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Who's watching the fox in the henhouse?


A recent National Post article by Jon Ivison highlights the ongoing mega-problem that exists with the status quo in the large COTS ERP acquisition space. As if programs like the Government of Canada's "Phoenix" Payroll System weren't enough, several train-wrecks of equal or greater magnitude are queuing up. Take the recently launched Benefits Modernization Program - originally launched in 2017 and estimated at $1.75B has now ballooned to $3.4B and scheduled for completion (yeah right) for 2034. If you think this is just a phenomenon with the hoser's of the north, think again. How about the US Department of Veteran's Affairs and the Oracle - Cerner Millennium Health Information Records Program, originally estimated at $10B in 2018. Quickly revised to $16B, as of late 2023 with a shiny new System Integrator signed up, it is now estimated to be between $39B and $50B over the next 13 to 28 years, whichever "independent" analysis thinktank you believe. What a feeding frenzy!


You might ask: with all the Agile this, and Lean that and PMBOK whatever, why does this keep happening? Leaving aside my personal conjecture that would point to willful ignorance, outright negligence and greed, perhaps prevention is a more pragmatic course of action. Concretely, the first step to alleviate large COTS ERP acquisition pain is to "turn-the-lights-on".  Customers have been told a grand tale and led down the garden trail for far too long.  


This entails bringing an end to effectively flying blind on these mission critical programs.  No more "PowerPoint Theatre", no more army of status gatherers.  Expose reality and embrace Evidence-Based Management.  At your rate of monthly spend (typically on the order of $2M per week by the PMO worker bees and management alone, you can't afford to wait months/years to get the credible  analytics you need to exercise your fiduciary.  You need this yesterday.  It needs to be Metrics-as-a-Service (MaaS), turned on in days or maybe a few weeks.  Large programs like this are like flying a 747. You need many KPIs to make sense of true status and progress and risk. There is no time to roll your own in Power BI. In all likelihood, you are dealing with a total train-wreck unfolding, a total shit-show.  We are talking big dollars if history is any indication.  


After you open the kimono and call bullshit on those milking the cow, you need to question everything.  This is referred to as "Double-loop Learning". You cannot trust anything but the state-of-the-practice and all the lessons learned from the past to guide your way forward.  You need trusted advisors who can stand up to the big boys, and with enough experience to call them out.  You need someone who has your back, acting as an independent third party consultancy who has been there, done that.


Can you really afford to continue going down the garden path with the same System's Integrator who has, at the eleventh hour, hit you with a 50-100% or more funding change request?  Didn't they say they had done this umpteen times before? What happened to their Reference Class Forecasted Estimate?  You need to move beyond "trust me" to "show me the evidence".  


To prevent the kinds of debacles described above and likely presently unfolding in your enterprise, you need to have independent, senior advisors watching the fox in the henhouse.  At your current rate of spend and your forecasted Estimate-at-Completion (EAC), buying this kind of "insurance" is far cheaper than possibly flushing the entire investment down the drain.  

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