Nick's Blog

Hindsight

As I was casting around for a topic to hang this blog on, I heard on the Today programme on Radio 4 a story about Afghanistan. Soldiers were apparently not being well looked after when their tour of duty ended, but adding to their post-traumatic stress is a new stress that lawyers are bringing through now investigating actions taken in the confusion of war. The Ministry of Defence is setting up a new unit, according to the Daily Telegraph, which is investigating claims brought by Afghans. According to one MP on the Today segment I heard, a person actually setting up bomb by a roadside has claimed his human rights were violated as his freedom was curtailed by the British military. Inevitably, standards of peace are re-imposed over the reality of war and actions reinterpreted as if they were being calmly debated in a safe location by people as relaxed as that implies. The reality would have been very different – but that is not to condone abuse.

In IT there is a parallel – at, I emphasise, a much lower level of intensity. The Post Implementation Review. In many projects there are winners and losers, to a greater or lesser extent. Benefits realisation is important to calculate if anything really changed after all the work – and that is a way of asking about the costs saved just as much as the additional revenues or whatever the target was. Costs saved usually translate to people no longer needed. And their review of the project will be quite different from the winners’ perspective.

A PIR is a useful way of learning lessons – indeed such reviews are often carried out by CIO Connect, as a neutral, yet informed party. But it must remain in the context of the situation that was in place at the time of the project being carried out. Whenever I visit some ancient monument or historic site, I have to remind myself that the people felt at the time that they were living at the peak of civilisation to date. Look at a “blackhouse” these days and we see a smoke filled room, with earth floor – there was no chimney. To us, it would feel like a choking environment and very uncomfortable. The people living there saw warmth, and dry – an improvement on their previous accommodation.

There has been a trend recently to reinterpret history in the current context. That feels so wrong to me. It is near impossible to put yourself in the position that your existence is threatened and then decide calmly what you would have done. But that is not to deny that somethings can never be right, no matter what the context at the time, for example, slavery or the Holocaust. But if there had been different winners, would they write the history as we do?

Project success is relative. A group of people working well together will judge the project a success; a group of people who couldn’t agree will judge it a failure, in both cases regardless of any factual outcome. So start within the project by embracing a wide set of people and building the relationships necessary to do the work. Doing that will allow it to be judged a success at a later date. That might involve engaging with your regulator too – in banking the CIO carries a particular responsibility and is a named individual with the PRA and FCA.

And as for the angst over previous military campaigns? A different set of rules – the Geneva Convention – cover wartime. Don’t interpret is as if it was peacetime. The same applies to projects. Change is stressful – but there is no need to agonise over decisions taken at the time. Be open, learn and move on.

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