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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  1. miket82

    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.

    1. Don Jefe
      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 :)

    2. Erwin Hofmann
      Facepalm

      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 ...

    3. Gannon (J.) Dick
      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.

    4. Dr_N Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Burnt cakes

      Cake burner, eh?

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

      1. mr.K

        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?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    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.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      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.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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?

    3. keithpeter

      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.

      1. JimC Silver badge
        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...

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        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).

    4. PassingStrange
      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.

    5. Geoff Lamb

      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.

  3. perlcat

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

      It's common practice with left wing outfits.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            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.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          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.

        3. Gannon (J.) Dick
          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)

    2. feanor

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

      It's standard practice in business.

  4. Rono666
    Pirate

    Yet Another Reason

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

    1. Uffish

      Re: Yet Another Reason

      Babies and bathwater - unfortunately.

      1. Def Silver badge

        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. ;)

  5. btrower

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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"...

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        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.

    2. Mage Silver badge
      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.

  6. btrower

    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

  7. Hollerith 1

    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.

    1. xerocred

      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...

      1. Getriebe

        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

  8. graeme leggett

    "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.

    1. Mage Silver badge

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

      Except EVERYONE repeatedly DID tell Management!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Tom 13

      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.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  11. Paul Dx
    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.

  12. Ben Rose

    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.

    1. Tom 13

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  14. Otto von Humpenstumpf
    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.

  15. Magnus_Pym

    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. Mike Banahan
      Thumb Up

      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".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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).

      1. graeme leggett

        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...

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

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

    Right there should have spelt trouble.

  17. Vociferous

    Haven't we all seen White Elephant projects like this?

    I am peripheral to one right now, sufficiently close to see details but sufficiently far that there's no risk the inevitable fallout will hit me. It's interesting to watch, like a slow-motion car crash.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Haven't we all seen White Elephant projects like this?

      When I was at uni, we already had a book full of that crap. Back then, problems were ascribed to a mythical "software crisis", which no-one ever defined properly. After many years, tons of better tools, and far better software lifecycle management it turns out that, far from being a "software crisis", it was a "management crisis" all along. Now made worse by money-grabbing fumbling lords of arrogance who never had to get near a tech jobl being pumped into the upper strata of organizations.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Haven't we all seen White Elephant projects like this?

      Me too. It's fun to watch.

  18. britsurfer1

    Not exactly a case of 'not speaking up'

    The problem is, often people DO speak up, but they get overruled/ignored by the management who firmly believe it's the right thing.

    I work in IT and I see it all the time. The management come up with an idea, they put it forward, the costs are high, the timescales more so, and everyone on the IT team says "this isn't going to achieve what you want" - the amount of times I've tried to say that and have been politely told "I hear you, but we're going to do it anyway".

    Then (of course), when these things get canned the IT team gets the blame for large costs and long time scales.

  19. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Programs and programmes

    The same inability to spot the turkey in the BBC's IT is also apparent in it's broadcast choices.

    It takes a brave (or foolhardy, or someone on the verge of retirement) to casually mention that the database has no clothes, or that the new production starring every luvvie under the sun is a total stinker.

    Even when they do: whether as a TV critic, programmer who's unable to control the laughter (having seen the design docuemt) - or the tears, or simply an interested outsider who has seen a few disasters (both televisual and computerised) - nobody at a decision making level is prepared to listen.

    It's this arrogance within the Beeb that is the basic problem, compounded by the BBC Trust being either purposely toothless, professionally indolent or far too close to the "establishment" (and probably all three) to crack the whip.

    What the corporation needs is both transparentcy and a root and branch purge. Decisions should have named individuals identified (no more committee decisions and meetings - which is the usual way of muddying the water so it becomes impossible to discren who decided what) as being responsible and those decisions should be out in the open were we; their employers can scrutinise them.

  20. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    What I find worrying...

    Is why a guy running a department in a huge organization funded by the public would want that department to be taking risks with no explanation as to why, other than trying to be cool and trendy in appearance - but actually appearing to the more informed as a complete hipster twat instead.

    Why on earth the BBC "needs" cutting edge technology to this degree I'm not sure I know the answer to - but I'm pretty sure that the business requirements + the business case + ROI for the licence payer do not equal what they've tried to implement here technologically.

    And just for reference, if anyone knows what the business case was for this then I'd be highly interested.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, for the project's failings is odd"

    Odd? It's practically effing standard practice.

    Yours, embittered techy.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big IT projects

    Working in a closely related organisation, a colleague recently showed me a system he and a colleague developed after having spent loads with the internal development department who had delivered nothing in a couple of years. He freely admits it may not be properly structured by 'IT theory' and lacks some resilience but it works.

    I am starting to wonder if there is no point in trying to spec things and 'just get on with it'

    1. TheTick

      Re: Programs and programmes

      I think they just need to stop threatening us with fines and imprisonment if we don't pay them even if we don't watch them. Do that and the problems sort themselves out, or at least people don't give a shit as it's not our money anymore.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      There is no such thing as 'IT theory', however...

      In the long term, that's almost as bad. (E.g. does your friend's projects have test cases?) Maintenance is a huge part of any IT project and it's easy to end up with a system where every change produces an avalanche of bugs. (At which, point somebody suggests starting from scratch and a new Big IT Project Fail is born...) Always buy a working system and adapt yourselves to it; it's cheaper and more reliable to retrain people and change processes than to write a system. Unless you are a software house, you shouldn't be writing software.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: There is no such thing as 'IT theory', however...

        Could you not just get something working, then refactor and then document it? (I've no idea, but those buzz words must be great in a board meeting. ;) )

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
          Coat

          Re: those buzz words

          You missed out "agile".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: There is no such thing as 'IT theory', however...

          I think what you're after is: "Initially leveraging a small footprint resource towards the low hanging fruit, before pivoting to refocus on a strategic holistic solution?"

    3. ecofeco Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Programs and programmes

      It's not just the Beeb, but is endemic to almost all large organizations no matter the nation and has been since the dawn of history.

      They are generally known as "the losers" of historical change, but not before they hurt a lot of people.

  23. Kay Burley ate my hamster

    Whistle Blowers

    ...don't get thanked, have you not seen the news lately?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mgmnt doesn't wanna know.

    Typically, this is true. I've found a solution, however it runs on diesel, carries about 25 tons, and is typically seen with a (*substitute as appropriate for your side of the pond) skip/bin/dumpster on the back. I just need to rev mine up and back it up under the boardroom window for the afternoon meeting.

    Back soon.

  25. Chris G Silver badge

    Roll out the carpet!

    Many years ago while between jobs I helped out a mate for a few months, whose job was to repair and/or lay carpet at Bush House the then Headquarters of the BBC World Service.

    I can honestly say that the work environment there was definitely a 'Don't make waves' kind of place.

    In addition the majority of people I came across were much more concerned about earning promotion to a better office with better pay and a different colour of better quality carpet, upper management had Axeminster and Wilton, the plebs had foam backed nylon.

    Nobody tried to make themselves stand out when that would get them noticed in the wrong way, as opposed to the tried and tested dead man's shoes system of advancement.

    In any large organisation staff, whether they try to or not have very little actual say.

    What happens and when is down to the upper echelons and that is particularly so at the Beeb which then at least and probably still is very much old school civil service in it's somewhat entrenched attitudes .

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes Men

    The Corporation I work for is packed full of good techies, but it's also full of managers who haven't got any IT or technology background. I'd cite the example of a project manager who was steered away from buying a piece of kit worth £2000 offered for £10k by an unscrupulous vendor. He just didn't know any better.

    We recently had a a £100m project go belly up. The manager responsible was suspended on full pay, after which all the managers who had said he was a great guy the previous week pointed out what a total b****** he was.

    Speaking out is generally met with silence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes Men

      "The Corporation I work for is packed full of good techies, but it's also full of managers who haven't got any IT or technology background."

      Mine too. Our Development Manager is just a trumped up Business Analyst at the end of the day, and he's in a long chain of command of Dead Wood that's been lurking around for decades.

      I'm the archetypal troublemaker who warns of problems, gets ignored, and is regarded as being difficult because of it. And yet I'm the person who gets things done, the person who dreams up technical ideas that Management would never think of in a million years.

      Funny old world.

    2. Oninoshiko

      Re: Yes Men

      The manager responsible was suspended on full pay, after which all the managers who had said he was a great guy the previous week pointed out what a total b****** he was.

      he got a paid vacation?

      What did you star out here? I may be dense at this hour, but I can't figure it out.

  27. Cubical Drone

    A personal favorite of mine.

    http://search.dilbert.com/comic/Negative%20Attitude

  28. Red Bren

    Senior Management For Dummies

    Announce a 5 year plan. In year 3, before the flaws of the plan are starting to become apparent or any deliverables are due, announce that the world has moved on and the organisation needs a new 5 year plan.

    Initiate an ambitious but poorly specified project. Keep pouring the cash in until the organisation reaches the edge of bankruptcy. Then announce the project was a success by cherry-picking, twisting and stretching the original spec to match what little has been delivered.

    Resign/retire on health grounds before the shit hits the fan. The new regime can use you as a scapegoat but you still get to keep your bonus and pension, while employees, creditors and shareholders are left with nothing.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been there, still have the branded polo shirt

    Management don't listen when they don't want to hear what you are saying.

    When I worked for Auntie, we had a critical system that had no backup. Management listened until the point where I told them how much a failsafe system would cost. At that precise moment they stuck their fingers in their ears and started shouting "la la la we can't hear you".

    The only upside to that was that when it did foul up, management were too busy covering their arses to actually start to blame the poor sods on the floor who had warned them what might happen.

  30. smartypants

    280 grand?

    Is it just me who is astounded that anyone can be on a basic salary of quarter of a million quid? Especially one funded by ordinary people? It's about 10 times average income.

    How is this justifiable?

    I don't see why any public body should employ anyone for such a stupendous sum. There are plenty of us happy to do a good job for a fraction of that amount.

    Perhaps it's simply a function of the amount of greed at the very top. They need obscenely paid people just below them to justify their own theft.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: 280 grand?

      "There are plenty of us happy to do a good job for a fraction of that amount."

      Indeed, and it is all the more galling to realise that any *objective* assessment would conclude that he himself is *not* capable of doing a good job. Time and again we hear this "you've got to pay top whack for the best people" argument being trotted out in defence of people who are actually failing at their job. Hardly ever do we hear someone saying "Pay me an average salary but guarantee me a percentage of whatever's left in the kitty after I deliver the project under budget.".

  31. GrantB

    having been there..

    This classic best explains why management claim not to know:

    Genesis of Failure

    In the beginning was THE PLAN.

    And then came The Assumptions.

    And The Plan was without substance.

    And The Assumptions were without form.

    And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

    And they spoke among themselves, saying,

    "It is a crock of s--t, it stinks."

    And the workers went unto their Supervisors, and said,

    "It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odour thereof."

    And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying

    "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong,

    such that none may abide it."

    And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying,

    "It is a vessel of fertiliser, and none may abide its strength."

    And the Directors spoke among themselves saying one to another,

    "It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."

    And the Directors went to the Vice-Presidents, saying unto them,

    "It promotes growth, and it is very powerful."

    And the Vice-Presidents went to the President, saying unto him,

    "This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigour of the company, with powerful effects."

    And the President looked upon The Plan, and saw that it was good.

    And The Plan became policy.

    And that is how S--t happens."

  32. ecofeco Silver badge
    Mushroom

    It's thier ONLY reason for existence

    Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, for the project's failings is odd...

    Odd? It's thier ONLY reason for existence.

    I have yet to EVER see management do anything other than make reports, presentations and blame others for failure and deny raises.

    It's that last one that makes the others intolerable.

  33. PassiveSmoking

    This is far from a problem exclusive to the BBC. It's a sad fact that management is happier hearing optimistic lies than unpleasant truths, and will more consistently reward their underlings for the former, whereas the latter can in extreme cases find themselves looking for a new job. It's known as the SNAFU principle.

    Nobody wants to be a whistle blower for exactly that reason. The saddest case was the management clusterfuck at NASA/Nordon Thiokol that led to the Challenger disaster.

    http://dictionary.die.net/snafu%20principle

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "happier hearing optimistic lies than unpleasant truths"

      Ouch. I wish it wasn't true, but most people know it is, and was ("the emperor has no clothes" story has been around for a year or two).

      Re Challenger/Thiokiol/"don't rock the boat": see e.g. the 2013 dramadoc about Prof Feynman's involvement in the Challenger inquiry:

      http://www3.open.ac.uk/media/fullstory.aspx?id=25257

      And before that, there was his personal Appendix in the Challenger inquiry report:

      http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt

      Thank you Prof Feynman. Where are your equivalents today?

  34. Mark Pawelek

    Tony Hall is full of so much crap.

    These execs create the corporate culture we all have to work in. It's full of people who just follow orders. They dot their t's, cross their i's and never cause trouble. It's the Tony Hall's of this world who're responsible for this culture.

    It's bizarre how these self-proclaimed masterminds justify their salaries by claiming to manage. The truth emerges and we discover that none of them could be bothered to actually talk to their employees to find out what's actually going on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      MBWA

      "These execs create the corporate culture we all have to work in. It's full of people who just follow orders. They dot their t's, cross their i's and never cause trouble. It's the Tony Hall's of this world who're responsible for this culture.

      It's bizarre how these self-proclaimed masterminds justify their salaries by claiming to manage. The truth emerges and we discover that none of them could be bothered to actually talk to their employees to find out what's actually going on."

      Ain't that the truth. A fish rots from the head, quality starts at the top, etc.

      Once upon a time, Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard had a fine engineering company. In the 1970s their management methods led to the development of the term "management by wandering around", although the practice had been used before HP. That was before they dropped the W and management was MBA-dependent instead.

      I've seen MBWA in a modern incarnation in recent years, where the CEO comes round to a selection of departments on a routine (but not frequent) basis. The CEO's brief to managers was - allocate 30 minutes. 15 minutes for three five minute presentations, one from you on what everyone is up to, and two from the people in the team. And then some time to talk. Or something like that

      Can you imagine the impact that kind of setup has on the many layers of management between sharp end and CEO, and indeed on the actual workers? How different might things be if the middle managers knew that misrepresentation was a high risk activity? How different would things be if the workers knew that the CEO was a real human who was willing to come out of his ivory tower occasionally, maybe even make sensible things happen occasionally when the layers of middle managers have all said "not possible".

      It'll never catch on. Management is so much better dealt with by using Excel, and Powerpoint four blockers with 60 words or less and a 600Kbyte corporate logo, and by keeping HQ as far away from reality as possible. Much better than actually communicating. Perish the thought.

  35. Alan Denman

    Financially removed

    Fact is that the more you pay the hierarchy the less responsible they really become.

    Yes, they do get forced to resign, but usually via pension payments and a fat cheque and another fat cat post awaiting.

    So will yet another independent review committee will be well paid. I expect so, that being an fat cat ass kissing industry in itself.

  36. Eponymous Bastard
    FAIL

    Not a unique business model

    Higher education seems to be employing the same business model as the BBC. It pays huge salaries to people with little or no commercial experience - they've probably not even worked in a shop - to wield an axe over employees who might have decided that to work in education was ethical, like working for charity. Unfortunately both sectors have been ruined by commercialisation. Oh to be self-employed.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lots of Managers, but no management

    Something I've noticed at a lot of organisations, and from this article I'll assume the BBC is the same, is there is a lot of people with the word "manager" in the job title, yet the organisation seem to have very little management.

    As a manager you ask questions, verify answers, and make plans and contingencies, in addition to keeping the staff satisfied, and tracking the assigned tasks.

    If you do not know there is a problem with a project or operation in your patch, this means you have failed to manage, becuase you should have made yourself aware, tracked the warnings, and made plans and taken action accordingly.

  38. Dick Emery

    I caaaaaan't heeeeear youuuuu!

    I worked as IT admin for a small company. I had direct contact with the company director (he was in the office next door). We had a backup plan of overnight backups to tape from an overworked and cramped RAID5. I was having issues with failed tape backups. I found the cause being a dying HDD. Took an evening out in 'my own time'. Unpaid, to fix it (told them this too but did I get any thanks? Yeah right).

    I discovered that pretty much all the tape backups were useless. Things were OK for a while but I was always concerned about how reliable the backups were and did some recovery testing. They worked but it was still a concern as there was no offsite backup being made.

    I went to my superior and he ignored me (or rather a month passed with no word and querying him he said he was on the case). I eventually got impatient and went to the director and said in no uncertain terms. If he did not allow me to finance a system that would allow a better backup solution his company could be dead in the water tomorrow (we in a much more polite way than this of course).

    Two weeks later I was made redundant. Go figure.

  39. bag o' spanners
    Devil

    In this rarified world of commissioning airheads, the ability to avoid systematic failures is not seen as a useful quality. If it can't be painted on a pie chart as a kpi headline in ten words or less, it doesn't exist.

  40. john devoy

    The BBC is run like a political party now, if you keep changing people around jobs fast enough then no can be held accountable no matter how big the balls up.

  41. Winkypop Silver badge
    Windows

    Big projects are like cults

    Add senior managers with sky high expectations, mix in some overpaid external consultants who are happy-clappy zealots, throw in some middle managers without a clue, then rely totally on SMEs who fully understand why it won't work.

    As a SME, just try and approach the big table to point out the impending disaster....

  42. cambsukguy

    Interviewed for this project more than once

    Each time as a contractor, each time for something slightly different, each time an awful interview, non-technical types asking non-technical questions about my background.

    I got the feeling they wanted people of their sort, ironic really, I am basically a communist compared to most contractors - perfect for the BBC apparently - but didn't go to the right schools I suppose.

    Ah well, wasn't keen on commuting to Londinium anyway.

  43. SleepyJohn
    WTF?

    The best fertiliser is the farmer's wellies

    Perhaps these managers should be sent to agricultural college, where apparently they are taught that the best fertiliser is the farmer's wellies.

  44. Charles Manning

    The real reason: Don't piss in the gravy!

    Or if you're USAian, don't piss in the pork barrel.

    Huge government (or almost-government) projects are dripping with highly paid gravy. Very few people working on these projects are willing to hit the big red button. Whether the project ultimately works or fails matters less than that they continue to get paid for it/keep their job during a downturn.

    Very few people want to kill a golden goose, even if it is laying pear-shaped eggs.

    When a whistle is blown, the rest of those with a vested interest soon swoop in to unruffle feathers and keep the highly profitable status quo.

    This is particularly true for consultants who can make a lot of money and, if the project fails, say "Oh well, I did what they asked for.". Well I guess it is also true for regular 9-to-5-ers who just enjoy that the management is taking the heat when things don't deliver on their promises.

    No doubt if you unpack a lot of large projects gone wrong (eg. Denver airport) you will see some of the same.

    As a consultant I try not to work on projects tainted with the smell of death. I have also noticed that when you are not part of the organisation, it is really easy for you to be prevented from fully airing your concerns. As a result, those brought in for expert knowledge are often overruled by those who want to try some cool tech they like, or want to grow their job title.

  45. Mark Pawelek

    Not all the fault of Siemens / Deloitte

    The contract was given to Siemens, with consulting by Deloitte, in February 2008 but taken back in-house in summer 2009 after the BBC decided that Siemens were not delivering. Up to then losses were only £11m. The BBC's real blunder was to blindly continue with Siemens solution rather than first evaluate it before continuing in-house.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_controversies#2008.E2.80.932013:_Digital_Media_Initiative

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/review_report_research/vfm/digital_media_initiative.pdf

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "They dot their t's, cross their i's and never cause trouble"

    You missed out lick their r's......

  47. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Eh?

    "In the context of the DMI being a complex and cutting edge IT project, the Trust considers this is something of which the BBC should be proud."

    You can't fault them for logic, until and unless you can track down that context. But I thought that the British were supposed to write better than that.

  48. Lallabalalla
    FAIL

    Shifting the blame to the workers, rather than the management, for the project's failings is odd

    No it's not, it's entirely obvious and the reason why NOBODY SPOKE UP!

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dilbert

    That's all. Dilbert.

  50. Jim Bobble

    Isn't Simon Nelson, the man who was tapped up to run FutureLearn - the UK public sector's diluted response to the MOOC phenomenon - the same man at the BBC who commissioned DMI and set it on its trajectory?

    He may not be, but I'm sure I've been reminded of it a few times in the past.

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