otherwise be required. So it is a little more complicated than you describe, but the weakest link is still the integrity across each communication junction.

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Anonymous Coward

Speak up? We did.

But by then we had not been BBC staff for some years.

The BBC Head of Technology, John Varney, had sold off BBC Technology to Siemens, and then stood on his hind legs in front of his project managers and announced that technology was no longer a core activity.

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FAIL

Do you really think that the top management would listen to the concerns of the staff at the coalface ?

Besides which, saying that the emperor has no clothes could well be career-limiting move.

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Silent Culture

As other, somewhat more sensational, news stories have demonstrated; there is clearly a culture of keeping quiet within the BBC. Seems to be an organisation full of people who are scared to lose their jobs.

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Re: Silent Culture

That's another characteristic of leftist organizations. Actual intellectual activity is known to always upset the brainwashing functions. So, while it is a given that you can't brainwash everybody, if you can at least ensure everyone know expression of such activity is a career limiting move, you can at least keep the rebels quiet while you continue brainwashing those who are susceptible.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Silent Culture

yawn give it a rest - it's a feature of top-down command and control organisations regardless of their political leanings.

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IT Angle

Deloitte and Siemens?

Amazing that Deloitte and Siemens don't get a mention, even though they were the teams who screwed the pooch in the first place. Wouldn't want to tarnish their "sterling" reputations for software consultancy.

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Meh

Same old story...

all over again. If you've worked in the industry for any length of time, you'd know that more likely than not any employee on the shop floor will have his/her warnings ignored, painted as a doom-monger, and be told that "negativity is unproductive", whilst the good ship "IT Project" plows on towards the abyss under full steam; simply because what must not be, cannot be.

Rather than correcting the course, or abandoning a project and saving huge amounts of money, over-ambitous designs and overly complex architectures are being adhered to because of a perceived "need to be on the forefront of technology".

I've been in the situation of having my warnings ignored on a number of occasions, and have learned my lesson... these days, I tend to keep my mouth shut and if it gets too bad, I just jump ship. Simply cannot be bothered anymore.

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Not the same thing

Management sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting la la la at the top of their voices is not the same as nobody telling them what's going on.

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Re: Not the same thing

Seriously, that deserves a whole page in a book about project management. It's a brilliant observation. Nearly as good as "Deputy heads will roll".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not the same thing

"Management sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting la la la at the top of their voices is not the same as nobody telling them what's going on."

1) Management taking the credit, while workers take the blame, is STANDARD in today's society. In what alternate reality do people exist where this is otherwise? Did Dick Fuld blame himself for Lehman? Etc, etc, etc.

2) I'd like to know where, in today's society, workers CAN speak up without fear of reprisal.

3) Then they aren't very good "managers". It is a manager's JOB to keep track of "what is going on", regardless if the workers are afraid to speak up in fear of point (2).

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Re: Not the same thing

Re number 2.

up until recently i would have given airline pilots as an example but then there's been that palaver with Ryanair and fuel levels...

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FAIL

(search) anywhere and edit (anywhere) with video data streams

Right there should have spelt trouble.

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