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Why is Universal Credit proving so difficult to implement?

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Job Centre PlusWith more than 600m spent on the project that aims to collapse six benefits into one monthly payment, universal credit was recently reset to zero and started again.

But why has it proved so problematic?

According to Brian Wernham, the author of Agile Project Management for Government, the problem lies in the system having to make very complicated calculations based on everybody in each household.

Whats more, theres the lobster pot principle, meaning that claimants will remain in the universal credit system once they enter it what if a previously single claimant now lives with their partner with children?

With only 2% of the country covered by universal credit, those that move home are finding that their local Job Centre staff arent trained in the new process.

Furthermore, plans for the rollout of a replacement digital solution were recently abandoned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

So whats the way forward?

As reported in an article in The Observer newspaper, Brian believes that the DWP must realise two things: that the implementation must be one benefit at a time rather than collapsing six into one simultaneously; and that the approach must be truly incremental.

It needs to be accepted that even at a rate of one major step forward every three months, the 40 or so major dysfunctionalities of the existing systems will take around ten years to iron out.

Brian concluded with a worrying thought, adding that despite an increasingly automatic benefits systems developing over the next ten years, there is currently no clear roadmap for how government will get us there.

Image: By J J Ellison (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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  1. Trevor Marshall
    Trevor Marshall 18 September 2014, 09:55 AM

    If something this large is going to take ten years to complete that equals the term of two governments, and we all know that they only work one term at a time. Explains why the current one wanted to get it all done in one term and hope it couldn't be undone if there is a change next time. The Cabinet Office and MPA decry big bang approaches but allowed this one because it needed to be completed before next May.This probably doesn't contribute to the discussion around agile, but explains the myopic approach to large programme delivery within each successive government.

  2. Ian Koenig
    Ian Koenig 16 September 2014, 11:17 PM

    How many failed large database projects will it take before folks realize?   We need to communicate this to the sponsors of these projects rather than defend the agile approach.  We have the affordable care projects in the US and Universal Credit in the UK.  These types of project require significant analysis and design upfront if they are to succeed, with a large coordinated team of expert analysts and designers; scrum of scrums just won't cut it.  The team should consist of members who have successfully completed large database projects in banking, insurance, and the airline industries.   The sponsors need to step up to the constant stakeholder issues throughout the project and product lifecycles.  I hope folks hear the point and don't get all religious on this.  Agile will most likely not extend outside of smaller scale software development, which is fine, it is one approach.