The National Audit Office, and many other evaluators and report writers, must be heartily sick of finding, time and time again, that projects had gone badly wrong because senior officials had failed to undertake very basic project initiation and planning. This web page summarises the key elements of this planning process.
First, you need to sit down, think hard about, write down, and agree the following with key stakeholders, including Ministers:
- What is the result you want to achieve?
- What are the causal factors that influence that result?
- What policy interventions will make a difference?
- What is the evidence?
- Who do you rely on to deliver?
You should also think hard, up front, about the following three critical factors for successful delivery.
Critical Success Factor 1: The right scope: Any investment of time or money must be linked to clear outcomes that support strategic objectives. And goals must be realistic and based on knowledge of what is achievable.
Critical Success Factor 2: Adequate skills and resources, matched to the demands of the program/project.
Critical Success Factor 3: Good processes for delivery based on approaches that are likely to work.
Planning for Delivery
Once you have thought long and hard about the above issues, and ensured that Ministers and other key stakeholders agree with your conclusions, you can then settle down to detailed planning. The following are the nine main questions you will need to answer. You should therefore prepare and circulate, including to Ministers, a detailed plan which answers each of these questions.
- What is the scope? What is to be delivered - and when?
- What resources and capabilities (people, physical resources and funding) will you need?
- What are the potential sources of such capabilities?
- Who will carry out the required processes and policies?
- Who will be accountable for what?
- Which similar projects have succeeded – and why?
- What is an acceptable balance of cost, benefit and risk?– and how should they be managed?
- How you will work with other delivery agents and stakeholders to share information and knowledge?
- How will you monitor and report progress? What performance measures and incentives will you need?
Finally, remember the very well known frequent causes of failure:
- unclear objectives and success criteria;
- insufficient involvement of key stakeholders;
- weak risk management;
- unclear roles and responsibilities;
- lack of appropriate skills;
- weak financial control;
- poor market knowledge;
- inadequate understanding of IT challenges.
These failures won’t happen on your watch, will they?!