Leave those piñatas alone

It has been a tough couple of weeks for public service digital teams. First there was the PHE/NHS ‘test and trace’ Excel crisis and now there is the ‘National Careers Service’ assessment tool becoming a Twitter piñata. In both cases armies of ‘experts’ have had their say with everything from constructive criticism to conspiracy theories and no shortage of snark. In both cases the speculation has been fuelled by back channels, rumours, denials and mea culpas but very little actual specifics.

Look – no doubt mistakes were made but the amount of people piling on is counter productive at best. Also I’m not sure people understand what mistakes were actually made. There must still be half a dozen versions of the Excel story doing the rounds.

I really think there is a case of ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ to be made here. You have to assume there was massive political pressure on both of these teams – I mean that Careers service site was clearly deigned for teenagers looking for some kind of direction…not a generation of people finding their careers destroyed by a global pandemic…until a Minister decided to change its proposition with – I’m guessing – next to no notice.

The whole Excel thing is a nightmare but I doubt anybody involved thought it was an elegant solution – it was a stopgap that was chosen because tactically it worked in a moment when dealing with the impossibility of joining up systems across NHS/PHE/suppliers etc became clear (and no, nobody was fixing that in four months) and then the pressure to keep delivering meant nobody looked up to fix the bigger problem. Should a parallel project have been working on that from the start and the transition made earlier? Absolutely. Maybe it was. Maybe it was already imminent. Shit happened but that doesn’t mean everybody was shit.

Now…would all this speculation have been easier to deal with if these teams worked in the open more or put out transparent incident reports (rather than press releases that bounce from ass covering to throwing people under busses)? Yes. 100% yes. That is fine for me to say though – I doubt that was something they were encouraged or permitted to do in the current political climate.

Anyway – how about we put down the bats. There are people in those piñatas.