Members of project steering committees for major digital transformation projects need to be appropriately qualified and experienced to help ensure a successful project.
In our performance audit report into the effectiveness of the State Penalties Enforcement Registry ICT reform, we noted that one of the key lessons related to the composition and operation of project steering committees.
Below are three areas entities should consider when setting up a project steering committee for a major digital transformational project.
Steering committee membership
At the project’s commencement, entities need to consider:
- Do the decision-makers have sufficient capability and capacity to fulfill their role?
- Is there a ‘critical friend’ who does not have a direct stake in the program, and can provide expert advice independent of the delivery team and challenge decisions being made? This is particularly important for projects with a long life.
If steering committee members are not sufficiently skilled in information and communication technology (ICT)-enabled transformations, they may over-rely on consultants and contractors for advice. This could result in a lack of business understanding when designing the requirements and implementation plans for digital transformation projects.
If the decision-makers have significant business-as-usual responsibilities, they may not have enough capacity to be involved in the project and manage risks. This means they could be less prepared and informed to contribute to decision making. Entities should consider delegating and assigning the business-as-usual responsibilities of internal staff involved in transformational projects to others.
Structure of project governance
Entities need to determine at the project’s commencement, and reassess throughout it, whether:
- the project governance is separate from organisational governance
- the project steering committee will/can work effectively with other groups in the entity, such as the senior executive group, and the audit and risk management committee
- the steering committee will/should report to an organisational governance group and/or chief executive officer
- the steering committee is well-informed when reporting progress publicly on the Digital Projects Dashboard (departments only)
- there is a clear understanding that the accountable officer for the entity delivering the project is ultimately accountable for ensuring that value for money is achieved. This is still the case when the accountable officer appoints a senior responsible officer.
It is important that entities assign roles based on whether officers have the skills to make the project a success, rather than because they hold a senior position in the organisation.
Membership across the project steering committee and the entity’s governance groups should avoid duplicate membership (in particular for roles involving the chair of these groups). Duplicate membership creates a conflict of interest. Avoiding duplication will ensure that assurance reports and the project’s response to these can be objectively and independently challenged.
Membership considerations for project steering committees
When appointing members and replacing vacancies, entities need to consider:
- Does the steering committee include representatives from the entity’s internal ICT function?
- Should the steering committee include representation from the whole-of-government Office of Assurance and Investment (in the Department of Housing and Public Works)?
Because internal ICT functions will be ultimately responsible for integrating the solution with the entity’s existing ICT environment, it is important they are represented on the project steering committee.
There is no requirement for the Office of Assurance and Investment to be represented on all major digital transformation projects. However, where an entity has gaps in its capability and project failure would be costly to the state, it would be appropriate to include them.
Refer to our better practice guide for further learnings for ICT projects.