Agile project failure kills £15m Surrey Police system

A series of avoidable blunders led to the cancellation of a Surrey Police contract to build a bespoke record and case management system using Agile methodology, after £14.86 million had been spent.

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A series of avoidable blunders put an end to Surrey Police’s £14.86 million ICT contract which was shut down last year, but the cost to the tax-payer could be significantly more, an independent review has found.

Consultants Grant Thornton carried out the review into the contract to develop the SIREN system, to store criminal records, and log crimes so officers could map trends of offences across the county.

Grant Thornton found detailed a damning list of failures by the police and their contractor Memex, including a total failure to implement Agile methods, technology blunders and an inability to forecast cost benefits and report accurately to the governing board.

The fact the project had five Senior Responsible Officers and five Programme Managers before the plug was pulled, highlight the management and governance failures. Former Chief Constable Mark Rowley oversaw the contract, and has since moved on to become the assistant commissioner for specialist crime and operations in the Metropolitan Police. It was only under new Chief Constable Lynne Owen's tenure that PCC, Kevin Hurley, was told to shut the project down. 

The review, published yesterday, over a year after the project was terminated, has identified where the key points where the ICT team failed. It revealed that although the Police and Crime Commisioner for Surrey has quoted a £14.86 million figure as the “best available assessment of the full cost” to the taxpayer.

However, it added: ”In our view, there are some additional costs that have not been attributed to SIREN but which arguable would provider a truer reflection of the full project cost to the force. The Force did not maintain systems to record and quantify such costs.”

Grant Thornton not only highlighted the failings leading up to the termination of the SIREN ICT project in April last year, but pointed to significant delays in the roll-out - originally planned for 2009 but not implemented until 2011. The report also said the original business case for the project was fundamentally flawed, which meant the project would never have achieved any of its expectations.

The projected project cost benefits of £13.6 million over 15 years, “eroded significantly, calling into question how robustly they were scrutinised in the first place.”

Further, the report found dubious staff numbers, training resources and salary cost estimations, “which means it is unlikely the envisaged savings would have been delivered, even without the delay in the programme.”

“Ultimately, SIREN delivered no benefit: none of the above planned benefits were realised. In real cash terms, officers informed us that approximately £1 million had to be found elsewhere in the budget for the period that the project failed to deliver its anticipated benefits.”

Agile failures

The force chose Memex as its project partner for its commitment to Agile methodology, which they included in their tender as the way their solution would be delivered. But the review found that Agile techniques were never deployed.

It stated: “We can find no evidence that a functional specification for the system was ever formally agreed between the Force and Memex.”

Confusion filtered down to the staff managing the IT project. “The lack of understanding of the Agile approach was evident from our interviews of staff. None of the people we interviewed within the Force were able to say which particular variant of Agile was used."

Agile methodology offers quicker return on the basis of delivering iteratively – which can only be achieved through close collaboration between customer and supplier teams (Surrey Police and Memex).  The review found that this would never have been possible due to the geographical distance between each. The force, located in Surrey is 394 miles away from Memex, headquartered in Scotland.

During SIREN's short lifespan, there were more than 35 different versions of Microsoft project plans. Fourteen of these plans were entitled 'Replan'. The review found that the plans did not reflect Agile methodology, and in some cases "key milestones appear to be linked to the wrong activity". The review concluded that: "It is at times difficult to see how the plan was used effectively to manage the project".

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