Using the insanity clause for failed projects

If madness is repeating the same mistake over and over in the hope of achieving a different outcome, then we are all in trouble.

Another week passes in IT, another failed project emerges and the blame game is always the same.

Yes folks, the insanity continues and this time it was a Centrelink project written off to the tune of $64 million.

Dubbed the Edge Project, the goal was to develop a system to process family payment claims.

Instead it took developers to the edge of reason and Family and Community Services (FACS) executives to the edge of madness.

The project began in 1997 and initial pilots undertaken in 2002 were successful. Less than 12 months later a review recommended discontinuing development and disbanding the project.

This is a pretty radical shift but project management in the public sector is almost an oxymoron.

A review of the project released by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) last week, some two years after the project's demise, claims there were "tensions" between staff working on the system, no formal methodology and no big-picture plan that included a viable business case.

And I'm sure all these points are true and reasonable, but it is also worth noting the harsh realities of life in government.

In this six-year time frame there were two federal elections and plenty of changes to family entitlement programs including the introduction of a baby bonus (don't we love those well thought-out policy decisions made on the run during election campaigns?)

This is project methodology public-sector-style where talk-back radio jocks have more influence on system specifications than best practice.

Those involved in the project remain pretty tight-lipped, dutifully stating the project was shelved due to a "change in business direction by Centrelink" and it was not "something we could predict".

Even a Centrelink spokesman admitted the "goalposts were changed mid-game".

So often IT wears the blame for decisions made at the top of the foodchain. Project A is changed to Project B and management wonders how IT can get it so wrong. In the beginning, developers are handed a vanilla project, midway through it needs bells, this is soon followed by whistles and, inevitably, failure.

IT has little control over many of the decisions that lead to a failed project yet IT is so often tainted by the fallout of badly managed projects. I will concede IT hasn't always delivered but executives haven't been shy in exacting punishment.

The IT cost-cutting regime that followed the post dotcom recession was downright ugly.

Business executives can be pretty unforgiving when their over-inflated technology expectations are not met.

If they felt cheated during the tech recession, then IT professionals weren't feeling too dandy either, forced to endure years of limited resources and burnout.

Unfortunately, the "failed-project-insanity-syndrome" isn't likely to disappear in the near future.

Still dazed from the recession, companies continue to be confused about the role of IT and how it can be used to gain a competitive advantage. But IT isn't decreasing in importance, it is actually growing.

This means that you, the IT executive will be at the very forefront of this new frontier - with or without an insanity clause.

Have you had the goalposts changed mid-game? Send e-mails to sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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