Taking the Myki (or should that be Mickey)?

Myki is another $billion plus government IT project that is years late, $100s of million over budget and that has been de-scoped to the point where there is almost no point in continuing.

Mickey or Myki??

The city of Melbourne, Australia, desperately needs an updated public transport ticketing system. Several years ago a grand scheme was developed that became Myki. Myki was intended to be the key to city living; acting as a cash card, transport ticket and fulfilling a range of other useful functions for the citizenry.

Because of its wide scope, existing public transport ticketing systems in use around the world were deemed not acceptable; the Government needed a brand new special system designed for the unique needs of Melbourne.

Several years and $100s of millions later a majorly de-scoped Myki that is purely a public transport ticketing system may eventually be launched and actually work. The latest commitment made this week is for the system to be working by the end of 2010. This is identical to the commitment made mid 2009 after an earlier commitment for the system to be working by mid 2009 slipped.

I am sure there will be books written on this project and it may even contribute to the demise of the current Government at the elections next year but for now I want to take a quick look at some of the common governance failures Myki seems to have suffered from.

  1. The NIH problem – an amazing number of organisations seem to believe that the only acceptable solution is something developed exclusively for them. NIH = Not Invented Here; if it’s not NIH, it cannot be any good. Generally the arrogance associated with NIH is closely aligned with the pride before a fall.
  2. The internal SES problem. SES = Simple, Easy, Safe. This is a very dangerous and surprisingly common problem particularly in government and defence bureaucracies. To obtain funding approval, the bureaucrats promoting a project need to convince a risk shy decision maker (typically a Cabinet) that the project is simple and well understood, easy to implement and there are no significant risks to time, budget and performance parameters.
  3. The external SES problem. SES = Simple, Easy, Safe. To win the work, the successful contractor has to convince the client’s decision-making team, that the project is simple and well understood, easy to implement and there are no significant risks to time, budget and performance parameters and their bid can be relied upon.
  4. The intrinsic knowledge problem. SES can only flourish in an environment of ignorance. This may be wilful ignorance where people do not wish to hear or organic where senior decision makers simply do not know what they do not know. SES also needs an organisational culture that prevents more knowledgeable junior staff from properly informing their seniors of the real issues. Typically in these circumstances senior decision makers will take the advice of external advisers who have a vested interest in promoting their version of SES over the opinion of internal expert’s who are too junior.

The first interesting decision around Myki was the selection of the company to deliver the ‘project’. None of the organisations world-wide who had real, current knowledge of developing and installing ticketing systems were successful. They probably understood the challenges and issues and priced accordingly. The winning contractor and the government would appear to have happily accepted SES!

As a consequence of SES, everyone has continually talked about the Myki project, with a fixed timeframe and budget. As originally scoped Myki was a major program of work. Managed as a program with the progressive delivery of value by a series of carefully scoped projects the outcome may have been very different. However, accepting Myki as a program would have meant there could be no pretence of certainty concerning the overall timeframe or budget. The Government would have had to accept there was uncertainty (risk) and managed the overall program to create value for the tax payers and transport users.

This level of risk management maturity may be impossible in a political environment. The consequence though is cost overruns, time overruns and a major reduction in value through de-scoping. However, if proper value management systems were in place within a program management framework, many of the ‘bright ideas’ from Senior Ministers and bureaucrats that moved in and out of scope cold have been far more effectively assessed, managed and where they contributed value, implemented.

Effective project and program governance is not about eliminating risk, this is never possible; it’s about understanding and managing risk. One of the key conclusions in my paper The Meaning of Risk in an Uncertain World was that the client bears the ultimate risk for any project, if the project fails, the client pays the costs. Contracts rarely provide protection against the consequences of a fundamental failure!

The first critical step in effective and ethical program and project governance is to fully understand the parameters of the work (see: Eddie Obeng’s typology in Projects aren’t projects – Typology), and then managing the risks and delivery mechanisms appropriately. My prediction is the post-mortems on Myki will show root cause of most of the issues was a treating a ‘Walk in the fog’ program to resolve a problem as a simple ‘Painting by numbers’ project. If this prediction holds true it will demonstrate a fundamental failure of governance.

Watch this space for more…… in the meantime I have applied for my Myki card and do expect to use it sometime in the not too far distant future.

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3 responses to “Taking the Myki (or should that be Mickey)?

  1. I think Pat has got it right, but I would add that the Victorian Government have no capability to deliver a program of works, and they struggle with smaller projects. How has this come about? Does it frighten you as much as it does me?

    Why is it that we in Victoria can’t choose a company that has a world class record and why do we always (despite preaching to the contrary) always have to sacrifice quality for price? or some notion that we can do it better than anyone else in the world?

    Where has Governance, Requirements Gathering, Business Cases and Scope Definition and Change and Risk Management gone?

    Too many questions, too few answers, incompetent and leaderless Ministers led by scheming bureacrats in Spring Street, or just plain lost the plot and dumb people? Got to be one or the other.

    Watch the next disaster this Government will reveal, anyone heard of CenITex?

    • I disagree with Ted on a couple of points (but not the cost – -capability argument). Some projects are done well, EastLink, and ignoring the politics, the North South pipeline are two Victorian government examples.

      The challenge facing our profession and all governments is understanding what tips a project or program into disaster mode. A heavy IT component seems to be one factor but not the only one.

      Pat

  2. Ganesh S Jaygan

    I have been thinking about this for a long time and having used Myki once last week and having used smart card elsewhere in the world, I have come to the conclusion that NOT storing the credit in the card is the fundamental flaw in the system. In Hiroshima, the machine in the tram, can validate a ticket, can top up your card and when cash is inserted can be a coin vendor. No graphical user interface, no pushing of buttons. It is unbelievably so intuitive. Ofcourse, there is a flat fare for all Tram travel.

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