I’ve seen numerous IT projects in the public and private sectors that are over budget and never deliver the expected benefits. Frankly, this is the norm rather than the exception.
The NSW government’s decade-long Learning Management and Business Reform Project is at least $50 million over budget. This is a perfect example of a lack of project accountability across the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
Earlier this month, we learned that the Baird government will spend $1 million to prevent IT project cost blowouts like this in the future.
I have to ask with all sincerity that it doesn’t matter if this is private or the public sector – what really counts is holding people accountable.
In any IT project, the CIO and his or her team clearly need to be completely responsible for delivering on a project to avoid a costly situation like this where third-party consultants need to be engaged.
It is possible to achieve this kind of cultural shift but it takes more than creating new governance processes and guidelines to prevent IT project failures of this magnitude.
Believe it or not, I’ve seen several instances where large, complex IT programs are delivered on time and within the set budget. But there are still far too many examples to the contrary.
Here are 8 ways IT chiefs can ensure accountability during large scale tech projects.
1. Create transformation principles
Be clear on the principles to drive the program of work. This will be around what does ‘vanilla’ mean and exactly when are any customisation is allowed. In the best projects, only configuration is acceptable and customisation even for ‘competitive advantage’ is ignored.
2. Deliver value in smaller chunks
The Department Secretary and CIO agree to specific goals for delivery over a 6 month period. There is little point trying to create 2 or 3-year goals. What counts is delivering value in chunks.
3. Ensure goals are completely clear
The goals must be clear and translatable for every member of staff, and be able to be ‘stretched’ if required.
For example, Suncorp Group said last August that it had decommissioned 7 of its 13 legacy data warehouses in 12 months. It aimed to decommission the remaining 6 – along with a large volume of legacy reporting – by December.
Former Suncorp CEO, Patrick Snowball, deployed on team to complete this task. This project had this was a goal that had a defined temporal scope and end state, and informed the team that they had to work together.
4. Employ critical chain level planning
Use critical chain project management methods where the project ‘buffers’ are identified and then managed by a weekly executive steering committee. For example, if you have a project task that normally requires 5 days to complete but in this instance, will be started later and take longer, you must first get permission from the committee.
5. Create a weekly executive steering committee
Get together each week and discuss progress to ensure everyone is accountable at all times. Any hint of an overrun is immediately spotted, and addressed by giving team members different priorities if required.
6. Introduce project delivery standups
A project team and its vendor partners must share successes and concerns. A standup meeting should not be a general ‘status update’, rather it should focus on identifying obstacles that stand in the way of executives meeting their commitments. All issues are escalated immediately to the vendor and addressing before the weekly steering committee.
7. Hold town hall meetings
A good program has to communicate both regularly but more critically with transparency. The Town Halls keep everyone on the same page and allows for stories to be shared both positive and negative. It just stops the hallway chatter which is typically self-destructive.
8. Encourage leadership behaviours
Team leaders need to demonstrate the right leadership style and focus on outcomes. There must be no tolerance for any teams or individuals who do not comply with the agreed principles.
Players not spectators
In short, the best places that are able to deliver complex and hard projects are those that create a culture of delivery. Pride in one’s work must be an essential ingredient but it’s not enough – project managers need to know how to build a winning team. They need a system or process to operate that reinforces and helps drive success.
This system has to include effective vendor partnering, escalation and resolution of issues. A really good partnership is truly two-way and it is not about beating up on the vendor.
After all, transformation is not a spectator sport, everyone has to be in the game.
David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.