The UK is blessed with the vigilant eyes of the National Audit office. The NAO “scrutinises public spending for Parliament. Our public audit perspective helps Parliament hold government to account and improve public services”, as the website indicates.

The office executes value-for-money studies and delivers guides setting out good practice. It even includes studies as “The Preparedness for EU Exit”.

There is some work for the NAO. Projects tend to overrun the budget. There are plenty of examples, including London’s Barbican Centre (estimated cost £8m, actual cost £187m), the Humber Bridge (£28m/£151m), the Jubilee Line extension (£2.1bn/£3.5bn) and the British Library (£74m/£511m).

Now where is deliberate manipulation listed as a cause? Not very often, although it might be the key to improving project success.  The World Bank gives a hint in that direction and speaks about “appraisal optimism” – the presentation of best case scenarios including under-estimated costs and timescales, and over-estimated benefits, in order to get projects started. And as a result you will have project overruns.

The NAO’s view  however does not mention the human factor that often. What we read about the civil servants involved in the projects is that civil servants too often do not understand the risks attached to what they want to do. And the National Audit Office does not believe that officials offer deliberate resistance to Ministers’ demands.  Instead, there is ‘unacknowledged reality’ as a result of which officials ignore inconvenient facts.

I would take it one step further: I would say there is deliberate action. And it is worth while to have a look at that. We will have to look at the less bright side of things: what (personal) interest are hidden behind project goals, budgets and resourcing? Is there a hidden goal that we have to look for? Of course this is often hidden, on purpose. The less beautiful characteristics of mankind might come to the light.

And if we do see these drivers, it might be useful to deal with them, and to see how subversive actions can be neutralised. That would really boost project success.

It all starts with acknowledging the fact that The Project Saboteur is amongst us…….

Dion Kotteman, author of The Project Saboteur …Knowing him is only the beginning. Available to be ordered through all bookstores in the English-speaking world, and on-line through Amazon. The ebook is available through most major eplatforms.


At Claret Press