The government must stop making the same project errors repeatedly, and instead learn from its mistakes, according to a powerful committee of MPs.
The Committee of Public Accounts also said there needed to be a “well-informed understanding” of risk, as well as “transparent” monitoring of progress so that failing projects can be cancelled early.
There needed to be a “fundamental commitment to learning from and acting on experience of past mistakes”, said Edward Leigh, chair of the committee. Innovative ideas were needed to keep projects working, the committee noted.
“This failure to learn from experience is particularly serious in the current economic climate when the need to find more efficient and effective ways of delivering services with fewer resources is becoming ever more acute,” he added.
Poor cross-departmental knowledge sharing was a barrier to improvement, alongside a lack of surveying users and a lack of encouragement for innovation, the report stated. Staff needed to be supported in learning how to improve work and even in speaking up when they saw failures.
The report highlighted a number of IT project problems. Project management issues in the National Offender Management Service meant the government had repeated prior errors, it said. The troubled C-NOMIS scheme at the agency was also affected by a lack of skilled in-house staff and the resulting reliance on contractors.
Problems with the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT and the Single Payment Scheme for agricultural subsidies were the partly the result of a failure to apply experience on project management, change management and good governance, it said.
Problems with tax credits and at the Child Support Agency emerged because there was not enough “external challenge”, including processes such as Gateway Reviews, it said. But while Gateway Reviews were useful, they were not always taken seriously by the commissioning departments, the committee found. It urged performance reports on government schemes to be published on the internet, as they are in the US.