Brexit – a Programme Management Assessment

Guest post – Allan Robb
The handling of the Brexit process has been criticised by those in all corners of the political spectrum. But how does it fare when reviewed from a programme management angle? Interim Programme Manager, Allan Robb finds out.

This assessment is not a political statement.  It is solely an analysis of the robustness of the programme management process applied to what has been one of the most complicated political problems, possibly ever.

I would like to start with the premise that anyone used to managing large programmes or projects would expect to cover an essential set of success criteria. This should have been especially important for Brexit – a massive change impact. But as far as any of us can tell no one did this, or if they did, didn’t make a very thorough job of it.

This analysis is based on the following essential success criteria. This is split into two distinct sections: the “what” (the substance of the problem) and the “how” (the process undertaken).  There are seven components in the first section and 11 in the second.  These have been rated Red, Amber or Green – subjectively – based on the evidence seen by the author.  There are no Greens!

1. Was there a vision with strategy and goals that was developed, shared and agreed?

1. Verdict: Red

There has been little clarity of the true vision of the big picture and what was meant to be achieved, apart from some emerging content of the possible “Leave“ options.

2. Was there a clear and achievable cost-benefit analysis?

Verdict: Red

At the beginning, there were some high-level numbers bandied around. These have been mostly unsubstantiated.

3. Were the scope and “business” requirements clear early on, documented and complete?

Verdict: Red

Scope not well defined – little substance regarding the key issues. Until recently, these included free movement of people (UK citizens abroad and EU citizens in the UK), and what happens to the circa 15,000 EU laws – ie. which ones will the UK adopt?

4. Was the future operating model identified, shared, agreed, do-able, robust and affordable?

Verdict: Amber

There is little evidence of any substance around how the new model will work – no platform to build on.  Where will new negotiations and deals be required?

5. Was there a clear, well-articulated solution with detailed assumptions and parameters?

Verdict: Red

There is no real clarity of the likely options. Again, until recently, there has been no sensible pros and cons analysis.

6. Was there a stakeholder plan put in place with key stakeholders identified thoroughly? Was there any assessment?

Verdict: Red

Most people would say that this has not been handled at all well, whether it be in regards to the EU bodies and negotiators, parliament or the general public.


1. Was there clear executive sponsorship from the top team? Was this sustained throughout the change process?

Verdict: Amber

Mixed result here: some leadership, many changing faces in the negotiation process, no united face of Britain.

2. Was there proper governance put in place that was well-structured, with clear roles and responsibilities?

Verdict: Amber

This is not at all clear. At an early stage, the Department for Exiting the European Union was set up, and was meant to decide on funding, resources, structure, requirements, governance, timelines, aims and expectations. It is uncertain whether they had a plan for their activity within Whitehall, or reported on internal progress that contributed to the whole.

3. Was there a plan, milestones and reporting in place – detailed with clear metrics for reporting progress?

Verdict: Red

There was a high level, outline timeline over 2 years but no detailed plan (see number 9 below). This lead to missing the deadline of March 29, 2019.

4. Resources and capability – were the right people, budget and IT systems put in place? Were these adequate for the task and did they work well together?

Verdict: Red

There is no certainty that the right people were engaged to run this. There seems to have been an ever changing top team speaking to Brussels, with latterly the PM taking overall responsibility and negotiating. There had been no evidence of budget or accountability.

Also, many “bright young things” (eg. Civil Service Graduate Fast Streamers) were drafted in to staff the Department for Exiting the EU. While this has been good for thinking outside the box, they may have lacked the experience of getting things done across Whitehall and Brussels. So was the capability really “fit for purpose”?

5. Was there a change and communications strategy and plan? Was it clear, reviewed and working well?

Verdict: Red

Is there any evidence of a change and communications strategy and plan?

6. Were any corporate or personal values developed, discussed and implemented?

Verdict: Red

Are there any clear and agreed values (and ethos) involved here?

7. Was all of the team engaged with no “difficult” or “slippy” individuals allowed to go “off message”?

Verdict: Red

Is there any real evidence that a consistent top team was recruited or that agreed ways of working were developed and implemented? Was there good morale in the team? Clearly, the “difficult” individuals have not been managed well – for whatever (political?) reasons. This failure links directly to the lack of articulated and shared values, and lack of a communications plan.

8. Were risks and issues made clear? Was there a sound and proactive process with mitigating actions in place?

Verdict: Red

Was this done at all?

9. Was there a well-defined, design and implementation approach with clear and agreed outcomes?

Verdict: Red

No clear decision making process or proper analysis of the options. There was no method implemented to reduce the number of options, the goal being only to get to the “best” answer.  Stakeholders have shown no ability to compromise and discuss what might be a workable solution.

10. Was there a strong delivery focus?

Verdict: Red

Did anyone actually have a clear idea of what they were trying to deliver?

11. Was sound judgement demonstrated?

Verdict: Red

Too many red lines, too many entrenched ideas, too much stubbornness.

In summary

The bottom line is that the outcomes of Brexit have been so far disappointing, a “complete shambles” and not where we want to be.

This assessment shows we have many, many Reds. Where was the agreed approach involving compromise to get a solution? There has been little or no expectation management on all sides, and no sign of an agreed way forward to get to a result. How was this allowed to happen?

There are many lessons learned out of this – has anybody captured these?

So what next?  With the latest 6 month extension to 31st October, we have a chance to put this right – surely?  Look out for Part 2!

Allan Robb is an Interim Programme Manager. He has lead a wide range of programmes and projects across the private and public sectors.