What Did Exercise Cygnus Deliver?

May 11, 2020

The UK carried out Exercise Cygnus – a pandemic drill – in 2016, and it highlighted all the issues we have seen this year, though the conclusions have never been made public. The Guardian has published a document labelled as the final version of the report and it does not make reassuring reading.

Conclusions from the report:

  • There is no useful strategy in place, nor is there a useful implementation plan for what strategy there is
  • The public reaction has not been considered
  • Ethical aspects of decision making have not been considered
  • It’s recognised that capacity is inadequate and one area where it is lacking is in subject matter experts

Lessons ‘LEARNED’ from the exercise:

  • Organisations should ensure their Emergency Preparedness Resilience and Response training and exercising is consistent with best practice.
  • Planning should be considered a multi agency responsibility. Specialist advice from all stakeholders needs to be available. Sector specific advice should be scaled up during a pandemic.
  • During a reasonable worst case pandemic responders will struggle to maintain a response using the existing framework
  • Meetings between the health ministers of the 4 nations should be considered best practice
  • Consideration is needed of population based triage
  • Work is required to consider surge arrangements. An NHS plan is being developed. Service plans need to be modelled for health, social care, and community support. A communications plan is needed. A clinical and ethical plan needs to be agreed. Mitigation plans are needed to ensure flexibility. Buy in is needed from those who will actually implement these plans.
  • Strategy is needed for the use of antivirals – less relevant since there isn’t one for COVID
  • Staff absence should be considered
  • Health messaging at the national level was not effective. Procedures for getting the message out should be re-enforced (sic) and practiced. Local messaging was more effective.
  • National attitudes to use of social media render their use of it ineffective
  • Messaging needs to be consistent, avoid jargon, and consider that people want to make their own decisions. Trust in the message source is important
  • Consideration needs to be made to using the voluntary sector
  • There’s a need for a cross government group to make the response process effective
  • The impact of school closures needs to be considered
  • Overseas nationals should be considered
  • MoD involvement should be considered
  • Process for providing and presenting data to decision makers should be considered
  • Social care and surge capacity should be considered
  • Expansion of social care real estate and staffing capacity should be considered
  • Thought should be given to using the capacity of the voluntary sector
  • Capacity for managing excess deaths should be considered
  • Work is needed to develop contingency plans and processes for prisons
  • Future guidance and plans need to consider the potential response of the public

To all of the above unlearned lessons, the DeliveryDemon says NSS, all basic planning requirements. Such a shame that we have had generations of politicians who failed to consider that their job includes managing the country to the benefit of its population. Can there be any excuse for ignoring such a telling report? Maybe perhaps the astonishing claim made late in the document – ‘The healthcare framework to respond to a pandemic is robust’. Along with the minor bureaucrapic qualification that people need to be briefed of the plans for a similar exercise – seriously, the assumption for a disaster scenario is that there will be time for lots of cosy meetings.

We have seen the theory come up against reality. Will that make our politicians and bureaucraps treat disaster planning as something other than a fun exercise and a source of PR?


What Has Boris Delivered?

May 11, 2020

The DeliveryDemon actively dislikes listening to political pomposity. Let’s just get at the text and eliminate the waffle. If you didn’t listen to the PR persiflage, here it is edited to the bare factual bones, along with the DeliveryDemon’s thoughts (in italics) of what was said.

I will be setting out more details in Parliament tomorrow and taking questions from the public in the evening.

Given an offline Parliament there’s really no need to hold this info back

Because although we have a plan, it is a conditional plan.

Fair enough, but I’d expect to see a bit more about checkpoints

And since our priority is to protect the public and save lives, we cannot move forward unless we satisfy the five tests.

  • We must protect our NHS. Pious wish, not a test
  • We must see sustained falls in the death rate. Question as to how reliable that data is
  • We must see sustained and considerable falls in the rate of infection. AFAIK criteria being used to determine infections is still pretty inadequate compared to the range of symptoms being reported so again a question as to how reliable the decision data is
  • We must sort out our challenges in getting enough PPE to the people who need it, and yes, it is a global problem but we must fix it. Pious wish again, what actions are proposed?
  • And last, we must make sure that any measures we take do not force the reproduction rate of the disease – the R – back up over one, so that we have the kind of exponential growth we were facing a few weeks ago. Pious wish again, what actions are proposed?

These are not tests, they are emotional PR.

And to chart our progress and to avoid going back to square one, we are establishing a new Covid Alert System run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre. What is this Joint Biosecurity Centre? Sound like the renaming of an existing committee. What’s its remit? Who are the members and what are their qualifications?

And that Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases.

And in turn that Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures.This actually contradicts what he said earlier about conditionality. For basic risk management, it makes sense to monitor the effect before confirming a reduction in level.

The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.

There will be five alert levels.

Level One means the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five is the most critical – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.

Over the period of the lockdown we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three.

And if we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts. Forget world beating, it’s not a competition. It needs to be effective. The UK carried out Exercise Cygnus – a pandemic drill – in 2016, and it highlighted all the issues we have seen this year, though the conclusions have never been made public. The Guardian has published a document labelled as the final version of the report and it does not make reassuring reading. It is clear from this that the lessons ‘learned’ use a different understanding of the word ‘learned’ from that understood by most people. The DeliveryDemon has summarised the document in a separate post.

And yet when I look at where we are tonight, we have the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9 – but potentially only just below one. That’s quite a range for a non-linear variable. Just how many people will understand that distinction?

We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work. Not all workplaces are equal in their ability to provide a safe environment. What protection is there for those whose employers are not providing a safe workspace?

And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. May not be an issue initially but as more sectors are expected to return, just what proportion of the working population work in major centres and / or at a distance from work? Are we expecting gridlock and a pollution hike from car usage? Where will all the parking spaces come from? Travel distance and weather will make walking / cycling impractical for many.

So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.

And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure. Guidelines are fine, enforcement is another matter and whistleblowers tend to suffer.

And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards. Enforcement?

And from this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.

You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household. How far is an acceptable drive? What guidelines will police have? How will more isolated communities react to an influx?

You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.

In step two – at the earliest by June 1 – after half term – we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6. No consideration of country-specific differences in school term dates.

Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport.

And step three – at the earliest by July – and subject to all these conditions and further scientific advice; if and only if the numbers support it, we will hope to re-open at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing. Fair enough, but it would have been more sensible to state conditions rather than a date – the date is now firmly implanted in people’s minds.

We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health. It has long been accepted that ethics have a place in this sort of decision making. Why is it excluded here?

And I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big Ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down.

And to prevent re-infection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air. NSS. But why just air? And why so late?

And of course we will be monitoring our progress locally, regionally, and nationally and if there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes. Fair enough but a bit awkward after setting so many dates in people’s minds.

The DeliveryDemon has yet to be persuaded that we have a political class which is capable of managing this country in the interests of its population. After decades of hiding behind the excuses of the market and of the EU, there isn’t the will, the culture, or the competency to make that change.


Can Contingency Plans Deliver?

March 16, 2020

Back in the long-forgotten days of the Millennium Bug, the DeliveryDemon was involved in a fair bit of contingency planning, basically identifying and documenting the actions which would be needed if a range of adverse occurrences came to pass. Even twenty years ago most large public bodies had pretty detailed contingency plans to draw on and adapt to suit the risks specific to the Millennium hype and scares.

 
Twenty years have passed and the concept of contingency planning is fairly mainstream. Mainstream means routine. Routine means a chore. Routine chores don’t get the same analytical thinking as do novel concepts. They get written, signed off, then put on a shelf and forgotten. It’s not clear to the DeliveryDemon if this has happened to public sector contingency plans. Having a Prime Minister making a maudlin announcement like a B-movie actor, – ‘Loved ones will die’ – does not engender confidence. If the contingency planning material exists, there should be facts to announce, even if those facts are only decision points. Instead we have constant statements which are quickly contradicted. And our irresponsible media love it – headlines galore, each scary enough to be clickbait.

 
What would the DeliveryDemon expect to see?

 
Obviously the NHS ought to have fairly hefty and well maintained plans, since they call on them every winter. Whether they have the resources is another matter, and not one which can be addressed quickly enough.

 
Logistics, as at the Millennium, is another key area. The UK, with its old and twisted road system is not an easy place to plan logistics. That is partially offset by the traffic reduction which has started already as people reduce their social contact. But a whole range of other factors come into play. Food and related goods have to come from somewhere and they are part of the infrastructure a country needs in order to function. That means a lot of HGVs going up and down motorways and through towns and trading estates.  But successive governments have abdicated responsibility for this and left it to ‘The Market’ – the range of competing companies which form the food supply chain – to manage the logistics of getting food to customers. It does not work. Retailers forever look for ways to cut costs, JIT (just in time) supply is the norm, there is cost in reducing expensive shop space to create more storage space. The retail model has little contingency in it and that drives the need for supply logistics.

 

Panic buying and hoarding are human nature, and totally distort the demand side of the equation. ‘The Market’ quite simply cannot control that, not without some sensible support from those who are supposed to be managing the country. Yes, the DeliveryDemon is talking about rationing, but not in the way it was applied during the World Wars of the twentieth century. So far, we are told that there is sufficient food in the supply chain and the problem is the speed with which is leaving the supermarket shelves. That’s a pretty clearly defined problem to solve.

 
Of course it’s not the only problem. Much of the UK’s food comes from abroad and the agriculture and fishing sectors haven’t figured high on government priorities for decades. Dr Tim Leunig, economic adviser to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, is understood to have said the food sector was “not critically important” to the country’s economy – and that agriculture and fisheries “certainly isn’t”. That’s looking like very bad advice now.

 
Already scarce items are appearing on Amazon – 16 rolls of Andrex for £49.99 anyone? Mothers relying on formula milk can no longer find it in the supermarket and the advice circulating is that it can be obtained from pharmacies but only on prescription – further demand on GPs and on NHS finances.

 
Of course, logistics needs people – to move, load, unload, deliver the goods. Two problems here. Those people are as prone as the rest of us to Covid-19 infections. And it’s in the nature of the job that they have contact with other people as well as the goods they deliver. The Army is well supplied with logistics expertise but it is certainly not an infinite resource and there will be a whole range of calls on its manpower.

 
Disruption of utilities and hygiene services has yet to be given much prominence. Households need power, water, sewage, more so when social isolation advice causes people to spend more time than usual at home. Hospital needs are even greater. As is the case for logistics, all these services depend on people, and people can get sick. So can their families and that means healthy people having to drop out.

 

One utility which has become much more critical in the last 20 years is communications. Today the internet is an integral part of most people’s lives. It’s a good way to disseminate news – and false news. It allows people to work easily from home. Social media enables people to keep in touch during periods of physical isolation. It’s also a channel for mass hysteria. That makes it important for the powers to be to have a trustworthy and informative presence through reliable media sources. That’s just not happening.

 

And underlying the need for good communications is a whole range of other functions. Telecomms companies provide the delivery mechanism – in this country still reliant on ancient copper wire technology for the critical last mile to houses. Internet service providers enable individuals to have internet access. Security companies provide all manner of protection for data, financial functions and the like. Banks use the internet to let people and companies manage their money. Online retailers abound – a great benefit to those confined to home. Email and social media create a venue for communication without the need for face to face contact. Content providers are a major source of entertainment when public gatherings in cinemas and at live events no longer happen.

 
In a well-run democracy, the government would have at its fingertips the management status of all these critical functions. Well-established plans would already have been activated to smooth over the most obvious disruptions. Serious consideration would already be given to the actions of other countries in the global economy, and the impact these actions have on this country. There is no sign that this is happening. All we’re getting is bombast and hyperbole and contradiction and obfuscation.

 
The DeliveryDemon has a message for our senior politicians. Think. Plan. Forget the vanity projects of a fortnight ago. Deal in facts, not spin. Drop the B-movie Churchillian speeches. Do the job. It’s hard? Tough shit, you could have thought it through when you went for the job. JFDI!!


Delivering Libellous Content

March 17, 2014

The DeliveryDemon had to chuckle at this article http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/dont-let-internet-linked-stories-land-you-libel-writ

The law has certainly been working hard to catch up with technology, and the impact of this sort of libel is very real to those who are libelled. But the legal profession is missing a trick here. Behind the scenes, there is technology which looks for keywords and tries to interpret them. By and large this software is still remarkably primitive. It has yet to get to grips with the ability to interpret the context. Basically it lacks ‘intelligence’. It is designed to provide an answer at the expense of providing a sensible answer.

Google predictive text gives some good examples of what can happen http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/6161567/The-20-funniest-suggestions-from-Google-Suggest.html and various mobile phone predictive text engines can be even funnier. The automated parsers used by recruiters cannot distinguish between Coral the bookmaker and Coral the programming language. Amazon’s ‘you might like’ suggestions suggest you buy an identical item to a recent purchase, with a different brand name.

To some extent, many of these tools are designed to depend on data which is not quality-controlled in any effective way. Certainly an Amazon vendor will enter the keywords likely to maximise search hits. that can mean the entry of keywords with little relation to the product being sold.

Google is one of the more sophisticated players since its product depends on understanding what a searcher is likely to want, but the Telegraph article shows how primitive the logic is. Asking users to log in and relating searches to their search history has the potential to improve search result quality, but people are becoming increasingly sensitive to the amount of their data held by large corporations, and legislators are starting to respond to those concerns, so relying on users logging in may not be the most fruitful development path for this type of tool.

The examples in libel article certainly have merit. Either the tool is not fit for purpose, or it is being used unintelligently. A fairly obvious solution would be for the news website to flag articles as being either positive or adverse, provided the tool refrains from coming up with links to ‘similar’ articles unless they were also flagged as adverse. If the tool can do this, the web publisher is at fault. If the tool can’t do it, then there are two potential breaches. The tool may be inadequate for the purpose for which it is being sold. Or the web publisher may be making inappropriate use of the tool. Of course, when a payment model is based on click throughs, the incentives tend not to favour anything which limits the number of links displayed.

A fruitful approach for legislators would be to look beyond individual libels and examine the capabilities of current tools, and the processes which web publishers use to to mitigate the risks arising from tool limitations.


Delivering Stakeholder Management

June 14, 2011

It’s relatively easy to identify most stakeholders. Once they have been identified it’s relatively easy to put together a communication plan which allows you to tell them what they need to know. The plan can include two way communication events such as requirements analysis, Q&A events, document reviews and user tests. These are all part of the tried and tested approach to stakeholder management.

Rather more difficult is the management of stakeholder expectations. The project manager can issue crystal clear bulletins about what has been agreed and what is actually happening. At some point these butt up against stakeholder assumptions, recollections and aspirations. The bits which match will bolster the stakeholder’s world view. The bits which don’t match may provoke a reaction. If they do, that’s all to the good as it allows the project manager to identify and deal with any mismatch between the project as agreed and stakeholder expectations. But not all readers will bother to react. The danger comes when stakeholders skim project communications for the bits which confirm their expectations and ignore the rest. Then expectations may begin to diverge substantially from the project aims. Once that happens to any extent the project will never be a success. It may deliver to scope, cost and timescale but it won’t be viewed as successful because it’s not delivering what stakeholders have come to expect.

For a project manager to become a good stakeholder manager, it’s necessary to look beyond the project’s formal structured communication, and apply the black arts of expectation analysis and expectation management. Catch a straying expectation before it’s far from the straight and narrow and it’s easy to nudge it back on course. Let it stray long enough to become feral and you may not catch it in the lifetime of the project.

Becoming a curator of expectations requires a diverse set of skills, but the core skill is networking. Informal chats can alert the project manager to straying expections much more quickly than any formal discussion. It’s not just the obvious stakeholders who can be useful sources of information. Other projects and BAU targets may hide a reliance on invalid expectations, and people may set such targets as a means of pressurising a project to change its remit.

Sometimes divergent expectations arise because the business has moved on from the original project requirements, and the project may need to change in order to deliver business benefits.

It may not be easy to decide whether expectations should be brought in line or the project changed to meet expectations. This is where stakeholder management feeds into risk and issue management, and through that to the broader project governance and sponsorship if it appears that problems are going beyond the authority delegated to the project manager.

You can, in isolation, deliver a project which meets all its objectives. But unless you step outside the ivory tower and keep abreast of events in the wider context the project may not be seen to be successful. That’s why a project manager needs a taste for coffee, beer and cocktails, not to mention a tolerance for the smoky, windy conditions endured by the huddles which gather outside the doors of most office buildings.


You don’t have to be paranoid……

January 27, 2010

The DeliveryDemon was looking at security settings on the laptop recently after the moderate paranoia setting started blocking WordPress cookies. To check what was happening she used the ‘prompt’ setting, requiring manual approval of cookies. Cue a very tired hand, and the site concerned was a perfectly respectable one! A big disconnect appears to have grown between website development practice and security practice. It appears that we are offered two choice

  •  blind reliance on automated cookie approval / rejection
  • total unusability.

This little experiment has the DeliveryDemon asking a LOT of questions:

  • What are these cookies doing?
  • How much of my storage / processing power are they hogging?
  • What’s going on when a ‘respectable’ website (not WordPress) wants to install 20 or more cookies per screen?
  • Why don’t website designers realise that a cookie plague makes the most honourable of organisations look dubious?
  • Whatever happened to respecting the right of the user to choose an appropriate security setting?

The DeliveryDemon appreciates that there’s a balance to be struck when it comes to website stats and marketing requirements. But if the designers come up with something better than forcing the user to change security settings for all sites to fit the requirements of one particular site, there’s something wrong.

If the medium paranoia setting stops a website from working, then someone has delivered a very poor level of security.


Expectations and Single Point Estimating

June 7, 2009

Bob Barnes and Fred Baker have an interesting blog post entitled Project Life Cycle is Essential in Managing Risk. Their blog is at http://www.pmprofessors.com/ This is an interesting example of stakeholder expectations, and here’s the DeliveryDemon’s take on it.

Common understanding of an estimate is that it is a single point value. As project managers we know that there is an uncertainty range associated with any estimate, which narrows as more knowledge becomes available through the life of a project. Business processes tend to force us to provide a single point estimate, and expectations are adopted on the basis of that value. It’s an ongoing piece of work for a project manager to keep stakeholders in touch with the reality of what is happening, and that is no guarantee that a stakeholder won’t suddenly revert to the original expectation.

This is a reflection of the current level of maturity in non-PM understanding of project management processes. It won’t go away until PM becomes a core business competency, at the level exercised by today’s above average PMs, and we are still some way away from that.

Today’s PM needs to be aware of the issue and factor it into stakeholder expectation management.


Expectation Management

June 7, 2009

Any well trained project manager knows that surprises are bad news. Underperform, and it’s your fault. Overperform and people want to know why you didn’t make a more challenging commitment in the first place. Such is the lot of the project manager!

Every project is surrounded and permeated by expectations. The team has them, so does the project sponsor, and all the suppliers, not to mention customers, and the operations team. All those expectations are coloured by the recollections and assumptions and experience of the individual stakeholder. Ask a stakeholder what their expectations are and you will get a response but that won’t be the whole story. Often expectations aren’t identified until they are not met, and the stakeholder sees it as a project failure. As project managers, we talk glibly about expectation management, but it’s a complex and delicate subject. A project manager needs to analyse the project environment and decide how much effort needs to go into expectation management. It’s not a one-off exercise either. This decision needs to be reviewed at each stage and major change and decision point, and at any time their are indications of loss of confidence in the project, or excessive expectations. And of course the communication plan needs to be updated to deal with the reality rather than the situation which the project manager *expected* to exist!

Thinking about expectation management in general, DeliveryDemon did an analysis of her own expectations during a recent trip to Edinburgh for a Saturday meeting, and was surprised at the extent of the assumptions made during the trip and how they affected her.

Lift to the airport DeliveryDemon assumed the driver would head for the motorway, the driver preferred the direct route through towns. There probably isn’t a lot to choose between the routes but at each red traffic light and school crossing the DeliveryDemon got twitchier and twitchier.

Before check-in the DeliveryDemon was hungry and popped into M&S for a sandwich and bottle of water, an obvious thing to do in an airport mall full of food shops. Full marks (sorry, pun!!) to the checkout girl who recognised the assumption of eating the food on the plane, and provided a gentle reminder that drinks can’t be taken through security.

Airside is really designed to take expectations, shake them up and leave the traveller feeling jumpy. On the one hand shops and restaurants encourage browsing and relaxing over a meal or a drink. On the other hand the departure boards demand attention. When the distant gate is finally announced, the delivery-oriented DeliveryDemon wants to head straight for the gate, and is frustrated by the shuffling, 6-wide groups who expect that others will match speed to that necessitated by their in-depth discussion of last night’s soap or football match. Then once the gate is open, airline staff rush the passengers through and chivvy them along  – to wait in a queue. Rush, stop, rush, stop – the metabolism doesn’t know what to expect. What a recipe for high blood pressure and heart attacks!

In the sky the DeliveryDemon tends to expect interesting clouds and clear, photogenic, views, and feels vaguely cheated by a flight through grey cottonwool.

Meeting people provides a good test of assumptions. The DeliveryDemon and colleague got the mobiles out to make contact with another colleague arriving on a different flight, arranging to meet at the luggage carousel in arrivals. After some confusion the invalid expectation became clear – the colleague had arrived on a European flight, coming through a different arrivals area.

The hotel was one of two in a larger chain, situated in the Grassmarket. Expecting to stay in the same hotel as other colleagues, several people were annoyed to lose out on the opportunities of discussion over breakfast or a late night drink as overbooking meant the party was split between two hotels. For the unlucky group diverted down the road, the hotel failed to meet expectations of cleanliness with rooms where evidence of previous occupants had not been removed, and failed to meet expectations of construction standards with double glazing so ineffective that it would have been as quiet sleeping out in the Grassmarket during the Friday night festivities.

Finding a restaurant also upset a few expectations. Nose to the steamed up glass, DeliveryDemon waved to colleagues crammed round some window tables in the recommended eatery. There was no way that three of us would be able to battle through the crowds to the tables, never mind find seating space. But we did. And the staff conjured up chairs and created elbow room from a fifth dimension. The DeliveryDemon was very glad of being persuaded to ignore her expectations of not getting a seat, more so when faced with a steak served up on a hot stone with a pile of jacket wedges!

Grey days Having lived in Edinburgh, the DeliveryDemon expected and was prepared for grey skies and sharp winds, seasoned with the odd rain shower. Fortunately the DeliveryDemon also favours contingency planning, and adapted her expectations when faced with warm sunshine and clear blue skies, sneaking out between sessions for some impromptu architectural photography.

 Lunch hadn’t been a high spot at previous meetings, but the DeliveryDemon’s expectations were overset by a tasty cooked lunch which was light enough to avoid doziness during the afternoon session. Of course, with the Edinburgh hotel showing what can be done, expectations have been reset for lunches at future London meetings.

The return flight DeliveryDemon had hoped for a return flight to Luton, much closer to home than Heathrow but the expected evening return didn’t exist. DeliveryDemon is unimpressed with the UK’s domestic transport arrangements. At least Edinburgh airport was quiet, the rugby fans still celebrating in town. But the expectation of a leisurely browse round a selection of malt whiskies was upset by the feeling of urgency generated by a departure board announcing that the flight was already boarding, well before departure time. The flight left on time and arrived early. The DeliveryDemon expected problems on arrival, given the publicity Terminal 5 has attracted, so the quick baggage arrival came as a surprise.

Just a step on the way Of course, whatever expectations the advertising raises, Heathrow is not a destination in its own right, and the hapless traveller is often faced with an onward journey of a few miles which takes considerably longer than the flight.

London Underground For decades, a big red circle with a blue bar through it has raised the expectations that a Tube station is nearby. It’s a simple, brash, logo whose message is well known. Brash, not sophisticated, and that’s the problem. When designers are let loose on the signage of a transport hub, the prissy result has no place for such a dominant and informative graphic. They tone it down so it doesn’t stand out among all the other information. The result is that the tired traveller, looking for train or toilet or taxi, has to search through an undistinguished clutter of signs for the information they need. Not good for the traveller, not good for the traffic flow, and not particularly clever, given that the purpose of signage is to deliver information. So it is at Terminal 5.

And finally the train home Saturday evening. London. The last train. One might expect it to be full of happy people who followed a show with a meal and a glass or two of wine before returning home. Not with East Midland Trains’ final departure at 10.30. It made a nailbiting journey from Heathrow for the DeliveryDemon who couldn’t be sure if she could expect to catch the last train, or have to rely on the slow and uncomfortable line which goes no further than Bedford. And not knowing the train meant having to buy the ticket on the day. UK trains are notoriously expensive, but who would expect the cost of a single ticket to be the same price as a return?

It was just an overnight visit to Edinburgh for a meeting. But what a lot of expectations and assumptions arose. Some were met or well managed, others not. If that’s the expectation pattern for a single person on a simple trip, how much more varied and complex are the expectations and assumptions of the many stakeholders over the lifetime of a project? For a project manager, expectation management is a serious business, and a major factor in the success of a project. Forget this at your peril!


There’s More to Risk Than Probability

June 3, 2009

The DeliveryDemon is a Management of Risk (MoR) Practitioner so she is used to thinking of risk in terms of probability, impact and proximity:

  • How likely is it?
  • What’s the worst case scenario if it happens?
  • Is it likely to come to pass soon or in the distant future?

June’s issue of Project Manager Today contains an article by David Hillson on risk perception, which refers to work by risk psychology researcher Dr Paul Slovic on factors which influence perceptions of risk. DeliveryDemon thinks that Dr Slovic’s work should be considered in the light of existing well-established MoR tools for identifiying and managing risk.

‘Dread If the outcome of a particular risk is something we imagine to be terrible…., our perception of the risk is heightened.’ Simply not true. The outcome (impact) is part and parcel of the risk, not something separate. The worse the potential outcome, the greater the risk. An illness with a 40% fatality rate is 100% fatal to the unfortunate 40%. The dread is associated with that harsh 100%, which is a factual numerical component of the risk, not just a perception.

‘Control When we believe we have control we perceive the risk as lower.’ When we have control we have tools to manage risk. Different people make different choices because tolerance of risk varies from person to person, and from organisation to organisation. If we have control we may choose, at one extreme to walk away from the risk, or at the other extreme, to live with it. We may take action to reduce the risk, or to pass the risk on to someone else. The decision may be not to drive that Porsche through the icy hairpin bends of a mountain pass, or to do it anyway and live with the consequences. The risk may be reduced with snow chains, or passed (partially) to someone else through an insurance policy with a good vehicle replacement clause. None of these options are available to the trussed up prisoner of a car thief whose drug intake has sent his risk tolerance sky high. Control allows the individual to match risk and risk tolerance. There is logic to this, not just perception.

‘Natural vs Man-Made Hazards resulting from human actions are seen as more risky than natural hazards.’  Control comes into this again. The geographical distribution of natural hazards is well known and people may choose not to live on the San Andreas Fault or the slopes of Stromboli. If brought up in a danger area and tied to it by family commitments, people know the warning signs and have learned ways of predicting and mitigating the problems. These days, people who find the risk level too great often have the option of moving away. Man-made hazards follow a different timescale. The announcement of a planned man-made hazards affects a previously blight free area, and individual inhabitants have little say over the introduction of the risk or its management, so have no tools available to match the risk to their risk tolerance.

‘Choice If I have some choice over my exposure to a risk then it seems lower than if I am exposed involuntarily.’  This comes back to control. If I have choices I am able to mitigate the risk by reducing the probability, the impact, the proximity. I can match the risk to my risk tolerance. Again, this is not merely a matter of perception. Choice allows us to alter numerical risk factors.

‘Children Any risk which affects children is seen as worse than one which affects only adults.’ Possibly. There are cultures which venerate childhood, and cultures which view children as more replaceable than their parents. DeliveryDemon is not an anthropologist so isn’t going to comment on this one.

‘Novelty New risks are seen as being higher than ones we have grown used to seeing’. A variation of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This is an extremely simplistic view. When a risk is new, less knowledge is available. The cautious will weight their risk assessment pessimistically to allow for that lack of knowledge. However, those with a stake in the risk source may equally discount the risk level on the basis that there is, as yet, no evidence to substantiate the risk, a common statement during discussions of the risks of large-scale GM planting. The Novelty factor may work either way. Similarly, lack of novelty can work to increase or decrease actual risk. That the building industry has a has a high level of injury and fatality may be attributable to a macho attitude to risk which leads to the cautious being viewed as wimps. The culture creates an additional risk which needs to be managed. In the abstract, extreme sports offer a higher level of risk than a building site, but the culture is very different. Conventions and support mechanisms have evolved such as diver buddying, parachute checking, frostbite checking, mountain rescue. There is an interest in the development of the individual and of technology to enable boundaries to be pushed. Participants court a dangerous edge, but they also seek the risk mitigation tools which will allow them to push beyond current boundaries.

‘Publicity If a risk has a high profile in the media… it will be perceived as being more risky.’ This is all about understanding the impact. A dry paragraph mentioning an explosion in a distant city leaves it to the imagination to guess the impact, whereas a picture of mangled bodies leaves little room for doubt. The fact of publicity has less impact on risk perception than does the presentation of the published content. The theory behind this underpins the entire advertising industry. At the other extreme it can be used to explain mass hysteria. Publicity is less of a risk modifier than a risk in its own right. For example, late last summer there was a risk of severe economic downturn. Publicity helped it on its way by making people fear for the future to the extent that consumer spending was drastically reduced. It was less the fact of economic threat than the way it was presented in the media which prompted that. For example, the BBC might be expected to provide a dispassionate view of the situation, but Robert Peston’s highly emotive reporting style was a significant influence on consumer decisions to cut back on spending.

‘Propinquity If I could be a victim the importance of the risk seems higher than it really is.’  The word ‘seems’ is inappropriate here, as is ‘importance’. Impact is as important as probability when assessing a risk. If I am assessing a risk from a personal perspective, the 10% probability of occurrence is only a small part of the story if the impact is 100% fatality. The risk is genuinely greater, it is not just perception.

‘Risk – Benefit Trade-off If exposure to a risk could also result in a perceived benefit as well as a threat, the risk is discounted.’ Business case, anyone? It’s not actually a discounting of risk, more a balancing. It can be done on the basis of gut feel or total logic or a mixture of the two. Benefits may blind people to the risks but not necessarily. The DeliveryDemon knows that mountains and mountain weather can be dangerous, and has a lot of experience of assessing the risk. That doesn’t stop her heading out in (nearly) all weathers in search of benefits such as air like wine, panoramic views, solitude, wildlife, crisp snowfields and icewalls and glaciers, a good downhill run, or even a blast of wind and weather. The balancing bit of risk management is the prior selection of equipment, assessment of fitness, and choice of route. It’s not discounting of risk, it’s a balancing act.

‘Trust Where protection from risk is offered by a trusted party the risk is perceived as lower.’  In MoR terms this is transfer of risk, and the insurance industry is a classic example of it. It works by reducing the actual numerical risk at the impact level. If I’m travelling, insurance doesn’t reduce the probability of my luggage going missing, but it does reduce the impact because I can reclaim the cost from the insurance company.

The DeliveryDemon finds Dr Slovic’s classifications quite naive and much prefers MoR’s simple, factual and pragmatic analysis as a tool for programme and project managers.


Project / Programme Delivery and Service Delivery – Is There A Conflict?

June 1, 2009

(Shamelessly taken from a reply the DeliveryDemon provided to a question on LinkedIn)

Do you see a conflict?

The main interfaces with service delivery are:

  • When defining the scope of the project, acknowledge that there will be an impact on service delivery, and involve the stakeholders who can form a view of the impact and how it is likely to affect other priorities, and take decisions.
  • During the design / delivery / test stages of a project, identify and involve the service delivery stakeholders needed to provide input / carry out activities / test.
  •  As part of dependency management, identify dependencies / resource conflicts with other projects also impacting service delivery, establish a suitable level of communication with them.
  •  For transition to business as usual, allow for testing and business change within the service delivery function.

All of the above are down to planning and communication and should not be a significant source of conflict if well managed.

There is only ONE intrinsic and irresolvable conflict between programmes / projects and service delivery. Service delivery is there to deliver a service and that is their first priority. In the event of a serious incident, restoring the service has first priority.

In the event of a serious incident, all the programme / project manager can do is:

  • Keep tabs on the incident resolution without hassling those at the sharp end.
  • Make use where possible of resource not involved in the incident, provided their workload has not increased to cover colleagues dealing with the incident.
  • Carry out an impact analysis, work on a contingency plan and implement it.
  • Keep the project / programme stakeholders informed.
  • Escalate only in the event that it is likely senior management will give the project priority over the service.
  • Keep the morale of the team up when they can’t make progress.
  • When the pressure lifts, get in there with the key stakeholders to ensure that the programme / project gets appropriate priority as the pressure comes off.