Sorry Ken, you're wrong...

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Sorry Ken, you’re wrong. At last month’s PMI Synergy Event – billed as a celebration of project management – former London Mayor Ken Livingstone stood up to denounce the talents of UK project leaders.

Central to Ken’s argument was the assertion that if you want something doing properly, bring in outside help. He cited Americans Barbara Cassani and Bob Kiley as prime examples. But if you look closer, it’s far from an open and shut case.

Less than a year into the Olympic bid Ms Cassani decided she wasn’t cut out to lead the bid. She wasn’t taken with the idea of hanging around the bars and lobbies of international hotels trying to catch the eye of IOC members. So she waved farewell.

Her replacement, Lord Coe (a Brit), took up the challenge, and the rest as they say, is history. Now with the build programme 95 per cent complete, British project heavy-hitters Sir John Armitt, Jeremy Beeton, Howard Shiplee, Ian Crockford etc, are credited with bringing the programme in on time and under budget.

The case for Bob Kiley is equally vague. Mr Kiley came with a big reputation – and salary. He had previously been credited with fixing Boston and New York’s ailing transport systems. But when he left six years later, his achievements (or lack of them) left Londoners scratching their heads if the million pound plus annual salary had really been worth it.

As both cases prove there is no magic bullet and bringing in outside help to ride roughshod over the establishment is no guarantee of success – as was proven by Mr Kiley’s ongoing court saga to overturn the government’s contentious PPP plan.

Ah, but what about The Thames Barrier project – the very definition of British PM ineffectiveness?

Recalling his experiences on the Greater London Council, Ken said the Barrier contract had been drawn up in such a convoluted way that it did nothing to encourage delivery and everyone working on it – from the chief executive to the tea lady – knew that once project was over so was their job.

No surprise then that the project slipped; ran over massively and came within weeks of failing to prevent catastrophic flooding in the capital.

But hang-on a minute, did it do its job and prevent the flooding? Has London suffered catastrophic flooding since its construction? Are there any plans to replace it in the near future? The Environment Agency’s Rachel Hill is quoted as saying: “We don’t anticipate any major engineering projects in the Thames Estuary before 2030.”

So come on Ken, why not bite the bullet? Admit that you did it to fit your own agenda, flog a few books, and that every now and again, British really is best.

Posted in e-Project Olympics
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Posted by James Simons on 16th Dec 2011

About the Author
James Simons is publishing manager at APM. He has previously edited APM’s Project magazine for 3+ years and has a background in trade journalism. He has worked in communications and managed both print and digital publications.

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