back to article NAO: 1 in 5 of Whitehall's mega projects at risk of failure

With nearly one in five major government projects in danger of failure, there are still significant gaps in how Whitehall oversees the delivery of such schemes, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). There are currently 205 major projects being undertaken across government, costing £376bn in total over their lifetimes, …


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  1. Bernard

    I'll be shocked

    If only 1 in 5 of these projects fail.

    That would be a huge step forward.

    If 4 in 5 are at risk of failure but the oversight is so weak that noone has yet realised on 3 of them then that will be more like the norm.

    1. Shady

      Re: I'll be shocked

      Could be that the other four projects have already failed. Semantically, their statement would still be correct and free of lies.

    2. LarsG

      where is the surprise?

      Idiot consultants employed by idiot firms employed by idiot advisers overseen by idiot politicians?

      The only suprise... Is that 4 in 5 succeed.

      Bet that's a load of bull.

  2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Institutions never solve the problems they were created to deal with

    The easy way to avoid failure is to avoid defining success. If you can avoid measuring the initial problem, so much the better.

  3. Measurer

    Ooh, it's sooo difficult!

    "The cost, ambition, complexity and risk of major government projects have increased hugely over the past decade"

    No, cos we've never built an aircraft carrier before, or had civil service administrative processes which at one time were capable of running the largest empire the world has ever seen (feel free to wax lyrical at any point)....

    1. Fisher39

      Re: Ooh, it's sooo difficult!

      Yes it is difficult. we now have universal benefits, universal healthcare, universal education, bigger government and more complex and specialist things that government needs to do. Whether or not we should have all of those things is a different matter. Give all of those things up and, yeah, maybe 2000 civil servants writing on paper could do the job.

      If you want those things then IT projects on scales that the private sector can't (and wouldn't want to) match are what happens.

      THat you seem to regard Britain's victorian colonial past as a model for modern government makes you look very silly indeed.

      1. Dave Bell

        Re: Ooh, it's sooo difficult!

        Er, you do know how long we have had those things for?

        Even the Ministry of Defence is older than the Prime Minister.

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Standard bureaucratic response

    > "The government agreed with our assessment that the central system for assuring major projects was not optimal," the NAO says, and the government has since set up the Major Projects Authority (MPA)

    Add more committees and paperwork. It's a poor substitute for talented project leaders, but it's the only substitute we have.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to do things right - or wrong

    Let's assume that you wanted to run a project well.

    You'd develop some requirements, and fix them, but with build in contractual means at scheduled intervals to manage upgrades as technology moves on. You'd hire a skilled and experienced project manager, pay them a decent wage, and give them appropriate delegated authority in decision making, hiring/firing, and even pay (to motivate/retain the best personnel). You'd also contract the project manager for the duration of the project, with major and attractive long-term incentives based on the performance of the project. You'd then back off, and let them run the damn thing, only getting involved as a senior manager to help smoothe the worst problems.

    Let's assume that you're the government.

    Requirements change every few months. Civil servants gain project management qualifications, but with few exceptions, their grade and pay bear scant resemblance to their levels of skill and experience. Delegated authority is non-existent, and while the ability to hire staff is merely lethargic and painful, we are nearly unable to fire. One of our current team on an un-named but many-many-million-pound project is a barely-functioning alcoholic. He has threatened that, if we try to dismiss him, he will bring a discrimination case, which, although he won't win, will cost the department hugely in both time and money. The unions will, of course, back him on this. Senior management only get involved in projects if they think it'll make them look good. Generally, they do this by taking Industry's side in any dispute, because the civil service doesn't give out directorships...

    Anonymous coward because, although on any given day I find the governance anywhere between frustrating and woeful, I do actually believe that the job I do is, or at least can be, worthwhile, and I don't want to lose it.

  6. IHateWearingATie

    Usual civil servant hating from commentards

    Blah blah blah, civil servants are idiots, I could do a better job.... blah blah blah ... what a bunch of numpties... blah blah blah

    If you think you're so much better than everyone else, then you won't have trouble doing an amazing job in the public sector and getting huge rewards.

    Or it could be that you're not that much better, and it's just that ( a) big public sector projects are very complex and the environment changes a lot, and (b) failures in the public sector are always reported and most failures in the private sector are not.

    1. asdf

      Re: Usual civil servant hating from commentards

      >If you think you're so much better than everyone else, then you won't have trouble doing an amazing job in the public sector and getting huge rewards.

      Might have to do with many civil service jobs being offered not to the most qualified candidate but to the candidate who knows/is related to the hiring manager. Civil service and cronyism seem to be a theme in most of the world. I will agree totally with you on the private sector often being just as incompetent though.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Usual civil servant hating from commentards

      Why might that be?

      As somebody who has worked in both camps, I know that the Civil Service is not a hotbed of talent or good quality experience, and is over-endowed with the idle, ineffectual and downright incompetent people who wouldn't survive in the private sector. The supposed complexity of most public sector schemes is sometimes a mirage, or sometimes entirely and unnecessarily self inflicted. I got out as soon as I could, over two decades ago, and have had a contempt for the CS ever since.

      Having said that my company has made some recent appointments from the public sector (middle manager level roles) and I've been amazed at the positive outlook, the ability, and the value they've added. So I'd take your inference that not all of civil servants are numpties - but as an organisation the Civil Service doesn't add much value for this country.

      If you don't like being maligned, then you won't mind getting a job in the private sector, where people get sacked if they are useless?

  7. asdf


    Looking at those sums on major UK IT fails it makes the US albatross 1.5 billion dollar electronic border fence look pretty puny. Still if one wants to see truly wasted money all one needs to do is look at the vast majority of the development projects costing billions the US taxpayer has paid for in Afghanistan.

  8. James Anderson

    the solution.....

    Is not to have big projects. Whether its the public or private sector big projects are more likely to fail than not. Most "succesful" large projects have had "success" redefined beyond all recognition.

    So the answer is to knock all grandstanding ego driven large projects on the head before they get any budget.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    *only* 1 in 5 projects failing (for govt IT) would probably be a *major* achievenemt

    If it's true.

    But I doubt it'll be that low.

    Interesting the *Treasury* department, the one *meant* to be looking after the countries cash, turns out to be the *worst* at running projects.

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