In the public sector IT projects are often struggling. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report (IPA), published in July 2018, assessed 133 large and risky programmes the government has in flight. Overall, the IPA noted a general increase in the proportion of projects ranked red or amber-red – which indicates projects are undeliverable or at high risk of failure – from 38 to 46, and a decline in the proportion given amber-green or green, from 28 to 24. It happens in the commercial markets too, but of course, it doesn’t always make the headlines.
Clients – those in the commercial or public sector – need to look for delivery organisations that make greater use of analytics and intelligence if they are to drive the successful completion of complex IT transformations. It may just be the missing piece of the puzzle that leads these projects to completion.
Typically, the PMO [Programme Management Office] capability put in place to manage complex transformations will already be tracking whether targets are being hit. The delivery organisation might be using a basic spreadsheet to understand which project actions are on target, in progress or overdue [with the same Green, Amber or Red system]. And, then they’re in a position to say, ‘We’ll go fix the tasks that are behind scheduled’. It’s simple stuff.
This piece of work is often handled by the most junior members of the project management team, which isn’t necessarily conducive to a positive outcome.
The secret is advanced analytics and intelligence
Ultimately, a simple system of tracking progress isn’t enough. It might work on smaller IT projects, but not with complex transformations which require a different level of attention. Organisations need to be challenging their delivery partners for more than the bare bones of service. They need to seek more intense scrutiny of the data at their disposal in order to ensure success.
What needs to happen is a much more detailed looked at the trends – the root cause of those tasks which are overdue. There needs to be a search for patterns which may link them together.
For example, a basic delivery organisation might look at a project and see it has identified 11 risks to tasks and one task is already overdue. The others could slip too. Rather than simply flagging those numbers, what needs to happen is that someone is responsible for ‘digging’ into those tasks further to look for trends. Is there a single problem causing tasks to be overdue? Only deeper analytics can hope to answer this sort of question.
This is easily achievable, too. Project management teams always collect and maintain a wealth of data. There is no point in keeping it stagnant and not delving into what you have at your disposal. The next step is to interrogate and present information to make decisions. A good delivery organisation will provide change analysis, project plan analysis, project variants, and risk trends analysis. This type of approach promotes and demonstrates good governance, allowing informed decisions to be made in good time.
It is also best brought to life by a skilled and experienced team – not junior people – that can apply experience and insight to what the ‘numbers’ are saying. A good delivery organisation will feed this information into the Programme Director and then down to the Project Managers to action. It’s about knowing your roles and responsibilities in relation to the data and the project as a whole.
Once these things are achieved, it’s then possible for the project management team to make changes and, rather than fix lots of tasks, it might be that they only have to fix one problem which in turn resolves several issues that are impacting the project(s) in different ways. This ‘collective action’ may fix all of the other overdue tasks more quickly.
This type of approach is demonstrative of a high-performing project management team, which brings value to the programme delivery.
Lots of clients already recognise the need for using advanced analytics and intelligence to spot trends in complex transformations early on, but aren’t necessarily getting it. The could be either because delivery organisations don’t have the skills themselves to interrogate project data as the client needs, or that budget restrictions prevent it from happening. Sadly, in some cases, clients simply don’t know what ‘good’ looks like, and therefore don’t ask for it.
Ultimately, companies are making significant investments in their transformation endeavours. They want as much reassurance as they can possibly get that they will achieve a return on investment. Greater investment in project management analytics helps to support this – they simply need to take the steps toward this. Additionally, for the Public Sector, by working with delivery organisations that offer much deeper interrogation and analytics of their projects, they can reverse those failure rates and take corrective action earlier in the project lifecycle. A successful transformation requires good tools, and better ways of using them to get what a business needs.
Mark Johnson, Principal Consulting, Servita
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