Avoid adding risk and complexity to projects to achieve goals rapidly

Keeping things simple and resisting the temptation to start from scratch every time is the project approach favoured by the...

Keeping things simple and resisting the temptation to start from scratch every time is the project approach favoured by the technical director of a massive office automation programme across the criminal justice system of England and Wales.

John Wailing, a chartered IT professional through his professional grade membership of the BCS, told a recent meeting of the central London branch that the first rule was to "keep things simple".

"If you can do things simply, why not?" he said. "Do not be ambitious. Most people try to do too much - I prefer to do as little as possible to achieve results. Only do what is necessary as it keeps the risk down. Do not reinvent; try to reuse. Use methods that have been proved to work.

"Government projects tend to start with new requirements - there is a belief that everything is different, so you have to start afresh. But in criminal justice IT, what we really wanted was a case management system and workflow. It is better to use what is already there.

"Do not spend too long on requirements. Quickly show what you can do. The 80/20 rule [that 80% of the requirement can be met with 20% of the effort] seems to work. If you can knock something up quickly and show people what it might look like, they are encouraged and gain confidence. This approach also teases out things that IT and users do not quite understand."

Wailing's strategy means introducing a new system in stages rather than presenting a pilot.

"Pilots often do not bring value. I favour early implementation of something that is of real value to someone. Deliver in stages and gain credibility - but ensure it works on the day.

"Another trick is to surprise people. Generally, people are amazed when something works, so show them. When people see information running over the wire and turning up in their system, it is quite exciting."

Users and many others will be involved or represented in a project from the start, which is an issue that needs managing.

"In big projects there are lots of stakeholders and you need a structure to get decisions. You want decisions to be collectively made, with people really feeling they are behind them," Wailing said.

"This is very important. It is about people recognising the value of what you are trying to do and not feeling threatened. Be clear about the benefits of the system. This is important, not least to get buy-in."

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