Meeting your company's targets - a one-sentence Sir Humphrey guide

MPs on the House of Commons’ Defence Committee have been trying to work out whether the Ministry of Defence has met its targets for 2007/8.

And they’re not quite sure.

The secret of the MoD’s success has been to be vague in the targets and sub-targets it sets. Then it reports against them in a way which implies they have been achieved, but on close scrutiny could mean the opposite. 
So perfect is the MoD’s mastery of the ambiguous that nobody can be quite sure what the position is.

The Defence Committee said in its report on the MoD’s annual accounts 2007/08:

“The terminology used [by the MoD] in reporting was ambiguous and could equally cover near-success and close to abject failure, and the level of subjectivity in assessing performance against some targets was very considerable indeed.”

The Committee criticised the MoD’s lack of transparency – and its management of a £235m “JPA” IT payroll project.

So that’s how it’s done: targets can seem to be met when the reporting of facts actually obscures them.

As Jonathan Swift, one of the most perceptive writers of all time, said:  “Where I am not understood, it shall be concluded that something very useful and profound is couched underneath.”


PS: The quoted sentence from the Defence Committee’s report has nothing to do with 1 April. At least I don’t think so.