The British should look across the channel for tips on project management rather than the Far East, says Colin Beveridge
It never ceases to amaze me how the British and French working cultures - separated by such a minor geographical distance as the English Channel - can be quite so different and it is terribly difficult for highly stressed-out and highly driven Brits to grasp how a people with such a laid-back attitude can ever achieve anything worthwhile. But they do.
The French have a strong track record in successfully delivering large public projects and we could do far worse than taking a closer look at the French way of managing. We might well learn some very useful lessons about delivering big change, far more than our own, allegedly superior, Anglo-Saxon work ethic might initially allow us to countenance.
You only have to look at the sustained litany of struggling government IT projects in the UK and wonder if we can ever make things easier for ourselves, or if we are forever condemned to a future where we always fail to keep the project cost, quality and timescale plates spinning harmoniously, at tremendous expense to our pockets and national reputation.
For the past few years now we have increasingly tried to address these issues by looking to the East, more specifically to the Far East, in a desperate search for cheaper and quicker IT projects. A whole new offshore outsourcing industry awaits UK development business with open arms and we feel ourselves inexorably drawn towards a new systems paradigm, in the hope that we will eventually find that elusive panacea for our diminishing budgets that will finally allow us to do more with less.
Yes, I am sure that there are some answers to be found in India and other emerging offshore IT economies. But I am also sure that we should be looking much closer to home to sort out some of the management fundamentals that will actually facilitate the true benefits of the offshore service propositions.
After all, simply doing more of the same, in the traditional UK style, with cheaper overseas resources is not good business, or did I miss a meeting where we finally agreed to dispense with common sense?
I think that we really need to get the management basics right, before we all hurtle, lemming-like, towards the offshore outsourcing cliff.
And in this instance, I think that we should spend some time looking at how they do things in France.
Don’t be fooled by the superficial, devil-may-care appearance of the French. Behind their carefully groomed façade of insouciance, they are really closet bureaucrats par excellence.
Admittedly their desire for orderliness may seem to the untrained eye more like bloody-mindedness but I think that closer investigation is merited, particularly given our own challenged circumstances and deteriorating track record.
A word of caution, however, before you all book the next available Eurostar train in search of the Holy Grail. Don’t bother going to France until September. Because one of the first lessons we can learn from the French is how to have a proper break in August.
They don’t trade their summer sunshine for a project plan doomed to inexorable slippage caused by the frequent and random absences of key players at critical points, which is what all too often happens with UK projects scheduled to run through the summer months.
Maybe we too should adopt the simple approach of starting major projects in September, rather than April, and see what that can do for our productivity and performance.
Maybe, like the French, we should only do business change if there is an “R” in the month, leaving us with plenty of time to reflect, plan and prepare properly during the pleasant weather months of May through August.
Just think, we might end up with better projects and a bit of sun on our backs, instead of disappointed users…
Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]