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Open Dialog Article

Lessons Learnt from an Award Winning Fixed Price Project: A Client’s Viewpoint

Open dialog article,
By John D'Hooghe, Executive Consultant, Dialog IT.

Qld Health and Dialog recently won a project management achievement award from the Australian Institute of Project Management for a large fixed price software development project called CIMHA (Consumer Integrated Mental Health Application). In this article, we share some of the secrets and lessons learnt from the client's (Queensland Health) perspective.

AIPM Award

The Australian Institute of Project Management established the Project Management Achievement Awards (PMAA) Program to recognise, honour and promote outstanding achievements in program and project management.


Before the introduction of CIMHA, Queensland mental health information was stored in 21 separate databases and processed in three discrete systems. Clinical access to information was fragmented. Sharing of information between clinicians was scarce and only happened if the consumer ('patients' in older terms) made their service provider aware that they had medical history and records in another part of Queensland. Queensland Health (QH) therefore formed a highly successful partnership with Dialog to build a statewide integrated enterprise mental health information system.

Prior to embarking on a ground up build of CIMHA, QH spent five years on an exhaustive market search for an existing product. No products suited requirements, so in going to market to engage a vendor QH was keenly aware of sourcing a professional vendor that had the ability to share the risk and deliver quality for this large and risky project.

Dialog and QH Team Up

QH went to market to procure a fixed price turnkey development solution. This gave QH the certainty it needed in terms of price and solution, but it demanded strong partnering and communication for it to work for both parties. QH chose Dialog as its development partner.

Dialog was responsible for the analysis, design, development and testing of the solution. A team of 25 Dialog consultants including a testing specialist from Dialog’s subsidiary company, Access Testing worked on the 18 month long project. The solution was developed using the Microsoft .Net framework.

Key success areas in the partnering process were:

  • Having a clear and common understanding of the work environment that the project would operate in. QH can be a difficult place to work with slow risk adverse processes. During contract negotiations senior QH and Dialog managers met to openly discuss the project environment so Dialog could factor this into their approach.
  • Clear articulation and agreement of assumptions upfront. This formed a major part of contract negotiations and the assumptions became a key area for risk management throughout the project.
  • Agreement of the change control process upfront. Requirements for the application had been documented over the previous five years, and the business had moved on in some areas. QH and Dialog used a robust change control process to agree changes and their impact across all artefacts, the schedule and the budget, prior to sign-off by the sponsor.
  • Payments were based on successful delivery of application modules, not by time or effort, so project cost was kept commensurate with value received.

Lesson Learnt

Through the extensive market scan QH did before engaging Dialog to build CIMHA, QH learnt a few things: know your requirements, know your strengths and know what your core business is.

"We knew the QH information agenda was sound, we knew that nothing existed that met our requirements, and we also knew that QH was not in the business of building large complex applications to a tight schedule."

Given the size, complexity, technology, extent of change for a number and variety of stakeholders, QH assessed the risk of the project as high. QH therefore planned carefully to deliver the solution and manage the project to maximise success.

QH lists the key lessons learnt:

  1. Gather your requirements in detail and be very clear about what you want before you go to market.
  2. Seek a turnkey solution, with roles and responsibilities well defined.
  3. Seek out and partner with vendors offering specific expertise.
  4. Manage the vendor services by output, accepting and paying upon successful delivery.
  5. Co-locate business and IT resources to ensure there is no disconnect between the application and the people and process change.
  6. Plan for early delivery of application modules to ensure quality upfront.
  7. Plan a pragmatic timetable that reflects the amount of risk in the project.
  8. Challenge organisational constraints and employ scalable risk based processes.
  9. Engage with all stakeholders early and communicate regularly.
  10. Start data migration and test planning from day one.
  11. Keep a constant eye on business outcomes. Ensure you deliver what you were asked to – in this case a clinical system to improve consumer care and community safety.


The final solution developed by Dialog ensures consumer and community safety by improving the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of the recording of Mental Health Act 2000 status, as well as ensuring timely access to accurate mental health clinical information.

The project was a large, high risk and complex undertaking in a highly decentralised environment involving thousands of clinical and administrative users. Through strong communication and close working relationships the Dialog team delivered on time and slightly below budget, meeting the sponsor's expectations, and Queensland Health's business and health care needs.

Reference this article: John D'Hooghe, Lessons Learnt from an Award Winning Fixed Price Project: A Client’s Viewpoint (2012-04-27) Open Dialog - Dialog Information Technology <>

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