Channel 4 tonight 8pm explores DWP’s Universal Credit ‘Lobster Pot’…
“Jay Montrose had previously been living on his own and claiming UC as a single person. In June he moved in with his partner, Nikki Colton, who is pregnant, and their four-year-old son, Ethan. Montrose and Colton told Dispatches their claim took so long to process, they were unable to pay for food, rent and other bills, built up debts of £2,500 and eventually received an eviction notice from their landlord. Now their claim is being processed manually.” Sources: Guardian & Channel 4
DWP said the couple’s claim had been delayed because the pair had failed to complete the correct forms.
So, what went wrong at DWP? Lobster pots…
The intended ‘big bang’ implementation of Universal Credit was based on the ‘lobster pot’ principle. The idea was that once a claimant is on the Universal Credit IT system, he/she remains on it – no matter how complex their life becomes.
Water warmer in the Universal Credit Lobster Pot
for a young, single man?
For this simplifying assumption to work, the staff (using the cobbled together IT that DWP has agreed to write off by 2016) have to calculate up to six existing benefits simultaneously as soon as a claimant’s life gets more complex. The IT simply can’t deal with that complexity, so it is up to staff at Job Centres to do so.
When the coalition government came into power, it introduced a new IT Strategy to ensure that incremental ‘Agile’ development would be the norm, and thus new IT projects would be less risky. There has been one exception to the rule: the Universal Credit programme.
Despite DWP’s insistence that an Agile and incremental approach was taken on Universal Credit, the NAO and the Cabinet Office “do not consider that DWP has … appropriately adopted an Agile approach.” The approach was, in fact, the opposite of Agile: it was predicated on a ‘big bang’ implementation of all the Universal Credit functions simultaneously from October 2013. A target that has now been abandoned.
Can the Universal Credit Programme be put back on track?
Perhaps, but two major problems need to be overcome.
Firstly: the ‘lobster-pot’ principle will have to be reviewed to allow a more incremental approach to roll-out. The idea of a ‘big-bang’ replacement of six major benefits by Universal Credit all at once will have to be revisited. The roll-out will be long, expensive and painful. If the business case does not stack up, then the Treasury may veto further work until a plausible plan is figured out…
Secondly, and whether Universal Credit continues or not, DWP will need to adopt good Agile Project Management principles. The NAO specify five conditions for this:
1. A realistic plan based on minimum functionality not a complicated wish list
2. A collaborative approach of policy experts and programmers working together
3. Effective programme governance
4. Prudent financial management
5. Improved Agile Project Management capacity throughout DWP
If DWP can govern the use of Agile Project Management effectively, and if the politicians (on both sides of the house) work with them on a realistic plan, Universal Credit may yet recover…
© Brian Wernham 2014 CC BY-NC-ND