back to article Agile consultant behind UK's disastrous Common Platform Programme steps down

The head of the agile company instrumental in the UK Ministry of Justice's disastrous Common Platform Programme has stepped down. His departure follows a Register exclusive exposing the project's failings. Jeremy Renwick, chief exec of Agilesphere, held the role of Programme Manager/Agile Coach from February 2015 until April …

Vic

At which the users gaze in desperation because there's no documentation on how to use it.

Then it wasn't Agile.

Agile prefers working software over complete documentation, not over any documentation.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Agile fine until it hits the real world?

"Not heard of change control?"

Change control: the act of trying to wrestle reality into being what you decided it should be two years ago, instead of evolving and adapting to reality as it is now.

"From my experience, the primary difference between Agile and waterfall is in the contracted deliverables and the ownership of risk. With waterfall, I the supplier commit to delivering a complete system that satisfies the requirements within a defined timeframe. With Agile, I the supplier commit to delivering some functionality through a number of development iterations within a time period."

You are comparing apples and oranges. The waterfall situation you describe is about delivering a defined outcome. The agile situation you describe is just T&M delivery of services, not delivery of a defined outcome. Agile can be used for both, but agile has a far better chance of delivering to expectations because of far better risk management abilities - unless, of course, management only pay lip service to agile without actually being agile.

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Trollface

This never would have happened if they had used DevOps

DevOpsTM, used by savvy bleeding edge consultants everywhere a PHB is seeking a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. Now available in fresh minty flavor.

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Anonymous Coward

So, £270M for a diary!?

Which begs the bigger question, why in 2017 are people still able to run a viable business developing diaries?

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Re: So, £270M for a diary!?

Anyone who has ever been involved with the UK courts will know that the justice system has an almost boundless ability to run up costs and delay. So combining that with a software programme seems a fatal mix.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So, £270M for a diary!?

Anyone who has ever been involved with the UK courts will know that the justice system has an almost boundless ability to run up costs and delay. So combining that with a software programme seems a fatal mix.

The problem is that there are WAY too many incompetent idiots involved. If you let competent people do what they're good at you can also deliver something, but it usually has to get to a panic stage before the idiots get out of the way so you can get something done.

I've been there and cleaned things up. It's unbelievable that some companies are even allowed near government IT, but I guess that's why they spend so much money on lobbying.

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Re: So, £270M for a diary!?

"why in 2017 are people still able to run a viable business developing diaries?"

It sounds more like an unviable business failing to develop diaries.

But in answer to your question, from extensive experience around the courts in the past, looking at it as a diary is probably the wrong approach. Think in terms more of a production planning system where some stages are unpredictable in duration and where the resources needed are being shared with other production processes, some of them quite some distance away.

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Facepalm

constantly testing our new systems and processes with users.

Oh, great! So add in the wasted time where the users are testing and figuring out how to do today what they did differently yesterday instead of doing the jobs they are paid to do.

Testing is good. Continuous testing with users as guinea pigs is bad.

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Re: constantly testing our new systems and processes with users.

>Continuous testing with users as guinea pigs is bad.

Just the new zelgeist - Windows 10 etc.

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Coat

Agile == Fragile

Coat with really big pocket and a copy of 'Fragile' on 12in Vinyl in it.

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Re: Agile == Fragile

The failure has nothing to do with the methodology and everything to do with the people involved.

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Devil

Re: Agile == Fragile

Methodology, when done as a perversion of some real methodology, is a fine way to terminally destroy the spirit of any good programmer. It is some years since I am out of industry, but, boy, do I hear stories of that!

What stays in such a company is the not-so-good programmers.

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Re: Agile == Fragile

@Charlie Clark

Quite true.

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Same old con game

In less than 10 years, my former outfit pulled in big buck consultants: McKinsey, then SAP. They got thoroughly hosed by the results.

Agile can work - but not if corporate management uses it as an excuse to evade doing their jobs.

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Re: Same old con game

Almost any kind of management can work if the programmers can actually design and write software, and are allowed or encouraged to do that.

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It's odd...

There is more to this than meets the eye because from an actual solution build and delivery perspective, Agile should have been an approach that could have worked quite well in this instance, and again, should have avoided the normal bollocks arguments that come with the whole Agile vs Waterfall approach. That's not to say though that an Agile approach would have been suitable for the overall and wider programme or that the tenets of a good Agile delivery weren't lost in the presumed quagmire of over zealous and underskilled sales and delivery managers.

For any company to have won the contract to deliver and build they would have had to have gone through a competitive tender process which would have required all of the functional requirements etc etc to have been completed and discussed up front. After all, who would bid on a government tender without understanding those requirements right?

From what I've read this has all the hallmarks of "Agile" not necessarily being the issue, but once again, a total lack of proper programme management controls, resourcing, planning and governance which in itself equates to an 80% chance of failure before you've even lifted a finger.

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Alert

Re: It's odd...

> After all, who would bid on a government tender without understanding those requirements right?

Just about everyone. It is damn near impossible to uinderstand the requirements when the government 'subject matter experts' don't have a clue, which isn't helped by branches in different geographical locations follow a different process for the same task achieving a slightly but significantly different result. Managers incapible of making a decision and unions protecting jobs further adds to the complexity.

Yes, I'm emotionally scarred by government contracts. I need to breath deeply and remember that simply delivering a mostly working solution under these conditions should be considered a success.

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Re: all of the functional requirements etc etc to have been completed and discussed up front.

The trouble is, as has often been observed, in order to be able to generate functional requirements and all the rest to a suitable standard t reduce the chance of failure to something small, you need probably need a sufficiently capable in house IT service that you don't need to go out and tender anyway.

Managing such contracts is an art in itself. The demonstration I remember was many years ago when my then employer had in house IT in a competitive tendering basis with all procurement responsibility devolved to the departments. The, shall we say Wotsits department's IT 'specialist', whose enthusiasm exceeded his practical ability by a very considerable margin, devised a tender with an amazingly complicated multi level client/local server/central server setup that would have solved all sorts of problems if it could have been made to work properly. However the complexity was such that the chances of it working properly in a reasonable timescale was about zero.

The in house IT department, being a bit naive about such tenders, said this will never work, and proposed a solution based on a central server with some very small local boxes doing nothing more than caching static reports. ICL (that's how long ago this was) won the tender with a proposal that very closely matched the customer specification, and complimented the customer lead on his vision.

Having won the tender, ICL then carefully managed the customer to accept a few minor changes to the system design. What these turned out to be were to increase the power of the central servers an reduce the role of the local boxes to caching static reports...

It was a lesson in the vital importance of customer management I've never forgotten. But think about how high risk it was. If the customer hadn't been sweet talked into, without realising it, completely abandoning his high risk design in favour of something practical then the whole project would have gone comprehensively and spectacularly pear shaped.

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Facepalm

Re: Aristotles Re: It's odd...

"....After all, who would bid on a government tender without understanding those requirements right?...." Er, no. In consulting sales this is called a "Never Ending Story" - a project that, if negotiated around flexible milestones on time and materials terms, will deliver far more revenue than a "deliver X that meets set requirements A through Z for a fixed fee". Remember, consultancies are out to make money, and if a customer will continue to hand over cash for virtually zero progress then the consultancies will take it. Some Never Ending Story projects will keep consultancies paid for years after a properly scoped and managed project would have completed, and the ironic bit is the customer's will end up perpetuating the whole deal because they won't want to own up to failure.

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Seagull Consultants

Everyone was amazed at the beautiful white bird that arrived having flown in so gracefully showing complete mastery of the air.

It was only when it was gone that people realised, while it was there all it did was make a deafening noise drowning out everyone else, it stole all the bread and left a pile of shit behind.

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Anonymous Coward

Management Repeat after me

Agile does not mean no plan!

by all means split the above sentence in to individual characters, get your devs put the individual words together order is not important at this time. Ensure there is a test to make sure each word is as it should be when it is done. Make sure all words and their test are all complete complete in time to assemble your sentence according to the planned order. Release to the customer.

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Devil

Re: Management Repeat after me

Agile , A Tanned Lemon Spoon!

Not what you were looking for?

Oh well.

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Happy

Re: AC Re: Management Repeat after me

No, not Agile. Means does plan?

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Devil

According to his LinkedIn profile...

...Jeremy Renwick, chief exec of Agilesphere, held the role of Programme Manager/Agile Coach from February 2015 until April 2017.

Also according to his LinkedIn profile, he discovered antibiotics, destroyed Carthage, and turned water into wine.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: According to his LinkedIn profile......

I am big into the Agile scene. I've never heard of this guy or this company.

That sets my alarm bells ringing.... most big names know each other.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: According to his LinkedIn profile......

I am really big into the Agile scene. I've worked with this guy and he's very good.

The AC hater set my alarm bells ringing. I mean, who would bother posting this meaningless, contextless bullshit?

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How about the simple idea of cash on delivery or stage payments ?

If a company is so under funded that it can't finance a project itself,then stage payments,if larger firm then nothing until you deliver a tested working system that does what it's meant to in the real world used by the people it's meant to be used by..

Are there any claw back clauses in the gov contracts ?

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Claw back clauses?

Hah!

The Government contract teams are apparently almost universally idiots, who even allow clauses saying "If we fail to deliver anything we still get paid. If we are fired for not delivering anything, we still get paid."

As evidenced by a great many examples. *sigh*

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Re: Claw back clauses?

Tenderer contract teams are usually those big law firms who pay their associate lawyers 100K-500K, with partners starting at about 1m.

Government contract teams are usually in-house lawyers that make 40-100k/year who were rejected by the big law firms the tenderers are using.

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Coat

No mention of scrum

There's a term that got lost in translation (or perhaps not for government projects).

However, simplified for effect:

A scrum is where two teams push against each other with very little gain in territory

but

A rolling maul can be very successful for one team to gain territory

The Americans couldn't cope with maul as it sounds like somewhere they go to shop.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of scrum

That's why scrums should be short... it's a way of getting play restarted but you really want to get the ball out quickly to make any real progress.

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Facepalm

Re: No mention of scrum

> That's why scrums should be short...

Here is how one company, which shall go unnamed, does it.

Scrum is on Friday and everybody has to attend. Scrum happens at the location the owner lives, which is about 400 Kilometer away from where actual work is done. Scrum lasts 8 hours, with just a short mid-day break. So folks have to get up really early to drive (own cars, train tickets are expensive; traveling time does not count as working time) to that other location, survive that Very Special Scrum[TM], and arrive back at their place only late in the evening.

I was told that your will to live reliably ended before mid day.

This, as an utter surprise, did not work as expected. So now scrum is only every second week, procedure as above.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of scrum

All scrums need a good hooker, supported by good props.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of scrum

I'm more of a number eight... I'm involved in every scrum, somehow, but mainly I just hang on to the coat-tails of those in front of me without really putting in much effort myself.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of scrum

Agile scrums only have one team.

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Coat

Re: No mention of scrum

All scrums need a good hooker, supported by good props.
I hope there's more than one good hooker, I don't like sloppy seconds.

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Anonymous Coward

having delivered numerous agile projects, i can confirm that HMG is perfectly able to work in an agile way.

- deliver one kick-off/workshop about the benefits of agile and talk about the backlog for 20 mins

- prefix the gantt chart spreadsheet name with "agile"

- send periodic boilerplate notes about agile to senior management (generic hipster imagery *very* useful here, i cant stress that enough!)

its that easy.

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Most agile techniques used in government aren't really agile. It's normally the same people who've failed before but given some agile training. They don't really understand it, so they give their existing process a veneer of agile sounding workflows and wording. But the core is the same.

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Who remembers this phrase?

Good enough for government work.

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Anonymous Coward

The program failed due to a lack of agil

CPP is not agile, which is one of the key reasons it failed. Sure there's lots of lip service paid to agile development methodologies, but at its core it's still a big enterprise-y, waterfall, silo'd, IT project that has learned nothing from past failures.

Unfortunately the Reform program, which has largely followed CPP but with a much larger budget (CPP started with £200m, reform £700m) appears to be following suit with a crazy mandate to affect full end-to-end change of existing services, rather than taking an agile divide & conquer, deliver small pieces quickly and respond to user feedback, approach.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The program failed due to a lack of agil

The Reform Programme is run by people who burnt Channel 4's millions and delivered nothing. It is now being sold to consultancies like Atos and slowing removing any independent contractors. It has already started with User Researchers and Business Analysts being asked to leave. It has been unable to digitise simple application like Apply for Divorce even after an year of 20 people working on it.

Unfortunately the Reform programme cannot differentiate between Digitisation and Transformation.

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DABLing with Architecture

Jeremy isn't the only one who has left... The Lead Architect has jumped ship and is now architecting the Met Police. Dabbling indeed, what could possible go wrong?

https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2016/08/12/dabling-with-architecture/

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Re: DABLing with Architecture

DABL - Looks a bit like a waterfall to me, but then given this is Agile, it is probably more akin to a series of rapids - not as impressive as a waterfall, but a lot more exhilarating to ride down.

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"Agile" gets your foot in the door. Boards connect with the word. It implies new and smart. Project approved.

From there, Agile just means feeling your way, because no one knows what they are doing.

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Ahh, so it's like tender pricing as opposed to actual price?

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Once upon a time....

I remember doing some Systems Analysis work for an large(ish) education organ. (Yes it was a VERY long time ago)

We talked to all the management to try and figure out what each department did and how it related to the larger organisation. These were the days where most functions were completed via paperwork. When we went to talk to the people at the coal face, we discovered that what the managers thought the department did and what it ACTUALLY did were two different things.

Had a mate who also got roped into some Govt consulting work (Against his will) some 15 years later

He mentioned to me that that although working for a different part of the Govt; The same bullshit was still going on. Additionally, trying to contain the scope creep/churn from the customer was a nightmare! They were constantly changing specs, scope, requirements for parts of the system even completed and signed off ones; every couple of months. When the clients were told by his PHBs that this could be done but it would cost T&M they always said yes, right until the invoices came due; then the client nit-picked every single detail, argued every toss of the coin.

He and his team spent the next ~18 months fighting the customer tooth 'n nail to actually get a system out the door that would actually meet requirements. I believe it was lauded as an shining example of Govt/Private partnership and what could be achieved.

Arguing Waterfall v. Agile in that sort of environment is like arguing the relative merits of paper v plastic bags; While plummeting to the earth from 30,000 feet without a parachute.

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What ever methodology you use, EVERYTHING must get done. Its just how you go about it, a dead waterfall project tends to leave quantifiable chunks, wheras a dead agille project tends to leave multiple bits of code that do part of some of the requirements, but dont come together. If both methods are executed fully, you should have a stable, tested, secure and documented deliverable, with all the parameters met, the issue is good Project managers are hard to find, and they usually aren't teamed with good delivery people, so most projects aren't perfectly executed from end to end, and something slips, usually the documentation and security.

HMG and Agile have a culture mis-match HMG havent worked out how to write a contract for waterfall yet, let alone an agile one (incremental payment for incremental work)

Along with the age old problem that HMG dont know what they want from one day to the next (Scope Creep is the no1 killer of large projects) and they are operating on limited funds, with pennywise and pound foolish purchasing departments, which means materials and expert staff are scrimped on, this leaves me wondering how any projects actuall get completed, let alone on time or budget.

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Anonymous Coward

Unfair

A little late to the party. "A senior civil servant with no experience of running a complex IT programme" THAT is the problem. Not the contractors fault. Take it from someone who knows. Poor, exceptionally poor governance governance governance, is the root to all the badness. Therefore, the people who manage said senior civil servant should be held accountable. Said civil servant should never have been given the job. This is a much wider issue than anyone can imagine. The root cause is governance, the public service is systemically broken much higher up on the ladder.

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