Anyone reading the report of the Audit Commission on a new infrastructure and IT systems upgrade for council staff in Haringey, north-east London, could conclude that the project had been managed like a badly run small family business.
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The Tech Refresh project has cost nearly £25m - more than double its original budget of £9m - and the report of the Audit Commission, which audits the books of local councils, makes grim reading.
After detailing a project running out of control, the commission said, "From the documents available to us, it is unclear how budgetary control was exercised."
Now it seems Haringey's ruling councillors are determined to right the wrongs highlighted in the report.
They have announced a comprehensive action plan to ensure that Tech Refresh and other projects are run more openly, with stronger lines of accountability and better reporting to councillors.
Having spent heavily on outside consultants, Haringey had the action plan produced by its own staff, using the Audit Commission report for guidance.
A spokesman said, "The action plan responding to the Audit Commission report was produced in-house by our improvement and performance team, which is now skilled up in project management and, under the action plan, will be taking a central role in projects of this kind."
The council said that by April 2006 projects will be mapped to the new structures and by June 2006 the new meeting arrangements for councillors will be in place.
The Audit Commission is expected to check this month whether the council's action plan is an adequate response to its criticisms of the Tech Refresh project.
Haringey's action plan
The Haringey Council action plan provides a checklist for local authorities and other organisations to measure whether they have in place appropriate mechanisms to help ensure that IT projects are run on well structured lines.
Council's key actions
- Monitor expected costs against actual costs.
- Consider using "subject matter experts" to "challenge the design of future projects" and give independent, external advice.
- Ensure there are Gateway reviews at key stages in a project's life.
- Have an independent representative on project boards.
- Ensure that details of all major projects are entered onto the council's corporate risk register to "provide visibility and transparency".
- Ensure that internal auditors review a sample of projects to check they adhere to project management processes. They will also verify that there is adequate reporting to the council.
- Ensure there are clear audit trails for decision making on projects.
Set up steering groups of councillors
New steering groups of councillors will lead stream boards to give "political steer, strategic direction and democratic oversight." They will not have operational control, which is the job of council officers.
The groups will comprise the lead councillor or councillors for the relevant portfolio, the director for the service area and the project sponsor for major projects attached to the stream board. The councillors will:
- Set strategic direction for projects within their stream.
- Monitor reports detailing progress against key milestones and budgets.
- Scrutinise key risks and issues without involvement in project management.
- Pick up links and interdependencies with other portfolios.
Establish stream boards
There will be a stream board for each key priority to help ensure that all major service areas are covered. Members of the management board will chair the stream board relevant to their line management responsibility.
A representative from corporate finance will sit on each stream board to ensure that finance has an overview of the cost implications of all the council's major projects. When needed, a member of the change team will sit on stream boards.
The project sponsor/board for major projects will be required to report to the stream and programme board any significant change requests, classified as budget overspends in excess of £25,000, any slippage to the overall implementation date for the project, or material changes to the scope of the scheme.
Set up independent PMO
An independent programme management office (PMO) will be set up, in part to provide "strong leadership" on the council's improvement agenda.
The PMO will work with the IT programme management office and the change team to ensure that this good practice is captured and disseminated.
"It is vital that the programme manager has a strategic understanding of the council's business so that they are able to challenge and police programme projects effectively."
The PMO will:
- Produce the programme highlight report and monitor progress.
- Track interdependencies and staff resources.
- Flag concerns with individual projects to stream and programme boards.
- Monitor attendance at project boards and stream boards.
- Ensure audit trails exist and are easily accessible for all projects.
- Maintain a library of project documentation and minutes of meetings for programme projects.
- Capture and disseminate the lessons learned from completed projects.
- Be a repository of best practice in project management.
- Track benefits against each of the projects and for the programme as a whole.
Ensure budgets are monitored
Major spending on projects will be detailed in service business plans. "We will strengthen this further by ensuring that a member of corporate finance will sign off project briefs and project initiation documents and ensure proper consideration of risk is included."
Financial management roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined. There will be changes to the "programme highlight report" to ensure that major budget variations are reported.
The council said it will ensure that actual and budgeted costs are reported and discussed, including those covering project staff, meetings, expenses, overtime, quality assurance staff, user testing, consultancy, hardware, software, installation, infrastructure, licences and temporary workers.
Review change request process
One of the Audit Commission's criticisms was that the council allowed £7.1m of change requests without keeping adequate records of reporting to the council. Change requests are variations and extensions to the contract, specification or its scope.
The council said, "The project sponsor/board for major projects will be required to report to stream and programme board any significant change requests." These include any budget changes and adjustments over £25,000, slippage to the overall timescales and implementation dates or material changes in the scope of a scheme.
The £25,000 limit applies to the cumulative total of change requests as well as individual ones. Changes costing less than £25,000 must be reported to the project board for agreement.
Improve reporting to the council
The council said it will ensure that if risks on major projects materialise and the project's leaders are unable to identify savings to offset extra costs, details must be reported to the programme board and the authority's executive committee of councillors.