Posts

How poor governance causes projects to fail

I was recently involved in a discussion about an IT project that was facing challenges, where the IT expert from one of the Big Four consulting firms who was with us introduced me to a new term, “project governance.” I liked it, for it places emphasis on the leadership that guides the progress of the project, ensuring that the technical folk involved are able to guide it to a smooth launch, while overcoming the inevitable challenges and setbacks that come their way.

I smiled as I heard about the issues preventing this software system from going live, for it reminded me of all my turbulent years in the IT-vendoring business. I was filled with nostalgia as I contributed to the discussion, where those involved described what ails them and what they’re doing about it. I’ve not been active in that arena for many years, but what struck me was how familiar it all sounded.

Amazing in a way, as so much has changed in the IT world since I left it – never mind since I joined it in 1967. Yet what I saw was that, to translate from the French, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least the governance aspects.

So what were the issues preventing the new generation system from going live? I am certainly not going to bore or confuse you with the technical ones, but here’s what emerged at the governance level. First, the overseas-based vendor was not sending appropriate technical experts to solve them, and when matters were escalated to their head office they sent another who had to study everything from scratch.

Meanwhile at the user end they kept coming up with changes that interfered with the smooth flow of the process. The longer this went on the more complicated finding solutions became, and so the consultant proposed a comprehensive review of the project by an independent external expert.

Now here’s another example of the need for robust project governance: the digitisation of the courts. It was back in the eighties when the IT company I was leading first introduced word processing into Kenya’s judiciary, an institution that was then – as it is now – very far behind the times in using technology. And that’s putting it mildly.

It was 10 years ago that they had a go at bringing in digital courts, where lawyers and their clients could interact with judges via video link. But the facilities quickly fell into disuse, just as the attempt to have stenographers transcribe court proceedings in real time faded out, leaving the judges to continue with the manual note taking they had been used to. The Court Management Information System introduced in Dr Willy Mutunga’s time as Chief Justice is also not in use.

So with the Coronavirus crisis forcing the closing down of the physical courts, what change management will the judiciary finally put itself through to ensure that it joins the rest of us in the 21st century? What energised project governance will it introduce to make a virtue out of the necessity of the day?

How will the appropriate financial and human resources be made available to ensure that this time what everyone knows should happen does so? In the past, going way back to my awkward 1980s project, the launch of the new IT system faded out when the enthusiastic and competent person leading the initiative left the judiciary, and I understand this has happened since.

This time we must not allow that to happen. There is so much technology expertise in this Silicon Savannah of ours. Let us bring in whomever we need and provide the necessary resources so that better late than never we see this vital arm of government take advantage of what technology can offer to transform its effectiveness and its integrity.

This time we must ensure that the right kind of project governance takes these projects to the point where they become the new normal, leading us to ask why it didn’t happen much sooner. And a final thought. I’m a great fan of the Rapid Results Approach: go for 90-day quick-win objectives, and empower the team to break through all the bureaucracy. Get going, members of the judiciary, and this time make it stick.