A Masterclass in Bad Decision-making

The UK Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report regarding the The Delays in Administering the 2005 Single Payment Scheme in England. The delays are estimated to cost UK taxpayers some £500 million.

As reported in the London Times, "the Single Farm Payment Scheme, introduced two years ago, aimed to pay farmers for their stewardship of the land rather than the number of animals they reared for meat."

The Times went on to say that Edward Leigh, the Tory MP who chaired the review committee, said the farmers' payment project was â''a masterclass in bad decision-making, poor planning, incomplete testing of IT controls, confused lines of responsibility, scant objective management information and a failure by the management team to face up to the unfolding crisis.â'' Sounds like a classic IT blunder to me.

The PAC report listed some 15 lessons learned, or maybe better put, not learned. As an example, this is from number 14:

"The implementation of the single payment scheme was subject to four Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews between May 2004 and February 2006, and three of these Reviews assessed the programme as "red". Development work on the computer system nevertheless continued and no contingency plan was invoked, despite limited confidence that the system would be ready on time. If 'red' reviews are to be taken seriously, departments need to be explicit about the circumstances in which they would lead to fundamental review or termination of a project."

Maybe the first lesson is to teach senior government IT managers that red means stop, green means go. Or maybe better, test them to see if they are color blind.


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City