Business Systems Replacement – An implementation review and “key learnings”

Barry Sacks, Managing Practitioner

A large financial services organisation had embarked on an ambitious strategic multi-million, multi-year project to replace their current business systems, primarily packaged solutions by third parties, with new systems software and databases developed by an in-house team. After two years with significant schedule and cost overrun and two missed deployment deadlines, the board agreed to seek external assistance to bring the programme back on track. Pelicam were approached to provide that support based on their reputation for pragmatic assurance services.

Health Check

The initial assignment engaged two senior Pelicam Practitioners for just 3 weeks resulting in a detailed report being delivered to the client highlighting a number of key recommendations.

The review team used the Pelicam Project Assurance Method and the Pelicam Health Check to review the programme and organisation. Each area of focus (there are 46 focus areas covered by a Pelicam Health Check) was scored against best practice benchmarks whilst using Pelicam’s project intelligence methods to recognise the issues that exist and determine whether they cause a serious threat to the success of the programme.

By focusing on key issues to the programme’s success the client was able to see “the wood for the trees” and address the critical factors first.

Identify the strengths

To support the review Pelicam interviewed over 40 programme stakeholders over 10 days. During the review process (all observations were captured respecting the trust and confidentiality of the interviewees) there were a number of positive observations identified such as:

There was strong executive stakeholder commitment, motivation and support

Consistent programme governance and PMO processes were in place and followed

Strong collaboration between the business users and the programme team was evident

Deep domain expertise was demonstrated throughout the organisation

Contracted resources were integrated well into the organisation and the programme

Strong communication channels were maintained between the various stakeholders

A typical project management “audit”, often considered an appropriate approach to assess project risk and to ensure methodology conformance, would have been satisfied that all the process conformance boxes were ticked.


The pragmatic experience-based approach of the Pelicam Health Check also identified a number of critical programme risks and issues that could not simply be attributed to failure to follow process, for example:

The programme had accepted an ambitious technical strategy that required significant in-house skills and technical architecture capability that were not evident

There were unclear programme objectives and benefits due to an undefined business case

Design had not been considered at the outset and there was no detailed system design resulting in the solution continuously evolving

The deployment strategy assumed a “big bang” approach was feasible without due consideration being given to the organisational risks of such an approach

The programme delivery approach changed one year in on the assumption “it would fix some of the issues”

Risk management was carried out reactively resulting in too many risks becoming issues

The supplier contractual relationship did not support the accountability model required

The recommendations for mitigation, avoidance and remedy of the risks and issues indentified during the review were presented to the programme board. To assist the board in determining the correct programme direction, a number of strategic options were also presented for consideration. Once the strategic preference was determined the board focused on addressing the specific issues and risks highlighted by the Pelicam report.

The client was highly satisfied with the content of the report and with how the review process was undertaken by Pelicam. The client recognised that the impartiality of an independent Project Assurance company allowed difficult and challenging questions to be asked of the organisation and its people which enabled the true cause of the issues faced to be understood.  Although the findings may not have provided comfortable reading for some (recommendations were made supporting organisational change) it enabled the board to make informed decisions as to how to proceed with the programme and which of the recommendations to act upon immediately to ensure success.

Due to the highly technical nature of this programme and the recognition that the ambitious technical strategy had contributed to the delays experienced by the programme a recommendation was made to carry out a more detailed technical review. The client requested that Pelicam also carried out the technical review and this was duly undertaken resulting in a subsequent set of recommendations specifically aimed at reducing the risk of the technical implementation within the context of the strategic programme.

As a result of the assurances provided by the two Pelicam health checks and the subsequent implementation of a number of the recommendations from both, addressing the critical issues that had been preventing success, the programme is now back on track and moving towards meeting the organisation’s original objectives.


2010, AssuranceKatie MayerComment