back to article UK.gov watchdog didn't red flag any IT projects. And that alone should be a red flag to everyone

The BBC’s release of its top earners’ salaries this week stirred up both long-time detractors of Auntie and dyed-in-the-wool supporters. Yet for anyone who cares about public sector transparency, the disclosure was welcomed as a good thing, irrespective of political slant. With that in mind, it’s worth taking a moment to …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Amber is the new Red

    (Or should that be Amber is the new Rudd?)

    Anyway, another example of government dumbing down standards. Amber IT projects now mean 'pretty well doomed to fail', and Green is 'almost certain to be late and over budget, but may actually deliver something one day'. Don't need any other colours as those two categories pretty well cover all government projects (see el Reg articles for the last 319 years)

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Amber is the new Red

      Red means "this project has just irrevocably failed, bury it".

      There doesn't seem to be a way of representatively taking action, it's as if that's the natural way of things.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Amber is the new Red

        I blame the autocorrect for putting representatively when I meant preventively.

      2. 's water music Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Amber is the new Red, grade inflation

        Red means "this project has just irrevocably failed, bury it".

        Extend the colour scale to include infra-red and the failing project becomes invisible.

        Trebles all round...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Amber is the new Red

        "Red means "this project has just irrevocably failed, bury it"."

        This. Red is civil service code for "this is fucked and we're going to throw it all away and completely reboot". Marking a project as "red" is a Career Limiting Move.

        That said, very few projects are ever genuinely in that form of Red. The bigger problem is exactly what this article nails - these assessments are just repeating exactly what the departments' internal trackers are stating, with no move to audit or verify (hah) what is being reported.

        Given how dreadful most departments' reporting mechanisms are it doesn't add much value. Civil servants lack the capacity to assess the state of projects. They're key stakeholders themselves so aren't independent and have little to no experience of project delivery, as it's all outsourced. Bit of a catch 22 frankly.

        1. JimC Silver badge

          Re: Marking a project as "red" is a Career Limiting Move.

          This sentence alone deserves an awful lot of upvotes.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Amber is the new Red

        "Red means "this project has just irrevocably failed, bury it"."

        Red actually mean RE-BRAND IT, QUICK!

  2. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Dodgy Conjunction?

    BBC fat-cats vs Govt projects? Isn't that a bit far-fetched even for a tabloid journo?

    Not going to try and comment on the substance of the article. Would need to see the terms of reference of the study done, and the definitions of the various colour-codes.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Dodgy Conjunction?

      We have a similar colour codes, for our projects, Green = all fine and dandy, Amber = We have an issue, time to bump it up, get advice, let people know there is a issue, work on a fix. Red = It's in trouble, senior management will be asking questions, you better have told them it was in amber and given them a heads up. All hands on deck etc.

      Course you need to trust the people putting the status codes up, and they need to trust management isn't going to go mental over a project not being green.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Dodgy Conjunction?

        So how's that working out for you?

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Dodgy Conjunction?

          If you're asking me then pretty well, the fundamental bit is the trust.

          Doesn't matter what reporting system you have without that people will hide things because they are worried they will get in the shit even if it's not their fault, this then leads to the problem either being fixed sub rosa, (fine problem solved but you may never learn from that mistake, or your fix may come back and catch you later), or it's not comes back and bites everyone on the arse as everyone gets dragged into firefight and the project is now at risk rather than maybe it being a minor problem wiser heads or people with more influence could have solved.

          Usually the encouragement is to report if you worry about going amber, bonus points if you can think of solving the problem and report that at the same time.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    I suspect this is yet another item the British people should thank the LibDems for.

    Transparency of government is not exactly a Conservative hallmark is it?

    It would appear to be a Major Projects Authority that lacks actual authority to dig into major projects, get reporting data and generally find out those thieving con-tractor ba***rds outsourcers are actually doing with taxpayers money.

    Note also that other classic of government.

    Got a flagship project whose total fail will make a Minister look stupid but is FUBAR? Simple. "Re-scoping" of the project is the answer IE moved the goal posts.

    BTW people point out that industries track record of successful delivery of big projects is (probably) no better should note 2 things.

    1) Look at the size of those UKG projects. 10s of £Bn, with most of them an annual spend of 100s of £m. How many UK companies are that big. The main banks? The big retailers? Who else?

    2)Those private sector projects spend customers, shareholders and borrowed money to f**k their IT.

    UKG project spend tax payers money to f**k IT.

    IOW those IT f**kups literally put several % on UK tax payers tax rates.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I suspect this is yet another item the British people should thank the LibDems for.

      Just to be clear.

      Set up at the request of the LibDems, with the grudging acceptance of the Conservatives.

      Emasculated by the Conservatives at the earliest opportunity.

      Like an independent Bank of England an independent MPA (with the ability to compel data and investigate deeper if it looks like they are being fed bu***hit) will probably make Ministers lives more difficult, but make the country better in the long term.

      Would anyone have a problem with that?

  4. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Wrong authority

    Try getting the NAO to run it. They tend to be a bit less protective of ministers, since their career path is to find bugs, not hide them.

  5. adam payne Silver badge

    "No IT programmes received the highest red rating this year."

    So they have found a way to classify IT projects as something else so it doesn't look so bad.

    Red = Never going to happen, a complete waste of money.

    Amber = Billions over budget, years late and the project scope has probably changed a hundred times because no one can agree on how to do things. Eventually the whole project will probably be quietly canned after a lot more money is wasted.

    Green = Millions over budget, years late but might still make an appearance at some point.

    1. The First Dave

      RED means, its already dead. So no need to audit it, so not on the list.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too big to succeed

    There's a certain government department that commissioned a multi-year project costing many millions from a major systems integrator, to provide a huge, all-encompassing IT system.

    Parliament started complaining about the department failing to do its job properly, because of poor IT. The huge project would surely provide the solution to these problems, but was still years away from doing so. So the department commissioned some small projects from small IT suppliers, to provide limited subsets of functionality as a stopgap measure.

    Guess what, the giant IT project turned out to be too complex to succeed. It never delivered what was promised and was eventually cancelled. The "temporary" solutions are still in use, still doing the jobs that actually needed to be done. The department should have just commissioned the smaller, more focused projects in the first place.

    If the implementation of a piece of bespoke software is going to cost multi-millions, then don't do it. It's too big. Focus your requirements and build something that does one thing well, instead of everything never.

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: Too big to succeed

      UNIX philosophy works for so many things...

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Focus your requirements..build something that does one thing well, instead of everything never."

      A noble idea, but seriously difficult to do in a government system like (for example) Universal Credit.

      The problem is the fear (not the reality, the fear) of the number of interfaces between each of those "systems that does one thing well".

      It doesn't help that the people who really understand how the existing systems work together (because the UK civil service is a "mature" environment IE it's got a very complex ecosystem already) are buried deep in the bureaucracy and have taken years to learn this.

      And this will continue until those writing these spec realize fear is not real.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Guess what, the giant IT project turned out to be too complex to succeed."

    The attraction of the big project is the (in theory) single interface with a single "systems integrator"

    Reg readers know how well that plan works IRL. :-( .

    I suspect an honest assessment of most of the ones that did work would be 1) Basically not really big enough to need an SI, who handed the work to a single (very competent) specialist contractor. 2) Re-scoped the project downward to a point where they could hand it to single (very competent) specialist contractor.

    The rest would be the genuine, actual mega projects that succeeded.Remember, we're talking about successful projects that delivered actual improvements (over what they replaced) more or less on time and budget. I'm not sure how many of those exist in the UK.

    I had the idea of a wedding planner. De-scoping follows

    Complete church wedding for 200 guests and reception and honeymoon --> church wedding for 20 guests and reception and honeymoon --> church wedding for 20 guests and reception --> Registry office wedding and book tables at McD's for Happy Meals. --> Success

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