Feeds

Doomed from the start: considering development risk

Hell for a developer is ...

The essential guide to IT transformation

Comment "Hell" for a developer is working on a project that is doomed to failure from the start. No matter how ill-conceived the business case and unreasonable the external constraints, the hapless developer still has a good chance of collecting the blame. And even if he escapes the massacre of the innocents (following on from the promotion of the guilty), the odour of failure clings to all involved.

But even worse is the feeling of working hard and professionally on something that is ultimately pointless. Why this train of thought should have led me onto a consideration of the NHS (National Health Service) National Programme for IT (NPfIT; see also NHS CfH; Connecting for Health is the DH agency responsible for delivery of NPfIT) I'm not sure, but this project does seem to exemplify one with high scores in all the risk categories I'd review before starting a project:

• It's a very large project, and the Government's record with large projects certainly isn't better than anyone else's.

• It involves massive changes to existing systems.

• It cuts across organisational boundaries (hospitals and GP surgeries, and uses outsourced services).

• It has legal/regulatory issues - doctors are responsible for the governance of patient records, and the Data Protection Act applies to much of the information.

• It is a highly visible project, raising considerable press interest.

• Top management (in this case, probably even our Prime Minister) is taking a lively and, possibly, ill-informed interest.

• It has safety-critical aspects.

• Resources are limited and, in theory, tightly controlled.

• It involves new technologies.

• Few of those involved can have much experience with similar projects - US healthcare is very different and the NHS is an unusually large operation, even in a global context.

An important first stage in any project is risk assessment, looking not only at project risk (the risk of the project failing) but also the operational and business risks the project will have to address (often, and somewhat misleadingly, called "non-functional requirements". Far better to embark on a high risk project with your eyes open, and some risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans, than with the "positive attitude" (aka hysterical optimism) so beloved of many of my past employers.

So, are there unconsidered risks with the NPfIT NHS project? Well, as I write this it looks as if there may have been, as a written answer in Parliament has disclosed that only £234 million (of the £6.2bn estimated for the project), under 5 per cent of the contracts outstanding, has been paid by CfH over 2 years in. This implies that the project as a whole may be slipping, and may introduce further risk, if suppliers aren't being paid enough to service their contracts properly.

Moreover, the installation of the new technologies is not proceeding as smoothly as one would like, I read, with service reliability and availability problems plaguing connections to the NHS spine over Christmas and the New Year. However, as CfH says, "The upgrade release to the NHS Care Record Service over the weekend of December 17 and 18, 2005, was the largest and most complex to date." But should that really mean that we must expect problems?

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Mozilla's 'Tiles' ads debut in new Firefox nightlies
You can try turning them off and on again
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.