Government finally realises IT project chiefs need ‘relevant experience’

The government has admitted it must only appoint senior responsible owners to IT projects if they have the “relevant delivery skills and experience”.

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The government has decided it should only appoint senior responsible owners to IT projects if they have the “relevant delivery skills and experience”.

The “revelation” appears in a new ‘Lessons Learned’ official document that follows scores of delayed or failed IT projects, including the Ministry of Justice’s troubled C-Nomis scheme, where an individual with no IT project experience was appointed as SRO. The National Audit Office called the scheme a “masterclass in sloppy project management”.

A number of other key IT projects have slipped well past deadline or hit serious hurdles, including the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT – which has lost two of its four key suppliers and is at least four years late – and the Ministry of Defence’s £7.1 billion DII scheme where work has been dramatically accelerated to cut delays.

The latest Lessons Learned report from the Office of Government Commerce focuses on experience from the office’s Gateway Reviews, which are the government’s official assessments of its own projects and how they should proceed. The report assesses the role of SROs, who have personal responsibility for the successful delivery of projects.

SROs would be more effective, the OGC said, if they had the right experience – a subject highlighted in recent years in project reviews by the Committee of Public Accounts and National Audit Office. Only the “right people” should be SROs, it said.

SROs needed to have the “authority”, the time and resources to resolve issues, the OGC said. Most SROs spent less than a fifth of their time on the projects, and were in the role for only 18 months on average, it noted.

It highlighted problems recruiting SROs, saying there was punishment for failure but a lack of recognition for success.

But the report also placed responsibility on the SROs themselves to “take responsibility” to understand the business issues involved, and act when anything is going wrong. They also needed to negotiate well, broker relationships, work effectively with project managers, and “be honest” about project progress.

Nigel Smith, chief executive at the OGC, said SROs were “crucial” in the delivery of projects. He added: "By developing and supporting the senior responsible owners of major projects, we will help to deliver projects more successfully, ensuring value for taxpayers' money."

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