At the BBC, Agile means 'making it up as we go along'

Watchdog slams Auntie’s open-ended data slurp


A £75m “Agile” BBC IT project has evaded scrutiny because managers could make up the benefits as they went along, according to the spending watchdog the National Audit Office. Any likelihood of the project achieving savings is now officially rated as “in doubt” by the BBC’s own project monitoring.

Since the costly failure of the £126m Digital Media Initiative, the National Audit Office says the BBC has made improvements to its processes and increased accountability, in a report published today. Project managers report faster and more often. The NAO examined eight major projects at the BBC and conclude that although will most likely fulfil their requirements, one other project should, and one is doubtful.

The MyBBC project was one of the eight examined, and it wasn’t cheap, costing an eye-watering £75.2m. The project was intended “to create a set of nine capabilities for use by BBC online services including iPlayer and the BBC news website. It is intended to allow the BBC to collect more accurate data on audiences and provide programmes that reflect their preferences.” In other words, it slurped data and allowed to customise the portal.

The project is criticised for failing to set a savings plan, instead setting a target for the number of registered users.

“MyBBC is an ‘agile’ project that was designed to define benefits as the project progressed, but two years into the project it still was not clear what the BBC expected MyBBC to achieve overall,” the NAO notes.

The End-to-End Digital project, a partial replacement for the utopian and unwieldy DMI, is also criticised for poor accountability, but the BBC thinks it will succeed in its goal to replace videotape.

In the case of MyBBC, benefits were only defined late in the day, two years after the project had started. During the first year, MyBBC team set a target of eight million iPlayer sign-ups, but the NAO notes that the BBC “changed the target and the baseline several times during the first year. It did not show in its monthly reporting how many users had registered”. It is also criticised because the recipient of the work (in BBC language the "business sponsor") reported to the executive sponsor.

The BBC’s project management is also criticised for going through the motions of scheduling quality checks, with staff unsure of why the check is there, or how they could declare success or failure: the NAO noting “several plans included assurance activities as ‘placeholders’ without a clear assessment of the scope or purpose or a clear connection to project activities for imminent assurance activities."

The BBC Trust admits that MyBBC “did not define its its expected benefits upfront”, because because it “was an ‘agile’ project where benefits were to be defined as the project progresse[d].”

Nice work if you can get it.

"The Executive have assured us that a complete set of benefits have now been defined and measurement has begun,” the Trust notes.

In recent years the cultish Agile development methodology has fathered a buzzword that dazzles non-technical management. These days it adorns many Whitehall press releases, even on non-technical subjects; you have to call a department or initiative "agile", even if you can't define what that means. Over at W1A, the word clearly has lost none of its capacity to impress. ®

Related Link


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021