back to article Failed probation system 'masterclass in sloppy management'

The failure of the project to provide a single offender management system for UK prisons and the probation service was the fault of senior civil servants who had failed to learn even the first lessons of project management. The drastically downsized project is currently three years late and twice over budget. This failure was …


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  1. Scott K
    Thumb Down

    Amount spent on system > amount spent on actually managing offenders

    Yep another great spending spree by the gov. Spent more on that than they have on actually managing the offenders, great idea numbnuts.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EDS - Say no more....

    Though one does wonder how much is down to the inability of government departments to make decisions on-time, in fact a usual tactic is to not make a decision, and force your supplier to make it for you, so you can't personally be censured by PAC.

    And god help us if we get that barmy idea of having more politically appointed senior civil servants who will then try and drive IT by ideology , rather than requirements. Which then means that high profile projects are driven by political announcement dates, rather than when they are actually ready.

    I can see us having to wade through even more ill thought out statements of requirements that have been issued before they are complete, written by 2 year old business consultants, supplied at inflated prices by ....

    Just to be balance, this is not always the case, but you can almost bet that if it's politically high profile, it will be, and there are more successful IT deliveries in government than not, but you never hear about them, rather like business systems that go disastrously wrong, and they do, funnily enough for the same reasons, but business doesn't have a PAC to examine and publish their worst sins.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Those senior civil servants will be fired then

    And they'll lose their gold-plated bulletproof pensions as well.

    See icon.

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Dear Government programme office...

    Myself and a few fellow contractor friends are available from the end of April to put this right if needs be.


  5. david

    Public sector project gone bad - Not news

    'EDS delivers government project on time and on budget'

    Now that would be newsworthy.

  6. Nomen Publicus

    Deja Vue All Over Again

    Government and big IT projects just don't mix, yet they keep trying and throwing billions at the problem.

    It makes the NHS and ID card projects more likely to crash and burn while the usual suspects make off with the money.

  7. Sceptical Bastard

    Nothing to see, move along please

    If only this were an isolated instance of complete technical and mangerial incompetence by HMG. Sadly, however, it's the norm. What *is* it with the civil srvice and IT?

  8. Ian

    Edward Leigh

    Sorry, but he is not the Chairman of the NAO. Ed Leigh is the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, with which the NAO works very closely. The Chairman of the NAO will be the recently appointed Sir Andrew Likierman. The Comptroller and Auditor General is currently Tim Burr but he will shortly step down for Amyas Morse.

  9. frymaster

    <3 NAO

    That is all.

  10. Joe
    Thumb Up

    Good to see

    It really is quite comforting to know that the government is simply incapable of managing large, database based projects - even if it does mean that money is wasted. Like the US terrorist database - which now holds over 1 million names (most of them fictitious, mispelled, or synonyms) - the UK government remains hobbled and should stay that way. The weaker a government is the better.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    ...did any of these senior managers / project managers ever get their jobs? And why do they still have them? They are quite patently unsuitable and unqualified for their positions.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Just like the NHS then

    Same reasons why the massive NHS database project is failing. Also, on a £690 million project, failure due to "Too little attention to breaking development and implementation into manageable steps." is a given: that's why they didn't mention it!

    The government could deliver a lot more is they stopped this habit of devising huge projects that completely replace everything and re-invent the wheel 20 times. Delivering incremental improvements in small sub-£1m projects would deliver more functionality quicker, with a much higher chance of success and a much smaller bill if and when they fail.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They missed one...

    9) The government are complete worthless pillocks who couldn't organise a piece of functioning software unless it came shrink-wrapped with "Microsoft" on the box.

    Oh, wait...

  14. Tim


    Presumably, this is another Govt project which used their own Prince2 methodology. Is it time that this inefficient and needlessly beaurocratic methodolgy was abandoned? The rest of the world survives without it well enough.

  15. John Smith Gold badge

    Failure is not an option

    It comes as standard


    Another epic fail from the boys of EDS (are they still on the ID card project?)

    This is one of those small (by govt standards) systems that would have made a signficant difference to things like offender rehabilitation and deportation at the end of the sentance. Ensuring foreign crims go straight to the airport and new parolees have not been forgotten and left to drift.

    And note that the techhy detail stuff seems to have been quite well done. It was all the high level, contracts and contacts management (IE senior civil servants level) work that was a shambles.

  16. LINCARD1000


    C'mon guys, you missed a prime opportunity here. Cost overruns etc? Surely the byline should be "Om nom nom nom NOMS"?

    Thank you, thank you, you've been a great audience, I'll be here all night...

  17. Tim Schomer
    Paris Hilton


    How big a bonus did the senior managers make from this one I wonder... (or was it a case of keeping someone's mate in work until another 'more suitable' position was found)

    Even Paris couldn't be that hopeless...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's a nice balls up.

    Although, a bit of me wonders whether a big cause for failures of these great big public sector projects is because the original idea is crap.

    I cannot believe that the projects always fail because the supplier is crap and the management worse (although that certainly seems to be an issue here).

    Could it be that politico's have what they think is a brilliant idea, and only once untold millions have been spent getting it going does it turn out that the concept is fatally flawed. Either that or the benefits are so massively over shadowed by the costs that they never should have been given the green light in the first place

    I cannot believe that the NPFIT's single patient data base will be signifcantly better than each PCT managing their own patient records. If I break a leg in Wales does the A&E really need to see my complete medical history (that lives in Berkshire)?

  19. Anonymous Cowherd

    The only surprise here

    Is that the blame is being laid where it belongs.

    Normally the headline is 'EDS/Cap Gemini/Whoever screw up big public sector project'.

    The idea of actually blaming the people who ordered and scoped (and rescoped and rescoped and rescoped) the project is shocking.

    Optimistically this could be another sign of a government in decline because anytime before now they'd have much more control over the way the story was presented.

  20. Ru

    So, a few small questions:

    Has EDS ever:

    a) completed a project on time?

    b) completed a project on budget?

    I'm not so naive as to assume that they've ever managed both.

    So, moving on, has a major government IT project (regardless of the firm that does the damage) ever:

    a) been completed on time?

    b) been completed on budget?

    I'm not so naive as to assume that they've ever managed both.

    What on earth is wrong with these people? Words fail to describe my outrage and bafflement that the same idiots are allowed to keep on making the same catastrophic mistakes over and over and over again.

  21. Lloyd

    Wot a shock!!!!

    Senior Civil Servants inept claim, I must sit me down, it's something I would never have thought!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cocks up?

    Whilst you can't knock the utter lack of project management skills in many areas of Government (projects are often run by either the bloke who wasn't at the meeting to say no, or the man in charge with no project experiance and little time to dedicate to the project) but I can't help noticing the Electronic Disaster Service are there again.

    Three interesting things about EDS:

    1. The number of utterly balls ups that EDS have been involved in for the UK government.

    2. How the NAO never blame them for any of the problems.

    3. The fact that EDS spent a very large amount of money taking John Bourne (Former head of the NAO) out to resturants, hotels and events. They probably continue to.

  23. Hollerith

    How hard can it be?

    How difficult is it to tweak a bog-standard CRM to work with 'customers' who are offenders? Not anywhere near rocket science. How much could have been solved with a robust loop of prototyping and testing until all was nailed down, and then build the thing? Am I missing something? All projects have an 'unknown unknown' factor, which is why all projects have contingency, but jeez, this is not a complex nut to crack.

  24. N

    @Tim Re: Prince2

    I couldnt agree more, Prince is often used as a mindless strait jacket to tie projects up in knots, mis understood by 'managers' following rules to the letter, whose only qualification is that they know how to walk briskly looking very important carrying a sheet of A4 paper bearing the words 'This page left intentionally blank'.


    As you say, the rest of the world manages perfectly well without it and the sooner its abandoned the better.

  25. Matt

    yeah but...

    "but business doesn't have a PAC to examine and publish their worst sins."

    Business also doesn't have the unlimited budget these projects seem to get.

    Double the budget? if I ran a project like that I'd be out on my ear, but these tossers will probably get a new project to screw up or a nice big pay off.

  26. Matt

    evil people

    I now have the yes minister theme tune running though my head.


  27. Dave Ashton
    Thumb Up


    SOP for EDS surely. This is an outright success for them. Like they wont get more contracts from the goverment. Someones getting a bonus! 41 mill just to shut down! Genius.

  28. Qneiform

    "In partnership with EDS"

    Funnily enough, the "partnering" agreements by which private-sector motherfuchsias like EDS screw over the taxpayer ALWAYS have a clause expressly excluding the creation of a relationship of partnership between the private-sector motherfuchsia and the agency of state. They also contain clauses whereby the private-sector motherfuchsia promises to work with the agency of state in a spirit of like-minded woolly helpfulness so as to achieve the objectives of the agency of state quickly and cheaply, and these clauses are _actually expressed in the contract to be not intended as binding obligations_. I have seen this nonsense with my own eyes. What is more, agencies of the UK state are encouraged by their own internal guidelines to enter into these sorts of nonsensical agreements INSTEAD OF ordinary contracts with nice binding obligations on the part of the supplier to do a decent job. Gah!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oooohhhh, what a surprise

    Contractor with vested interest in extending the project contract managed by civil servants how have vested interest in having nothing to do with project. After all, what is the point of employing a contractor unless you can blame them for everything?

  30. MnM

    Ministry for IT

    I think we should have one.

    First task: devise a set of principles to which any gov IT project has to adhere. Canvass widely, hit all the technical, social and industry issues.

    Next: When gov want to introduce some new IT, vet it, and green light it or otherwise. Veto and name and shame if necessary.

    Gov has to outsource, but the only successful outsourcing I've seen has happened where there's been strong in-house expertise in procurement, project management and implementation - otherwise you get walked over. Gov clearly lacks here.

    Perhaps I'm being naive, and any such ministry would be co-opted by wackette and her descendants. Or populated with industry experts all sitting on the boards of EDS and the like. But there are some expert areas of gov that are generally well regarded, like the UK Statistics Authority and National Audit Office. The BoE effects monetary policy - this would never be contracted out to a commercial bank. Gov is crying out for an IT dept.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    who doesn't see this

    The drastically downsized project is currently three years late and twice over budget. This failure was due to a lack of management oversight, failure to provide adequate resources, weak programme management, an underestimate of the technical challenges and weak contracts with suppliers.

    ID cards



    We don't want it; don't need it; don't want to see our money wasted on it... How far and how many times do we have to go on this road?

  32. Maurice Shakeshaft

    I need help here, please.

    What is the difference between Government and Civil Service?

    I thought the purpose of Government was to direct the Civil Service on the implementation of a Manifesto. If the Civil Service fail to deliver the Manifesto commitment then that is the Minister's responsibility - A resignation??? If the Civil Service fail to do their job then that is incompetence and someone gets the push - or for a FU this size, would do in Industry. A Minister also resigns 'cos they didn't have their finger correctly positioned.

    No resignations or dismissals yet so it can't have been a Manifesto commitment or Edward Leigh is wrong! Bring me my "Yes Minister!" scripts.....

  33. Robert Hill


    PRINCE2 needlessly complex? Deployed correctly it's probably one of the more flexible large-project methodolgies I have seen, and one of the few that explicitly pushes delivery decisions down to the implementation manager level with management by exception and work packages.

    Compared to SUMMIT/D, METHOD/1, or any of the other Big 4 methodologies I have used for many years, PRINCE2 is less of a methodology, and more of a governance structure. That makes it easier to tailor in weight and breadth - IF you know what you are doing, and IF you trust your PMs...oh, wait, civil servant and EDS PMs...maybe not.

  34. John Smith Gold badge

    @ Hollerith

    "How difficult is it to tweak a bog-standard CRM to work with 'customers' who are offenders"

    How much money do you have exactly?

    Development consultancy. The answer is yes (if you want it to be)

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