Nov 26, 2019

How to improve public sector IT programmes with five simple interventions

Vassilis Serafeimidis

Vassilis Serafeimidis

How to improve public sector IT programmes with five simple interventions

Last year, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s Annual Report showed that a third of major programmes delivered by 16 government departments and public bodies were distressed or failing. Most of these would likely go on to be delayed and exceed their budgets.  

Read next: How can public sector use AI effectively? Part 1 The government’s transformation portfolio includes many vital projects that promise nearly £50 billion in benefits. Therefore, any delays are of national importance. The need to improve programme delivery is stronger than ever as IT is embedded in many aspects of these programmes.  

Over the years, the delivery of IT programmes has improved enormously as leaders and professionals have adopted standardised ways of delivery, brought in qualified project managers and adopted new ways of working, such as agile.  

However, at the same time, technology solutions have increased in complexity and business expectations are higher. Within this landscape, we see a trend of specific programme disciplines being overlooked that could significantly improve programme delivery. 

We believe that a clearer focus on the following areas exponentially increases the value of the programme. These suggestions are in addition to best practice elements on risk and issues management, planning, dependencies management, and so on.  

1. Define the programme’s objectives 

Good programme definitions are essential for achieving your strategic business goals. To do that, you need to be clear about your scope, objectives and priorities on only those things that will deliver the value you need and at the time they are expected. Too often, agile delivery is used as an excuse for not agreeing scope and success criteria. Ensuring these are all agreed and are realistic from lower-to higher stakeholders and that the right people are involved at each level. You should also review them on a regular basis as the programme context shifts.  

2. Ensure that your programme delivers value for every release, not just the first 

One of the most overlooked programme disciplines is requirements management or in other words the definition of the “problem to solve”.  An objective-driven approach to requirements will not only help ensure a quality output but also alignment with these expectations. Ensuring business requirements are translated in technology enablers, agreed with the business owners (or product owners), and reviewed regularly will lead to better results.   

3. Control the technology choices and delivery risks 

It’s all too easy to have technologists design something that doesn’t relate back to a business architecture or the operating model. Digital and business alignment is essential throughout the delivery of the programme if you’re going to realise your strategic objectives and benefits. Using prototypes and MVPs ensure that the business can assess the suitability and value of the technical solution early on and in the future. You can do this by adopting an agile way of working and adhere to GDS’s proposed ways of working.  

4. Embed realistic budget and costs management  

If your programme isn’t using actual cost and delivery metrics to inform forecasts, you’re missing an opportunity to minimise delivery risks and business benefits. We’ve all seen the project that has spent 80% of its first quarter budget but only delivered 50% of the tasks/deliverables. Finance would declare this under budget rather than overspent with a major timeline challenge. Close budget management taking into account your delivery velocity and forecasts will keep the budget in green. 

5. Understand the data needed to successfully deliver your programme  

You must recognise what data is vital and meet the regulatory, security and compliance obligations like GDPR, PCI and DSS. Understanding and defining the programme’s data model is an important architectural and business decision your programme will have to make. This will allow you to sweep any potential solution with an arsenal of pre-defined considerations that have been outlined from day one. 

Robust application of these programme disciplines will produce significant improvements across your project delivery, and ultimately result in success that delivers the value and benefits expected.  

In a nutshell

Successful IT programme delivery requires a number of contributing factors. Starting with the right method / approach, the right balance between technology and business and managing carefully core programme elements such as its objectives, requirements, budgets and data.  

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