The National Audit Office’s (NAO) call for compulsory safeguards for major government IT projects could signal the start of a new focus on quality assurance. It proposes an assurance system costed at £8.3 million annually that would better disseminate information to key decision makers, thus reducing the risk of project failure.
By Helen Beckett [Published 10/06/2010]
Project management of software and information architectures in any sector presents a considerable challenge as Rex Gibson, business development director of Focus on Training, explains. “Its origins are in the construction and engineering industries where it was conceived to aid the delivery of tangible, solid products”.
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The difficulties of managing ‘intangible’ products are escalated in central government where, according to the government watchdog, "high-risk projects are frequently large scale, innovative and reliant on complex relationships between diverse stakeholders. Such projects frequently present a level of risk that no commercial organisation would consider taking on. Projects can fail to deliver to time, cost and quality."
A variety of qualifications currently attempt to prepare projects managers for the difficult job and contain a component of quality assurance. Prince 2 is the standard in government circles for practitioners while the Association for Project Managers offer complementary training of appropriate behaviours for project managers. A parallel qualification for managing the delivery of services is ITIL and this has a heavier focus of managing ongoing process.
Bright future for analysts and testers
Looking to the future, Gibson predicts that a fresh interest in quality assurance will affect project management at both ends of the spectrum of disciplines, and will require more business-analyst and software tester roles.
"A role of QA is to make sure you define goals that are appropriate to the business need," he says. Similar to the function of business analysts, “it’s about defining the level of fit between any service and the needs of the business,” says Gibson. Equally, at the other end of the quality assurance ‘factory belt’, there has to be more thorough software testing in place, he says.
The NAO has proposed that government can build on its successes by ensuring that the new system of assurance does the following:
• has a clear mandate
• is non-optional
• is outcome-focussed
• is built on a higher and more exacting evidence base
• triggers further interventions where necessary
• provides the ability to plan and resource assurance activity
• systematically propagates lessons learned, and
• minimises the burden placed on projects.
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