Thursday, 26 June 2008

HM Government orders yet another review into “Why Public Sector IT projects go wrong”

I see that HM Government has hired Martin Read – the ex-CEO of Logica – to front yet another study into why Public Sector IT projects go wrong. See FT 22nd June – Govt hires IT troubleshooter. There seem to have been countless attempts to do just that since Labour came to power in . Indeed I thought that John Suffolk’s appointment as Govt CIO a year back had the same objectives…as indeed did Ian Watmore before him!

We seem to have a Government obsessed with ‘reviews’. It seems to be:

1 - Experience a problem
2 - Setup review headed by external and often ‘failed’ CEO
3 - Review reports
4 - Reviewer gets a gong and returns to obscurity
5 - No action taken on review
6 - Same problem reoccurs, so loop to (1) above.

I don’t mean to make light of this crucial subject. It’s just that with 40+ years experience of either running projects or reporting on them, I think the basics of what HM Government does wrong in IT are pretty well known by now. Perhaps I should (re) sell them one of my many reports on the subject! Surely it doesn’t take a genius to realise that having a clear specification and not completely changing that spec during implementation is pretty key to success (or otherwise). As are things like having top project managers on the procuring side and developing good working relationships with your suppliers. Or not going live without stress volume testing the system first.

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.


Richard Holway said...

I received this very interesting comment from Ian Henley, Chairman of ChangeBEAT


As you have taken me to task once or twice for being old fashioned by preferring Linked in to Facebook (which I still do, by the way) I feel justified in offering (in the spirit of enlivening the debate) that your comments about failure in Government IT projects look a little passé.

While there are many examples along the lines you mention, the bigger problem is not so much that the industry can't agree a spec and manage to that spec...(improved project management methods such as Prince II etc are seeing to this). It is that our project managers CAN agree a spec and deliver to that spec, but they rule out of scope all the change management challenges of getting people to buy-in to and use the system effectively. Witness Terminal Five. Far more a change management failure than a systems failure. People not knowing where to go. Training skimped. Predictable parking problems. No one knowing what to do.

I have had probably ten conversations with vendors selling into government and local authorities (as well as the private sector) in the last six months along the following lines:

Me: Would you agree that most of what you sell is never used effectively?

Vendor: Yes it is a big problem.

Me: Would you agree that Benefits Management and Change Management disciplines would be a big help?

Vendor: Yes definitely.

Me: Why don't you discuss change management challenges with your customers?

Vendor a) it would slow down the sales cycle or

b) there is no budget for local authority projects to do things like that.

If we could establish the basic idea that all IT projects must have a realistic benefits management and change management programme in addition to the IT implementation we would be doing everyone a favour. I know it happens in some places, but more often it doesn't.

Ian Henley

PS - You can buy the associated paper at

Ian Henley said...

Thanks Richard. The good news is that the paper will be complimenary for the next few weeks.