Tag Archives: Major projects

Major Projects Part 1

Some years ago I posted about the comments made by Sir Edward Leigh in regard to the conduct of major projects when he retired as Chairman of the UK Parliaments Public Accounts Committee.

It would seem that the comments made then are still pertinent today, perhaps even more so. My memory was jogged by the recent report from the Taxpayers Union of the apparent massive blowout in a new IRD computer system to handle changes to child support. Then I read the articles in The Dominion Post this morning regarding the transformation project underway at IRD.

The objectives of the changes are not unreasonable, what concerns me is the scale and potential complexity of the project.  In particular this comes at a time when IRD are looking at a massive project to replace existing and aged systems.

I intend to look at the issues around major projects in a series of posts over the next few weeks. My intent is to start with what appears at first sight to be a major blow-out, but on review may come up with a number of different questions requiring answer.

As background I have linked to Sir Edward’s letter, Edward_Leigh_Letter_28_March_2010 and to the IRD report on the child support system  Taxation Annual Rates for 201516 Research and Development and Remedial Matters Bill. In addition there is a link as well to a relevant McKinsey Quarterly article,  Delivering large-scale IT projects on time on budget and on value.

Massive UK NHS project may collapse

The massive in all senses of the word UK NHS IT project may well collapse according to this report dated today.

Billions of pounds over budget and at least 4 years late the project seems to be lurching from one crisis to another. 2 of an original 4 vendors have walked away – Accenture and Fujitsu. BT has seen its involvement decrease. Now CSC and the Ministry cannot reach agreement on a revised contract.

This IT project is often cited as the largest non-military IT project in the world.

Another report earlier this year noted that both CSC and BT had failed to meet their obligations numerous times.

To further highlight the governance and other issues obtaining in this area, the outgoing chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has made a number of trenchant criticisms:-

Edward Leigh singled out IT procurement as “particularly weak”. He said: “Projects are over-ambitious, overly complex and fail to deliver what is promised while costs rocket.”

In an open letter to his successor, who will be appointed shortly after the country’s general election, Leigh said better IT procurement would help find savings that are “easily available”, without taking steps that risk “threatening” front line services. Other steps included reducing bureaucracy and complexity, improving front line services, core management skills and the analysis of information.

In a damning note on government operations, Leigh said the government needed to start learning from its experiences, and reminded ministers that public scrutiny of their work “must be taken seriously”.

There were a number of major problems that were examples of the government’s failures in IT procurement, he said. These included the “woeful” £350 million system implementation at the Rural Payments Agency, run by Accenture, in which the Agency’s “poor leadership” meant data had become full of errors and the system was at risk of becoming obsolete.

What makes his comments all the more damming were these remarks:-

Leigh said there were also a number of good examples of best practice, including the Department for Work and Pensions’ Payment Modernisation Programme. But only a few programmes drew on such examples, and in most instances departments did not carry out final Gateway reviews to determine if their programmes delivered the planned benefits.

So projects are completed. but in a signal failure of governance no assessment of value is completed.

Leigh went on to say:-

Successful IT projects required senior level engagement, the government acting as an intelligent customer, and ensuring the promised benefits could realistically be delivered, he said.

“We have been impressed by some talented people who know what they are doing and are determined to do it well, but more frequently we have been shocked by the failure to apply basic management disciplines to major projects and programmes,” Leigh said.

It appears that a significant contributor to these issues is a failure to apply basic governance and project/programme disciplines. Furthermore the problems seem to recur again and again.

In an open letter to MPs Mr Leigh stated:-

“My Committee has made thousands of recommendations for improvement, the vast majority of which have been accepted by government and acted upon saving the taxpayer over £4 billion, so our endeavours have been valuable. But it is disappointing to see problems arise in 2010 which repeat those of 2001 and indicate a systemic failure to learn from experience acquired within and across departments.”

Incredible and a warning to everyone concerned with major programmes and issues of governance.

The examples quoted are related to large projects, especially by NZ standards, yet the issues identified are seen again and agin in programmes/projects of all types and sizes.