Thursday, May 20, 2010

From Organizational Stupidity to IT Disaster

@robbowley and @flowchainsensei have been looking at @tonyrcollins Anatomy of an IT disaster (November 2009).

Tony's article extracted several key points from the Public Accounts Committee report (pdf) on the C-Nomis project. As he points out, C-Nomis is by no means an isolated example of failure, and much the same could be said of other big IT-based change programmes such as the NPfIT. So I thought I'd try and map his key points against the Symptoms of Organizational Stupidity I outlined a few days ago.

On a preliminary analysis of Tony's summary, at least six of these symptoms are strongly indicated, and can be clearly linked to a very poor outcome. I should be very interested to carry out a more detailed analysis.


  • Bending the truth. "The programme team running C-NOMIS reported that the programme was delivering on time and to budget, when it was not."
  • Over-optimistic 'good news' culture.
  • NOMS significantly underestimated the technical complexity of the project.


  • No-one was actively monitoring the budget .
  • NOMS cannot provide the detail.


  • There was no sustained effort by NOMS to simplify and standardise its business processes reflecting management's misplaced confidence in C-NOMIS, their unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved by an IT solution and their underestimation of the time and costs to deliver it.
  • "Prison and probation information requirements were quite different and each of the 42 probation areas had different ways of working. End-to-end offender management was little more than a concept, and what it meant in practice and the IT needed to support it had not been worked through."


  • Remarkable lack of insight and rigour, coupled with naivety and over-optimism.
  • No-one has been held to account. ... The vacuum of leadership within NOMS contributed to confusion and created challenges for suppliers and the project team.


  • Poor decision taking and weak project management on many occasions. The same lessons have still not been learnt.
  • It is deeply depressing that after numerous highly critical PAC reports on IT projects in recent years, the same mistakes have occurred once again.


  • Serious failure to understand the magnitude and cost of the changes which would be needed.

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