Assuring project success: Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway Reviews

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Posted by APM on 1st Apr 2016

Dave Underwood (Deputy Director of High Performance Computing (HPC)) and Steve Murray (an OGC reviewer since 2005) presented the journey through each Gate in the review process using real life examples from the Met Office HPC Programme.

Both speakers agreed that independent assurance reviews, such as Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway reviews, are a valuable tool for ensuring successful project and programme delivery.  As they provide an independent perspective on issues, external challenge to plans; and support to senior responsible officers (SROs).
 
Steve explained that OGC Gateway Reviewers form temporary teams put together for specific reviews. The teams are made up of independent, specialist experts selected to match the requirements of the programme/project being assessed. They provide assurance to check appropriate process is in place and being followed, as well as providing a platform for sharing lessons learnt from previous experiences.  Their main aim is to help the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) have confidence in the delivery of the programme/project, by representing a report of evidence based findings and recommendations which have been confirmed by more than one person across those interviewed.  They look for the good and bad as addressing short-falls are just as important as celebrating successes when it comes to managing delivery.  He then took us through the five "Gates" in the process which reflect the different stages of the lifecycle:

  • Gate 0 – Strategic Assessment
  • Gate 1 – Business Justification
  • Gate 2 – Delivery Strategy
  • Gate 3 – Investment decision
  • Gate 4 – Ready for Service
  • Gate 5 – Benefits Realisation and Operational Review

While Dave explained the background to the Met Office HPC Programme. The next generation supercomputer, will take UK weather and climate services into the future. Weighing more than 140 tonnes and capable of more than 16,000 trillion calculations a second, the new Cray XC40 system will be one of the world's fastest high performance computers (HPCs). Part of the supercomputer will be sited at the IT Halls at the Met Office HQ in Exeter and part will be sited at a purpose-designed building at the nearby Exeter Science Park. The facility will open up different opportunities for the Met Office to collaborate with new, like minded businesses, science and research establishments and start-ups on innovative science projects.

The advanced capabilities it will offer will deliver an estimated £2 billion of socio-economic benefits for the UK through enhanced resilience to severe weather and related hazards.

The journey starts at the "end" (with Gate 5 Operational Use and Benefits Realisation) showing how the outputs from previous Programmes feed into Gate 0. At the Met Office this meant looking at the lessons learnt from the installation of the outgoing HPC and considering how they could be incorporated into the new HPC Programme. They also took this opportunity to spend time focusing on identifying, benchmarking and designing the tracking system for the benefits the Programme will deliver.  These along with a range of options were presented in the Outline Business Case, providing a good base on which decisions can be made. They then worked through Gate 1 (Business Justification) and Gate 2 (Delivery Strategy) tailoring the Gateway process to meet the requirements of the Programme. The tailoring of the process and independent review of the benefits has provided the key stakeholders with reassurance that the benefits will be realised.

As part of Gate 3 (Investment Decision) procurement strategies are challenged and the final hurdles of approvals are completed before the winner is announced. The review at Gate 3 resulted in assurance that the procurement strategy selected was a realistic, based on the requirement to deliver the benefits rather than being focused on just purchasing a computer. This has resulted in a strong level of trust being developed between the suppliers, Met Office and key funders to facilitate proactive risk management.  The result to date is that, despite the inevitable significant issues and challenges that arise in delivery of a major IT & Infrastructure programme, each phase of the HPC installation has delivered early against its milestones and the benefits are still on track to be delivered.

Once the HPC Programme has completed the installation, commissioned and tested everything the team will go through Gate 4 (Readiness for Service). After which they arrive back to Gate 5 to undertake a retrospective look at what was actually achieved.

Given that the majority of programme failures are down to poor benefits realisation data, mis-matches in delivery and customer expectations, and unclear SRO responsibilities; a Gateway review can help overcome these issues as they:

  • Provide a proactive risks management focus
  • Bring together stakeholders to promote open communications
  • Maintain focus on delivering the benefits throughout (not just at the end of the programme/project)
  • Keep the programme team honest with themselves so issues can be addressed early and are escalated when assistance is required
  • Ensure the SRO is engaged and knows what is expected of them throughout the programme lifecycle
  • Set out clear structures for all involved
  • Provide a feedback loop for continuous improvement.

The OGC Gateway Process is best practice in central government, the health sector, local government and Defence, but is also applicable to a wide range of programmes and projects from organisational change; acquisitions; property/construction developments, and IT-enabled business change to large procurement projects. For further information on running reviews or becoming a reviewer please contact:
Richard Daniels, 
Departmental Assurance Coordinator/Project Delivery Capability, Projects & Commercial Directorate, 
020 7215 0404 
richard.daniels@bis.gsi.gov.uk, 
www.gov.uk/bis

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