Parliament’s project governance

The construction of the new Scottish Parliament building shows how things can go wrong.
When the procurement process began, the innovative design was still in its early stages. The specification for the project was 20,740m2 and PS50m. There were no guidelines or timeframes or quality standards at this stage. The driving factors, those crucial success criteria, were not fully considered. However, this does not mean that the Scottish Office officials did not know the project objectives: they were to build a new Parliament building. The difficulties in setting priorities was the main problem, according to Lord Fraser’s report on the project. Which was more important? These were the two main requirements of size and cost. Or quality and time. Lord Fraser concluded that quality and time were the main priorities and that cost was not a concern based on the behavior of the project team in its largest sense. The procurement process was not completed using a realistic budget estimate at this early stage of the project.
Further complicating matters was the need to revise the design, which was completed in June 2000. These should have been done with user requirements in view, but they were not included in the project documentation. The design team tried to deliver something but didn’t have a clear understanding of the client’s needs. People who would use the building were also confused about what they wanted. As we can see, there weren’t clear priorities or success criteria.
The project had a sponsor. Barbara Doig assumed this role. She was a civil servant and Head of the Parliament Accommodation Division from March 1998 to May 1999. She was also the Scottish Parliament Director from 1 June 1999 to May2000, which gave her a strong political background to negotiate the successful completion. Lord Fraser believes that the project would have been more successful had an industry expert, someone with a strong background or sponsorship of construction projects, been in this role. It is crucial to choose the right sponsor for a project.
Professor Gordon Humphreys described this as the “Bable problem”, which is the main problem with this project. This came in many forms:
Before being passed to management, messages are filtered for political reasons. A quantity surveyor, for example, gave an estimate of PS89m. This included a margin for risk because this was a unique project and it was highly probable that there would be unexpected circumstances. The actual estimate was PS62m.
Project reports use a lot of unclear vocabulary. Terminology (project management jargon and all other business vocabulary) works only if everyone who uses it understands what it means. Is ‘estimate” the same as “forecast”? This uncommon vocabulary caused misunderstandings that were either intentional or unintentional. It didn’t help the project advance.
Absence of project reports. There were concerns about whether the project would be completed on budget by November 1998. It was not until March 1999 that Donald Dewar, then Secretary of State for Scotland received a formal warning about any possible cost increases.
Communication at all levels is lacking. Bill Armstrong, the project manager, was responsible for leading the project up to December 1998. After he resigned, however, the Ministers and other senior stakeholders were not informed of his departure until January 1999. This is indicative of the way the project’s stakeholders worked together.

There were many factors that contributed to the tenfold increase in cost and the delays. The project could have been completed in a matter of days.