Friday, March 14, 2014

On Government IT

There is a tendency of people to grasp onto one size fits all management methods for any problem whether it's agile, six sigma, lean or ITIL. The problem of course is that any large scale system (whether an IT system or a line of business or even an industry) contains many different components (activities, practices and data) which are at different stages of evolution. The method you need to use depends upon the stage of evolution because characteristics of the component change with evolution.

Hence for example, the genesis of something is highly uncertain, constantly changing and needs an agile approach due to its uncharted nature (it's a voyage of discovery). However, the provision of a commodity is all about volume operations, efficiency, standardisation and removing deviation for what is essentially industrialised. There is no one size fits all management method for complex system, you need to use a mix of methods.

But how do you decide what to use? Well, to do this you need to map out the environment. In order to map out the environment you need to first create a value chain starting with visible user needs (i.e. not what you want to create but what users actually need). In fact, the value chain is simply a recursive expression of needs. At the top are users and their needs with high level components that meet this. Underneath this are the subcomponents which meet the needs of higher level components and so on.

With a map you can then determine how something should be treated i.e. which methods to use. Maps also turn out to be essential for strategic play, risk management, cost mitigation, organisational learning and a whole bunch of other stuff but then that's hardly surprising. If you're playing a game of chess, your play will only be improved if you actually look at the board.

In figure 1 is a map of large complex project with user needs clearly marked at the top. Unfortunately due to the nature of the project, I can't give you more details than what is provided (i.e. what the components are).

In figure 2 the same map broken into how you treat components. The use of agile on one side, the use of highly structured methods on the other. Remember that the map is constantly evolving from left to right due to supply and demand competition and hence how you treat something will change over time.

In figure 3 the same map is broken into contracts by logically grouping components together. This is actually a useful technique for purchasing, mitigating cost overruns, ensuring the right methods are used and organisation (e.g. two pizza models, FIST etc).

Figure 1 - Map with User Needs.

Figure 2 - Map with Methods

Figure 3 - Map with Grouping

So why do I mention this? 

I occasionally hear people spout that UK Gov IT is somehow political, too focused on cutting costs and too focused on agile. Well, the above is a map from a very large Government project. I have several of these, some of which are being very actively used from management methods to strategic play. To say, UK Gov IT is all about agile and cost cutting is highly naive. It's normally the sort of thing I hear from large vendors who are annoyed that they can no longer just chow down on UK Gov as a soft target. 

What I see in UK Gov IT is the emergence of highly advanced techniques using multiple management methods, high levels of strategic play and a focus on user needs. Of course, it's not uniform. Some are well down this journey whilst others haven't started. This is all normal for an organisation undergoing significant changes. However, have no doubt that this change is occurring. 

Hence when I read ...

“The Government has no vision for digital Britain – the report that Labour delivered in the last year of our Government, Digital Britain, has yet to be superseded.  Four years on the opportunities are different and we are not even beginning to reap the positive benefits of the way in which technology can change our public services."

“Rather than addressing these challenges ad hoc and reactively, we need a framework for the relationship between the people and their data, government and digital."

“Which is why I am pleased to announce today that Labour will be acting where this Government has so comprehensively failed, delivering a new version of our Digital Britain report to be published before the next election.” 

My only comment is ... what a complete load of tosh. It's almost as daft as the statement I heard recently that to solve IT failures you need more specifications. It smacks of extremely poor situational awareness and understanding of the problems at hand.

On politics, well my involvement in writing the 'Better for Less' paper is well known. What is less well known is my strident political views. I'm 'old' Labour and I say that with absolute pride. My heroes were Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill. I view the market system as a tool, not an ends. But politics never come into any discussion that I've been involved with. It has always been about 'user needs' and 'better for less'. It has been apolitical.

Tony Benn once said 'the Labour Party isn't believed any more because people believe it will say anything to get votes'. I'm one of those people and stopped voting New Labour a long time ago because it no longer represented my party. 

I don't believe that this Government has 'no vision for digital Britain' and its changes in Gov IT have 'comprehensively failed' because New Labour tells me so. I see quite the opposite and I'm glad.