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Professionalising the work with large scale IT projects

18-08-2014 Column

Even though it’s only three years since we started our systematic work on professionalising the way we run our large-scale governmental IT projects, I think we have come a long way.

When we established the Inter-ministerial Project Office we first of all focused upon project management and management of risks because too many governmental IT projects overran their budget and time schedule.

In January 2011 we introduced the governmental IT project model and began the risk assessment and follow-up processes of large-scale IT projects in cooperation with the Danish Council for IT projects. My experience is that the authorities are positive towards the new project regime and recognize the value of our feedback although they still think that is quite a mouthful.

Since January 2001 it has been mandatory for governmental authorities to apply the governmental IT project model to their IT projects and to have their large-scale IT projects (with a budget of more than 10 mio. DKK) risk assessed by the Danish Council for IT Projects. This is stated in the the Budgetvejledning (Ministry of Finance budget guidelines).

The Inter-ministerial Project Office acts as secretariat for the Danish Council for IT projects and is responsible for developing the governmental IT project model. 

The members of the Danish Council for IT projects are senior managers from both the public and the private sector.

At present, we only have a few of the so-called old IT projects left. These are projects that started up before 2011 and hence have neither been using the model nor been risk assessed by the Council. We follow these projects closely and along the way we have a good dialogue with the responsible authorities if they experience problems with their projects.

We currently have around 40 large IT projects following the project regime and we are about to experience the first large group of project closures. Within the next year and a half we will see how the project owners complete the projects and realize the expected benefits. Does the regime work - and which challenges are we still to solve?

Professionalisation is an ongoing process

I am sure that our focus upon risks and project management and the other initiatives have contributed to increase the level of competencies which we need to run successful governmental IT projects. Nevertheless, we must be careful to believe that we can avoid overruns on budget and time schedule in governmental IT projects in the future.

Project models, risk assessment and status reporting is not in itself a guarantee for projects to succeed. We have taken some important first steps on the way to professionalisation is, but we must be willing to continue our work to improve.

Here, at the Agency of Digitization we are in the process of implementing a comprehensive model for project management of all projects with a budget of more than one million DKK, and I know from experience that it is certainly not something that happens overnight. On the other hand, we have already experienced that our organisation has developed positively and that we as managers have gotten a significantly better basis to keep our projects on track.

IT projects are unpredictable by nature

IT projects are unpredictable by nature and we must regard them as such and this is one part of what we as responsible leaders should be even better at. We are currently considering how to provide our steering groups with tools that will increase their competences in handling this huge responsibility.

Projects are organised in a way that challenges the traditional line organisation in the government sector and we must find a way to handle this as well. In the UK they educate their general-directors at the University of Oxford. It is hardly an approach that we will copy directly, but we can certainly draw inspiration from the content.

Still much to do

One of the other areas in which we have room for further development is that of benefits realization. The transition from project to business and IT operations is also a theme we will focus upon this year, because planning for a smooth transition to operations starts early in the project.

Well, and then of course we must continue our work to ensure the expected quality of our deliveries. We must stay focused on usability and user involvement in general, we must ensure reuse and consistency across solutions and IT architecture, and we must improve the way we handle security and privacy issues.

There are plenty of interesting themes to address, and we do so with joy - one step at a time!

Lars Frelle-Petersen