Project Assurance

Project Assurance is a discipline that seeks to provide stakeholders with objective oversight of the likely future performance of major projects.

Organisations are under enormous pressure to deliver products and services at a faster pace of change than ever before. Governments at all levels face immense pressure to deliver public services faster and cheaper and this is increasing.

Having a rigorous approach to identifying the right projects to invest in and delivering them successfully will ensure maximum return on investment.

IBRS can help you and your organisation maximise the outcomes from project investment and increase project success. From well-prepared business cases, support through all stages of the procurement phases, effective delivery of project activities through to realising the expected benefits from project investments.

Conclusion: To grow their business and deliver sought after online services, organisations must provide error free systems supported by robust IT infrastructure. When unable to deliver one or both of these consumers will seek other suppliers that provide better online services.

To meet consumer expectations online systems must be comprehensively tested and error free before making them publicly available, and operated on IT infrastructure that can be ramped-up when needed to meet consumer demands. The inability to provide quality services when required could put the organisation’s reputation at risk.

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Conclusion: Most organisations have some form of central approval process (Governance) based around agreed artefacts – few organisations have a built-in evergreening process to ensure governance controls are in line with emerging technology and business trends.

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Conclusion: Governance committees face a number of challenges that can undermine their effectiveness. These challenges include groupthink, a focus on individual responsibilities rather than organisation-wide benefits and trust issues. Experienced independent external advisors can play an important role in overcoming these challenges.

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Conclusion: While benefits management is considered highly relevant to project challenges facing organisations, benefits management has proven difficult to fit into the way that the organisation undertakes projects. The potential of effective benefits management is understood, but the ability of organisations to apply it continues to lag.

Implementing a pragmatic approach which considers the culture and relative maturity of the organisation will assist in improving this key area of IT investment governance.

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Conclusion: Businesses with an interest in becoming ‘digitally transformed’ need to take stock of their current status and preparedness. Systematic as well as creative approaches can be taken to discover ways to radically upgrade the business’ operations as shown in a self-assessment.

Use this checklist showing five stages of maturity in preparing for a digitally based transformation of the business.

Take the necessary actions in a graduated approach to make the required transitions endure.

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Conclusion: The full financial maturity model provides more detail which can be applied to organisational requirements.

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Conclusion: Poor planning is frequently cited in surveys as a major reason an ICT project has failed. A major element in the planning process is the preparation of the business case setting out why the project is needed and must be approved.

Management is remiss when it approves a poorly developed business case as it sends the wrong message to developers and sponsors – that if the project fails to deliver they are not to blame.

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Conclusion: Proficiency in financial analysis and concepts is critical for management. Assessment of an organisation’s skills establishes the requirements necessary to raise abilities. The financial maturity model can assist with the process of setting those requirements.

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Conclusion: Big data and analytics projects can learn important lessons from the domain of information security analytics platforms. Two critical factors to consider when planning deployment of an analytics platform are: the need for a clear business objective and; the depth and duration of organisational commitment required. Without a clear understanding of the objective of the analytics project, or adequate resource commitment, the project will likely fail to deliver on expectations. The worst outcome is that inadequate investment in people could result in an organisation drawing incorrect conclusions from the analytics platform.

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Conclusion: all organisations implement some form of ICT governance to determine how IT will operate: they manage demand, reduce waste and overheads, identify and deliver demand, and address risks.

The scope of ICT Governance is broad and the maturity and capability within organisations to manage ICT Governance differs significantly. ICT Governance activities commonly focus on the compliance aspects of the function and miss opportunities to use them more proactively and to develop significantly better partnerships with business areas.

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Conclusion: ITIL Change Management is insufficient for CRM Governance – an organisational change is needed. As with all complex management jobs, governance for CRM projects should be divided into sets and subsets. By dividing the tasks it is easier to view each set or phase. By combining them into larger groups and modules it is feasible to gain an overview of how the parts fit together.

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Conclusion: A product line engineering approach to digital service development and operation can unlock significant value if due diligence is applied when identifying product line stakeholders and product line scope. A successful product line is one that enables all stakeholders to apply their unique expertise within the context of the product line at exactly those points in time when their knowledge and insights are required as part of the organisational decision making process. Good product line architectures align human expertise, organisational structure, business processes, software system capabilities, and value chain integration1 with customers and suppliers.

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Conclusion: Project Health Checks and Gateway Reviews are an excellent way of assessing the progress of a significant project, identifying issues and taking a corrective action approach that is in the best interests of the organisation. One of the obvious and highest risk periods for projects to go off the rails is the period between when a contract has been signed with a supplier and go-live day. Organisations can ensure that they have all the other elements for a successful project in place such as aligning with the strategic goals of the organisation, a rigorous options assessment resulting in a robust business case, a good governance framework and solid project team, and still have major challenges. There are some softer signs to watch, so that if is action is taken quickly, project failure can be averted.

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Conclusion: To provide easy to use online client services, organisations must create cross functional teams with people who can work together to implement solutions which can be tightly integrated with back office systems, and work first time. Failure to assign the right people first time will, until it is fixed, cause tension and stifle innovation.

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Conclusion: When business critical systems have ‘passed their use-by-date’ or maintenance costs are excessive there is a temptation to fast-track the approval of the replacement systems and underestimate the cost and complexity of doing so. Avoid the temptation by thoroughly defining the scope of the project and include contingencies in the cost estimates to cater for the unexpected. When this is done, start lobbying management so they approve the project first time.

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Conclusion: Project Management in organisations is commonplace. Reviews are essential, but often overlooked. Project reviews completed during the life of a project should include appropriate stakeholder groups and focus areas. Reviews that are inclusive of the groups not directly involved in the delivery of project activities and objectives can assist in identifying communication and brand perception issues. A clear and concise review program applied to projects can increase the likelihood of project success and improve the organisation’s brand image.

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Over the last few years the talk about search engine optimisation has given way to hype about semantic search.

The challenge with semantics is always context. Any useful form of semantic search would have to consider the context of a given search request. At a minimum, the following context variables are relevant: industry, organisation, product line, scientific discipline, project, geography. When this context is known, a semantic search engine can realistically tackle the following use cases:

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Conclusion: Many organisations in Australia struggle with accurate prediction of project cost and schedule. There are two steps that organisations can make to address this: the first is reuse of well-defined solution building blocks – the second is repeatable construction of solutions using those building blocks.

Architecture and estimation are closely related functions. Therefore CIOs who struggle with projects that run over-time or over-budget should look to enterprise and solution architecture methods to increase the degree of reuse and repeatability when defining ICT-enabled solutions. This leads to improved accuracy in cost and schedule estimates.

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Project directors and SROs1 are still falling for the same mistakes that Brooks explained so elegantly in 19722.In large government environments where project scope and deadlines are dictated years in advance by election promises and new policy initiatives, many aspects of ‘agile’ can’t be adopted: BDUF (Big Design Up Front) is alive and well.

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Conclusion: Organisations, large and small, have invested time and money over the past 5-10 years in improving ICT project success. Skilled project managers, governance groups, increased executive awareness and improved processes have all combined to improve the probability of a successful project. However, recognising when to cut the losses of a failing project is still a problem for many organisations. Either they never terminate a failing project or they delay in making the decision to terminate it. Either way the consequences can be devastating.

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Conclusion: The federal government has undertaken a number of whole-of-government (WofG) application and information services initiatives over the last five years. Now that these programs have mostly reached closure, a second wave is being initiated. At the same time state and territory governments are looking to implement similar programs.

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Conclusion: Many organisations have implemented frameworks and methodologies, increased internal project management and improved project governance in an effort to improve IT project success. The Standish Group reports project success has shown considerable improvement over the last 15 years. However, projects can still fail and organisations can improve their preparedness for projects and change programs by spending time undertaking a Business Readiness Assessment (BRA) before they begin any new change initiative.

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Conclusion: Two-thirds of all ICT projects fail to deliver all of their intended benefits on schedule and within budget1. This results in ICT Executives spending a lot of time explaining why project schedules have slipped, why projects have been abandoned, or why goals and requirements have changed.

The Gateway Review Process(GRP) provides a well-proven and recognised approach to project assurance. Increasingly the process is being used as a basis for developing customised assurance processes in organisations across Australia.

Knowing when and how to customise the process is non-trivial andmust be based on lessons learned from application of the GRP. Many aspects of the GRP have been based on careful design and research – changing those aspects unwittingly will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the custom process created.

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Conclusion: The business case for the use, acceptance and adoption of mobile financial transactions is that the provision of the technology will create its own demand. Some persuasion and marketing is required but essentially the convenience and innovation of the mobile handset is a powerful catalyst. Eventually technological force will transform the way society transacts. The main players expect to eliminate all loose change in every purse and pocket.

Such confidence is not entirely misplaced. The industry is using many channels to convince the public of the efficacy of the technology. However the basis of the business case may not be as secure as believed by its adherents and that may be a costly oversight.

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Conclusion: With the increasing focus on governance of ICT investments and successful project delivery there will be an ongoing demand for high quality Project Managers to deliver outcomes for organisations. According to an article in The Australian earlier this year the most in-demand ICT roles are “Project Managers, Business Analysts and .NET professionals1”. CIOs have a number of challenges in recruiting or developing project management capabilities to ensure projects are successfully delivered to the organisation.

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Conclusion: Most organisations have more ICT enabled projects and initiatives than they can possibly deliver. A significant number of CIOs report that gaining business consensus to prioritisation of projects can be an extremely difficult and often emotional process.

While availability of budget is a common qualifying criterion for ICT project progression, it is often not the biggest constraint. By applying a relatively simple project prioritisation framework to the list of projects waiting to be undertaken, CIOs can develop a program of work that is achievable and can be agreed across the organisation.

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Conclusion: We appear to have reached a period in business management where ICT Governance is part of overall Corporate Governance. Across most organisations, policies and procedures have been implemented to support how ICT decisions are made, who makes them and who is accountable. Yet, there are still too many ICT project failures, a continuing inability to control costs, lack of resource management, and business dissatisfaction with the performance of ICT. In many cases organisations have implemented these measures to ensure compliance, or tick the boxes, and are not achieving the real benefit of Governance – Competitive Advantage. Organisations that move from a compliance-only approach to a Competitive Advantage approach can increase performance and improve the value of ICT investment within their organisation including public sector agencies.

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Conclusion: All organisations are multilingual, and most, more so than may seem apparent on the surface. A systematic effort to minimise the likelihood and impact of communication problems can lead to significant cost savings, productivity improvements, and improvement of staff morale. Data quality, the quality of system integration, and the quality of product or system specifications often turn out to be the Achilles’ heel. It is a mistake to assume that the biggest potential for misunderstandings is confined to the communication between business units and the internal IT department. Whilst some IT departments could certainly benefit from learning to speak the language used by the rest of the business, the same conclusion applies to all other business units.

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Conclusion: Nobody doubts the need for effective governance of IT. Industry journals and Government Audit (and Ombudsman1) reports2 highlight project cost blowouts and implementation delays when governance is ineffective. Ironically while the reports set out what needs to be fixed, rarely do the authors tell readers how to do it.

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Conclusion: IT steering committees and project managers must ‘keep their eye on the ball’ and remain alert for indicators that a project under their remit might fail. Avoiding corrective action will impact on morale and increase costs and potentially delay the project’s implementation. By taking immediate corrective action the project might be saved, or if it is to be stopped, minimise losses.

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Conclusion: CIOs today are often faced with deciding whether to buy integrated systems solutions and services from major vendors or buy best of breed solutions from multiple vendors and manage the integration project in-house.

Organisations that have engaged external services providers on a major scale and eroded their IT skills base typically find they have no option but to buy the integrated solution. Conversely those with specialist skills in-house and the need to develop their people, often find in-house systems integration solutions more attractive.

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Conclusion: It is easy to sheet home the blame for IT project cost overruns to difficulties experienced in estimating work days required. Whilst estimating is difficult it can be converted from an art form into science by identifying the tasks required in detail and estimating the work days required for each one. Include the total in the business case.

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Conclusion: They usually begin with starry-eyed stakeholders. Too often they end in tears. After several years of fiscal restraint, blockbuster projects are back on the agenda. Many will fail. Others will fall well short of organisational expectations.

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Conclusion: The prototyping of user interfaces is moving beyond traditional low-fidelity static wireframes and embracing more sophisticated approaches to simulate the entire application experience. Modern solution visualisation tools can deliver a more accurate and dynamic rendition of complex enterprise applications before a line of code is cut. This can significantly reduce delivery risk and improve development productivity. Beware though the diminishing returns from overly complex solution visualisation tools that absorb the cost and risk that they should be offsetting.

Observations: Prototyping has long been a means to visualise early in the system development lifecycle how a system should look and behave. This has the benefit of allowing a system design to be validated as early as possible by subject matter experts. While textual based requirements remain the primary contractual specification for system development, they are often hard to fully comprehend without the kinesthetic aid of a visual prototype.

A good prototype should put abstract and generalised requirements into the context of real life business processes and user interactions, creating a rich dialogue between system designers and users around the system’s expected behaviour. The use of a prototype to assist in the harvesting of correct, concise and consistent requirements can pay off considerably in the long term. Studies show that addressing defects in the requirements phase can be 100 times cheaper than fixing them as post-implementation defects.

Traditional prototyping: Low tech prototyping tools such as butchers paper, white board markers and post-it notes can be immensely valuable design tools when combined with adept user interaction facilitators and knowledgeable subject matter experts. Rapid storyboarding of anticipated system behaviour from a variety of stakeholder perspectives can generate a robust high-level shared view of system functionality. This can help establish, or challenge, the important assumptions and principles that will guide detailed design work.

The use of productivity applications to generate basic user interface mockups (Powerpoint, Visio, OmniGraffle) or RAD development tools (such as Dreamweaver and Visual Studio) to create HTML or native-app click-models have become common prototyping tools. In the case of RAD development tools the lurking danger is that users or (even more worryingly) executives, begin to see the prototype as almost the finished system. This can lead to pressure to “put the prototype into production” without the required underlying architectural support, or set false expectations about the considerable extra effort required to implement complex integration and business rule support. To avoid this situation a common rule is to implement a “throw away” prototype using a technology that is impossible to deploy into production.

Solution visualisation: New prototyping tools (such as iRise, Axure and SketchFlow) have emerged that support the end-to-end simulation of applications without the overhead of custom development. These “solution visualisation” tools enable the definition of rich visual user interfaces with advanced interactive features such as data entry, simulated business rules and complex navigation logic. Supporting these design elements are collaborative features that enable applications to be reviewed, annotated and critically evaluated in a fashion similar to the “mark-up” features of modern word processors. These prototype applications can often be packaged for easy distribution by email, facilitating analysis and review without the overhead of maintaining access to prototype infrastructure.

While solution visualisation tools can quickly deliver rich prototypes that flesh out high-fidelity representations of desired systems, the cost of purchasing such software and the effort to maintain complex prototype models can undermine the core benefits of prototyping. The benefit of common tools such as HTML editors or office productivity application lies in their ubiquitous availability and universal accessibility. Complex solution visualisation tools may require expensive up front license costs and/or proprietary file formats that require specific reader software to be installed for the viewing of applications. They may also require centralised repositories to be installed into server environments. These tradeoffs need to be carefully considered before embracing a solution visualisation toolset.

Multiple device simulation. The enterprise application landscape is changing. Touch phones and tablets have established a need for mobile “finger-driven” apps as much as there is a need for “mouse-driven” desktop apps. Corporate applications are demanding dual-mode solutions that support finger operated Android and iOS access just as they do web-based or rich native applications. This need is adding an extra burden on prototyping efforts to support multiple target platforms. Solution visualisation tools can help manage consistent requirements across a multitude of platforms.

ALM tool integration. The key outcome of solution visualisation or prototyping efforts is a consistent and complete set of requirements. In the modern software world applications are often managed by dedicated tools or as part of application lifecycle management (ALM) suites. Effective solution visualisation tools need to be able to integrate into the requirements and design management tools that support the end-to-end development lifecycle. This allows solution visualisation tools to be institutionalised in the core process of application delivery, rather than sidelined as a niche user experience activity.

Next steps:

  1. Organisations should carefully evaluate the use of prototyping in supporting custom application development. Is it effectively contributing to the quality of application design before moving into the development phase?

  2. If basic prototyping tools are not being used effectively start with the low fidelity approach and embed their use into upstream requirements and design activities.

  3. If basic prototyping has reached a ceiling of either design richness or stakeholder reach, consider solution visualisation toolsets. Consider carefully the Total Cost of Ownership of such tools against the anticipated benefits.

McConnell, Steve (2004). Code Complete (2nd ed.). Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-7356-1967-0.

 

Conclusion: Establishing, or re-launching, a Program Management Office (PMO) using a text-book driven, ‘cookie cutter’ approach is not likely to bring about improvements in the performance of individual projects, IT programs or even a portfolio of projects. While some initial improvements may be observed as a consequence of closer management scrutiny, it is rare for formula-based approaches to work effectively on a sustained basis.

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Conclusion: Technical debt is a metaphor for the ongoing cost of bad IT decisions. As with debt in the real world, interest is paid on technical debt in the form of increased cost of operations and maintenance, poor quality solutions and loss of enterprise agility. Prudently managed technical debt can be a useful tactical tool, however uncontrolled technical debt can rapidly become an overwhelming burden and severely reduce the ability to invest in new initiatives. This is toxic technical debt. Crucial to managing technical debt is having an approach to identify and track when and where it is incurred.

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Conclusion: IT Strategic Plans typically include a long term application pathway for offering enhanced services to clients, and better management information. In reality this is just the beginning of the journey from concept to benefits realisation. To succeed, project sponsors need to take the initiative and gather arguments that will ensure funds are allocated to their projects by the governance group as soon practicable.

To minimise management tension the governance group has to create a level playing field and equitably allocate resources to sponsors whose projects best contribute to meeting business objectives.

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Conclusion: During the GFC many organisations lost their innovation mojo. As economic rationalism reigned, organisational cultures became stale, research and development budgets were cut and fresh ideas stopped flowing.

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Conclusion: Recent Standish Group research1 has shown that project failure rates for IT-based projects have risen since from 19% in 2006 to 24% in 2009. Running projects successfully has become more challenging in recent times as the lingering effects of the GFC tempt project participants to cut corners. Strengthening methodology observance and project governance arrangements may result in some improvements in success rates. However, IBRS believes that greater benefit can be achieved by transcending such mechanistic approaches. We advise a holistic re-examination of candidate projects using our 6C2 approach, then re-configuring those projects where necessary to improve their chances of success.

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Conclusion: Organisations aiming to improve the effectiveness of their EGIT (Enterprise Governance of IT) initiatives must ensure they apply best practices in relationship management with all stakeholders. This is because effective governance is dependent not only on having the right framework in place, but also people skilled in stakeholder relationship management positions to implement them.

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