Managing Auntie’s Critical Projects

McLeod Governance thrives – some would say lives – on well written audit reports examining the challenges that bedevil major projects.

So when we read a recent United Kingdom National Audit Office of the management of the BBC’s critical projects we, in the great spirit of Auntie, took up a chair and became better informed.

The critical projects considered span the full gamut of the BBC’s operations (and include – for it is critical to many people – a rebuild of the set of Eastenders!).

So what did the National Audit Office opine?

On project timetables:

The BBC has been optimistic about timetables for completing projects when approving business plans. Five of the eight projects in the portfolio have been delayed compared with the timetable approved in the outline business plan, which suggests optimism bias at the business plan stage. One project has been delivered early. Where delays have occurred, delays have tended to happen during the early stages of projects.

The report made an interesting note about the Central Project Management Office reporting to the Executive Board:

It has increased the frequency of reporting on project performance to the Executive Board from quarterly to monthly. It has also reduced the time taken to get performance information to the Board, from 66 days on average between January 2010 and March 2013 to 27 days between October 2014 and September 2015. Increasing the frequency of reporting and reducing the time taken to produce reports has helped the Executive Board to recognise and respond to problems more quickly than before.

One particular project that appeared challenging was MyBBC:

Project documentation for MyBBC did not delineate sufficiently between the responsibilities held by senior people within the project. The BBC set targets for MyBBC in terms of numbers of registered users but did not create a plan to measure benefits until late in the project. MyBBC is an ‘agile’ project that was designed to define benefits as the project progressed, but two years into the project it still was not clear what the BBC expected MyBBC to achieve overall.

Interestingly whilst the Board receives more information there was an opportunity highlighted to take a more holistic view:

Board review of the critical project portfolio: The Executive Board, as a group, does not routinely review the composition of the critical project portfolio. The BBC expects the critical projects portfolio to support corporate decision-making by enabling the Executive Board to prioritise proposals and monitor performance collectively.

And don’t blame the assurance functions if they can’t tell you whether the project was worth doing:

The BBC’s assurance arrangements cannot give confidence that projects will achieve value for money if performance and expected benefits are not defined and reported clearly from the start.


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