So why do many government IT projects fail?

Ian Watmore, Head of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, was before the Public Accounts Committee last month and in a recent article from ComputerWeekly he talked openly and frankly about what is going wrong with public sector IT projects.

Here’s a highlight of where they’ve been going wrong:

  • Too many initiatives on the go at any one time
  • Wasting money hiring external consultants
  • Keeping alive failing projects which should be stopped early and cheaply
  • Opposition to change, especially in the diversity of hiring, ex private sector employees have to “fight against the machine” to fit in the public sector world
  • Translation of policies from Whitehall to the front line of project delivery – there needs to be an understanding of the problems of implementation
  • Key delivery staff are not in the job long enough to see the project through to completion
  • Delivery staff are not experienced enough – especially lacking are people who have been round the block a few times and the issue of succession planning when key staff move off projects

“The biggest surprise of the hearing came when Watmore agreed with Conservative MP Richard Bacon that Gateway reviews should be published”, now that should make for interesting reading should that initiative ever come to fruition. Of course the other viewpoint would be, would the gateway reviews be open and honest or just doctored for public viewing?

Interesting article that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything new but aren’t all these things fixable? How many more months, years of project failure does the government need before focusing on the factors above? It sounds like the guy in charge is making inroads but ultimately is the government too much of a giant beast to change?

Be interested to hear your thoughts?


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  1. Most of these issues are about project tams and members.

    Also worh considering are stakeholders and sponsors.

    Do they know what they want? Can they work realistically with the constrainst in place?

    Are the stakehodlers stable during the life of a project or do people move in and out of key roles constantly?

  2. How about another view?

    Government Projects are set up to fail!

    Why do I say this?

    If you look at many projects which are initiated by the Government my impression is that they are NOT properly scoped in terms of Cost, Timescales and Technical Difficulty (Risk) as they would have to be if a commercial organisation were to be taking on this endeavour. Many projects seem to have “nominal” budgets, timescales etc when they are launched and then when it all goes “wrong” people get up in arms about the failure of yet another project!

    Maybe the truth is that these projects are deemed to be in the “national interest” or are a “pet” project for some politician and therefore they will go ahead no matter what the “real cost”. As such they are launched against a nominal “finger in the air” budget and then managed through the various stages of the lifecycle knowing that the Public Purse will pay, whatever the real cost because the Government of the day wants whatever the deliverable is. Maybe it would be impossible to develop a true cost up front, or even worse maybe the “true” cost would cause a national outcry before the project was even initiated and therefore be difficult to justify and get off the ground!

    Not wishing to be deemed a “conspiracy theorist” but, maybe this is why the results of OGC Gateway reviews are not published and openly available in the public domain. Surely if this process has any real value the truth must start to surface once projects are initiated and the detail is flushed out? Stalling delivery of such facts makes ongoing delivery easier to justify as it is much harder to say pull the plug when we have already spent £6Bn with a cost to complete of a mere £1.5Bn more!

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