IT project “train wrecks” such as Queensland Health’s $1.2 billion payroll failure are preventable, but require foresight, skilled senior staff and above all else, planning, according to the Australian Computer Society (ACS).
“At some point the scope [of the project] changed quite substantially, or an understanding of the scope changed during the course of the project, and it appeared that the overall project leadership therefore changed,” ACS president, Nick Tate, told CIO Australia following the release of an audit by KPMG into Queensland Health’s payroll system.
As a result of those changes, Tate said it appeared there were an inadequate number of people working on the project who actually understood it. He said personnel on the project also did not appear to understand how to apply project management techniques.
“It’s [also] quite possible they weren’t in senior enough positions to insist on it,” Tate said.
He said contingency plans for the change management of staff also were either not in place or not well developed. “Those are things that no project manager with experience in this area would ever, should ever, [fail to] do,” Tate said.
The Queensland Health payroll failure was originally budgeted at $40 million. However, the failed system left thousands of health workers unpaid and underpaid for weeks. A total of $91 million was also overpaid to over 61,000 staff.
According to Tate, projects such as the Queensland Health payroll system typically fail due to an underutilisation of the body of knowledge the IT sector now has about project management.
While a lack of the right governance processes, inadequate change management arrangements and no proper testing regimes can be causes of project failure in their own right, Tate said major failures such as Queensland Health’s often came down to a combination of all those factors.
“When you take the root cause analysis further, you’re seeing that actually it’s the failure to apply all of this huge body of knowledge that we’ve generated on how to manage projects,” he said.
However, Tate stated having the correct governance in place can play an integral role in the success of IT projects. For example, putting people on the governance committee who are experienced in undertaking major government projects.
“Often those governance bodies tend to have lots of people who are users – potential users of this system – as it’s eventually delivered … [but they] don’t always have people who understand how you should go about delivering them,” Tate said.
Globally, the implications of failed IT projects can be substantial, costing $3 trillion a year, according to Tate.
In the UK, the £12.7 billion ($AUD19.8 billion) British National Health Service IT scheme has reportedly been scrapped. It was widely reported as being the largest civilian IT scheme in the world.
“If the projects are not succeeding, then first of all, you’re not doing what the project was designed to do. Secondly, you’re wasting resources which, presumably, we can ill afford to waste on these activities,” Tate said.
“Those people [who have a body of knowledge about past projects] need to be involved in the project leadership because they’re the ones who understand … how it’s gone wrong in the past and can advise the right approaches to make sure that hopefully it doesn’t go wrong in the future.
“It’s clear that they’re going to have to be in senior leadership positions and in some cases on the governance [committee] in order to make sure that … what they’re suggesting is listened to.”
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