Systems Integration; the downfall of many a plan…

The radio alarm burst into life the other morning. The Badger simply paid no attention and turned over entering that strange dozing state somewhere between asleep and awake. Until, that is, the radio warbled the phrases ‘software’, ‘systems integration’, and ‘new plan’. This triggered a return to full consciousness and instant concentration. The new Crossrail CEO was being interviewed about revised plans to complete one of the largest and most challenging infrastructure programmes in Europe. If you’re unfamiliar with Crossrail then a quick look here, here and here provides context, and you’ll find one of many insights on the delay here .

The Badger listened carefully as the CEO talked about the difficulties regarding the software and systems integration of signalling and train systems. He emphasised that this and the testing of trains running safely through tunnels was at the heart of the revised programme plan. Interestingly, he emphasised a primary focus on ‘Systems Integration’ rather than ‘Contract Management’ going forward. The CEO sounded very knowledgeable, but the Badger couldn’t help feeling a little sad that yet again lessons from past software and IT intensive programmes appear not to have been learned. After all, it’s been known for decades that ‘Systems Integration’ is where the chickens normally come home to roost on major programmes!

Perhaps CityAM’s piece following Crossrail’s March update to the Westminster Public Accounts Committee (PAC) provides an insight to simple reasons underlying Crossrail’s crisis. It sounds like a) politicians were intransigent, b) Crossrail leaders were focused on the politics, contract management and ‘blame games’, c) programme status reporting and assurance mechanisms might have concentrated on the positives, and d) forward-looking risk management and mitigation processes were ineffective. A PAC member apparently said. “It’s incredible, incredible for senior people to sit here and tell me you were not clear this was going to fall over. It was perfectly clear it was going to fall over.” The Badger has uttered similar words many times in his career over the last 35 years! So why don’t lessons get learned, you may well ask? Mainly because of people, egos, political agendas, management and delivery culture, lack of time and an unwillingness to listen. These often conspire to persuade us wrongly that ‘This programme is different and lessons from the past have limited application’.

The radio interview was over within a few minutes and the Badger was reminded of a long- standing nugget of wisdom, namely: ‘System Integration is always where the chickens come home to roost; expect difficulty, plan it well and actively manage and mitigate its risks from the programme’s outset’. The Badger then rolled over and went back to sleep…

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