Lack of support




WHEN DOUG SMITH, head of the U.K.'s Child Support Agency (CSA), resigned on 17 November 2004, he said a plan to fix the CSA‘s software system had “missed its targets, and there is currently no date foreseeable when the old child support cases will be transferred onto the new system.” Due to scope management problems and the absence of a risk management strategy, the agency suffers from sizeable case backlogs and glaring payment miscalculations that are letting some 750,000 families fall through the cracks, according to Oliver F. Lehmann, PMP, vice president of professional development for PMI‘s Troubled Projects Specific Interest Group.

Established in April 1993, the CSA ensures that single parents, dubbed Parents With Care, or PWCs, receive child support payments from non-resident parents (NRPs). The organization purchased a £456 million (approximately $860 million) software and telephony solution in an effort to simplify and balance the payment formula.

The software went live in March 2003. Of the 478,000 applications received by the system, only 140,000 were calculated or closed, and only 61,000 NRPs have made payments. While the CSA mandated a six-week processing time, the first payments take between 15 and 22 weeks.

In addition, NRPs who were overcharged in the CSA‘s previous calculating scheme must be reimbursed. Despite numerous NRP requests to recalculate charges, CSA refused to reassess old cases until the computer system worked properly.

Processing costs per application are 20 percent over plan, and more than 50 percent of the applications received since March 2003 remain unprocessed.

CSA and the software vendor had agreed on a recovery plan, yet Mr. Smith's remarks indicate otherwise. CSA is withholding £1 million a month in service payments, and officials have stated that the organization would not rule out the “nuclear option” to scrap the entire system.


Mr. Lehmann says the project was launched without a sufficient plan to describe and manage project scope, as the distinction between scope refinement and scope change was never clear. While the software staff complained that the project was disrupted because of CSA‘s 2,500 change requests, CSA representatives claim there were only 50 change requests. A well-investigated, formulated scope statement might have helped to keep the number of change requests low. If both parties had agreed to a scope management plan as part of the contract, it would have clarified what constituted a change request and stipulated how it should be handled, Mr. Lehmann says.

The lack of risk management was another shortcoming of the project, according to Mr. Lehmann. While the system passed two gateway reviews early in the development process, he says nobody seems to have asked if the system would work in time or inquired if additional skills were needed to implement the system. The solution provider and CSA use a different project glossary, which often results in misunderstandings. With no risk response, fallback plan or contingencies, Mr. Lehman says a series of misunderstandings multiplied over the entire project life cycle. PM

If you know of a troubled project in which a project manager could have (or did) save the day, share your lessons learned. Contact us at [email protected].




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