Friday, 13 February 2009

Michael Costa gets his best work from me

Not quite. But close.

Costa continues his series of excellent articles in The Aus this week with one about Canberra's castles in the air.

This almost had me lying on the floor at work, howling with laughter:

Speaking from bitter experience, if the states are able to complete even their own ambitious capital works programs on time and within budget, it will represent a dramatic departure from past practice.

One of the more frustrating aspects of putting together a state budget is collating and assessing annual agency capital works performance against budgets.

This involves a detailed assessment in each government agency, project by project, of how their projected capital works programs have progressed over the previous budget year. Despite monthly reporting and regular monitoring, invariably there are significant deviations from what was proposed at the time the annual budget was delivered. Projects suffer delays, cost overruns and scope creep.

It's so very true. In fact, I don't think he has any idea how bad it was down in the engine room, trying to deliver these things and report back to Treasury at the same time on progress. The more frustrated Treasury got with our slowness in spending money, the more reports they required us to submit in order to track progress. Of course that meant spending more time on reporting on our lack of progress, as opposed to spending time actually driving the project forward.

In my humble opinion, the best project managers are hard, aggressive bastards that take no prisoners. There is a time to be nice, and there is a time to rip people's heads off and shit down their necks. If you want projects to happen, you have to let loose the bastards. Keeping them cooped up in their offices, poring over spreadsheets of reports that they need to complete in triplicate means they have less time for yelling at people. Project managers are at their best when they are cracking whips.

As for the insanity of reporting, I had to report on progress several times a week. I had to submit reports to several different groups, and each required almost the same information, but always in a slightly different format from each other, so that I couldn't just do one report and then copy that information into all the others. It was maddening, and extremely time consuming.

Some smart-alec decided to computerise the system, but it was never available at reporting time. Let's say the deadline for submitting your report was 4pm on Tuesday. At 3.30pm, all the people that had to lodge a report would logon and try to submit their reports, and the system would crash, or slow to a crawl. I don't think I ever got a report in on time. At 4.01pm, a series of nasty emails would be sent out from high above demanding to know in great detail why our reports had not been submitted as required.

Why not submit our reports earlier?

Well, in order to create each report, we needed information from our financial system, and it would only be updated by around 3pm on reporting day. And of course when everyone jumped in to get their information, it would grind to a crawl, so it might take half an hour to extract and manipulate a few figures for the various reports. One report might require you to extract a result from the financial system, and then add 17% to it. Another might have a loading of only 5%. Don't ask me why - I asked once, and immediately regretted it.

So you finally have your numbers together at 3.30pm, and you then have half an hour to try and get them into a computer system that isn't working. Sheer madness - repeated every single week. And because we were constantly late in submitting our numbers, someone decided that our reporting timeliness should be tracked, and a report created to report on that as well. And so on.

Anyway, I have left a comment at The Aus, but I doubt they will publish it.

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