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

Similar topics

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022