The Anonymous Widower

Crossrail: Report Finds Not Enough Money To Finish Project

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

These are the first two paragraphs.

The cost of completing Crossrail exceeds available funding, the government spending watchdog has found.

The National Audit Office (NAO) estimates the cost of the new rail link will be between £30m and £218m above the current funding.

After such a good start with the tunneling and surface line going well, how did we get here?

My main business for nearly forty years was writing project management software and that gave me a deep insight into the dynamics and mathematics of large projects.

The software, I created in the 1970s; Artemis was deeply involved in the most important project of the time; North Sea Oil.

But then more by luck, than any judgement on my part, it was well suited to solving the management problems of North Sea Oil.

The software ran on a small Hewlett-Packard mini-computer with an attached display and a printer, whose footprint, gave Artemis an advantage over competitors who needed a mainframe, for which there was no office space in Aberdeen.

I had first got involved in scheduling resources at ICI about five years earlier and because from previous experience I knew resources would be critical, I gave the program extension resource aggregation and scheduling capabilities.

I have been told that the latter proved invaluable in successfully developing North Sea Oil. People may have been flattering me, but I do know that Shell used to ensure that all their suppliers used Artemis, so they could check easily if they were being told the truth.

I suspect that Shell and others used the aggregation capability to see that they weren’t overloading the pool of labour available.

Artemis definitely proved itself capable of handling the various projects in the North Sea.

We have now moved on forty years, but has project management moved on to cope with the advances in technology of the modern world?

As with North Sea Oil in Aberdeen, in the 1970s, Crossrail and other large projects like Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport will always have a need for large numbers of resources, be they men, materiel or machines.

I have some questions.

  • Do all contractors working on Crossrail use the same software?
  • Does Crossrail have the right to inspect the contractors project management systems?
  • Is the upward reporting what it needs to be?
  • Does the software the contractors use, have an aggregation capability?
  • Do Crossrail track and predict the resources needed?

Someone I respect told me, that a lot of modern project management software doesn’t even have an aggregation capability- Enough said!

I must admit, aggregation and scheduling software is difficult to write, so it might be easier to cut it out and let your clients muddle through!

Worsening The Resource Problem

Crossrail,the Greater London Authority and the Boroughs should have been monitoring this growing resource problem, but I doubt they were in anything other than a perfunctory way!

Instead the politicians were giving planning permission to anybody with money, who wanted to build a shiny new development close to a station.

These project would need more men, materiel or machines.

As many of these new developments are backed by companies or funds with bottomless pockets to get their developments finished they are prepared to pay more for their labour.

So labour has been deserting Crossrail in droves, thus further delaying the project.

Senior politicians in the Greater London Authority and the boroughs should accept some responsibility for Crossrail’s delay.

They didn’t need to withhold the planning permission, just say that construction could’t commence until an appropriate phase of Crossrail was open.

In some parts of the world, brown envelopes will have changed hands, but it would be nice to know how many mayors and senior politicians have had holidays in places, they would not normally visit.

Senior project managers tell me, that they would not be surprised if developments along Crossrail had delayed the project.

The Covid Problem

No-one saw Covid coming, except possibly the Chinese.

But good project management is all about negotiating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

There is the story of the miniMetro production line.

The first body shells coming out of the automated welder were crooked and it turned out that the machine had hit a motorway bridge in Germany. But by good project management using Artemis, British Leyland engineers were able to get the second line working before the first and the car was launched on time.

With Covid, the Mayor shut construction, and it was some months before it restarted again.

I am certain, that with good project management we could have done better.

Covid is also a good excuse for lateness.

On the other hand good project management got the vaccines developed, manufactured and delivered into arms.

Covid also blew a big hole in Transport for London’s finances.

But then so did Sadiq Khan’s Fare Freeze, that brought him to office.

Could Crossrail Have Part-Opened Earlier?

I often ponder this and others ask me if it would be possible.

The Victoria Line was built with crossovers and it was able to open in phases.

Crossrail has crossovers in the following places.

  • Either side of Custom House station
  • To the West of Whitechapel station
  • Between Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road stations

Note.

  1. It doesn’t appear to have been built for part opening.
  2. From media reports, it appears Whitechapel station is the basket case in the East.

The answer is probably that Crossrail can’t be part-opened, but there are reasons, why it could be opened earlier.

  • To generate a small amount of revenue.
  • To give travellers and Londoners in general a lift.

The only practical service would be a few trains turning at Farringdon.

July 10, 2021 - Posted by | Finance, Transport | , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. That a very interesting blog. So much money being thrown here and there . Plenty of cash to be made though if you have connections.

    Comment by Vinny | July 10, 2021 | Reply

    • My electrician was offered a fortune to work on Crossrail, because the others had all gone to other better paying projects.

      You saw the same in the oil boom in Aberdeen and with the Jubilee Line extension to Stratford. Some of the planning on the latter was atrocious due to political interference.

      Comment by AnonW | July 10, 2021 | Reply

      • I can’t see this kind of thing ever ending to be honest.

        Comment by Vinny | July 10, 2021

  2. I once lived in a rural council and was waiting a long time to get planning permission.

    I eventually got a letter from the council planning department, which said that the delay was due to the fact that they were rather short staffed. If you read the local paper, you realised that some of their planners were in jail for taking bribes.

    Comment by AnonW | July 10, 2021 | Reply

  3. Timely post..I am researching project portfolio management software for my workplace to better control a collection of projects which will together deliver a multi year transformation. Briefly early in my career I used a later version of Artemis, and later on Business Engine (bought out by another) and Microsoft project online (a new aggregation component offered by Microsoft via SharePoint/Microsoft 365)

    Yes most PM software only does plans/PERT/GANTT) with limited financial tracking. 20+ years ago Logica built a wrapper around MS project 1.0 to allow complete project management including financials for small projects on a PC.

    Comment by MilesT | July 11, 2021 | Reply

    • After the death of my wife and son to cancer and my stroke, I gave up on programming.

      But I do feel, that it is possible to write a project management system, that stores all data in an Excel spreadsheet.

      Comment by AnonW | July 11, 2021 | Reply

      • Use of (modern) Excel to fulfil that sort of need: Yes, to a point, up to a certain scale. Ditto Libreoffice/Apache Open Office equivalent (although I would question spreadsheet scalability of the LO/AOO spreadsheet solution for larger organisations vs Excel which has been enhanced in recent years to support much larger spreadsheets–as evidenced by the xls to xlsm file format change which screwed up some early Covid 19 stats reporting as the capacity of xls file format was exceeded)

        I have seen systems of similar complexity that use locked down Excel templates with macros as a front end user experience, but then persisted all the key data in a well structured database (to enable better collaboration, importing/exporting to support automated posting/reconciliation, some heftier background analysis tasks, backup, and so on). LO/AOO could be used in a similar way.

        Microsoft Project Online is one small step beyond a spreadsheet+database repository solution; as part of its focus it allows import/export of Microsoft Project Plans into a central project repository for allowing people doing tasks to capture task progress/actuals (time and money), reporting/budget baselines & trends, resource planning/management etc. (The Logica tool I mentioned had similar capabilities, but for one project only–scalability of the technology of the day).

        The key benefit of MSPO (as part of a solution) over spreadsheets is that MSPO can resource level a plan (at least some of the time–it’s a complex area and I think still has unresolved bugs when you try to level across fractional resource assignments that is typical in some real world environments). It is possible to build macro and database integrations for MSP for your own purposes but it is heavy lifting (that’s what the Logica tool did–took a small team about 12 months of hard work to create a solution that was ready for general use).

        In the implementation of MSPO that I used (as a resource, not a project manager or PMO team member), the PMO team “wrapped” the core tool with a number of spreadsheets and reports to complete the monitoring and portfolio management processes they wanted, wasn’t ready to use out of the box.

        Comment by MilesT | July 12, 2021


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