The results are in
An increase in advance voting and vigilant stakeholders complicate an end-to-end IT management system project for local elections in Oslo, Norway.
BY MICHELLE BOWLES JACKSON :: PHOTO BY MIGUEL NACIANCENO
Cristina Frutos López, PMP, Indra, Madrid, Spain
Global technology solutions provider Indra is no stranger to elections projects, with experience in the field dating back to 1978. But its most recent elections management project for Oslo, Norway involved the need to greatly broaden its scope.
The organization was accustomed to providing electronic counting, known as e-counting, says Cristina Frutos López, PMP, a Madrid, Spain-based project manager at Indra who led the Oslo elections endeavor. But for this project, the company was tasked with providing an end-to-end solution for the entire election process. That included pre-election processes, advance voting, elections management and e-counting—not to mention the design, printing and distribution of all ballot papers; operator training; and calculation, scrutiny, storage and transmission of results.
The rapidly emerging trend of advance voting—votes cast prior to election day—also brought significant new complications. And the project involved a high number of stakeholders who were especially vigilant of its progress and success.
“Before Indra adopted an integrated approach to project management, part of the group would take care of the project schedule and scope, and another part would take care of cost,” says Enrique Sevilla Molina, PMP, corporate project management office director at Indra. “This made it extremely difficult to identify and handle trouble spots early on.”
TURNING OUT IN DROVES
Indra was well-versed in the Norwegian electoral system, having delivered e-counting systems for the country's parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2009, and for the municipal elections of 2003 and 2007. The electoral system provides many variations and alternatives to facilitate voting for its citizens, increasing complexity on the project.
For instance, the system provides specific treatments for different situations, including Norwegian citizens living abroad, Oslo residents voting in the country's other cities and other Scandinavians who reside in Oslo.
Still, this most recent elections project was far more complex than any previous one Indra had completed—largely because of advance voting. More Oslo voters than ever before opted for advance voting—either in polling centers, by mail or from abroad at embassies. Advance voting accounted for 27 percent of the total voter turnout, compared with 13 percent in the 2007 local elections.
“We had to make process improvements to manage the advance votes,” Ms. Frutos says.
The project team set up 23 polling stations in Oslo to receive advance votes and created a centralized processing system to avoid duplications. This system included printing a unique serial number on every ballot. In case of duplication (advance voters trying to exercise their right early and on election day), both ballots were referred for review by the adjudicators.
The high advance voter turnout also suggested the team's original estimates for election day turnout might be low.
“We brought in extra equipment to be able to count the votes in the agreed timeframe,” Ms. Frutos says. “Because we had extra equipment in stock in our warehouses, it wasn't really an extra cost.”
The project team also stayed on task despite the low original voter estimates, thanks to an integrated system. Individual project managers at Indra constantly input information to update work breakdown structures, budgets, milestones, risks and project progress.
“Everything is integrated into our project management platform, so it gives us the full perspective of the project,” Ms. Frutos says.
Every expense had to be allocated to specific activities, with no way to enter a generic cost in the system, helping the project team of 15 or so to stay on budget, Mr. Sevilla asserts.
The project was complicated by a large advance voter turnout. Advance voting accounted for 20 percent of the total voter turnout, compared with 13 percent of the total voter turnout in 2007 elections.
BY THE NUMBERS
The population of Oslo, the most populous city in Norway
The number of independent elections managed as part of the 2011 Oslo elections project
The approximate contract amount
The hours it took for the project team to count 582,000 paper ballots from 111 polling stations
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A SOLID BASE
Indra's Oslo elections project team benefited from having previously delivered similar initiatives in Norway.
“If a project is well-planned right from the beginning, and you have previous experience, you know how to handle costs and other risks that emerge,” says Enrique Sevilla Molina, PMP, Indra, Madrid, Spain.
With this project substantially larger in scope, Indra captured a couple of major lessons learned to pass down not just to its own project teams but to the client.
1 The organization must take into account the increasing popularity of the advance vote for future elections projects—and that means developing a system to avoid duplication of votes.
2 Elections are increasingly higher profile and involve more requirements, meaning additional time must be dedicated to managing stakeholder groups.
“For future election projects with more demanding and involved stakeholders, we will meet with them earlier in the project planning phase to better address their areas of interest and to accommodate their requests in a tight time schedule,” Mr. Sevilla says.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Sixteen elections (for the Oslo City Council plus elections in 15 districts) were carried out through the same process. This meant coordinating several government agencies, including the Ministry of Public Administration–Statistics Norway, political parties and media outlets.
But stakeholder groups weren't just large in number, they were also especially vigilant of the project team's work for a variety of reasons. First, Indra is the only foreign company to manage elections in Norway to date. On top of that, Norway ranked first among 165 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy 2010, which measures countries' states of democracy, based in large part on electoral processes.
“If there were any problems during the election process—either before election day or during the count—it would be a disaster for the client and for us because this was a high-profile project,” Ms. Frutos says.
Stakeholder groups, particularly the various government agencies, kept a watchful eye over the project and demanded additional confirmation that all election procedures would be followed accurately. The project team maintained communication with the agencies through regular meetings with the corresponding government officials. In addition, it provided detailed reports with testing and training results for city council officials and political party representatives at regular election committee meetings. This provided much-needed assurance that the project was meeting requirements.
The team also established a communication channel with a designated person at each of the agencies to discuss technical issues and requirements. It hosted an initial kickoff meeting with each contact to gather requirements, and discuss planning and testing. Day-to-day communication was managed via email, with meetings as needed throughout project development.
Indra created a centralized system to avoid duplication of votes.
On election day, it took five and a half hours to count nearly 600,000 paper ballots from 111 polling stations.
The platform is open source, which affords flexibility to adapt to the specific needs of each election process, as well as the option of opening the source code to third parties, Mr. Sevilla says.
“Transparency is one of the driving requirements of elections systems,” he says. “The decision to go for open source fulfills that requirement and goes hand-in-hand with the exercise of strengthening the integrity and security of the system.”
DECLARING A WINNER
On election day, Ms. Frutos says, the project team streamlined a complex process to save time, costs and manpower—especially important in a country where the price of labor is particularly high. It took five and a half hours to count the nearly 600,000 paper ballots from 111 polling stations.
Even more important to stakeholders was precision. “The elections authority has to justify every single vote that is accepted or rejected for whatever reason,” she explains.
In the end, having stakeholders who maintained a close eye on the project paid off.
“The client received congratulations from their own stakeholders for the professionalism achieved in the implementation of the entire election process, and the Oslo local election was highlighted by the Norwegian media as a quality benchmark for elections in the country,” Ms. Frutos says. PM
TRANSPARENCY IS ONE OF THE DRIVING REQUIREMENTS OF ELECTIONS SYSTEMS.
— Enrique Sevilla Molina, PMP, Indra, Madrid, Spain
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MAY 2012 PM NETWORK
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