On time, on budget. Police get it cracked

Building industry clues lead to project management success

Clear, systems-driven project management has enabled British Transport Police (BTP) to successfully complete a wide-ranging 18-month IT modernisation programme covering six major projects.

BTP's IT department is using web-based management software and has adopted project management techniques borrowed from the construction industry to hit its deadlines and budgets for all the projects.

Andrew Watson, BTP's head of technology, said that targets were hit across the board and all 38 employees were put through IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) accreditation.

BTP's key project was to build a nationwide fast voice/data IP network to cover the UK's railway and underground systems. Watson said all the projects used widely available technologies that were "leading rather than bleeding edge".

Mark Blowers, a senior analyst at Butler Group, said BTP's success was particularly significant. "Large multi-site public sector IT projects have very similar issues to businesses with multiple offices. Both need to ensure visibility, a common view and effective control of projects," he said.

Although it put some pressure on resources, Watson said the adoption of ITIL practices over the same period was crucial to keeping BTP's IT programme on track.

"ITIL gives us clear accountability, clear processes for dealing with incidents and problems, and better control around all the various hardware and software assets we have."

The department is using Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EPM) software to manage its IT projects, and Watson said the simplicity of the web-based tool had proved a boon. "It offers a clean web environment, and is simple and effective. I have found some other project management tools are good, but add too much complexity."

Watson structured his team around a group of project managers, but retained overall governance of the projects, while remaining "aloof from the detailed work".

Watson said his experience in the construction industry had helped to deliver the IT projects on time and to budget. "In construction, if you plan a project, you deliver a project. For all the simultaneous projects that were going on, you just apply project management principles to it and make it happen," he said.

"Overly complex project management is the root cause of a lot of failed projects; if it does not need to be complicated, keep it simple. This was probably the main lesson from my 12 years in construction."

A test of the IT team's flexibility came with the July 2005 bombings in London. BTP quickly had to modify its voice over IP Vivista command and control system to cope with the thousands of extra officers involved in the investigation.

During the programme, costs rose from £5.6m to £8m. This covered increases in staff, training and consultancy, and application support and licensing.

Read article: Tackling complexity

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