My Story – Part 2

1984 – 1993

May 1984 to May 1986

Systems Support Analyst, United Biscuits Management Services, Liverpool. Worked on analysing sales processes to convert all the company sales procedures from paper based to electronic systems. This entailed interviews with front line sales staff and management and development of appropriate program specifications for the new system.

Jun 1986 – Jan 1993

Programme Manager, later Senior Programme Manager Mainframe Systems Software, ICL plc Manchester.

Project Planning

My first role here was to evaluate and introduce a graphics based project planning system to a community of systems software engineers used to a very primitive (in current terms) user interface – green characters on black screens on mainframe ‘dumb’ terminals. The transition to using a Mac based interface and particularly using a mouse was a significant challenge! (We had to instruct the cleaners to make sure there were no mice in the bins before they emptied them!)

Internal Communications

My next role apart from maintaining an oversight on project management was to examine the efficacy of the extensive reporting procedures and the use of an embryo mail system which ran on the mainframe and had developed into a free for all with people copying messages to everyone and going up several layers of management ‘copying people in’. Some managers refused to read these on screen and insisted on printing all of them before reading. After about nine months I succeeded in putting processes in place to resolve this waste and gained a promotion to the single post of Senior Programme Manager in the division.

Programme Management

This role gave me oversight and management of the ‘Project List’ – all projects being undertaken by around 1000 software engineers, there being every week around 120 active projects to review with the purpose of deciding priorities – which projects for each department were ‘above the line’. Reporting direct to the Director of Systems Software I would make recommendations at the weekly management review as to which were ‘easy wins’ to continue and which might not be.

At this time (1989) the company sponsored me to study for the MBA degree at Warwick Business School, this being built in to my job description.

Quality Assurance

I also attended and took the minutes of the fortnightly PIR or Product Introduction Review which was an examination of ‘bugs’ reported by customers and what was being done about them. About 30% of these ‘non-conformances’ were given the status of Red Alert and immediate priority for attention by the support teams. In alignment with this I worked with the Quality Manager and his team to do identify the root cause of the issues, Corrective Actions, and the PONC or price of non-conformance to which these issues gave rise.

At the time ICL was very process oriented and working towards the ISO9001 quality standard which was achieved while I was in post. The culture was very much about the process, or a fault in it, being the root cause of any problems or deficiencies. There was no finger pointing at individuals I encountered in other companies.


In 1992 it was announced ICL, now part of Fujitsu, would be terminating development of both hardware and software mainframe systems and I was notified (on my birthday) of my redundancy and my role changed to Quality Manager while I worked out my time for the next 9 months. During this time which I was also allowed to spend developing my Scuba Diving business, I was given a commission to carry out a company wide review of the effectiveness of the implementation of the processes and procedures put in place to achieve the quality award.

MBA Dissertation – Signals for the future?

Besides being a report to the ICL Quality Director this also formed my MBA dissertation. It involved travelling around the company interviewing staff at all levels on their opinions of how the new measures were being implemented, whether they were appropriate and whether they were effective. I’ve written about this elsewhere but the gathering of confidential opinion from all levels gave clear signals (in hindsight admittedly) to what wasn’t working and the negative opinions held by many staff and managers. The quality initiative which consumed a lot of effort didn’t really work, as has been evidenced more recently by the Horizon debacle.