Repeated and frequent project failures are usually a result of poor governance and absence of an assurance focus.
The frequency of failures in major Australian Government IT projects is well documented and have resulted in a strong push for increased assurance and governance across Federal and State governments.
In 2014, Standards Australia released updated standards for IT governance in direct response to the Queensland Health Payroll project – a costly failure to the tune of $1.2 billion. Despite early warnings that the project had started to go off the rails, ultimately the project failed due to inadequate internal governance and mismanagement.
The aim of the new standards and an increased focus on project assurance is to provide boards and senior executives clearer and early visibility of non-performing projects to ensure that remedial action can be taken where it is needed before a project gets too far off course.
As an experienced assurance organisation, Quay has been involved with numerous assurance initiatives across private and public sector projects, including PIRs, Milestone Health Checks, Set-up for Success reviews and recovery reviews.
A critical issue we see in government project assurance is the perceived – or real – political pressure to ‘just continue delivering’ regardless of the time, cost and reputational impact.
If government projects are to be successfully delivered, how can assurance play a stronger role in setting up and maintaining a success-focused culture?
Quay was brought into a Government project to provide an independent lens on its progress and to assess all aspects of its delivery to date including governance, change management, implementation approach and deliverables against benefits.
With our deep expertise in project delivery and a proven record for reviewing troubled programs and projects, we understand the need for objective and balanced findings to bring projects back on track. Our remit was to analyse the reasons for the project’s delays, levels of success achieved and identify strategies to mitigate the risk on future projects.
Identifying and Applying ‘Success’ Criteria
Identifying the critical elements that deliver the greatest impact can be difficult in the oft-complex and federated model of government agencies. By working through the review process, we identified several key findings that had the potential to influence the successful delivery of future projects.
The definition of success: We found that what constituted ‘success’ differed across the stakeholder group for the project. Senior members of the project and within the organisation had different measures of success which again differed against the original business case.
Losing sight of the business case: The business case had not been revisited and benefits expected of the project had been redefined since the original project submission many years prior.
Lack of alignment between organisational change and system delivery: The organisational change management and system delivery had become misaligned and non-collaborative. Change and technology delivery are inextricably linked and must work in a collaborative way to achieve business benefits. This can require restructuring of the project at the highest level.
Agreeing to Disagree: the Value in Debating Findings
One of the most valuable parts of the review process is the opportunity for robust debate of the findings of a review, particularly where stakeholders disagree with individual findings. All too often, reports are sanitised or swept under the bureaucratic carpet to avoid the spotlight.
Quay believes that the road to success and re-alignment is to shine a light on the issues and work through them with stakeholders. Where a difference of opinion exists, the goal is to achieve a unified view of what success is (i.e. the business case) to enable alignment to exist and corrective actions to be taken.
For this project, Quay’s review became a critical tool in providing clarity on the issues discovered – it allowed the major stakeholders to have a frame of reference to get the project back on track towards successful delivery.
Regaining Momentum Toward Success
As with any large organisation, challenges persist in projects, however, in an environment where there is increase ministerial scrutiny, Quay has been able to provide better visibility of progress, stronger assurance and the support required to ensure this agency continues to benefit from objective, constructive insights.
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