Don’t Roast IDS Alive, Yet!

This is not going to be a populist view, but we need to have some sympathy with The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and his team who are trying to manage a £2 billion project to bring in a workable Universal Credits scheme.

Politics aside – we’ll leave the merits of the scheme to the politicians – IDS and his team are most definitely in the hot seat.

In many ways their job is impossible and what’s more, failure and humiliation is inevitable. Not because the team are inept, stupid, or carefree with tax-payers money, but because of the simple fact of life that once you commit to the big bang approach to a major IT project, you are doomed to failure.

Okay, yes, you might have some fancy Power Point Presentations, some glossy hand-outs when you make the announcement, but vast IT projects are so complex, so immense, that what you will end up with is an evolutionary process which will take years to finalise and refine.

Which is why successful software developers take an iterative and incremental approach. The fully honed product is often some way off the first version.

So when the Government announced that they were building an IT solution for their ambitious Universal Credits scheme, the red lights started flashing in the minds of the those in the ‘know.’ The words ‘here we go again’ must have echoed around many boardrooms.

People have likened managing such a project to landing a stricken 747, in driving snow, in the dark, with no instruments at a shortened runway at Heathrow at the busiest time of the evening. In other words, pretty tricky.

So when IDS and his team sat in front of the combatant Commons Work and Pensions Committee, they were easy meat for MPs who were rightly incredulous as to how some £40 million could be wasted.  And on the face of it, how do you answer that you have just dropped £40 million on useless code and perhaps the total wastage is now in the region of £140 million.

In fact, all you can do is what the advisers say is to stay ‘on-message.’ You ignore the former actress who’s banging the table and continually repeat that the end will justify the means.

IDS’s scheme – dubbed the ‘one-dole-to-rule-them-all’ project – is quickly becoming an easy target. It has been accused of over-spend, poor planning and bad management, and detractors are lining up to sling the mud.

But here’s a final thought. Watching a TV programme on the Italian spin doctor Machiavelli the other night reinforced one of the rules he thought necessary for a ruler. Always have someone else lead the unpopular measures. Don’t do the dirty work yourself.

And Number Ten has once again voiced their support in IDS. Oh really, you don’t say!

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