The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of the author.
Published here December 2016

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked — The Humor
What We Liked — The Serious Stuff | Conclusion

What We Liked — The Humor

Procuring Successful Mega-Projects is set up as a mentor's guide for project directors, providing frank, fearless, practical advice on how to set up a major government contract that won't end up in court![4] For example:[5]

  • How to develop and negotiate a contract that does not contain undeliverable obligations or perverse incentives,[6] but does contain the necessary provisions for successful project management.
  • How to navigate the pitfalls of the public sector environment, from hiring freezes and governance frameworks to the complexities of managing the relationships with the Minister.
  • How to select and manage the lawyers and other advisers, build the adviser-client relationship and recognize that unwelcome advice may not be helpful.
  • How to structure and follow a bulletproof procurement process that is fair to bidders and delivers great outcomes.

Although these objectives are heavy-duty subject matter, the content is made so much easier to read because, as mentioned earlier, the book is laced with a little British humor. In fact we read the book almost like a thriller waiting to see what could ever happen next.

Here are a few classic examples:

"[This book has] no bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter that save you the bother of reading the chapter at all. [In fact] The only examination you face [on the content] is cross-examination in the witness box if your project joins the long list of Government fiascos."[7]

"[On tender cancelation] The UK National Audit Office found that the Department of Transport spent £1.9 million on the tender process for the InterCity West Coast passenger rail franchise in 2012. It then spent a further £2.7 million on professional fees when the losing bidder brought the action for judicial review that led to the competition being canceled. Plus more than £40 million on compensation costs. Litigation is expensive. It soaks up management time and effort. It attracts negative media attention. It is, in short, a pain in the neck."[8]

"[On the question of incentives] Offering a price per tail for killing rats may be intended to eradicate rats, but pay enough and people set up rat farms."[9]

"[On default and Termination] The contract will have a number of clauses useful only when the project is in dying cockroach mode, flat on its back with its little legs waving feebly in the hope of attracting a miracle."[10]

"[On legal advice] Lawyers are often selected primarily on the basis of their hourly rates. This is a truly dreadful idea. … [Suppose] You are scheduled to send in the bulldozers on Friday, but aren't sure if you should [because of some endangered species. So,] if your instructions [to your lawyer] simply asks: 'What is the law on endangered species', don't blame the lawyer if the answer is unhelpfully broad and doesn't arrive until Monday. … Any halfway-competent lawyer faced with this question, ought to respond: 'Why do you ask?' "[11]

"[On public sector decision making] You will find that many public sector decisions are not made by anyone. They just emerge from some primordial swamp. Everyone's backside is protected because nobody can identify which backside to kick. Unfortunately, this method of rear end protection is incompatible with successful project delivery."[12]

"[On bidder selection decision] You are not the decision-maker. The decision-maker must have adequate reasons for doing something different from your recommendations, but if they have, they can. The decision may be more vulnerable to challenge … [But] There are things you can do to protect the decision. Being bullet proof is good. Not being shot at is even better."[13]

Book Structure  Book Structure

4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. We cannot help but including here also, any of the unquantifiable goals of the United Nations in its Resolution 70/1 adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015: "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", that are added just to please the "green" movement.
7. Procuring Successful Mega-Projects, p4
8. Ibid, p9
9. Ibid, p71
10. Ibid, p85
11. Ibid pp 125, 126
12. Ibid, p150
13. Ibid, p252
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