New Zealand Ministry of Education

The following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed or troubled projects from around the world.


Ministry of Education – New Zealand
Project type : Payroll system
Project name : Novopay
Date : Sep 2012 – May 2013 Cost : $30M NZD

Synopsis :
A 2010 report by accounting firm KPMG shone a spotlight on ineffective Project Management practices in New Zealand. Reporting that a shocking 70% of organizations included in the survey had experienced a failed project over a 12-month period, the report raises serious questions about the leadership capabilities in some of the participating organizations. This week’s entry into the Catalogue of Catastrophe is an illustration of one such failure in New Zealand.

The Novopay system was intended to be a tool that would streamline payments to the 110,000 teachers, administrators and staff throughout New Zealand’s educational system. The project had its origins in a 2005 decision that the existing payroll facilities needed modernization. Following a bid process Australia’s Talent2 was selected to both implement the new system and then operate it on a service contract basis until 2020. The original project called for the system to be implemented in 2010, but following a number of delays the project only reached operationally status in Aug of 2012.

Immediately following its operational launch problems were encountered. Some school employees reported receiving incorrect payments while others were paid nothing at all. Those problems continued to grow and the issues became headline news in New Zealand as affected employees struggled to maintain their personal finances in the face of the cash flow problems the systems failures were causing. Dubbed the Novopay debacle, at one point affected staff had reported more than 18,000 payroll errors and the operational staff supporting the system appear to have been overwhelmed by the amount of manual intervention needed to correct those errors.

Tracking and analysis of the errors identified after the launch, identified more than 500 distinct defects in the system. Of those 44 were deemed to be very serious. In Aug of 2012 when the system went live reports indicate that only 147 defects were known meaning that Quality Assurance testing had failed to identify several hundred problems in the system. Many of those problems were traced back to errors in the original project requirements and the design of the new system that allowed incorrect data to be entered into the system thereby leading to incorrect payroll payments and related problems.

A Mar 2013 review performed by Deloitte raised serious questions about the stability of the system and outlined a 1-year remedial plan that needed to be followed to ensure the operational stability of the system and that the originally planned business benefits were realized.

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Requirements problems and poor system design (a – usability issues, b – failure to establish appropriately robust data validation steps to ensure the quality of data input into the system and c – poorly designed reports that inhibited management oversight of the system’s use). Failure of quality control tests (failure to identify data corruption issues and logic flaws). Implementing the system with a high number of unresolved defects. Lack of control over manual intervention processes used when problems were encountered.

See also (other recent failed payroll projects):

  1. Marine country
  2. MyCalPAYS
  3. Los Angeles Unified School District

Reference links :

  1. The Novopay website
  2. The payroll system that doesn’t pay
  3. Charting the Novopay debacle
  4. Ministry of Education Novopay Technical Review
  5. Novopay errors rise