Whenever an airliner crashes, two questions demand answers:
Oddly enough, if the investigation seeks to answer the first question, it becomes very difficult to achieve the goal of the second question. If people are afraid of punishment, they are reluctant to provide information which can and will be used against them. The investigation of airline incidents always focus on the second question and aviation has enjoyed an excellent and improving safety record because of it.
The city of Zurich has “pulled the plug” on “ELUSA” (or FAMOZ, as it was originally known). This system to integrate the operations of four departments of the city’s social services office was originally budgeted at 11 million CHF, but after several rounds of additional financing was now expected to cost 29 million. Stopping the project will limit the costs to 26 Million. The politician are speaking of a disaster, citizens are expressing disgust, and the suppliers are saying ‘we’re being made into scapegoats.’
Is this case exceptional? According to the Tages-Anzeiger, 75% of the functionality is completed and operational, the costs are 235% of the original budget, and the project was restarted at least once. According to criteria of the Standish group’s CHAOS report, this large project would be considered challenged: “completed and operational but over-budget, over the time estimate, and offers fewer features and functions than originally specified.
According to the CHAOS report, 61.5% of all large projects are challenged, only 9% are successful and the rest fail. 94% of all challenged or failed projects restart at least once. The average cost overrun is about 180% of the original budget. So this project is in many ways typical and based on the numbers comes into the “top 25%” of project failures.
Why did this project have to end in a disaster? 75% of the functionality is available. According to other work of the Standish Group, 64% of the functionality developed in such projects is seldom or never used. So if the project had implemented the ‘right’ 36% first, i.e. the functionality that is needed frequently or every day, the project could have been stopped long ago and as a success and at a figure close to the original budget.
Why did this crash have to happen? The first Chaos report was published in 1995. This is not the first or even the biggest ‘plane crash’ of a Swiss government IT project. If this had been an airplane crash, the safety authorities would be crawling over the scene of the accident; politicians and the flying public would demand that the causes be identified and the
Why can’t an IT failure be treated like a plane crash? Why are failures used for political gain rather than as a basis for learning? Why can’t we have an IT Project Safety Board, which investigates “accidents” and makes recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future?
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