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: Failed projects are newsworthy again. The most recent report from the Standish Group, which has studied over 70,000 IT-based projects since 1985, indicates that project failure levels reached new heights during the GFC. Prima facie, this is counterintuitive. Additional controls (such as closer scrutiny and reduced tolerance levels on spending) and cautionary approaches have typified executive responses to the GFC. However, cost-cutting to meet agreed targets and attempting to hasten project delivery in an already resource-lean environment will have contributed to this result.

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Conclusion:The need for an overarching framework to drive business value from IT through value management processes, supported by mature delivery service processes has prompted the need for an enterprise-wide approach to IT governance1

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Conclusion: Enterprise governance of IT (EGIT), the objective of which is to drive business value from IT, is a new concept. It also goes beyond traditional IT governance, which focuses on effective delivery of services, by seeking to transform IT so it can meet the current and future demands of all clients.

CIOs who can drive the transformation of IT and help drive business value through their leadership role with the senior management team will always find their services in demand.1Conversely those who do not take up the dual challenges run the risk of being perceived as operational managers only, and potentially limit their career advancement options.

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Conclusion:An often reported issue with our clients is that they find the process of benchmarking costly and time consuming, while rarely does it provide them with worthwhile information. After discussions with those involved we have found that this dissatisfaction is often due to a small number of issues which could have been resolved prior to undertaking the benchmarking process.

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Over the last 2 years I’ve been surprised to find a number of e-mail and file archive projects that had failed very badly. I say surprised because for most of my career I’ve worked on infrastructure implementations, and while they are complex and messy, they generally workout Ok in the end.

After a few discussions with clients it dawned on me that while archiving is generally being implemented as an infrastructure, usually by IT infrastructure staff, it is very, very different from a typical infrastructure project. In particular archiving sits somewhere between a traditional infrastructure, i.e., some hardware and software that is generally very stable and has limited end-user features, and business applications, i.e., large scale software projects with extensive end-user features.

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Conclusion:Knowledge workers – and people in general – commonly overestimate their ability to convey information in documents, diagrams, and in discussions. To make matters worse, they typically have too much faith in the validity of their personal mental models to frame the problems that need to be solved. As a result, misinterpretations often remain undetected for months, milestones are missed, and deliverables don’t meet expectations. There is no antidote against project failure in terms of a universally applicable methodology, but many failures are avoidable by recognising that communication and collaboration is fraught with difficulties.

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Conclusion:It is tempting to seek out easy solutions for hard problems. Many others must have had similar problems, and a large part of the solution development effort can be short-circuited by selecting an appropriate productised solution – that’s hope. But similarities between problems in different organisations are easily over-estimated – that’s uncertainty. Business cases are strengthened by highlighting key differences to other organisations, and by proposing a path that incrementally removes uncertainty.

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Compiling and publishing IT policies and procedures (ITPP) is an important part of IT governance in order to ensure proper use of the computer network and security of vital data. But however detailed and well-designed these ITPP are their publication in itself is only the start. Ensuring that they are understood, accepted and adhered to is an on-going challenge which must not be underestimated.

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Conclusion: When establishing or enhancing an IT governance framework, one size does not fit all. For full effect, governance practices need to reflect an organisation’s ethos. Time can be the enemy of good governance practice; what works well at the outset may need to be tailored and progressively refined to suit evolving organisational maturity, changes in personnel and the interest of executives in contributing to the IT agenda. In essence, a multi-factorial, time-phased approach is recommended for instilling and maintaining effective IT governance.

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Conclusion: Astute CIOs know that to be successful they must assume, or act out, many roles. One role they must not overlook is that of engaging stakeholders during the budget or planning cycle and helping them identify ways to maximise the benefits of existing IT investment and canvass ways to exploit emerging technologies.

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Conclusion: Organisations with immature IT governance processes push many of the decisions that need to be made by the business, back to IT. This creates a downward spiral, often characterised by IT making poor decisions about business/IT investments (due to insufficient business context), consequential failure by IT to deliver business value, then loss of confidence in the IT function, sometimes resulting in the CIO losing his or her job.

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Conclusion: The terms “IT” and “governance” are frequently coupled, sometimes glibly and often inappropriately. Indeed, IT governance seems to have a multiplicity of meanings but is generally seen by IT people as a “white knight” in which business user engagement, properly executed, will overcome a troubled IT situation.

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Conclusion: Project managers often find management of the change process one of the hardest aspects to deal with in their projects. While they have been trained to deal with facts and figures using templates and other project management aids, rarely do they have the necessary skills and experience to successfully manage the workplace change associated with their projects.

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Project managers often find management of the change process one of the hardest aspects to deal with in their projects. While they have been trained to deal with facts and figures using templates and other project management aids, rarely do they have the necessary skills and experience to successfully manage the workplace change associated with their projects.

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Conclusion: As discussed in “Backup is not Archive!1 all IT organisations should evaluate deployment of an archival platform. However, based on numerous client conversations and a recent survey, it is clear there are significant project risks in implementing archiving. One-quarter of archiving projects take more than two years to implement and nearly half of IT managers state that they would not recommend the archiving product they had selected!

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Conclusion: Australian taxpayers should applaud the Rudd government for adopting in full, all the recommendations of the Gershon Report.1 As a consequence, IT savings of an estimated $1 billion are planned for realisation over the next 10 years. However, will the government be able to bank all these savings? The answer is probably no. Intentionally or otherwise, what Gershon proposes is nothing more or less than a wide-scale, transformational change program. These unfortunately, rarely meet with complete success2.

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Conclusion: Despite considerable advances in the discipline of project management many organisations continue to report unacceptably high rates of failure for their IT projects. There are, however, a number of initiatives that organisations can take, particularly in the planning phase of IT projects, which can significantly reduce the likelihood of project failure.

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Conclusion:The recession has brought the prophets of gloom out in force, all predicting massive cuts in the IT budget, with many of them also telling us how to address this. Their solutions are often facile and naïve, most boiling down to “do this to be more efficient”, ignoring the fact that most good IT shops have already made themselves highly cost-effective and have little room to move to reduce costs. Other commentators have recognised this and are predicting that the major savings in many IT shops will be by stopping or deferring projects.

Most IT shops have a range of projects on the go at any time, all with committed teams and management support. Determining which projects should be stopped or deferred may require the judgement of Solomon, and like Solomon, the IT manager should not be the one to make the decision. The projects are all, presumably, business focussed and the business should make the decisions.

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Conclusion: The ability of organisations to implement major strategic business initiatives is to a large degree dependent on their ability to successfully execute the program of projects on which these strategies are reliant. Despite the importance of such programs most organisations, while accustomed to the demands of managing individual projects, often lack the skills and experience required to manage the complexity of such programs. The recruitment of an experienced program manager to lead the program and an integrated approach to program governance and planning can go a long way to ensuring a successful outcome.

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Conclusion: Standards Australia has developed and published the Australian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Governance Standard1, the first government driven ICT Governance Standard in the world. This provides an opportunity for ICT dependent organisations to revisit their ICT governance and confirm it meets agreed good practice. It is also a useful template for any organisation that is setting up or re-examining its ICT governance, policies, and procedures. It should be used by company directors, owners of small businesses, and other organisations to recognise and accept their ICT responsibilities and to set in place processes that ensure that ICT meets these obligations.

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Conclusion: Stakeholder management is a critical, but often overlooked aspect of project management. Insufficient attention to the needs and attitudes of project stakeholders can lead to project failure even when the more well known components of project management have been addressed.

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As countries struggle to improve their populations’ dietary habits, now may be the right time to borrow an idea from the ICT industry: just claim it, whatever it might be, leads to higher productivity. The argument seems to work because products that linger on shelves start to move with this simple but effective message. It also motivates policymakers to design grand projects on the basis of productivity gains; it is at the centre of how business is done and it provides an unassailable argument. No one would deny the benefits of productivity.

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Where a major information technology project is discontinued; failure to provide this will result in a significant project financial loss, diminished credibility for the IT Department and, for mission critical projects, could mean a loss of revenue for the organisation.

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Conclusion: Unless an organisation consistently conducts project PIRs (Post Implementation Reviews) for business systems (IS development, staff training and business process redesign) and IT Infrastructure projects it cannot claim to be learning organisation.

Done well the reviews can help avoid mistakes of the past, sustain the project’s benefits and aid staff development.

Organisations that do not review outcomes from business systems and IT Infrastructure projects, or do review them but pay little attention to the lessons learned, will probably continue to make unwise business systems investment decisions and fail to develop their people. 

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Conclusion: In March 2001 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a management brief1 addressing problems in implementing large IT projects in the public and private sectors. Observations in this report included “...budgets are exceeded, deadlines are over-run and often the quality of the new system is far below the standard agreed when the project was undertaken”.

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Conclusion: Many organisations continue to have trouble having projects complete within budget, on time, and meeting user requirements. This is in spite of a plethora of project monitoring metrics and methodologies designed to prevent this happening.

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Conclusion: Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is now viewed as a necessary pre-condition for maximising the contribution of an organisation’s IT projects to the achievement of corporate goals. Unfortunately many Small to Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) have made the decision not to implement the process due to its cost. The guidelines provided in this paper have been found to be effective in allowing a scaled down version of PPM to be implemented in a cost effective fashion within SMEs.

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With increasing use of external service providers CIOs and IT managers find themselves having to prepare an increasing number of RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to select the right provider at the right price.

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Conclusion: A frequently reported cause of IT project failure is a lack of senior management ownership and leadership.1 This often first manifests itself in problems in the deliberations of the project’s steering committee. Measures that can reduce the likelihood of such problems occurring include the selection of committee members who meet the criteria given in this paper and the use of a Kick Off session to gain agreement on roles and expectations of both the committee members and the project manager.

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Conclusion: One widely used mechanism for identifying project issues and assessing the overall status of projects is the concept of the project Health Check. The concept of an independent review, generally of high risk projects, has proven useful in providing guidance to management as to where corrective action needs to be applied in order to improve the prospects of project success. 

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Conclusion: The application of a project management methodology to an organisation’s project work can be the cornerstone for consistent project success. It can assist, among other things, in allocating resources, managing the project schedule and controlling project costs. Most importantly it provides a consistent approach to managing projects across the organisation so that project personnel don’t waste time learning multiple approaches to the management of projects and executive management only have to deal with one approach to project governance and reporting. 

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Conclusion: Public sector IT projects can often have a range of characteristics different to their counterparts in the private sector. These can lead to project failure if the issues relating to them they are not appropriately addressed. The adoption of the following set of best practice principles can significant reduce the risk of project failure.

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Conclusion: Public sector IT projects have been found to have similar rates of failure to their counterparts in the private sector, however they also have a number of characteristics that are different to private sector projects. Project related issues that arise from these characteristics have been found to be the drivers for the majority of public sector project failures.

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Conclusion: Organisations, especially in the public sector, are increasingly sensitive to the possible, potentially visible and embarrassing, failure of large IT projects. It is now customary to include independent quality assurance (IQA) of the project management for such projects as an added insurance to prevent failure. Lesser projects may not be able to justify such IQA and the PMO may be too involved with the projects to be able to give an objective view.

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Conclusion: Many organisations have IT steering committees that are considered to be ineffective due to a combination of poorly defined committee charters and ineffective leadership. Restructuring of the committees and resourcing them with appropriately skilled business executives can result in IT Steering Committees that add significant strategic value to their organisations e.g. by prioritising IT projects based on business need and risk.

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Conclusion: Through the 1990s many organisations established Project Management Offices (PMOs). Also known as Project Offices and sometimes as Strategic Project Offices, these were generally set up within the IT organisation and were driven by the desire to take a more focused, financially responsible and standardised (read template-driven) approach to project delivery.

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Conclusion: Portfolio Management is a process that allows management to prioritise and manage its portfolio of projects. The more progressive organisations within IT are finding that this approach needs to be modified in order to manage the different project types that are associated with competitive edge and strategic advantage business initiatives.

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Conclusion: Risk management for IT projects or services that involve suppliers e.g. software and hardware suppliers or system integrators, is a more complex activity than the risk management of a project when there is no supplier involvement. There are not only additional considerations that must be addressed in the risk management process; there are also additional risks that will have been introduced through the involvement of supplier(s) of IT products, services or other resources.

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Conclusion: Weaknesses in the approach to risk management, when applied to IT projects, can lead to poor project outcomes. A holistic approach that encompasses people, structure and organisational culture, as well as tools and process, is needed for the successful management of project risk.

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Conclusion: Deciding whether major business solutions, or ICT enabled projects, should proceed to the next stage during a review is pivotal for sound governance.

When lip service is paid to the review process project failure may just be around the corner. This view was put forward by the UK National Audit Office, and was endorsed in the November 2006 Review of ICT Governance by Queensland Government, which stated that one of the three prerequisites to project success is ‘rigorous challenge and scrutiny of projects and programs at each stage of the life cycle’.

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