Consistency of approach was a core theme in the recommendations of Sir Peter Gershon in his review of the Government’s use of ICT (2008).
Gershon recommended consistency of governance – a whole of government strategic vision for ICT and funding that moves away from ‘business as usual’ funding to an efficiency-based approach.
‘Business as Usual’ is Unreliable
The Gershon Review makes it clear that a large proportion of funding for ICT projects comes out of divisional operational budgets rather than strategic allocation of finds by the executive or through the Federal budget process.
This essentially means that the approval process and assessment of the return on the investment of those funds is left up to an operational area to determine rather than being driven strategically by the organisation.
“The business as usual (BAU) ICT funding in agencies is not subject to sufficient challenge and scrutiny (page 2).” Gershon recommends that the Government put a stop this approach to project funding so as to ensure there is greater visibility of and rigour about how project funds are managed.
A good example would be where a manager in a large agency may decide to investigate alternative options for mobile phone service provision. A staff member was put in charge of the research and a tender ensued. At no stage may this activity be identified as a project and as such may not subject to the kind of scrutiny that procurement activity such as this should be subject to (a business case, risk management and outcome assessment).
Another example might be grant funding. Grants are usually managed as part of a larger program and administered by a small section within a branch. They often don’t sufficiently identify and manage stakeholder needs so you find a situation where, for example SMEs (often the target recipients) have neither resources nor expertise to apply and so grant money remains unawarded.
This type of approach is far too common and will continue as long as senior Government executives do not recognise the importance of project management to general business as well as new programs.
A Common Approach to Measurement
Transformed believes the old adage rings true: “What gets measured gets managed.”
“It is also evident that there are no common metrics for measuring ICT efficiency or the effectiveness of an agency’s ICT spend (Gershon pg 58.)”
With large capital projects, in most cases control mechanisms such as 1st and 2nd pass approval process and Gateway Reviews have been stipulated. These require strict outcome deliverables that have to be measured and met for funding to continue.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have projects funded out of organisational budgets for which scrutiny is applied according to each manager’s whims. Even if performance measures are identified at the outset, there are no guarantees that those measures will be applied.
Gateway is a Good Solution
At present, only projects above the cost threshold go through the Gateway review process.
Despite some teething problems, Gateway is a much more robust approach to managing and measuring projects that could be applied pretty easily much more widely. If Gateway was applied as a common approach to all projects, it would ensure consistency of approach and assessment of outcomes.
If the Government already has in place a good mechanism to improve project outcomes – Transformed feels compelled to ask the question – why aren’t they using it more extensively?
About the Author
Michael Young is Principal Consultant with ‘Transformed’ – Project Management Unleashed.