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28 January 2008

Ageism is illegal. So why do the media make it such a focus?

On 1st October 2006, the UK enacted a law to make ageism illegal. This is only for employment but nonetheless, despite privacy concerns, many employment related websites still ask for it or some equivalent field such as "career start" under the guise of data de-duplication. Today being data privacy day it might be a good time to remind them to get their unique numbers another way.

Anyway, for those sites and application forms that still request it, they claim that it is to ensure compliance with the new legislation. Funny that, before the legislation you didn't have to supply such information, now some agencies ask for it and cite the legislation as the reason. Furthermore, as I blogged in 2006 you are now forced to reveal your age for ID purposes when applying for a job.

So that's the background. Age when applying for a job should just be recorded for "checking purposes" and to ensure that recruiters are playing fairly. In that regard, it is no different to race, religion and other profiling characteristics that are illegal (and immoral) to discriminate on. Yet, the rest of society hasn't really caught up.

Let's take a typical news story from today where the people's ages have no relevance.

The original text:

By Andrew Hough and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Five men were found guilty on Monday of kidnap and robbery in the country's biggest ever heist, a daring, 53 million pound raid on a cash depot in Kent.

The robbers, some dressed as policemen and most wearing prosthetic disguises, snatched the record haul after getting past tight security by kidnapping the depot's manager, his wife and son at gunpoint.

They were also helped by an "inside man", who not only provided details of the building's interior layout and security protocols, but also secretly filmed it using a tiny camera hidden on his belt.

Despite the elaborate planning, the gang was rounded up by police within days of the February 2006 raid at the Securitas Depot in Tonbridge, after detectives received a tip-off.

Stuart Royle, 49, Jetmir Bucpapa, 26, Lea Rusha, 35, Ermir Hysenaj, 28, and Roger Coutts, 30, were convicted at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to possess firearms.

Another defendant, John Fowler, 59, was cleared of those charges while Keith Borer, 54, was found not guilty of handling stolen goods.

The text if we removed the profiling information and replaced it with ethnic origin (these are made up)

LONDON (Reuters) - Five men were found guilty on Monday of kidnap and robbery in the country's biggest ever heist, a daring, 53 million pound raid on a cash depot in Kent.


Stuart Royle, black, Jetmir Bucpapa, white, Lea Rusha, asian, Ermir Hysenaj, black , and Roger Coutts, white, were convicted at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to possess firearms.

Another defendant, John Fowler, white, was cleared of those charges while Keith Borer, middle-eastern, was found not guilty of handling stolen goods.

Completely irrelevant, pointless and bordering on racist.

Maybe you could have an alternate version using other profiling information such as religion

LONDON (Reuters) - Five men were found guilty on Monday of kidnap and robbery in the country's biggest ever heist, a daring, 53 million pound raid on a cash depot in Kent.

Stuart Royle, catholic, Jetmir Bucpapa, muslim, Lea Rusha, protestant, Ermir Hysenaj, moslem, and Roger Coutts, athiest, were convicted at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to possess firearms.

Another defendant, John Fowler, Jew, was cleared of those charges while Keith Borer, protestant, was found not guilty of handling stolen goods.

Again, fairly offensive, pointless and quite irrelevant.

So why do we continue to accept the pointless and irrelevant reporting of the number of birthdays someone has had when it has no relevance to the story? It is just as offensive and wrong as other profiling information that it is illegal to discriminate on.


PRINCE2 + AGILE = Common sense?

An article on how Agile can sit alongside PRINCE2 and where DSDM Atern fits in.

In 2007, I put "used an Agile/PRINCE2 development strategy" on my CV. It's been quite the conversation starter at interviews. So I thought it would be of interest to blog about it here and gauge the reaction/feedback.

First off PRINCE2 is an acronym for "PRojects IN Controlled Environments" (version 2). PRINCE2 is a generic project management method for exercising control over a project's startup through to closure (SU1 to DP5 for all you who enjoy punch card like references). It's a generic project management method that had its origins in IT but which now makes no reference to IT and could be used from anything from building a ship to planning your summer holiday. Whether you would want to use it on the latter is entirely up to you. The same flexibility of choice is not however accorded to the large number of public (and increasingly private) sector projects that use it since it is seen as the de-facto project management method and its use is frequently mandated, despite there being other methods that may be more relevant for the task in hand. There have also been a large number of complex and extensive government IT project failures recently many of which would have used PRINCE2 and which highlight that even a refined method such as PRINCE2 can run aground on large scale, long running projects that are subject to considerable change.

On paper, PRINCE2 is logical, reasonable and linear. However, as experience suggests - for example in the long series of failed UK Government IT projects where PRINCE2 is the mandated method - simply being logical, reasonable and linear, is not sufficient. It is not sufficient to make it the effective project management method business and public sector organisations really need."
From PRINCE2 problems by Business Transition Technologies

PRINCE2 is based around project control. Control is clearly a Good Thing, however being a generic method with no reference to IT, the closest IT development method would be the waterfall method, which is very well lampooned on the Waterfall2006 site. It is just these shortcomings of the waterfall method which seem to cause the biggest problems with PRINCE2 projects, especially those which due to their complexity and length of development are prone to large amounts of change. PRINCE2 also does not account for software projects comprising multiple versions and how these are handled, nor for website development and deployment which can be an almost continuous process.

Change is inevitable in projects. In response to this Agile development methods arose to deal with this change more effectively, particularly from a software engineering perspective and unlike PRINCE2, cover in detail the more day to day activities such as sprint planning, daily meeting structure etc. Agile does not have comprehensive cover for project management, however the Agile DSDM development method was developed with PRINCE in mind, as detailed in the paper using DSDM with PRINCE2 [PDF]. Thus the combination of Agile and PRINCE2 is not as contradictory as it might at first seem. One is a development method for managing change, the other is a project management method for exercising control, so the two compliment one another and should result in a management method for control in a changing environment. One can see from this white paper on integrating DSDM into a PRINCE2 environment [PDF] that at the actual delivery level the focus is much more on the agile processes rather than PRINCE2.

Alistair Cockburn (no relation) and others have produced a set of agile management methods however this has grown out of the agile community and consists of a set of principles rather than the sort of detailed how-to that would make it easy to sell to the PRINCE2 diehards.

The most complete agile project management method I have come across is DSDM Atern which is described as follows:
What is DSDM Atern?

Atern is an agile project delivery framework that delivers the right solution at the right time.

Importantly, Atern harnesses the knowledge, experience and creativity of end users. It uses an iterative lifecycle to evolve the most appropriate solution to satisfy project objectives.

Using planned, visible timeboxes with clearly-specified outcomes control is exercised throughout by the project manager and the team members themselves.

Roles are clearly defined and work is divided into timeboxes with immoveable deadlines and agreed outcomes.

Atern Agility
Atern’s agile approach avoids the cumbersome rigidity of ‘big design up-front’ without the inevitable risks of ‘no design up front’.

Since it is worth spending some early time examining the structure of the overall solution before building any components, Atern advocates that projects should do just ‘enough design up front’.

Atern flexibility
Atern can be used to complement other project management disciplines such as PRINCE2 ™ and PMI without duplication of effort.

The description of DSDM Atern on explains further:

Atern is the leading, proven, agile approach providing the governance and rigour along with the agility and flexibility organisations demand today. It is also ideal as a wrapper for more limited agile approaches to ensure that the whole project lifecycle is addressed. Atern is a proven 'battle hardened approach' and has been responsible for the successful delivery of innumerable projects around the world. Its provenance across both IT and non-IT contexts goes back to 1994 with substantial productivity gains independently verified by the UK Software Metrics Association.

Making PRINCE2 Agile

So it seems to me that you could use PRINCE2 for the high level governance of a project, Atern for the structure of how the project development is to be organised and prioritised and scrum techniques for the day to day elements of effectively organising the software engineer's time and daily priorities. Although for a true DSDM Atern approach, PRINCE2 isn't needed at all - whilst it is possible to combine DSDM and PRINCE2, DSDM Atern by itself is actually enough and also embodies from the outset the Agile principles which are completely absent from PRINCE2. The particular challenge for Atern lies in integrating Atern projects within a waterfall corporate culture and of DSDM takeup and experience generally, which is unfortunately quite low.

This is just intended as an overview to illustrate that PRINCE2 and Agile are not necessarily contradictory and that is possible to combine elements of both successfully, particularly when it comes to the managing a stage part of PRINCE2 - Agile turns this into many small stages comprising stable components of work suitable for release. However, what remains a mystery to me is why government departments have been so reluctant in the face of the number of IT failures I have blogged about to promote an agile implementation of PRINCE2 and how it can best be delivered for complex IT projects running into billions of pounds. DSDM Atern isn't necessarily suitable for all projects, but certainy for iteratively deployed projects which are happy to embrace change, it should be considered as a more suitable alternative to PRINCE2.

This whole sense approach to software development from project governance to day to day management would seem to be the holy grail for minimising such failures. Perhaps it is time to encourage those who mandate PRINCE2 to understand this in order to minimise further wastage.

Further reading on DSDM is available on the DSDM website and for discussions with the authors of DSDM, I would recommend the DSDM group on LinkedIn.


Update: in June 2011 I wrote an update covering Agile and PRINCE2.

27 January 2008

BarCamp Scotland 2008

BarCamp Scotland is on 1-2 Feb 2008. See the barcamp2008 page for more info or view the event on

Incidentally, if you are less technically inclined and fancy some music and culture instead, there is the monthly Bothan at the Scottish Storytelling centre at 8:30pm on Friday 1st Feb. £3.

Bothan meets again this Friday (1st February 2008) at 8.30pm in the Scottish Storytelling Centre, High Street, Edinburgh, when popular singer Mary Macmillan (Uist) who won the Traditional Gold Medal at the Lochaber Mod last year, along with various Bothan instrumentalists, will entertain the company. Please come along and enjoy the music, songs and crack and catch up with news from the Gaelic world. The evening’s entertainment will only cost £3 – a real bargain at today’s prices!

I expect I must be about the only person in Scotland for whom both the above represents a potential diary clash :-)

Government consultation on income shifting

The UK government is currently consulting on income shifting. This is a consequence of losing the Arctic Systems case last year, the government didn't get its way so decides to change the law to suit its needs. Nice job if you can get it eh? Nonetheless, together with IR35 this is yet another tax on the self employed (e.g. IT contractors) many of whom have family members contributing to the success of the business but will be penalised if income shifting legislation is drawn up. The Professional Contractors group has a useful resource page on this for more information and is calling for people to sign the petition to scrap the proposed legislation.

Here is a summary of the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) position for more information. Incidentally, although Scotland has 10% of the UK population, 17% of the PCG membership is in Scotland, indicating that such legislation may have a disproportionate effect in Scotland versus the rest of the UK.


The Government has issued draft legislation, intended for inclusion in the Finance Bill 2008, to place a new tax on what it calls “income shifting”. The result will be significant tax increases for hundreds of thousands of small family businesses.

At present, a business owned jointly by a married (and civil partner) couple can distribute profits equally to each: this allows them to use up their tax allowances efficiently, and can create a tax saving. This is a consequence of the independent taxation of spouses that was recognised and accepted by Parliament when it was introduced in the 1980s. Now the Government wishes to impose a tax increase on everyone who has set up a business in this way.

PCG believes that the proposals are unfair
  • The Government seems to think there is something wrong with spouses setting up “non-commercial” arrangements and wants to penalise them: in the real world, married couples enter into financial arrangements on the basis of being married to each other and it is wholly inappropriate to expect them to enter into “commercial arrangements”.
  • Profits are distributed as a return on risk: the Government fails to recognise that married couples are jointly exposed to the risk of their business failing, and is seeking to deny them a joint share in the rewards if they succeed.
  • For years the Government advised people to set up businesses jointly when possible: now they are to be penalised for following the Government’s advice.
  • The proposals clearly and directly discriminate against small business and in favour of big business: if a consultant is hired out by a large company, he will be paid for the work and the rest of the fee will go to the company as profit, which can then be distributed to shareholders in the usual manner. If a consultant took exactly the same contract with exactly the same client for exactly the same payment, but the consultancy happened to be one he owned with his wife, the dividends would be taxed more heavily than the dividends of the large company.

PCG believes that the proposals are unworkable
  • The proposed measure will make it impossible for businesses to self-assess their tax bills. How can they value every single contribution made to a business accurately and with confidence? Businesses will be left perpetually looking over their shoulder in fear of an aggressive investigation by HMRC, in which they will have to prove that they have done nothing wrong.
  • The Government claims that the new rules will not cost businesses anything to administer, and not cost HMRC anything to enforce: this cannot possibly be the case for such a complex and subjective set of rules.

PCG believes that the proposals are inconsistent with other areas of law
  • Spouses are entitled to equal shares in the value of a jointly-owned business in a divorce.
  • Spouses are entitled to equal shares in the proceeds, under Capital Gains Tax rules, in the event that a jointly-owned business is sold.
  • Under the proposals, spouses will not be entitled to equal shares in the profits of a jointly owned business while it is operational.

PCG believes that the proposals are not justified by the consultation paper

Ever since the independent taxation of spouses was introduced in the 1980s, it has been common practice for married couples who go into business to set up the business jointly; the consultation paper fails to show that anything has changed since then to justify the new rules.

20 January 2008

Why Silicon Glen isn't Silicon Valley

I came across this interesting report from 2004 covering the Scottish investment scene and it goes a long way to explain why Scotland isn't home to as many successful startups as it deserves. Not much has changed in 4 years and to put some figures on it, we are apparently we are only working at 20% of our economy's potential:

A 1993 MORI poll in Scotland estimated that there were over 90,000 latent, or would-be, entrepreneurs and business owners in Scotland, who were frustrated in their ability to act on their aspirations by a range of factors, including the absence of role models, difficulties (actual and perceived) in accessing resources, particularly finance, and lack of knowledge about the process of business formation. Based on figures from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) research programme around 5% of the Scottish adult population is actively engaged in business ownership or in activities being undertaken with a view to entering business ownership. This is around one half of the level experienced in the US and around one-third the level in other small open dynamic economies such as New Zealand.
Actually achieving this increased level of entrepreneurial activity will require a quantum shift in culture and attitudes in Scotland, which may only be achievable over a generation: as the experience of the business birth rate strategy in Scotland has demonstrated, this is not a ‘quick fix’ option. Specifically, access to finance is consistently cited as the prime obstacle to entrepreneurial activity in the GEM reports, and also in our research and contact with potential entrepreneurs. As it is, at present Scotland is working at perhaps 20% of its entrepreneurial potential.

Next time I have a decent idea, I'm off down to London. We have some of the brightest ideas in Scotland, some of the best graduates and even some of the world's largest banks. Yet we struggle at 20% of our potential. Why should I as an entrepreneur waste my time with a funding sector that isn't fit for purpose?
Our view is that the 90,000 “frustrated entrepreneurs” identified by a 1993 MORI poll (a figure consistent with the GEM data for Scotland a decade later) do not become active entrepreneurs largely because the funding landscape is not only too empty, but is also perceived as empty by those looking to enter it. While market participants respond (with some accuracy) that it is in fact not empty, and that sensible ideas well advised can usually find a funder, this accurate opinion is not helpful to an individual who is in full-time employment during normal working hours, has few or no contacts with the market, has little understanding of how it works, has little spare time to find out, and has a perception that entrepreneurial success relies on unique and specific skills that they may not have and may not be able to acquire.
A Darwinian approach to entrepreneurship would demand that these 90,000 aspiring entrepreneurs be left to live or die on their merits – let the fit survive and the rest remain in employment. Such Darwinism is, however, founded on the false premise (a) that this process will ‘weed out’ weak ideas and businesses, which is economically efficient, and (b) that entrepreneurship ought by definition to be hard and difficult, not least because today’s successful entrepreneurs and investors did indeed have to face harsh and difficult environments, and associate success with difficulty.
This Darwinian approach to the creation of an entrepreneurial economy is flawed, as can be seen from the failure of the Scottish economy to significantly raise the level of new business starts and the rate of formation and growth of high-potential companies over the past decade. A funding landscape that was visibly and obviously rich in sources of risk capital for businesses of every kind would remove a major constraint (real and perceived) on the formation of new entrepreneurial ventures. As such, it would provide an environment for the successful transformation of the culture of the Scottish economy into one in which entrepreneurial activity is seen as a legitimate career option and economic role.

07 January 2008

Looking for a new job

I started contracting last year and in the first week of Jan 2007 started as project manager of grocery (Welwyn Garden City). However, following a department wide reorganisation the project I was on was put on hold and as a result the contract ended. Shortly afterwards however I got my next contract in Belfast working for the criminal justice sector. This lasted over 9 months and I obtained security clearance through it but the contract ended just before Christmas. I’ve had a few interviews since then but no joy yet although great feedback, it’s been more a case of there were candidates who fitted the roles in question better rather than anything negative about me.

At the moment, the immediate aim is to get a contract project management / software development manager position, flexible UK wide. Usual stuff I’ve done in the past has been web / e-commerce based but I’m not restricted to those roles and have worked in sectors ranging from banking and public sector to .com start-ups and consultancy. Longer term however, I’m looking to move up the management ladder to a more CTO level position, especially for a smaller company or start-up and as you can tell by the favourable response many of my ideas have had on Cambrian house, I’m not short on fresh ideas. Having been a company director for 13 years I would ideally like to be running my own company to carry some of these ideas forward (one of which was reviewed on Cambrian House as ‘the next Google’) but the current financial climate together with a lack of much of a networking scene in Scotland where you can get together with complimentary members of a management team makes this difficult. I guess I must be doing something right, there can’t be many like me in Scotland who have been interviewed by both Google and Amazon. There’s some more info about me via the links under my profile on this page.

So if there’s anyone out there hiring at the moment for a Project Manager with innovative ideas and great at finding solutions to problems, on the lookout for a CTO or wanting to fund a startup then please get in touch. I realise this might sound like I’m not sure what I want to do, it isn’t meant to be, it’s just being pragmatic. Maybe there wasn't enough of that during the dot com hype days.


05 January 2008

Hotels of quality and distinction

I blogged last year about problems with hotels and after a year of staying in them, I've got a good bit of first hand experience of what really works especially for someone staying for more than a few nights. In the same spirit of my gold standard for contact centres, I propose a similar standard for hotels.

1. Provide Wi-Fi, make it free and unrestricted. Anything password based via a webpage is a major irritation when all you want to do is use an email client, and it is time consuming and not guaranteed to work on a PDA. Wired internet in the bedroom is even better and almost makes it usable to webchat with the family back home.

2. Even if I prefer having a shower to taking a bath, having a room without a bath is cheap. It's a sign you are trying to cram as many guests as possible into a small a space as possible.

3. Provide FreeView, after all it's free.

4. Double beds (4ft 6" wide) are a bit of a joke in a hotel claiming to be quality. King, or ideally superking size is more like it.

5. Have showers that work and have constant decent pressure and temperature. Bit of a basic, but many fall at this hurdle. A glass partition next to the bath is far more preferable to a shower curtain that attacks you.

6. People have laminate flooring in their homes because it is easy to keep clean. Hotels with wooden bedroom floors get the same advantage. Carpets in bedrooms are fine but given the use they get in hotels with people wearing outdoor shoes, they get to look fairly shabby before too long.

7. Good quality pillows only cost a small amount extra and can make a huge difference to the comfort in the bed. The same applies to the duvet. Please provide a sheet under the duvet (comforter for those of you in the US).

8. The sports complexes at Village Hotels in the UK are fantastic and exceed even those I have seen in specialist keep fit centres. Something for other hotels to consider.

9. Friendly, helpful staff really make the hotel. Staff that are willing to engage in conversation rather than just act like robots make a huge difference.

10. Hotels that have bars that locals want to drink in are a huge plus. Not only is this a sign of quality that people choose to drink there because they want to rather than just because it's convenient and they are staying that night but with locals in there as well there is likely to be a decent atmosphere. Most hotel bars have about as much atmosphere as an airport departure lounge.

11. Providing the noise isn't a problem for guests, having a bar with decent live music is a major plus since this certainly relieves the boredom if you are travelling along and unless you are very sad you probably want to do more with your long term stay than just be cooped up in your room watching TV every night.

12. Provide healthy cereals for breakfast. Muesli for instance is supposed to be healthy, so why not supply it in a sugar-free variety but leave a bowl of sugar so that those who like sugar can add it if they want to.

13. The card that opens the door is usually also used to activate the room lights. However, the room light panel is not tied to a specific card, anyone will do. It pays to have a handy card handy (e.g. a gym pass or expired bank card with VOID written on it) so that if you want to go out and leave the laptop charging, you can do so by leaving said card in the light panel thus ensuring the electricity to the room doesn't cut out when you pop out for a few hours. It's handy when you can force the electricity to stay on in the room even when you're out.

14. Just because you provide a quality service there's no need to rip off customers. It's perfectly possible to charge only £10-£20 a night more than the absolutely most basic of hotels and provide outstanding quality and service. I know, I have stayed in such places and not surprisingly they were almost permanently fully booked.

15. Try and make the decor and room layout distinctive. I get a bit tired of the rectangular bedroom with the square bathroom in the corner just next to the door, the beige decor and the dull design. I've stayed in rooms with the bathrooms had windows (nice) and the room was triangular. Makes a nice change.

16. In 2008, there isn't really much excuse for a hotel still having 4:3 ratio CRT TVs. Widescreen TFT should be the norm.

17. Hotels provide TVs for people to watch, including films in the evening. Yet what are we supposed to sit on for 2 hours watching the film? The bed? No thanks, I stopped doing that as a student and the alternative is those uncomfortable hardback chairs. Any hotel that provides a chair on a par with what you might find in a living room (ie soft and comfortable) actually provides something you might want to watch that film in.

18. When I am booking online, give me the option of specifying whether it is a smoking room or not. Surprisingly many hotels still don't do this.

19. Have a help-yourself buffet for breakfast. Saying I can have a yoghurt or cereal for breakfast but not both is penny pinching.

20. Don't hardwire the TV to the aerial socket. I want to be able to unplug the aerial and plug it into my laptop so that I can record TV onto my laptop via the TV card.

21. If you run a busy pub as part of the hotel, you'll want to provide more female toilet capacity than male, otherwise there's a good chance that women will have to queue and the men won't. This is unfair.

22. Friendly, helpful staff really make a huge difference. I want to feel at home, not just that I'm stuck there for the night because I have no other choice. So important I said it twice.

It's also worth mentioning here that the best hotel I've ever stayed in is Benedicts of Belfast. So good, I lived there for 7 months. Everything they do is of the highest standard and it's the sort of place that other hoteliers aspiring to be distinctive, quality hotels with a friendly welcome should visit to learn how it's really done. It's no surprise it's consistently near the top of the trip advisor recommended hotels list, currently it's #2 although #1 doesn't have a bar.

That's all for the moment.

The author worked for the Scottish Tourist Board/VisitScotland from 2000-2006 although is writing in a private capacity here.

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