Agile could have saved NPfIT

05 Sep 2011

It comes as no real surprise that MPs have heavily criticised the Department of Health (DoH) for the failings of the NHS IT programme (Parliament slams DoH’s handling of NPfIT). Indeed, there have been three fundamental issues from the outset that have contributed to its flaws.

First, there was next to no engagement with the stakeholders or potential end-users as to what goals the DoH was aiming to achieve from the project. Secondly, as a consequence of this, the suppliers had insufficient direction as to precisely what end goal was required and being aimed for. Finally, the project has expanded so much that it has become unmanageable.

The three faults of the NHS programme could have been readily countered were an agile development methodology applied from the start.

Agile intrinsically requires a regular detailed engagement with the end-users, such that progress can be constantly assessed according to the specific need. Because of this process of ongoing assessment and revision, projects where requirements are unclear stand a greater chance of success as the accuracy of the end goal is constantly examined and even changed if deemed appropriate. Provided the end result delivers real business value, it will be rightly deemed a success, even though it may not match the originally intended goal. Sometimes a project may take a little longer to complete, but that is much better than a total and costly failure.

Andrew Wilcox, IPL

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Reader comments

Agile could have saved NPfIT?

I'm all for agile principles but not even agile could have saved the NPfIT. Integrating IT across a single hospital is difficult enough and rarely achieved. Doing it across a region was impossible (Wessex Regional Health Authority's failed Regional Information Systems Plan) and doing it across a country was optimistic and impractical in the extreme. NPfIT failed in part because it was a good idea not founded on an independent assessment of its feasibility. A bridge from the UK to USA is a good idea. But practical?

Posted by: Tony Collins  05 Sep 2011