“Buzz” doesn’t feature in the HMT Green Book

There have been several initiatives emanating from central Whitehall in the last ten months, both pre- and post-election, all designed to reduce departmental cost.  Spending reviews, moratoria, major project reviews, you name it.  My experience of this has been from an IT perspective, but I expect the same is true across the board.

Given the financial crisis, all of this was necessary.  Debates will rage as to whether it was done in the most effective way (a post for someone else to write), but in essence, discretionary spend by departments had to be reduced.  And that is what has been done.

The result: projects have disappeared.  Consultants and contractors who were involved in those projects have been released; civil servants have, in the main, been pulled back on to business as usual activities.  And what was probably a 70/30 split between BAU and project-related activity is now sitting closer to 95/5.

I was in a Whitehall department today.  And while admittedly the place was thin on numbers—some people continuing their holidays into the new year—the energy was lacking.  There were no corridor chats, no impromptu meetings (love ’em or hate ’em), no one was crowded around a whiteboard or diving on to a conference call.  It seemed stale; stagnant.

And I expect this will be one of the undocumented symptoms of the spending cuts.  Projects create momentum.  Projects create a buzz, a buzz that is felt beyond the bounds of the project.  And the buzz infects the people around them—the business people that inform requirements, the finance people tracking how much you’ve spent, the boards ratifying (largely) the recommendations being put to them, the service delivery folk that get animated before it’s slung over the proverbial wall (ha!).

Importantly, the business as usual folk become passionate, both through proximity and involvement.

Without projects, this passion in government offices will all but disappear, both through the removal of good project people and through the removal of the infectious buzz.  Government offices will once again become sterile, uninspiring places to work, and business as usual activity will suffer as a result.

I only hope that my interpretation is way off beat.

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