30% write offs are not normal in the real world

The DWP have opened a new IT centre on Planet Mars thx to https://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmobc/

Reading the reports of questions to Ian Duncan-Smith by the Work and Pensions select committee one is left baffled by the casual attitude of the minister and DWP officials to a £40m write off of software code for the Universal Credit system that is effectively useless. What planet are these guys on?

A couple of choice quotes via the Guardian from IDS and his minions:

On rewriting code (Mike Driver, Financial Director)

Glenda Jackson is asking questions now.

She asks about the write-offs.

Mike Driver talks about things being impaired.

Jackson says she does not know what that means.

Driver says the DWP has spent £40.1m on code that it will not be using. That has been written off.

Q: How can that happen?

Driver says, when you create a computer system, you have to re-work code. It is normal to have to re-work 30% or 40% of the code.

Jackson says that if 40% of the code is being written off, whoever commissioned this is an idiot.

Duncan Smith says this is how IT projects are managed. Some bits of code do not work as anticipated. They have to get written off.

I’m not sure how they get from reworking code to writing it off which to me sounds like scrapping the code. I can’t imagine many development teams expecting to write off 30% of the work they undertook for a client unless the client substantially changed their requirements part way through a project.

On waterfall vs agile methodologies

Q: What’s the difference between “waterfall” IT and “agile” IT.

Shiplee says a “waterfall” project is one where you start with a clear idea of what outcome you want. An “agile” one is one where you learn as you are going along.

Q: And what is this?

Shiplee says the implementation is “agile”.

Doesn’t sound like they got the hang of the agile approach if they ploughed on writing £40m of code that they are now writing off.

On the responsibility of suppliers for the failure

Q: Is there a clawback if the software does not do what it is meant to do?

Shiplee says that in this market, firms will not do the work if they are expected to take all the risk.

Perhaps the firms involved would like to at least take some of the risk even if they won’t (quite reasonably) accept all the risk. Hands up please!

On the possibility of using alternative suppliers

Q: Are you working with the right IT suppliers?

Shiplee says they are working with suppliers they have worked with before.

It would have been hard to get smaller suppliers, he says.

Hmmm, I think there might have been a long queue of mid sized suppliers who were willing to bid for £130m of work with zero risk offered to the large SI’s and who are capable of delivering a solution with an agile approach. I thought that this government had committed to better management of smaller IT projects that would provide opportunities for SME’s?

I doubt we have heard the last of this project. Look out for more write offs, cost over runs and delays in 2014 and have pity for the poor people who are going to be forced into using these systems to claim benefits with a trail of disastrous consequences to follow

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