Jemma Dunne, author of the NAO blog

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Posted on January 7, 2022 by Jemma Dunne

Ambulances must travel fast! Ambulance drivers have to take risks that regular drivers don’t. This includes red lights and high speed travel on busy roads. However, to avoid accidents, precautions are taken to manage the risks. The driver is trained, there are flashing blue lights and loud sirens.

The rapid execution of programs requires a similar risk assessment. In our recent Lessons Learned Report, we show that some programs have been successfully delivered quickly, but not all – just as not all vehicles can be driven like ambulances. Speed ​​creates greater risks that will not be appropriate or sustainable for every program or organization.

Should we take the risks of speed?

Programs may need to be delivered quickly for a variety of reasons, including emergencies or when there is a fixed deadline. We recently reported on the Kickstart program launched by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). In response to a significant increase in youth unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DWP wanted to set up support quickly. He kicked off Kickstart on September 2, 2020, after only about six weeks of work, in time for the scheduled end of the holiday in October 2020. We also saw programs delivered quickly, with the government just wanting to see results faster. A clear rationale for speed can make it easier to gain broader support and justify taking risks. Other drivers understand an ambulance’s need for speed and often give up.

Policymakers need to understand “why speed up” to assess whether speed risks are necessary and justifiable. Risks can include cost increases, unfulfilled results, or people diverted to a program to the detriment of other work. Our recent report on rebound lending highlights the impact when risks are unmanaged – the program has facilitated faster lending by removing credit and affordability checks and allowing businesses to self-certify their application documents. The priority given to speed has contributed to high levels of estimated fraud.

Given the risks, decision-makers should ask themselves:

  • Can I justify taking risks?
  • Have I given enough thought to things?
  • Is the end result worth it?

Monitoring and risk management in practice

When decision makers choose to take the risk of running a program quickly, they need to proactively monitor and manage these heightened and different risks. In November 2021, we shared the lessons from our lessons learned report with the Justice Department team responsible for the Probation Reform Program and the Creation of the Unified Probation Service to understand how it resonated with their team. practical experience. In June 2021, the Lord Chancellor wrote to Parliament confirming that probation services had been unified.

The team told us they made a conscious decision to deliver quickly and identified a clear narrative for reforms to move forward. Thus, everyone was clear on the reasons for the reforms. The team also made it clear that there was no eventuality beyond the expected delivery date. In addition to setting a minimum expectation of the necessary requirements for Day 1, this helped to force the pace and prioritization of efforts.

The program team also stressed the importance of strong leadership, with a culture of accountability and responsibility, to deal with any uncertainty or problem. In particular, they spoke of a culture that encouraged people to bring up any issues they encountered, rather than hiding them or focusing on the “good news”.

In addition, the program team said they have built a strong internal assurance team, comprised of former senior operations executives, to conduct site visits and document reviews to ensure the program was on track.

At the same time, the program team highlighted the benefits of a flexible program structure. The team recognized that it was difficult to plan everything in advance and instead made sure that they had the necessary processes and information to react quickly. This was done through regional teams, with a dedicated senior manager, responsible for identifying risks as quickly as possible. This meant that the core program team could effectively deal with “unknown strangers” when they arose.

Our ideas

Many of the points made by the probation reform program team correspond to our ideas. Specifically:

  • Include speed as a specific program goal to provide a clear framework for decision making and help trade off speed, cost and results.
  • Build teams with the right leadership, skills and experience to make clear, fast and reliable decisions.
  • Adapt processes to add value and momentum to program decision making.
  • Recognize and manage the uncertainties of prompt delivery.

As speed remains important for ambulances, so will some programs, in particular with commitments to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by the set deadline of 2050. Our report helps those who decide to deliver at high speed ask questions to determine when and how it should be done and then continually test whether a program will achieve its results.

Further reading


About the authors

Josh Perks is a qualified accountant with experience working within the NAO Transportation team. Its work has included audits of major public transport agencies and value-for-money studies of major rail programs. Recently he has been active in the NAO Large Projects Delivery Center.

Jemma Dunne is an audit manager and has produced value for money reports in areas such as health and defense, including those related to government programs. She is a chartered accountant (FCA) and holds the APM qualification in project management (PMQ).

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