When we work with our clients, both in the public and private sector, there’s nothing more satisfying than being part of ensuring a project is successful. Through good quality assurance practices, projects have a better chance of delivering on time, on budget. While we incorporate methodologies that are best practice internationally, we also keep an eye on how QA is being rolled out in other countries, often taking learnings into our own work.
We recently read a fascinating article from IT News Australia, about the role that quality assurance played in improving project efficiency and delivery in New South Wales. The successes there exemplify just how important a QA function is within a project governance framework.
Challenges with IT projects blowing out in NSW
IT News reported that the NSW government’s ICT projects were consistently over spending leading up to 2016, with a ‘series of costly overruns on big IT projects’. Implementation of platforms such as student management systems – often highly complex in nature, were demanding significant excess in budget leading up to the NSW government addressing the problem directly.
Building a framework of assurance
These overruns triggered the establishment of a dedicated ‘ICT and digital assurance unit’ by NSW, which included a ‘strict new IT assurance framework’ through which to conduct reviews of government initiatives within the digital space.
Requirements for assurance are determined by strict criteria, with projects valued at more than $5 million or considered of significant importance or concern requiring assurance under the new framework.
The framework and unit are responsible for signing off ICT projects that fall within this criteria, as well as checking in throughout the life of the project to conduct a ‘health check’ (sound familiar?).
Reduction in size of budget overruns
The result of this initiative by the NSW government has been massive in the following 3-4 years after its introduction. A reported 93% reduction in the amount of project budget blowouts paints a compelling picture – something that as QA experts we aren’t surprised to see but nonetheless satisfied to read! The review also points out there has been no significant budget overage in projects.
Shorter, more efficient projects
Along with getting excess spending under control, the assurance framework has also worked to keep the size of projects down as well, with an average project cost in the state reducing by 55%.
The report also raises another win for the initiative – projects are 17.5% shorter than pre-2017, meaning that the solutions delivered have less chance of ‘becoming obsolete during a project’s lifetime’. Analytics and insights senior manager Barnaby Waights commented that projects are also now ‘less risky’, given they are often broken up into smaller more manageable chunks that can be monitored.
The importance of a project ‘health check’
This result from the NSW government following the introduction of the new assurance unit and accompanying framework reinforces the importance of not only a good set of practices at the start of a project, but states a fairly clear case for why ongoing QA to manage the health of the project is also critical.
How can these learnings be applied to New Zealand?
In New Zealand, the mechanism to deliver assurance services is more fragmented. Treasury’s Investment Management & Asset Performance (IMAP) team focuses on improving the effectiveness of investment management, and DIA’s Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO) is responsible for system assurance of state sector digital. Through Gateway reviews and other assurance functions, the government can have a view on the effectiveness of project delivery within government agencies.
Even though we don’t have a single entity responsible for assurance in the way the NSW State Government does, we can still apply the learnings from NSW’s successes.
Breaking projects down into smaller, frequently delivering increments, and creating a less risky delivery approach are commonly understood mechanisms to increase success. But they’re hard to implement when your stakeholders want the next “big thing” or you’re under pressure to “just get going”. We believe that the insights like those covered by IT News reinforce the case for having a baseline IQA review for any significant project in both public and private sector organisations. The introduction of such requirements can save an organisation (and the taxpayer or its shareholders) from making a costly mistake at the beginning.
IQANZ works with many government agencies in much the same way as the digital assurance unit – we draw upon a depth of knowledge, experience and globally-recognised leading project methodologies to help our clients’ projects succeed.