According to the consulting firm iTSM Group, imprecise formulation of project objectives, unclear distribution of competences and, in part, inadequate training and skills in the application of project management methods are the most frequent causes of the failure of IT projects in public administration. And such failure is not uncommon - according to various studies, only every second project in this area is successfully completed. So when the German Federal Audit Office (Bundesrechnungshof) recently massively criticized major delays in the huge digitization project of the Federal Government, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
According to iTSM, the lack of precision in the formulation of the project objectives leads to a lack of orientation on the part of those involved in the project and on the other hand to a dangerous life of their own in sub-projects that lack a common goal and cannot be meaningfully integrated in the end. The consequences are subsequent improvements, delays or even the failure of the entire project.
Undefined or even competing competencies are another noticeable problem when different departments or multiple authorities are involved in a project. According to iTSM, constructive cooperation is often replaced by the pursuit of particular interests, which makes it more difficult to act effectively. In such a constellation, in extreme cases someone is given decision-making authority, but cannot enforce decisions across the entire project. In the digitisation project of the German Federal Government, for example, project management lies with the Ministry of the Interior, which has no authority to issue directives to other ministries and service providers involved.
According to iTSM, even insufficient skills in the application of project management methods often lead to considerable problems. According to the consultants, project managers are often appointed mainly on the basis of their technical expertise, whereby elementary skills for the management and control of projects are not sufficiently taken into account. Such project managers then usually have little or no experience with methodologies for project management like PRINCE2®, which is therefore inefficient - with the result that budgets and deadlines are exceeded. Overall, according to the consultants' experience, controlling is not accorded adequate importance either. Too often, measurable criteria are replaced by a diffuse gut feeling when evaluating partial results or project progress.
But even if a project can be technically implemented within the set budget and time frame, success is not yet guaranteed. Lack of acceptance among users is one of the most frequent reasons why project goals are not achieved. In such a case, the internal project marketing and accompanying change management activities were neglected in order to involve the users right from the start, to make the path to new technologies transparent to them and also to show them their own advantages.
"A clear strategic objective, a precise description of the benefits and a solid economic calculation are the cornerstones of every successful IT project, also in public administration," comments Tobias Beckmann, Head of Digital Services Advisory at iTSM Group. "Competent project management and the use of established project methods also help to avoid undesirable developments and delays. In addition, test and rollout must be carefully planned and the users must be consistently supported in order to ensure a smooth transfer to ongoing operations."