Tag Archives: project management

Can all councils open up like this please – even Barnet?

By Tony Collins

Bitten by misfortune over its outsourcing/joint venture deal with IBM, Somerset County  Council has become more open – which seemed unlikely nearly a decade ago.

In 2007 the council and IBM formed Southwest One, a joint services company owned by IBM. The deal was characterised by official secrecy. Even non-confidential financial information on the deal was off-limits.

That’s no longer the case. Humbled a little by a failure of the outsourcing deal (including a legal action launched by IBM that cost the council’s taxpayers at least £5.9m)  local officials and their lawyers don’t automatically reach for the screens when things go wrong.

In 2014 Somerset County Council published a useful report on the lessons learnt from its Southwest One contract.

The latest disclosure is a report to the council’s audit committee meeting in June. The report focuses on the poor management and lack of oversight by some of Somerset’s officers of a range of contractor contracts. The council has 800 contracts, 87 of which are worth over £1m and some worth a lot more.

Given that the Council is committed to becoming an increasingly commissioning authority, it is likely that the total value of contracts will increase in the medium term, says the audit report by the excellent South West Audit Partnership (SWAP).

SWAP put the risk of contracts not being delivered within budget as “high”, but council officers had put this risk initially at only “medium”. SWAP found that the risk of services falling below expected standards or not delivering was “high” but, at the start of the audit assessment, council officers had put the risk at only “medium”.

somerset county council2One contract costing more than £10m a year had no performance indicators that were being actively monitored, said SWAP.

None of the contracts reviewed had an up-to-date risk register to inform performance monitoring.

No corporate contract performance framework was in place for managing contracts above defined thresholds.

“Some key risks are not well managed,” says the report.

“It is acknowledged that the Council has implemented new contract procedural rules from May 2015 which post-dates the contracts reviewed in this audit; however these procedural rules contain only ‘headline’ statements relating to contract management.

“Most notable in the audit work undertaken was the lack of consistency in terms of the approach to contract management across the contracts reviewed. Whilst good practice was found to be in place in several areas, the level of and approach to management of contracts varied greatly.

“No rationale based on proportionality, value, or risk for this variation was found to be in place. The largest contract reviewed had an annual value of over £10 million but no performance indicators were currently being actively monitored.”

Report withdrawn

Soon after the report was published the council withdrew it from its website. It says the Audit Committee meeting for 3 May has been postponed until June. It’s expected that the audit report will be published (again) shortly before that meeting.

Fortunately campaigner Dave Orr downloaded the audit report before it was taken down.


How many councils manage outsourcing and other contracts as unpredictably as Somerset but keep quiet about it?

Why, for example, have Barnet’s officers and ruling councillors not made public any full audit reports on the council’s performance in managing its contracts with Capita?

It could be that councils up and down the country are not properly managing their contracts – or are leaving it to the outsourcing companies to reveal when things go wrong.

Would that regular SWAP reports were published for every council.

All public authorities have internal auditors who may well do a good job but their findings, particularly if they are critical of the management of suppliers, are usually kept confidential.

Freedom of information legislation has made councils more open generally, as has guidance the Department for Communities and Local Government issued in 2014.

But none of this has made councils such as Barnet more open about any problems on its outsourcing deals.

Indeed clear and perceptive audit reports such as the one from SWAP are rare in the world of local government.

All of which raises the question of whether one reason some councils love outsourcing is that they can pass responsibility to suppliers for things that go wrong knowing the public may never find out the full truth because secrecy is still endemic in local government.

Thank you to Dave Orr for drawing my attention to the audit report – and its (temporary) withdrawal.

Somerset Council’s (withdrawn) Audit Committee report

Southwest One – the complete story by Dave Orr

Yet another NHS IT mess?

By Tony Collins

Last week the National Audit Office reported on the failure of the GP Extraction Service. Health officials  had signed off and paid for a contract even though the system was unfit for use.

The officials worked for organisations that have become part of the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

An unapologetic HSCIC issued a statement on its website in response to the Audit Office report. It said, in essence, that the problems with the GP Extraction Service were not the fault of the HSCIC but rather its predecessor organisations (ignoring the fact that many of the officials and contractors from those defunct organisations moved to the HSCIC).

Now it transpires that the HSCIC may have a new IT-related mess on its hands, this time one that is entirely of its own making – the e-Referral Service.

Last month the HSCIC went live with its e-Referral service without testing the system properly. It says it tested for thousands of hours but still the system went live with 9 pages of known problems.

Problems are continuing. Each time in their routine bulletins officials suggest that an upgrade will solve e-Referral’s problems. But each remedial upgrade is followed by another that does not appear to solve the problems.

The system went live on 15 June, replacing Choose and Book which was part of an earlier NHS IT disaster the £10bn National Programme for IT.

Problems more than teething?

Nobody expects a major new IT system to work perfectly first time but regular outages of the NHS e-Referral Service may suggest that it has more than teething problems.

It’s a common factor in IT-based project failures that those responsible have commissioned tests for many hours but with inadequately designed tests that did not always reflect real-world use of the system. They might also have underestimated loads on the available hardware and networks.

This means that after the system goes live it is brought down for regular hardware and software fixes that don’t solve the problems.  End-users lose faith in the system – as many GPs did with the Choose and Book system – and a misplaced optimism takes the place of realism in the thinking of managers who don’t want to admit the system may need a fundamental redesign.

On the day the e-Referral Service launched, a Monday, doctors had difficulties logging in. Software “fixes” that day made little difference. By the next day HSCIC’s optimism has set in. Its website said:

“The NHS e-Referral Service has been used by patients and professionals today to complete bookings and referrals comparable with the number on a typical Tuesday but we were continuing to see on-going performance and stability issues after yesterday’s fixes.

“We suspend access to the system at lunchtime today to implement another fix and this improved performance and stability in the afternoon.”

The “fix” also made little apparent difference. The next day, Wednesday 17 June, the entire system was “unavailable until further notice” said the HSCIC’s website.

By early evening all was apparently well. An HSCIC bulletin said:

“The NHS e-Referrals Service is now available again. We apologise for the disruption caused to users and thank everyone for their patience.”

In fact, by the next day, Thursday 18 June, all was not well. Said another bulletin:

“Yesterday’s outage enabled us to implement a number of improvements and hopefully this is reflected in your user experience today.

“This morning users reported that there were ongoing performance issues so work has now taken place to implement changes to the configuration to the NHS e-Referral Service hardware and we are currently monitoring closely to see if this resolved the issue.”

About 2 weeks later, on 30 June, HSCIC’s officials said there were ongoing problems, because of system performance in provider organisations that were processing referrals.

Was this HSCIC’s way of, again, blaming other organisations – as they did after the NAO report’s on the failure of the GP Extraction Service project? Said a statement on the HSCIC’s website on 30 June 2015:

“Since transition to the NHS e-Referral Service on Monday 15th June, we have unfortunately experienced a number of problems… Although most of the initial problems were related to poor performance of the system, some residual functional and performance issues persist and continue to affect some of our colleagues in their day-to-day working.

“Most of these on-going problems relate to the performance of the system in provider organisations that are processing referrals, though this does of course have a knock-on effect for referrers.

“Please be assured that the team are working to identify root causes and fixes for these issues.”

By last week – 2 July 2015 – HSCIC warned that it will require a “period of planned downtime on the NHS e-Referral Service tonight which is currently scheduled for between 21:00 and 23:00 for some essential maintenance to fix a high priority functional Incident.”

The fix worked – or did it? HSCIC told Government Computing: “An update was applied to the system overnight from Thursday (July 2) into Friday (July 3) which was successful.”

But …

Monday 6 July 2015 4.15pm. HSCIC e-Referral Service bulletin:

“We would like to apologise for the interruption to service between 13:15 and 13:54 today.  This was not a planned outage and we are investigating the root cause.  If any remedial activity is required we will give notice to all users. Once again please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this caused.”

Why was testing inadequate?

Did senior managers go live without testing how the system would work in the real world, or did they select as test end-users only IT enthusiasts?

Perhaps managers avoided challenging the test system too much in case it gave poor results that could force a redesign.

We probably won’t know what has gone wrong unless the National Audit Office investigates. Even then it could be a year or more before a report is published. A further complicating factor is that the HSCIC itself may not know yet what has gone wrong and may be receiving conflicting reports on the cause or causes of the problems.

An IT failure? – change the organisation’s name

What’s certain is that the NHS has a history of national IT project failures which cause organisational embarrassment that’s soon assuaged by changing the name of the organisation, though the officials and contractors just switch from one to the next.

NHS Connecting for Health, which was largely responsible for the NPfIT disaster, was blended into the Department of Health’s informatics function which was then blended into the HSCIC.

Similarly the NHS Information Centre which was largely responsible for the GP Extraction Service disaster was closed in 2013 and its staff and contractors blended into the HSCIC.

Now, with the e-Referral Service, the HSCIC at least has a potential IT project mess that can be legitimately regarded as its own.

When will a centrally-run national NHS IT-based turn out to be a success? … care.data?


Meanwhile NHS England is looking for a senior responsible owner for e-Referral Service on a salary of up to £98,453.

Usually in central government, SROs do the job as an adjunct to their normal work. It’s unusual for the NHS to employ a full-time project SRO which the NAO will probably welcome as a positive step.

But the job description is vague. NHS England says that the SRO for NHS e-Referrals programme will help with a switch from paper to digital for 100% of referrals in England by March 2018.

“The SRO … will have responsibility for the strategic and operational development of the digital journey, fulfilment of the patient and clinical process and the performance of the service. Plans to achieve the strategy will be underpinned by the delivery of short to medium term objectives, currently commissioned from HSCIC and other third party suppliers.”

Key aspects of this role will be to:-

– Ensure the strategy is formulated, understood by all stakeholders and is delivered utilising all available resources efficiently and effectively.

– Ensure the development and management of plans.

– Ensure appropriate system and processes are in place to enable the uptake and on-going use of digital referrals by GP’s, hospitals, patients and commissioners.

– Proactively manage the key risks and issues associated with ensuring appropriate actions are taken to mitigate or respond.

– Monitor and establish accountability on the overall progress of the strategy to ensure completion within agreed timescales.

– Manage the budgetary implications of activity.

– Avoid the destabilisation of business as usual.

– Manage and actively promote the relationships with key stakeholders.

The job will be fixed-term until 31/03/2017 and interviews will be held in London on the 20th July 2015.

The big challenge will be to avoid the destabilisation of business as usual – a challenge beyond the ability of one person?

Government Computing. 

Another fine NHS IT mess

Why was e-Referral Service launched with 9 pages of known problems?

National e-Referral Service unavailable until further notice


How many organisations are failing to deliver on their Agile developments?

By David Bicknell

How many organisations are struggling to see real value and business benefits from their Agile IT projects?

This blog, looking back at some of the predictions for Agile in 2012, argues that a number of organisations that have adopted Agile have an inability to understand its why and how, while others are inadaquately prepared for adoption, resulting in a failure to address management impact across teams and engineering practices in teams.

The piece cites the Cutter Consortium blog which, in looking ahead to 2012, argued that “many organisations worldwide will continue to adopt Agile. Most of them will do so with no expert guidance, with ho-hum results, and with little understanding of why they got those results.

It suggestted that, “People will continue to get their Agile skills certified while others rail against the value and implication of those certificates. Companies will still rely on head hunters to hire Agile coaches, and wonder why those coaches can’t seem to straighten out their Agile implementation.

“Organisations will continue to agonise over micro-estimation of detailed backlogs. They will continue to spend a pretty penny on “adding bodies” to projects riddled with technical debt, while not investing in the skills and habits their developers need to reduce or avoid increasing such debt. Managers will continue to use language like, “We just hired a resource in development” without investing proper attention in the hired person. And downsizings will continue until morale improves.”

Another blog predicted that, “Everyone will claim they are Agile, but that 50% of them will be wrong, and half of the rest won’t get any value from it. There are too many bad development practices at organisations that have too few people, with too little coaching, and hardly any tooling.”

Meanwhile, this survey suggests that Agile development has a higher priority in the private sector (in the US) than in the public sector.

So what is the true picture for Agile? Is it delivering project success, as JP Morgan and John Deere, have found? Or are some organisations adopting Agile almost as a fashion accessory, without really understanding where they’re going?

Related reading

Agile skills gain ground

JP Morgan adopts Agile in Australia

As Agile as a John Deere tractor

Why ignoring the human factor can lead to failed IT projects

By David Bicknell

In a column for the Wall St Journal, Frank Wander, a former CIO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company, has warned that ignoring the human factor is a sure route to the failure of IT projects.

He points out that, “Sixty years into the information economy, information technology projects, especially large ones, still fail, or under-perform, at disheartening rates. Trillions of dollars of collective project experience, and, what long ago, should have become a predictable undertaking, remains an area of dissatisfaction. Yet, the performance of our technology infrastructure (devices, networks, storage) has made quantum leaps forward over that same time period.”

He argues that workers are the most expensive, but least understood tool. In the insurance industry, for example, talent represents 63% of IT cost, according to a 2011 Gartner report.

He concludes: “As an industry, we must remove this blind spot, recruit the best talent, nurture it and unlock the full productivity potential by designing social environments where the chemistry enables IT to flourish. Companies that understand this, and embrace it, will win; the rest will compete in a race to the bottom.”

Standish Group: the role of the executive sponsor in IT projects

By David Bicknell

The US-based Standish Group has published a series of excellent pieces on its blog over the last few days over the role of the executive sponsor in IT projects.

The blog features an interview with Eugene Bounds, senior vice-president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Bounds says, “I was first reached by the then current executive sponsor of a project called “RightIT.”  RightIT helps organisations optimise their IT investments.  The project combined the capabilities of IT, PM and cost.  He had the expertise in IT and he wanted my expertise in programme management and finance.  I eventually became the executive sponsor for the RightITTM project. 

“The first thing I did was to establish frequent and standard meetings; so, every Friday we had a team meeting.  My commitment is to be available for guidance and status reviews.”

Bounds adds, “As executive sponsor of the RightIT project, I thought it was critical to understand who on the leadership team would be affected or could gain benefit from the RightIT project.  I then reached out to these colleagues to establish an advisory group. 

“As part of the advisory group, I established monthly meetings.  This gave me an opportunity to get direct stakeholder feedback and support.  If we were producing an artifact, I wanted their thoughts on it to make it better.  I wanted to make it packaged and ready to go.  Of all the things I did as an executive sponsor, this was the most important.”

“The problem is that project managers have their own view and language.  The project manager looks at the project tactically.  He or she looks more in the weeds of the project or the details to try to get it done.  The executive sponsor tends to look at it as a strategic event.  He or she will look at the project on how it aligns with the goals of the organisation. 

“In the project management profession we have our own language and plenty of acronyms.  So there is a gap and it really is up to the project manager to fill the gap.  We cannot expect the executive sponsor to understand the PMBOK (project management body of knowledge) and all of its artifacts and processes.  It is up to the project manager to make that translation.  Executive sponsors on the other hand have the responsibility to ensure that the project manager makes that translation.”

The Standish Group points out that the executive sponsor is “the owner of the project. As the owner of the project, the full weight and responsibilities of the success or failure of the project falls squarely on his or her shoulders. The executive sponsor, for better or worse, owns the outcome. The executive sponsor has no right to abdicate his or her executive responsibility. He or she cannot blame the project manager, the IT executives, users, stakeholders, reluctant peers, vendors, or software developers.

“The sole responsibility for a successful outcome rests on the shoulders of the executive sponsor.  The sponsor may not be an executive of the organisation, but he or she is the chief executive of the project. The word ‘executive’ symbolises a higher level of responsibility. It is more powerful than just ‘sponsor.'”

New York’s emergency call IT project: just 7 years behind schedule and $1bn overbudget

By David Bicknell

Everything is always bigger in America: the breakfasts, the buildings – and the IT project overruns. 

According to Government Technology, the call-takers behind New York City’s emergency 911 systems are now using the same technology and are sharing data.

The only problem is that, according to an audit from the City Comptroller John Liu, the expansive  – perhaps that should read  ‘expensive’ – upgrade is $1 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule.

Originally started in 2004, the Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP) is now estimated to cost $2.3 billion, with full completion now expected in 2015.

The project initiated by  the New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) set out to establish two public safety call centres in order to improve the resiliency and redundancy of 911 response, which formerly was decentralised within individual city agencies. The New York City Fire and Police departments are now operating in one of the two new call centres while construction work continues on the other building.

According to the audit report, New York employed Gartner as quality assutance consultants when the project began eight years ago, and the consultancy helped implement a series of modifications to the project’s scope and management when problems arose. DoITT contracted with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2005 to provide services as a system integrator1 for public safety answering centres (PSAC1) and as project manager over other contractors providing services and equipment for PSAC1.

Gartner subsequently made a series of telling comments on project governance, complaining of a lack of timely decision making; a lack of executive sponsorship participation; and no governance/communications centre administration plan.

Liu blamed the cost overruns on inadequate project management within the city’s administration.

“Taxpayers are just tired of hearing about out-of-control projects involving expensive outside consultants,” Liu said. “This is unfortunately yet another example of massive waste and delay due to City management that was at best lackadaisical, and at worst, inept.  New cost constraints put in place by my office will help curb overruns, though they cannot turn back the clock or put already wasted dollars back in taxpayers’ pockets.”

In his report Liu says:

“We found DoITT’s overall project management of the ECTP lacking – due to its initial underestimation of time and technical constraints involved in implementing the multi-agency mission-critical ECTP – which therefore did not allow for project completion on a timely basis.”

It went on: “The original project governance, roles and responsibilities and project controls  were found to be deficient by ECTP’s quality assurance consultant in 2006 covering the 2005-2006 initial time period of system integration work on the ECTP.

“Specifically, the QA consultant noted questionable judgement, poor decisions and deficiencies in the ECTP governance structure.”

It added that: “The effort… to implement a shared Computer Aided Despatch (CAD) system for Police, Fire and the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division was a major technical misstep. Due to technical obstacles, ECTP departs from one of its original goals of having a shared CAD. The New York Police Department (NYPD), the Fire Department and EMS will need to independently address their respective CAD systems requirements outside of the ECTP.”

The audit also points out a need for ongoing independent, external quality assurance which has been lacking since Gartner’s contract ended in March 2011.

Audit Recommendations

To address the audit issues, Liu’s office recommended:

  • DoITT, in conjunction with ECTP executive sponsors, should have its current governance strategy expanded, formulated into a plan, reviewed and formally approved by all stakeholders, and conveyed to all pertinent ECTP team members. The expanded areas should include operational coverage for  PSAC1 upon full completion and occupancy, and line of authority for operations within PSAC1 should be clearly defined and conveyed to stakeholders.
  • DoITT and the OCEC should increase its efforts to fill open positions with appropriately qualified personnel to ensure that the ECTP has sufficient resources required for the ongoing monitoring and management of the ECTP
  • DoITT should improve upon its current strategy to provide Quality Assurance coverage by retaining, on a temporary basis, independent quality assurance experts to monitor the balance of HP’s contractual performance for the duration of its contract.  In addition, DoITT should consider a Quality Assurance arrangement to monitor Grumman’s performance as primary contractor at PSAC2

In a letter responding to the findings, DoITT Commissioner Carole Post said that the 911 upgrade has significantly improved call capacity and that call-takers have moved successfully into the first new call centre.

In January, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated the opening of the first public safety answering centre. The centre is able to handle 50,000 calls per hour, 40 times more than the average volume and nine times more than was received on Sept. 11, 2011.

“The changes we have made have eluded many administrations and the project has been a challenge, but we have never shied away from the tough decisions or taking on the difficult projects that will make New Yorkers safer and the city work better, and we never will,” Bloomberg said.

More background

New York Daily News report on the project’s history

City Comptroller John Liu’s Audit Report

Why prompt decision-making is critical to the success of IT projects

By David Bicknell

Research from the US-based IT projects specialist Standish Group suggests latency between decisions is a major contributor to project delays and failures.

“Projects get behind a day at a time. My observation is they get behind because people cannot make decisions. Therefore, it is important to establish a process that enables you to quickly gain the decision information you need,” says Mike Sledge, chief executive of corporate performance company Robbins-Gioia.

There are literally thousands of decisions that have to be made during the life of a project. Standish Group research shows that for every $1,000 in project cost, the organisation will need to make 1.5 decisions. A $1 million project will produce 1,500 decisions, while a $5 million project will have 7,500 decisions. During a typical medium-size ERP system implementation the organisation will have to make more than 10,000 decisions.

“The key reason for making fast decisions has nothing to do with always making right decisions. It has everything to do with being open to mistakes,” says Richard Mark Soley, chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group (OMG). 

Standish Group took the case of two US companies in the same sector that were both implementing customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Both companies were similar in size, number of accounts, and salespeople. They even used the same software package.

Both started to implement a CRM system about four years ago. One finished in six months and the other has still not finished. The key difference was the one that finished in six months had a hard stop and had set up a rapid decision process to reduce decision latency.

Standish Group goes on to say that while the volume of decisions comprising a project can be a problem, it is actually the time that lapses from when an issue first arises until a decision is made that causes most difficulties.

For example, if the average decision latency is only one-hour, then the added decision time to a $1 million project is six months (1,500 decisions = 1,500 hours). On the other hand, if the project team can cut the latency time in half, it adds only three months to the project time (1,500 decisions = 750 hours).

With this insight into the corrosive effect of slow decision-making on project success, and after years of research in project management performance, the Standish Group decided to develop The Dezider, a real-time information decision support solution to help organisations cut decision-making time in half through greater stakeholder participation and more information.

The intention behind The Dezider is to connect individuals with their co-workers, stakeholders, peers, superiors, friends, and family as an aid to decision-making.

One way to increase decision velocity, decrease latency, and increase people’s participation is to simplify large issues by breaking them into smaller issues and decisions. (You may recognise something of an Agile-like approach to decision-making here)

The Dezider enables the ability to create a series of minor or micro issues and to construct a stream of responses to achieve quicker, easier, and more comprehensive answers. Each of these micro issues can then be directed to the proper level, role, and/or responsible person(s).

What usually happens in organisations is that people are busy doing their main jobs and often put off project tasks such as participating in project decisions. The Dezider offers a feature that gently reminds project participants that they have an outstanding issue and the team is waiting for their response.

Another feature within Dezider provides the ability to match the type of decision with the roles of the people making the decisions. For example, a technical decision should have a technical person making the decision. On the other hand, a business decision should have a business person making the decision.

There are more details about the impact of decision-making on projects, and about The Dezider on the Standish Group blog. Standish Group is probably best known for its Chaos research into project management leadership and best practices.

NAO says HMRC is tackling tax evasion but needs to further exploit IT systems’ potential

By David Bicknell

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has applauded HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) work in tackling tax evasion to deliver £4.32 billion of additional tax yield between 2006 and 2011. HMRC also reduced staff numbers and introduced a range of improvements in its compliance work.

But, the NAO says, although the Department has introduced new IT capabilities to identify incidences of evasion more effectively, it is not yet exploiting the full potential of the new systems. It has also had to defer and reduce the scope of projects to keep within annual budgetary limits, leading to reductions in benefits.

According to the NAO’s report, the Compliance and Enforcement Programme cost £387 million to 2011-12 and was made up of over 40 projects intended to increase compliance yield – the measure of additional tax arising from compliance work – by £4.56 billion between 2006-2011.

Against that target, the Programme actually reported additional yield of £4.32 billion over the five years to March 2011, with HMRC forecasting that it will generate an additional £8.87 billion of yield between 2011-12 and 2014-15. However, the NAO points out, HMRC will not achieve all of the Programme’s forecast benefits because of changes to scope or slippage in delivering projects, as well as over-optimism in its forecasts.

HMRC reduced staff numbers by the planned amount of 3,374 full time equivalents by the end of 2008-09, two years ahead of schedule. It also generated an improvement in productivity -defined as the level of yield generated by each full time equivalent – of approximately 36 per cent, below its forecast of a 42 per cent improvement. HMRC did not routinely measure the impact of the Programme on customer experience.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“This major programme has helped HMRC to increase tax yield substantially and has introduced ways of working which will strengthen HMRC’s compliance work in future.

“The Department could, though, achieve better value for money from its investment in compliance work by improved understanding of the impact of individual projects and ensuring that its staff have the capacity to exploit new systems to the full.”

On improving HMRC’s compliance work, the NAO report says the following:

 “The Programme has improved HMRC’s ability to undertake compliance work but it has yet to exploit the full potential of the new systems. In particular, the new ICT systems can substantially improve how HMRC assesses evasion risks to identify cases for investigation. HMRC is embedding new systems and approaches into working practices. We assessed the implementation of a sample of projects:

Project design. Overall, HMRC managed design phases well but, particularly on projects to implement new ICT systems, it did not sufficiently consider redesigning business processes or developing the staff capability needed to exploit the full potential of the new technologies.

Implementation. HMRC did not always communicate clearly the rationale for projects and, although it provided training and guidance, these were not always timely or requirements were underestimated.

Assessing the performance of new systems. HMRC has established management information on the use and performance of new systems and, over time, will seek to use this to better understand the impact on business performance.

HMRC – The compliance and enforcement programme

Australian Gateway Review key in revealing extent of Victoria Police IT project deficiencies

By David Bicknell

A report has found that the police in the state of Victoria in Australia lacked the capacity to deliver a major IT project and wasted millions of dollars on a failed system.

According to The Australian, the force had lost around $30 million as a result of the decision to abandon the replacement of its Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) system, said the report by an Australian QC, Jack Rush.

“The investigations of the inquiry into the LEAP replacement and two other IT projects at Victoria Police revealed a lack of project management methodology and discipline leading to systemic mismanagement,” the report said.

“The inquiry identified a culture within Victoria Police that cost overruns were acceptable but above all, there was a lack of any form of strategy to define the IT needs and requirements of Victoria Police for the future.”

Victoria Police admitted last year it had underestimated the cost of replacing its inefficient, ageing LEAP system by $100m, before it abandoned the replacement project. 

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said he would adopt the report’s recommendation that the force seek external assistance through an advisory group and had already been consulting external experts.

“Victoria Police needs help in delivering these projects and I will certainly be reaching out both nationally and internationally to make sure that we get this right,” he said.

A key Gateway Review was instrumental in the ending of LEAP, as the report discusses:

“The PIMS preliminary business case was subject to a Gateway Review in late July 2011. The scrutiny of this review process appears to have been the cause of considerable reflection at senior levels of Victoria Police command. The Gateway Review indicated interviewees advised that the preliminary business case did not provide sufficient justification for additional funding to complete the replacement of LEAP; and varied greatly in their expectations and understanding of what outcomes the Policing Information Management System (PIMS) would provide and the technology necessary to achieve outcomes.

The Gateway Review observed “… that best practice and strategic assessment begins with a fundamental understanding of what the problem is that requires fixing and the strategic response that the organisation is looking for.” The review found that the PIMS project was deficient in these respects:

  • the strategic vision for Victoria Police as it related to the PIMS project;
  • current and preferred policing workflow;
  • business requirements based upon the operational needs of modern policing; and
  • information management plan

Rush Report

Why effective project management should focus on people, not just processes

By David Bicknell

I recently read an interesting post in the Gallup Management Journal which argued that when it comes to project management, most organisations put their practices before their people.

In other words, they place more emphasis on ‘rational’ factors, such as the process itself, and rather less on emotional drivers that could actually deliver project excellence – actually, just a project success would do! – such as their employees’ engagement with the project and company.

The piece, by Benoit Hardy-Vallee, points out that, “Project management is integral to the business world. Milestones, kickoff meetings, deliverables, stakeholders, Gantt charts, and work plans constitute the everyday world of most managers, whether they are called “project managers” or not. Given the vast experience organisations have with project management, it’s reasonable to wonder why all projects aren’t completed on time, on scope, and under budget.”

It argues that cost and time overruns on IT projects have had a profound effect on national economies, and suggests that one estimate of the IT project failure rate is between 5% and 15%, which represents a loss of $50 billion to $150 billion per year in the United States. In Europe, although the figures look pretty dated, they are still staggering in size: IT project failures  cost the European Union €142 billion in 2004.

What’s more, the piece argues, this trend is here to stay. With an ever-growing need for accessible and integrated data, organisations require larger platforms to manage supply chains, customer relationships, and dozens of other crucial systems.

“Mega-software projects are now common in private and governmental organisations, and development is not slowing down, especially in emerging economies.”

The blog argues that large projects, especially those in the IT sectors, already have a poor record. And forcing team members to adapt to project management processes and procedures only makes it more likely that the project will fail.

It goes on to suggest that a different, more powerful behaviour-based project management might be a better way of  enabling project groups to gain higher levels of emotional commitment and performance from their team members, as well as increased levels of emotional involvement from stakeholders to help improve both engagement and performance.

“A typical project management approach focuses on processes, policies, and procedures. Every task and step is described in detail by a set of rules.  Many companies implement rigid processes that dictate behaviour and use statistical methods to control quality (such as total quality management, kaizen, lean management, and Six Sigma). Process guides and rulebooks support work practices, while quality control systems assess and improve these practices.

“The problem with a single-minded focus on processes and methodologies is that once people are given procedures to follow, compliance replaces results. Everybody is concerned about how to do the job, not about the outcome if the job is done well.

“Companies that take this approach do so for valid reasons: They can’t manage what they don’t measure. More importantly, they can’t let projects run without any direction, hoping for the best. However, by relying on managing only these rational factors, organisations fail to harness the power of human nature by engaging employees’ emotions.”

The article concludes: “It’s time to update project management not with more methodologies, but with more emotional content. Employees’ and stakeholders’ disengagement can make a project fail, but behaviour-based management can make projects succeed.”

Gallup Management Journal