Updated: Oct 16, 2019

I’ve had some amazing experiences over the last 25 years. Possibly none quite as incredible as my time as the Statewide User Acceptance Test Director for the notorious Queensland Health Payroll project. Yes, that’s the one—the project that went down in Australian history one of our worst IT disasters.

Dubbed the “$1.2 billion health payroll debacle”, “the botched IT system over-paid and under-paid, or not paid at all, 80,000 health workers” which ultimately led to a full Parliamentary Inquiry.

The Parliamentary Inquiry process is unrelenting. Everything is up for grabs--every email, every document, every formal and informal communication is open to scrutiny. Witnesses are called from all sides of decision making and project delivery. Like dozens of other project team members, I was called as a witness. I was able to provide specific insight into the machinations of the project late in the delivery, especially around the project board’s decision to accept the solution into Production.

I spent months working with the brilliant legal team assembled by the Inquiry Commissioner (Honourable Richard Chesterman AO RFD QC).

The experience with the QH Payroll Inquiry lit a fire inside me. It was a unique insight into the forensic processes used by the legal profession and how the Expert Witness role plays a key role in delivering a just outcome in court. It was this experience that inspired me to become an Expert Witness.

Becoming an Expert Witness

Thankfully (for my career), the QH Payroll Inquiry found that as the User Acceptance Test Director for Queensland Health, I had done everything I possibly could have done to stop the train wreck; my advice and final report was ignored and even rebutted by both QH and the Systems Integrator.

Since the QH Payroll Inquiry, I’ve acted as an Expert Witness for many other cases. An Expert Witness’ primary function is to express their independent expert opinion based on the information that is provided in a court of law. When a judge needs to understand highly complex and technical aspects of a case, an Expert Witness is engaged to provide the interpretation and explanation of what should and could have been done in a particular situation. The fields in which I am capable of giving an opinion are Software Delivery/Implementation Process and Software Quality/Testing.

These cases continue to provide amazing insights into how different businesses behave, especially within a commercial arrangement. What continues to astound me is how so many commercial arrangements have very limited flexibility and adaptability; they lock in organisations and stifle any ability to respond to changing commercial environments, from both a client and a vendor perspective.

Possibly the most ironic part of what I see as an Expert Witness is that the issues being contested are typically over technologies that are meant to enable new and better ways of working for the client organisation. Yet, the contracts are rigid and offer very limited flexibility in how the technology is designed and implemented. The writing is on the wall.

The inability of organisations to adapt to evolving demands, based on what is in front of them, is at the very foundation of most commercial issues that end up in court.

Setting up for success

I do a lot of work with our clients to set up their technology contracts and delivery teams for success. As an Expert Witness, I see how rigidity in contracts and delivery approaches results in expensive execution that doesn’t meet the needs of the client organisation. These insights mean I know how to avoid worst-case scenarios playing out.

Technology is driving organisations to adapt and innovate at rate like we’ve never experienced before. It is forcing organisations to rethink how they fundamentally work. To get the most out of business or technology investment, the design and configuration of technology and workflows needs to be as flexible as the technology itself.

By understanding where delivery risks typically lie within different areas of a business, we’re able to create Business Agility. This means our clients avoid the square-peg-round-hole technology fit, get the most of out their investment and are enabled in their desired new ways of working.

Delivering the value-add

Business Agility at its core is simple; it’s about delivering the value-add that is needed by customers, when it’s needed, and in the way that it’s needed. It recognises that an organisation’s internal and external customers have unique needs.

Being an Expert Witness continues to give me invaluable insights into identifying what is ultimately ‘needed’ and brings risk mitigation to life. I have a clear guide as to what teams need to focus on.

Brett Cowan

Executive Director, AgileXperts

#thoughtleadership #agile #businessagility #expertwitness