The global witching hour

Be more than a-woke by ghosts today

A blog to offer an alternative way to scare the living without disturbing the dead.

Halloween night is when the witches come. Except that’s not really the original point. Nor is it the manner of celebration many traditions choose this day to represent.

Leaders of the world step up

There are leaders in Glasgow tomorrow. But there are leaders within us all every day. I say we should each start there. Demanding less of others, and more of ourselves. Maybe then, mother nature can know we still care.

If you think this is you. There are a few words more.

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Halloween | All Saints | Day of the Dead

Before the conquistadors and James Bond had their say, there was an Aztec tradition that enabled reflection upon time with forbearers. Re-engage with the sacrifices of time and toil of lives now given up. The progress they made, and unknowns they faced. Or the labours they were forced to provide. Or the lives forced to take or give up.

That was the 9th month in the Aztec Calendar. In Japan, the Buddhist tradition of Oban is celebrated in mid-August with similar ancestral homage respected. In Celtic tradition the end of summer, Samhain, it was believed the world of gods and people combined with much mischief abounding upon a fearful mortal domain. Western Christendom had means to integrate all such tradition with its own feasts around All Saints Day, and the beginning of Allhallowtide (all per Britannica.com).

Think on that hollowed out message as pumpkin lights fade.

All Saints Day v | b | t

So what then of tomorrow? A new day. 1st November 2021 is when our leaders gather in Glasgow to debate our shared fate. To decide what traditions and behaviours we can all dare to change. What sacrifice we all must forsake. What future toil we all are prepared to make. Or what further study we sanction, for further visibility of unbelievable harm. What trusts we deny, and deem the next generation better placed to palm. What risk to the future generations of selves do we therein choose to pass on? What will we all opt out of a 26th time, at CoP26? Forsake, and in our place ask the yet born to take.

Trick or treat?

Treat – more than we can chew

We are now connected. Feasting as we go. All hungry caterpillars upon the one tree. Gestating today. Digesting our yesterday. Cocooning our decisions and letting loose butterfly effects we cannot rewind.

Trick – fooling all including ourselves

Maybe it is time to stop looking to others. Look again at our past, but think upon ourselves as a living influence to the next. The global village is now here whether we like it or not.

Can we look beyond greed?

What is at the heart of our project mission is the pursuit of more. Individually a greater share. But also collectively more for the earth to have to bare. And perhaps it is this that we all need to help stop.

My greed is good?

Adam Smith

Capitalists are not going to stop growing with individualist greed.

Adam Smith was about optimising the output from the land by the few. Labour a resource to factor into such process. The invisible hand that steers individualistic ambition to bring about trickle down growth for all. Nietzsche’s will of individual power.

Our greed is good?

Karl Marx

Communists are not going to stop growing with collectivist need.

The early Karl Marx was about addressing alienation. The hands of the worker having no ownership of what they make. Getting too little of what the few take. The effort of all, the land owned by none but the state. Trotsky’s power of shared will.

Green is good – less greed is better

My point here is not political. Other than to say all our politics, and the nation states that hold flavours of individualism or collectivism at the helm, all amount to more of the same.

Have this at the heart of what is visible. Of the finite resource there is, it is our nation states that must thrive. Regardless of culture and ethics, political sentiment, or personal faith, it is this fact that wills us all to claim a bigger stake. Determines how we each and all behave. Trust becomes easier offered, when yours is the whip hand to extend.

The Earth provides-enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not any one’s greed

Ghandi

Think therefore upon each of the green solutions being presented. The ways we are being offered to change our behaviours, in all that we do. They each still equate to the same.

We are being shown how to consume more, but in cleaner ways.

Enough and no more

I am not sure any of us has the right to question the needs of another. But I do think we should be able to explain what it is that we need. And what it is we intend to do with what we have. Not in any draconian or anti-establishment way, or as naïve power of love simple life ways. Simply by the questions we ask of ourselves and of each other. And the messages we therein convey.

Some of these first steps then become a little easier. And meaningfully challenging to those that drive growth without consideration to wider cost. Those seem the simplest and easiest first steps for east and west. This is not about ownership and what we can have. This is about service to the future, and what we can be. Take what you need; to do with that what you must. But once you have got there, its time to give something back.

What we give back is time at the wheel – or that spare time is what each of us chooses to steal.

Our hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains this well enough. We all need to feed. We all need to breath. We then need safety. Then kinship and personal and societal esteem. Finally, however, we then want to be the best versions of what we can be.

We are many who now sit at this final impasse. This pinnacle of existence but declining to acknowledge that grasp. Instead we keep all. Claiming time left as our own. And taking all of that to the last. Our kinship is retained because we all do the same. We then look around and wonder who is to blame. Why our self-actualisation feels unreached, as hollow as the pumpkin on the doorstep.

The golden rule for all self-actualisation stewards

There seems a golden thread of truth running through our shared history. Requiring us all to consider life from the other side. Perhaps all of those messages combine, and stand now not just in place but also in time.

Ask not what other projects can do for you. Ask yourself what project you can now do for the whole

Globally said from a golden thread

These are then projects | within projects connecting each mind to the totality of our management. Management of the one project we are all now required to play our part.

v | b | t – ask better questions for more insight

In game theory there is a game called Tragedy of the Commons. In it we are each shown to take more from common ground than we should, because the rules said that we could. The game reflects low trust, and shared bad behaviour. The long-game sees us all lose.

The solution starts with checking our own behaviour. But then increasing visibility on the whole, so that all behaviour is seen. In open sight we become compelled to do right. Trust in the shared objective becomes the shared trust in us all. The more secrets we can keep, the more compelled each feels, and entitled to cheat.

Question yourself, and therein question all others

It seems to me clear, that any of us sitting near the top of a hierarchy of needs is required to justify our time. Whether you are a Jeff Bezos or a Sheikh, a pension pot aggregator, or an executive on the make, born of privilege or humble beginnings and self-made. As individuals or as nation states. There are questions we need to ask of ourselves. Towards what, is your next project’s aim? Are you playing more than a zero sum game?

Infinite complexity, ultimate simplicity

The human condition is complex beyond measure. The systems of organisation we represent, a multiple of the same. But at the core there is a simplicity. We are mortal. We are fragile. And we will each always want more.

On this Halloween night perhaps give an extended nod to our forbearers. A moment of thanks to the shared sacrifice all have so far made. But tomorrow, the day we can all be saints, perhaps we each take stock of our time, and no more.

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About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

RACI to the top

We are all responsible to uphold accountability better

Accountability – not a pass down but maybe its a pass-back.

This is a long read. It has been a long write. If you invest a little time with this paper you may come away with new and challenging questions for your client or your boss. If you are the client or the boss, you may find reason to take these same questions and ask them to whomever that is to you.

The project management and organisational tool principally addressed in this article is collectively referenced as a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), of which the RACI is perhaps most generally referred. RACI is further detailed herein.

Introduction

If you initiate a project – but have need of expert others to deliver it for you – what happens to the accountability?  Who owns the success or failure in realising the change intended by this project aim?  Is your accountability able to be delegated?  Has your accountability been passed down from your boss? What about the responsibility for specific stages or tasks within the project?  Is this the same thing?

As leaders or managers, if we do not clearly define roles and hierarchy in what we oversee, we fail.  If delegations are assigned without defined parameters of autonomy, we fail.  All attempts at management of projects, risk and people become incomplete.  Implementation of internal controls; assessment of capability; adequacy of resource; assurance of governance; decision efficacy; all becomes inherently fragile, confused, and incomplete.

This article gives background to how our project literature, industry, and our academic class represent the means of defining roles between project actors.  It highlights where some of this thinking funnels us into a colloquial interest mindset, and with some of the contemporary academic research to hand, I present what appears a rather dramatic example of modal confusion.  Dramatic because it seems almost universally framed.  The good news is, a simple solution is available, and one practicable without much change to existing tools or practices required.  Tools such as RACI can be better framed, better contextualised, and keep us all actively part our project(s); not sitting at distance with our divided interests to defend.

One academic perspective

A clarity of what academic literature presents in addressing these questions has been prepared by a series of peer reviewed published work of Steve McGrath and Stephen Whitty from the University of South Queensland. Writing a number of related papers from 2015 to 2020 in the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business. In 2018, McGrath and Whitty outlined the sparsity of literature attempting to examine accountability vs responsibility. This paper specifically sought to clarify meaning for these two terms.  Beginning with an extensive database interrogation of 48,006 search results; reduced to 426 peer reviewed original articles; each with relevant responsibility or accountability context.  Of these 426 articles only two were determined to offer suitably generic definitions.  These two articles were Ieraci (2007) and Cornock (2011), (McGrath et al 2018, pp689).  Their 2018 paper was a follow up to McGrath and Whitty (2015), where the wider subject of definition confusion had been applied to governance more generally.

The following extract presents a useful context for this articles UK focus, taking us right back to historic origins.

The system of government in Britain, following sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymead, evolved over centuries by way of constant tension between King, Nobles, the middle class and the Church (Macfarlane 2000). There was a constant struggle for power within an institutional system where no one group could ever completely dominate the others, as happened with monarchies in Europe until the French revolution. So, accountability was embedded within the British system via a means of everyone protecting their interests, rather than via any moral obligation on a king to ‘be good’.  The concept of accountability is highly relevant to organisations whose shareholders (or taxpayers or members) need to be able to hold their agents to account and with whom there is some form of obligation or contractual or legal relationship or responsibility. Introducing the concept of accountability at this point is a suitable means to accommodate the change in boundary conditions that adding the prefix ‘organisational’ to the word ‘governance’

McGrath and Whitty, (2015 pp780)

This 2015 paper concludes that we need to account for hierarchy or levels of governance that exists.  Therein, better definitions can “separate the how (governance and process) from the what (content and strategy); remove the incompatible influence of competing frameworks; [and] do not confuse or mix (subversive) democratic and authoritarian artefacts (competitive and cooperative structures)”  (ibid pp785).  Of the areas of potential definitional confusion, “responsibility and accountability” are stated expressly (ibid, pp786).  This then connects to their follow up paper of 2018 from which I draw upon in application to commercial projects, particularly those of large scale construction..

Here are the definitions of accountability and responsibility McGrath and Whitty (2018) present. I short-cut over a significant and thorough examination of lexicographic and academically derived appropriation of best fit. Definitions as follows:

Responsibility: an obligation to satisfactorily perform a task

Responsible: accepting responsibility i.e., accepting an obligation to satisfactorily perform a task.

Accountability: liability for ensuring a task is satisfactorily done

Accountable: having accountability i.e., having liability for ensuring a task is satisfactorily done

McGrath et al (2018 pp701 – 702)

McGrath et al (2018) then further indicate that sources of liability referred could reflect origins of organisational, legislative, contractual, or informal (in social setting) as a wide array of possible source.  However, in attempting to reflect this transient nature of accountability through these levels of organisational or contractual management, this makes any universal tool open to misunderstanding or confusion (ibid pp702).  It is therefore recommended by McGrath at al to exclude accountability from RAMs completely, separately noting formal localised accountability in a separate matrix if such a need still exists (ibid pp703).

Professional bodies perspective

In conclusion to the McGrath et al 2018 examination of accountability and responsibility, the 2018 paper’s constraints of enquiry are again presented, “…this paper dealt solely with the question of definition and made no comment on any other normative aspects of responsibility or accountability as applied to any field.” (McGrath et al 2018 pp705).  For context therefore, I present some additional examination of industry text as applicable to UK Project Management.

What follows is critique I have prepared for contemporary context, plus summary of findings from McGrath et al of earlier versions. I have critiqued the most recent Book of Knowledge from the APM, 2019.  McGrath and Witty (2018) have critiqued PRINCE2, and PMI, 2004 (as the earliest origins of PMIs use of RACI language defined below).  A summary of each critique is offered here.  I finish this section with some specific observations related to the UKs HM Treasury 2020 Construction Playbook.

Association of Project Management

The 2019 version of APMs Book of Knowledge (AMPBoK) principally addresses accountability as part of Governance.  A responsibility assignment matrix is referenced as the tool which clarifies role accountability and responsible for activities and decisions (page 32).  Governance informing delegated authorities and escalations.  The term accountable is used 14 times, accountability 15.

The Sponsor is accountable for realisation of benefits and validity of business case.  Potential for delegation or independent check is acknowledge (page 40, 44).  In deciding to continue across decision gates, sponsor and the wider governance board are accountable (page 77), the sponsor is then accountable to ensure authorities are in place as compliance requirements of teams (page 77), governance (page 32, 40, 233), decision communication (page 200), tracking benefits (page 10, 92) and close-out reports, perhaps as delegated responsibility via a PMO (page 96).  The transient nature of accountability that is permitted by this APMBoK therefore at odds with the shifting between organisational levels that McGrath et al are seeking to avoid (McGrath et al 2015 pp703).

In my view, the APMBoK is not intending to address the interface into construction.  It instead parks up on the edge of the construction phase, but does not drop into this space.  It separates the contractors ‘project’ (page 24) and Section 4.3.2 Contract Management presents a series of controls and contract management supports but with client in mind (page192, and figure 4.3.2).  A principal contractor’s engagement of second or third tiers of suppliers is further acknowledged (page 38) but only considered in terms of balancing internal organisational talent development. This seems an important omission to raise, as I believe much of the modal confusion I write of elsewhere see construction folk talking to buyers of their services in the same language but with different levels of hierarchy on their mind.

To this end the APMBoK reference to a responsibility assignment matrix (page 32) is perhaps also intended to be through this narrower lens.  The APMBoK use of the term Accountability presents further reason to suppose this is the case.  Different people may have accountability for permanent and temporary organisational structures (page 46, 24), embedding change, or extending life-cycle, may require retained accountability of a project team (page 92, 211), accountability for achieving the project success criteria at time of project handover resting with the project manager and thereafter benefits realisation with the sponsor (page 154).

In APMBoK language this enables accountability to therefore be separately identified at two or more levels.  First, the organisational level that much of our project management literature truly focuses upon.  Second, the construction contract becomes an interface by which we can separate the “temporary organisation structure”, in place to deliver this phase. Accountability free to move across these interfaces. This is problematic, as McGrath et al would agree.

PRINCE2

Defined roles and responsibilities are one of 7 principles of PRINCE2, it is also the focus of their organisation theme.  In my opinion PRINCE2 is not a useful reference point for construction project management. It lacks a clear means to manage the interfaces of key project phases like Construction, where significant and influential factors of control would be passing over commercial boundaries.  Notwithstanding, McGrath et al (2018) references to PRINCE2 conclude it is failing to make adequate distinction between responsibility and accountability (ibid pp689).

PMI 2004 and RACI

McGrath and Whitty (2018) present the PMI PMBoK (3rd edition 2004 pp206), in reference to the responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) commonly known as RACI.  This edition being the first introduction of the RACI model. As McGrath (ibid) explain, RACI is coded:

R = Responsibility

A = Accountability

C = Consult

I = Inform

McGrath et al then offer a case study where the A for Accountability becomes problematic. The modal confusion I reference elsewhere evidenced by an example of a multi-functional Government Department.  McGrath et al explain the department’s attempts to apply such a RACI matrix across management levels within the organisation was frustrated by the difficulty in applying accountability at more than one level.  Only resolved when attempting to address RACI differently as it is expanded into a multimodal form.

HM Government Construction Playbook

UK HM Treasury, Infrastructure and Projects Association, “Construction Playbook” version 1.0 was issued December 2020.  Herein “the Playbook”.  This is the most contemporary document reflecting how government are now setting themselves up to procure construction. In the UK this playbook is how construction projects are intended to be brought to market.  This is what it has to say about roles and responsibilities.

According to the Civil Service Chief Operating Office, Alex Chisolm, the Construction Playbook reflects upon the delegation of responsibilities and working together, aligning efforts, and ensuring actions are consistent and reinforced and is “the result of extensive collaboration from across the public and private sectors to bring together expertise and best practices” (ibid pp1).

I read the motivation in the Playbook to be not one of granular operational clarity, but rather of general representation of role allocation within Government areas. Policy 4 of 14, is “People and Governance” (pp28).  This section addresses compliance, approval processes, Senior Responsible Owners (SROs), cross-functional teams, Major Projects portfolio, and opportunity framing workshops.  This is supported by cross-reference to an appended introductory section (pp72 ff) which includes Figure 4 outlining roles and responsibilities (ibid pp73).

Accountable Senior Role Owners (SROs) are said to own the business case but the language used within the Playbook here indicates the same interchangeable use of both accountability and responsibility that McGrath et al had observed as a hitherto normalised conflation of different terms.  Page 26 of the Playbook, the introduction of the Senior Responsible Owners and Cross-Functional teams, states “Project or programme senior responsible owners (SROs) own the business case and are accountable for delivery of the project or programme and its benefits and outcomes. They should fully understand the governance and approvals process and commit sufficient time to lead the project or programme through approvals and delivery.” (ibid, page 26).

What should also perhaps be noted here is the intended cross-functional interactions between central and local government outlined in the Playbook.  Page 72 presents additional explanation as to whom the Playbook is aimed at, and the list reflects the areas of Commercial, Financial, Project Delivery, Policy, and wider professional parties.  The Playbook addresses all professionals across the contracting authorities “who are responsible for the planning and delivery of public works projects and programmes”.  These aims go on to state “the key is ensuring that we have joined-up teams with input from the right functions early in the process”. Nor is this Playbook to be read in isolation.  Approvals follow HM Treasury Green Book and Orange Book requirements.  Accordingly, the Playbook is also presented as a useful reference for others with decision-making, approval, or assurance need.  This list includes Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Accounting Offices, Commercial Directors, project sponsors and SROs (ibid pp73).

For this Playbook, the key delineations of ownership are within figure 4, pp71.  The acronym OKUA is used:  Owner (or Joint-Owner); Knowledge experts; Understanding; Awareness.  Ownership can therein be split between several functions with J-O used to indicate cross-party sharing of Ownership.  Reading from this figure 4, it is of some note that the Commercial function has at least part ownership to all but three of the 14 categories; sharing four of these with Programme and Operations, and two of these with Finance. McGrath et al (2018), advise us to avoid shared allocations as it relates to Accountability (to which I would infer Ownership within the OKUA best reflects). 

The final observation to reflect here is that the OKUA matrix in the Playbook is therefore only representing the functions of Public Sector.  The external delegations between contracting authorities and the supply chain are dealt with in Policy 6.  This is entitled, “Effective Contracting” (pp38 ff).  Allocation here is in the context of procurement strategy and specifically which party (e.g., contractor or architect or the Contracting Authority) is to be made responsible for design, coordination, and integration (ibid pp41).  Contracting strategy thereafter requires documenting decisions on contractual roles and responsibilities (ibid pp42).

Combining these accounts into one

The Playbook is offering a distinction between what is being delegated by contract, and what is being allocated by the OKUA metric.  If working from highest levels of interests to lower, the Accountability appears to be OKUAs “Ownership” as allocated, most frequently, to the Commercial department.  Policy 6, “Effective Contracting”, the transferred Responsibility.  Liability for a project phase may legally transfer across this boundary, but the distinction I make here is the accountability beyond what may or may not have legal application.  It is from this position I believe we can seek to use RAM and/or RACI in a multi-layered way to these construction projects being procured via this Playbook. The interpretation of RACI however, needs to then be understood against these wider ownerships. Key to using RACI across these projects is how the Ownership aka Accountability is considered from layer to layer of project organisation, hierarchy, and onward transmission through an elongated construction supply chain.

Accountability only travels up | Responsibility is what is passed down

In cross-reference to both Ieraci (2007) and Cornock (2011), McGrath et al (2018) recommendation pp704 is to keep Accountability separated when using a RAM.  Instead, we can adapt the A in RACI, to mean having the delegated Authority and/or power of Approval.  The example by McGrath et al is a Project Manager in public sector who has authority to approve specific levels of work but not all.  This is as distinct from being Accountable. Accountability does not feature in the RAM. I would argue nor does Accountability move from the Owner roles stated in the Playbook OKUA. What is delegated is authority, or approvals. As McGrath et al argue, attempts here are therefore to create universality of labelling not meaning (McGrath 2018 pp 704).

The context of project then becomes important. For purposes of clarity between contracting parties, the Accountability of the project success sits with the Project Sponsor.  The Project Sponsor however is operating within the parameters of the authority or approvals the power above them has delegated. This continues back up to the OKUA level where the Ownership or Accountability still ultimately resides.

Stepping across this commercial boundary from Project Sponsor to the Construction Contractor, authority and approvals have also been passed via the terms of the contract of construction. This is when the recognition of project as having a nuanced meaning is important. It may be that the Construction supply chain deem this collective of construction activity to be their project.  In which case any discussion by parties within this construction project will be looking to their most senior person as the accountable role.  However, if responsibility matrices are being prepared that are to be shared with the Project Sponsor, and their engagement with this Construction supply chain as tier one, tier two, tier three, etc., it can only be the Project Sponsor who is being deemed to be accountable.  The most senior person within the Construction supply chain is now the first recipient of the delegated authority to act on behalf of the Project Sponsor.  They may have approvals to conduct their business as they see fit, and within legally defined terms they have accepted financial consequence in failing to do so, but that is not to excuse the Project Sponsor of accountability in the context of the project success.  If this subtlety can be accommodated across the layers of project hierarchy, a RAM becomes a tool able to transverse these layers and become a shared tool accordingly.  From within a project boundary the top most position may have accountability.  But when looked upon from outside in, this is Approval or Authority, and the accountability sits there above.

Why is this so important?

This creates a clarity.  Precisely what RACI as a tool is supporting across the project framework of critical controls .  It is the antidote to what obfuscates defensive decision-making (Gigerenza 2014) or any attempts to filter blame.  It places more demands upon the Project Sponsor which compels behaviour reflective of their role.  They re-enter the discussion of what is to be reported but also what it is they can add to the process in what is to be monitored.  What is to be checked by independent means, and why.  Crucially, they are required to have interest and ownership of the control environment of which this RACI is a part.  To be invested in the welfare and effectiveness of the project partners they engage.  No longer is it acceptable to say, “I did not know”.  If you chose not to look, not to ask, not to make sure, that is for you as the Project Sponsor to explain, not be the means to apply the blame. Accountability does not transfer with the contract, the interest in the contract succeeding becomes more important than how the contract can pass the blame.

Contracts remain, but alongside controls

We currently use contracts to replace trust.  That is a poor substitute when the benefits of the project are necessarily put first.  No legal changes to frameworks or duty of care are envisaged.  However, the wider control environment becomes more important than the financial security of the contract.

v | b | t

This amendment to RACI is intended only to change behaviour and attitudes towards the wider project controls.  Particularly in positions of leadership and authority.  If we insist on knowing what the accountable person is doing to safeguard both project aims and all parties within, we can evaluate them based upon v | b | t .

We have means to ask more pertinent questions.  As project sponsor what gives you adequate visibility?  How has the project framework of controls been necessarily attended to, to identify the range of behaviours possible across the project actors?  Are both appropriate to the level of trust you share?  Has procurement strategy and control framework of project been considered to best protect both project aims and all actors involved.  Demonstrate the concern for everyone’s well-being, not just your own.

McGrath and Whitty remarks to conclude

The extension of these same ideas are motivated from precisely the conclusions McGrath et al (2018) make themselves.  The conclusions of McGrath et al read much better than I could offer.  Accordingly, I will lean again upon them for the last word.

Adoption and use of the refined definitions developed in this paper, together with alteration of the “A” in the RAM RACI code from accountability to approve, can provide clarity of meaning, avoiding uncertainty, confusion, and misunderstanding. This can benefit the community in general and project management practitioners and researchers in particular, saving time, resources, and money.

Through providing greater clarity, these findings also have the potential to improve project delivery through benefiting organisational recruitment, selection, and induction process, providing a basis for motivating and rewarding employees and assisting with staff termination processes. They can also potentially result in greater clarity in contracts, potentially minimising disputes during and after project delivery.

Successful application of the definitional refining method also indicates its potential suitability for application to other contested terms.

McGrath and Whitty, 2018, pp706

Credit and acknowledgements

Much of this article is influenced by the McGrath and Whitty papers of 2015 and 2018 referenced below.  I would encourage a wider read of McGrath and Whitty’s work.  Much of their recent work is freely accessible via Google Scholar, I also provide the link to the published version via Emerald of the 2018 paper.  Access to APM PRINCE2, and PMI BoKs are subject to the terms of each organisation.  The UK Construction Playbook is a matter of public record at Gov.uk

References:

Stephen Keith McGrath, Stephen Jonathan Whitty, (2015),”Redefining governance: from confusion to certainty and clarity”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 8-4 pp. 755 – 787

McGrath, SK., Whitty, S,J. (2018), “Accountability and responsibility defined”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 687-707. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-06-2017-0058

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Further research:

These notes are part of a wider ongoing enquiry into seeking better collaborative ways to facilitate more successful project outcomes.  Using critical controls and tools beyond project contracts, of which a RAM or similar is assumed to be a central part.  Additional research will revisit more specific construction industry literature and guidance.  Wider modelling from psychology are also intended to be introduced.  In the interim these notes are my current findings which have further highlighted where visibility | behaviour | trust also play a part.

Disclaimers:

It should be noted that these notes have been written with an intended academic rigour.  No original work is claimed here, other than practical application of existing academic literature.  This article has not undergone any form of peer review, nor subjected to supervision by anyone with Doctorial or equivalent qualification or experience, or therefore vetted by the ethical standards of a university body.  Stephen McGrath has been made aware of these notes for information, but no representation is made to his approval, or my authority to write in his name.  I have made all attempt to therefore present a visibility of sources and behaviours I consider appropriate to academic writing.  However, judgements upon the academic merit or trust to all content herein, are yours alone to make.

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About the Author:

Warren Beardall MSc, BSc (Hons) MIRM

Managing Consultant, MYR Consulting (Europe) PTY Ltd.

In my consulting work with tier one construction contractors in the UK, the clarity of role allocation is an integral part of the critical control environment being assessed. This paper integrates my own learning in facilitating this consulting, with the detailed examinations of the academic and industry practice I research.  It presents an argument as to why I think modal confusion confronts our industry when these tools are applied.

For twenty years, MYR Consulting (Europe) PTY Ltd and our parent company in Australia, have been helping clients mitigate their risk of professional error.  Often our engagements begin with an introduction via Professional Indemnity insurers.  Sometimes we are invited in before such needs arise.  I would summarise our involvement as helping highly capable people and their internal control environments to be a cohesive whole.  The controls helping the people, the people challenging and determining best practice the control environment reflects.  Both aimed toward the consistent success of the design management processes they support, and the projects they form part.

Within this consulting work, role clarity is an integral part of de-risking process for the benefit of both the company and the wider project outcomes they serve.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The road ahead

Let’s hope for driverless cars, if these are our choices

A critique of Keir Starmer’s vision of where Labour is headed under his leadership.

I love a good essay. Once the most eloquent way to present an account. A reasoned version of a truth. Some of the most captivating narratives of the English speaking world took the form of the essay.

Today however, I am going to join the evening traffic report. Reflecting upon the road works and pot holed carriageways holding the narratives of the day. Boris Johnson offered us an essay of sorts a while back on his vision of Brexit. I was surprised and disappointed at its flippant account of what had been, and a flaccid and uncommitted account of what was hoped to come. For a man of words, with journalistic training, this was very much not worth the 18 month gestation it took him to write. I was therefore curious to see how Keir Starmer would fair, with his legal training, and similar time to prepare. His own essay offering, was this week made accessible ahead of conference season. I spent a few hours of Thursday evening in similar despair. It prompted a change of direction of my own, by way of this evening blog.

Congestion warning

I will confess to being somewhat torn between these two essays by two head boys. Star pupils that are Boris and Keir. Not by the politics, although neither camp convinces me enough. I am torn between the lasting impression I suspect I will now hold long of both political figureheads. Torn as to which one presented the least convincing case. The least accomplished representation of the essay form, each has claimed to write.

These were two opportunities to present a version of truth. A perspective of intended change. In my project language, each reflects a project of political means to direct us all with clarity of purpose and outcomes of intended change. As projects I will therefore attempt to use my metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust to consider the truth this latest outline of a project represents. This essay entitled “The Road Ahead”, by Keir Starmer MP. Originally accessed via BBC website.

Regardless of political leanings therefore, lets take a look at 11,500 words of missed chances to present a plan of time-bound intended change. Using v | b | t to guide another critique.

I conclude a draw. This offering to be on par, and to be as accomplished a vacuum packed political vernacular of fluff, as Boris could have ever have hoped to hide behind.

Visibility | b | t

This was an opportunity to present a vision of what could be. In the being mode of reflecting upon what is here now, and what is intended to be changed at project end. The being and the becoming. The clarity of how all project actors involved are to be accounted for, and the priorities of stakeholder interests, and metrics of success. A positive to start with therefore, it is quite clear which actors are most of interest. I am just not sure which families are to be categorised as not being the hard-working ones addressed here.

As a project, my question is what is intended by this proposed change?  If we press deeper into the questions of why. Beyond the first why of the politics, the second of why and where the balance of distribution of wealth for future engagement of the labour force should sit. Thereafter I struggled to find any answers of note. This essay offers no vision of what we can as a country become.  Our place and our role in the global village. It is an outline of the ambitions of process, of the priority of what we have (as potential, opportunity, and what is owned), and a vague inference of readdressing the owned by whom.

It is not until page 21 that the future focus is introduced. The Future.  The visibility of what we can become.  “A future in which we ensure everyone who wants to contribute can fulfil their potential” Starmer argues is only feasible if Labour have ownership of the reins.

A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long-term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).

It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with it a greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). All admirable sentiments, but toward what end? What national self-worth?

The road ahead from page 30, begins with Tory, Liberal Democrats and SNP failings of the past.  Starmer stands us at the cross-roads again, presenting the better path by further pointing to the vulnerability and failings of others who have sat in the driving seat.  The better path of government is outlined as a focus on security of, and opportunity for, the people.  A government able to face up to tough decisions, prioritising the hard-working family, we are told.  The final page then presents the ten principles of a contributing society, finally outlined as a coherent whole (page 31). My best attempt at a more pithy summary is this:-

  1. Hard working families first
  2. Fair reward for the fair minded
  3. Contribution based society
  4. Equal opportunity
  5. Community before individual
  6. Interventionist economics
  7. Partnering with private enterprise
  8. Responsible spending
  9. Return to honesty, decency, transparency
  10. Patriotism without nationalism

In terms of visibility therefore, I found nothing but disappointment at the sheer lack of detail. There are some significant socio-political concepts summarised here, but what does our country look like on this path?

I was left with a reasonable idea of what it would be like if Keir Starmer were our King-Pin. This is how I would rule you. This is how I would waft my wand. This is what power would be to me. But little real vision of what that would all be for. Accordingly, let me now consider what behaviour this leadership message reflects, at least to me.

v | behaviour | t

“People in this country are crying out for change” says Starmer in the front facing part of his Foreword.  This is an encouraging sentence given my project theory is suggesting that all we are is vehicles of intended change. But the paragraph then evades what destination is in mind.  Offering instead the change of principles and redistribution of power and decisions to localised autonomy and the labour force.  We are thereafter presented a detail of sorts to this vision, but framed as the how he would have power assigned. This is the behaviour of the having mode. How power would be held in leadership. Little to offer in terms of what this would all transform us into being. How we would be served.

The psychological tone of the whole essay is one of focus upon what is being owned. Mostly, it is allocation of blame. Pointing out others failings, as a reflection of their selfish overtones. I estimate this is 75% of the entire account. Imagine putting a tender together or applying for a job, and filling all the spaces availed to allow you to shine, and just presenting the case for how bad the other candidates may be. Who is not able to make these judgements themselves? I understand the sentiment but to me this takes up far too much of the word count, and denies the opportunity to show a better behaviour, one capable and willing to mend broken bridges with the electorate. A surprisingly shallow argument is presented as a result.

One example that stood out for me was after the most extended volley of assaults was concluded. Page 21, even having acknowledged past criticism for Labour spending too long looking in the rear view mirror, almost the next sentence is revisiting the inspirational days of 1945. Then countered by “but forward focused on new settlement between government, business, and working people” (page 21).  This then returns another attack on where we are, but little of what we change to, other than pithy sentiment of “a contribution society” (page 22).

Past reflections, starting at page 8, are unfettered in their focus on political team colours.  The good deeds of Labour, the self-serving nature of Conservatives.  Lessons held up as his team’s mistakes of old in being retrospectively focused, but still reflecting upon the good of these retrospective days.  Presenting the ideology of the right as having failed in recent past, and addressed in three periods as follows (all page 10). I outline these for selfish reasons. They happen to list as a v | b | t in their own categorisations:

  1. The era of the Global Financial Crisis, depicted as a period of poor visibility “a smokescreen for rolling back the state”;
  2. The era of patriotic nationalism, depicted as complacent behaviour “a lazy, complacent veer from patriotism to nationalism” which covered a period from Brexit to the current Afghanistan.
  3. A trend towards emboldening a division of interests.  This I read as intended divided trust, “import of American-style divisions on social, cultural, and sometimes national lines”

With no intended irony, Starmer then proceeds to present the divide across this same social landscape (pages10-13), citing David Cameron’s “We’re all in this together”, to then highlight subsequent regional disparity of wealth and health, age related stereotypes, and a country held back by a lack of ambition.  Nearly five pages of these sentiments that are taken deep into page 15.

As a considered position on behaviour therefore, this seemed unnecessarily focused on the other. Just as I despaired at Boris Johnson’s lack of clear ability to stand tall, stand accountable, and stand for us all. So I find this focus by Keir Starmer as reflecting a blame ready tool box of excuses in waiting, and a weakness to commit to anything at all. I was hoping for a little more spirited and applied daring-do. There seems little to choose between Boris Johnson’s demonstrating a lack of service, and Keir Starmer offering much of what is wrong but little of how to put it right.

What then, is this offering as a better form of trust?

v | b | trust

Starmer’s reflections are empathetic.  Perhaps intended to demonstrate being in touch with the reality of difficult times.  The working class divide, and the hardship and unfairness.  There is a reflection upon humble beginnings.  Prior experience of Public Service, Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008, represented as leadership acknowledged with knighthood in 2014 (page 7). From my earlier blogs on leadership, this equates to the titles held, and the medals won. Like any CV, this would read much better as a means to reflect upon how these experiences can deliver what is intended to be. How to serve us better.

What of trust in finding a way forward? It is not going to come from demonstrating who has caused what in the here and now. The significant detail of past discretions in this essay is not reflected in the same detail of what is to come. There is a lack of meaningful data in all future examples offered. Leadership is not about spreadsheets, but the quality of case study here seemed rather lacking in the authority of equivalent board level understanding. By example, page 16 offers a glimpse of private sector collaboration.  A single case study of a manufacturing opportunity for wind-turbines in Glasgow.  A case study that quickly becomes a swipe at the lack of strategic planning by the other side.   Page 17 “Fixing the fundamentals” presents insecurity and inequality central to a fix.  A hypothetical case-study of two students and the vastly different opportunities presented due to societal difference.  Security and lack of housing and employment opportunity reflected through page 18, introducing a link to liberal democracy, reintroduction of society over individualism, and landing back onto the safe labour platform of card-carrying membership before returning to what Conservatives have failed to do. This makes room for extending the criticisms towards the SNP under the shared Nationalistic intentions, albeit separate flags in mind (page 19-20). I struggle to find much encouragement or clarity towards a better way with the lack of depth here.

The detail of priorities is similarly vague. A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).  The essay then moves back to pre-existing inequality and the need for more localised decision autonomy, and more transparency on freedom of government spending by department.  It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). Notwithstanding the headline nature of each aim here, how can all these promises be priority number one? This comes back to my project analogy. What is to be prioritised, what is sacrificial, what is ambition number one? What is supporting the target of all these mandates? And why?

What truth do we learn, here?

It is perhaps self-evident that I struggled to contain my irritations here. The essay form I truly wish to become more adept at writing, is in my opinion not reflected here. In masterful hands it is a form of elegance and clarity, that can hold truth for all time. One that in days past, and I believe days to come, can and will hold timeless visions of a way to be. The great and the good of history can still be engaged by their past words. In contemporary context perhaps that is as much truth as we need. A vision, a set of behaviours, and reflection of what change could be, is almost never offered by those who wish to serve us all. What confidence, what trust, should we feel obliged to therefore afford?

I found the v | b | t and project language I am developing of some use in framing this critique. Even if it was simply to conclude that I find myself no closer to a holder of better truth.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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