Select Committee on Public Accounts Twenty-First Report


COUNCIL FOR THE CENTRAL LABORATORY OF THE RESEARCH COUNCILS: ACCOUNTS 1997-98

PROJECT MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES

21. The current Chief Executive took up post on 1 April 1998, one year after the FAMIS system was scheduled for implementation. He sought promptly to initiate a project management approach. This included using the technical resources available from the Council's Department for Computation and Information, and commissioning an external review to identify the lessons learned. The Review Panel was heavily critical of the project management structure, which was based on methodology recommended by the contractor. The Chief Executive accepted the Panel's findings. Amongst other things, he has instituted a FAMIS Project Management Board to ensure that appropriate and sufficient technical and management resources both from the suppliers and the Council are brought swiftly to bear on problems or issues as they arise. The Council are now following a standard operating framework for Project Management based on Government and Industry best practices. The Council accept project management responsibility for the implementation of all processes critical to their operational efficiency.[25]

22. The Council told us that they had regarded FAMIS as an 'off-the-shelf' purchase rather than a project.[26] However, they now realised that the installation of any business-critical system should be treated as a project and run according to good project management practice.[27] The Council had also misjudged the scope and complexity of the project and these failings had led to time pressures that contributed significantly to the subsequent problems encountered. [28] The Review Panel had concluded, amongst other things, that the project management structure had failed to comply with best practice, particularly in terms of ensuring clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.[29] In response to our questions the Council accepted that they had made a mistake in relying entirely on the contractor to run the installation and to recommend the project management structure.[30]

23. We asked the Council why they had not introduced a proper management approach until a year after FAMIS had been due to be operational. They told us that management at the time had remained convinced that the problems should be sorted out by the prime contractor. Another factor had been that the nature of their organisation was that of a 'can do attitude' and this had resulted in them solving symptoms rather than causes.[31]

Conclusion

24. Whilst recognising the remedial actions introduced by the Chief Executive following his appointment on 1 April 1998, we find it unacceptable that the Council did not effectively grip the management of this project until over a year after the project implementation date and that they relied to such an extent on the contractor to manage the project. Also, we are surprised at the view taken by the Council at the outset that FAMIS could be treated as an off-the-shelf purchase rather than as a project. We consider that such a bespoke financial and management accounting system, being implemented to a demanding timescale, should have been regarded as a business-critical operation requiring good project management and we are astonished by the Council's failure to recognise this. However, we acknowledge the Council's undertaking to follow accepted project management procedures in future and to draw, where appropriate, on the expertise of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency.


25  C&AG's report, paras 37-41 Back

26  Q8 Back

27  Qs 2, 81-85 Back

28  C&AG's report, para 38, 1st bullet and Q5 Back

29  ibid, paras 37-38 Back

30  Qs 4, 8, 81-85 Back

31  Q9 Back


 
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