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Who Got Fired?

In June I wrote about problems with the NHS’s embattled patient care records programme – which has since been cancelled.

We have’t had to wait long for another major public change programme to go the same way.  Last month, the UK’s Public Accounts Committee reported on the FiReControl programme – “an ambitious project with the objectives of improving national resilience, efficiency and technology by replacing the control room functions of 46 local Fire and Rescue Services in England with a network of nine purpose-built regional control centres using a national computer system.”

The project was launched in 2004 by the last government and following numerous delays and problems, was cancelled by the current administration at the end of last year.  The Committee reports that none of the original objectives were achieved.

Reading the report is an object lesson in the causes of strategy execution failure.  Most of the usual suspects are mentioned:

  • inter-departmental conflict (in this case between the Department for Communities and Local Government and local Fire and Rescue Services)
  • lack of decision-making involvement of those executing the strategy
  • unrealistically short timescales
  • key decisions were taken “before a business case, project plan or procurement strategy had been developed”
  • unrealistic costs and savings projections
  • poor identification and management of risks
  • lack of clarity over roles, responsibilities and accountability for outcomes
  • a high turnover of senior managers
  • limited leadership visibility or control over resources
  • the project planning lacked early milestones

The story reinforces a common observation I make in organisations of all kinds: it is often far too easy to get hold of cash and resources without first adequately demonstrating that the activities for which they will be used will actually add value.

It would be comforting if more leaders’ performance was judged in part by what they did not do and what they stopped from happening in their organisations.

The Committee says at least £469 million was spent and wasted.  An expensive lesson, then…

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