Tuesday, 19 June 2012

'The Geek Manifesto : Why science matters' (Book review)

Excellent book.  Very easily read. it argues very clearly the need for a greater application of the scientific method in all aspects of life. Its strength I'm afraid one of its strengths is also its weakness in that sometimes there's a little too much emotion and passion in the narrative; then again it is well titled a 'manifesto'.

For those who follow news stories closely few of the chapters will yield anything particularly new.  But it is useful to have all this evidence in one book.  I think the book would be really useful for those about to attend university - so perhaps a good birthday present, going away present or even for a holiday read.

One good example of why we need better science, which hadn't occurred to me in the past, is the pitfall of the media's passion to present a two sides of most scientific stories - the weakness, which Mark Henderson highlights, is that this greats the false impression that researchers are equally split on a subject while in reality there can be a sizeable majority holding only one view.

Strangely I think the book is relevant to all those involved in procurement decision-making.  For example, we weigh up evidence presented by bidders, and we also take a leader on bid evaluation method.  Those are just two reasons why the lessons from the book on the need for better application of the scientific method would be beneficial and is required.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Saving face, if not money

How do you position exceeding budget as a making saving?

Personally, I think that's a pretty hard call but it seems to be the latest coup pulled off by the London Olympics.

A little background first.  Most would view the London Olympics as public funded. Part of that assumption is based on the fact that the public purse was to initially be lightened by £2.4bn. Nevertheless over the last few years we've had a constant stream of justifications for the escalation of those construction costs.  That has contributed to the budget tripling to £9.3bn.  Given the global financial crisis, some view the Olympics as having had the unintended consequence of cushioning the early impact on the construction sector.  That being the case there may well be an economic justification, and I look forward to seeing the economic impact assessment.

Now we learn that there is an anticipated underspend of £476m from the £2.7bn contingency. So, the first observation is that creating an excessive budget and then not spending it all is one way of being perceived as delivering a saving!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

An Olympic torch

Well hat's off to The Times CEO summit for aiming to identify the success factors behind the delivery of the Olympic Park.  I would have been more impressed had this been a government led review of lessons learnt, but nevertheless this is a start.

The key success factors identified by Sir keith Mills, deputy chairman London Olympic Organising Committee where:
"From the bid [process] to today, we had the right team in place and have demonstrated competency to complete what is an immensely complex project.  The Government had confidence that we knew what we were doing because we built confidence by delivering...  Buy into a vision, find the right people, give them the money and get on with it"
Fairly obvious lessons which you would expect.  Would you be surprised if a project or programme failed if it had the wrong team, lack of competency, lack of stakeholder confidence, the wrong team, and insufficient money?

'Letting them get on with it' causes me a little bit of a problem though - surely he also meant to say the right governance structure.

Now, can we progress from the strengths to the lessons learnt from the many things which didn't go according to plan, starting with the budget, ...

Background reading;
Hepwell, D. and Asthana, A. (2012) 'Ministers 'can learn from Olympic delivery success'', The Times, 12 June, p.13

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Over simplifying Tesco's model of improvement & its transferability to public services.

Today's Sunday Times carried its usual Think Tank piece on New Ideas for the 21st Century. I suspect in the hope of increasing sales of his new book, Sir Terry Leahy shared his views on how the public sector can learn from Tesco. Sir Terry was the CX of Tesco's while it was still an exemplar for all and before it signed up to the free labour of the Work Programme.

His opening salvo was that "as they queued for hours to have their passports checked at Heathrow, many travellers must have wondered why they had to wait only a matter of minutes - at most- to buy their weekly shop at a supermarket."

I hate to rain on Terry's parade but I wonder when he last visited a Tesco's as a mystery shopper. I took the attached photograph late evening, a few weeks ago, at my local Tesco.  I haven't been back since!  Behind the rows of wheeled cages waiting for the army of 'outside peak hours shelf stackers' are the checkouts. Even the aisles were blocked and it was difficult moving some of the cages to actually get to the shelves.  I wonder how often Terry has actually experienced real-life in Tesco!

Nevertheless Terry has an answer for public services improvement. Competition which enables customer choice is the foundation of his philosophy. Not exactly new but slightly harder when you try to transfer to the Borders Agency.  Of course we would like the choice of an array of providers when we try to make our way through Border controls but only when they all match a basic standard in spotting the undesirable and keeping them out.  It's not exactly the same as Tesco where I have the choice whether or not to shop there or indeed just leave my loaded trolley and take the nearest exit with hands in pockets.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

pCard or not pCard, that is the question: Considering the evidience

The Government Procurement Card (pCard) was introduced in 1997. Its primary purpose was to reduce the transaction costs associated with Low Value Orders when it was assumed the cost of the transaction was more than the actual purchase price.  It was also believed that pCards would deliver better control and reduce fraud.
On 1 June 2012 the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report on the use of pCard’s in central government. While the PAC report highlights the need for strengthening controls and a refreshed business case. This blog is not concerned with the key content of the report but instead considers some of the oral evidence reported verbatim in the report. The oral evidence discussed reveals some matters of relevance to all those concerned with reducing procurement transaction costs, regardless of whether or not they are based in the UK, engaged in central government or the wider public sector.  While concurring with the PAC findings and recommendations, the significance of some of the key issues debated appears to have been missed in the key body of the PAC Report.