From HS2 to China and … back again.

On the changing world of geopolitics.

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth recently over the Government decision to involve Huawei in 5G and China’s National Rail company in HS2 (High Speed Rail) with endless concerns over human rights, exploitation of labour and security. There are many subjects being muddled together here, so let us start by unpacking this all. First up, HS2 and the question of outsourcing.

HS2 and Outsourcing.

James Findlay was the former CIO of HS2 and he had a problem. In order to reduce the risks of HS2, a decision was taken to build the entire railroad in a virtual world, a sort of early “digital twin” circa 2012. It turns out, it’s cheaper to dig up a virtual world and go — “whoops” — than it is the English countryside. The problem James faced was how to build this?

  • a Lean approach i.e. more SCRUM with the use of MVP — minimal viable product — and other artefacts.
  • have a go at re-organising the contracts and methods into something that is likely to work rather than something that is guaranteed to fail.
  • Lot 3 (Back Office) & Lot 2 (User experience) — both with flaws of which the Back Office lot is the more serious.
  • Lot 4 (Infrastructure) which is the one contract which is likely to work

It is therefore obvious that?

Ok, I lied. Like all great maths textbooks I’ve taken one set of equations, added the line “It is therefore obvious that” and jumped to an end result leaving the reader floundering with the question “How did we go from here to there?”

Outsourcing Failures

Generally, when it comes to outsourcing then I get exposed to an endless parade of pathetic excuses :-

  • “poor specification” another favourite of those oblivious to evolution and how you can’t specify certain components
  • “big projects always fail” is a stalwart of those who don’t understand maps, don’t understand evolution, don’t understand how to apply multiple methods and have a history of constant failure.


So, we shouldn’t outsource it all to China?

Bringing it all together

There are few legitimate reasons why a project such as HS2 should suffer massive cost overruns. Unfortunately the mechanisms we use to manage such projects almost certainly guarantee this will happen. In the West we tend to lack the executive skill to effectively manage complex and complicated environments from project to a policy level. The same does not hold true of China and the rise of China is through its Governments deliberate understanding and exploitation of the landscape to its favour.

On Politics and Bias

I’m old Labour — more red than red, more blue than blue — which is basically a hair breadth away from One Nation Tory. When it comes to Boris, I’m yet undecided. There’s a history of being questionable with the truth (i.e. is this just rhetoric) but there has been some interesting action — nationalisation of Northern rail, focus on building relationships with China, a lot of emphasis on One Nation and a more “global” outlook. Where will it go? We shall have to wait and see. I’m certainly not discouraged but then I’m not enthusiastic either.

I like ducks, they're fowl but not through choice. RT is not an endorsement but a sign that I find a particular subject worthy of challenge and discussion.