- Think global, act local
When planning a transformation project that is designed to fundamentally change the way a front line public sector service delivery organisation operates, it is tempting to think big and plan for dramatic changes. In many ways this is exactly what is called for. However, big dramatic changes can carry big dramatic risk which is not quite so appealing. So how do you balance delivering ambitious change with acceptable risk?
We work to a principle that says ‘think global, act local’. What we mean by this is that you should and must plan for the big changes and outcomes. This is the vision of the project (think global). The challenge then is to break down that big picture and vision into a series of smaller, more easily achieved goals and find allies in the organisation who are willing to work with you to change their area of the business. In practical terms this will likely involve working closely with a specific business area to address a subset of their challenges.
As long as you don’t lose sight of the wider vision and you continue to discuss and communicate the interim outcomes and plans in the context of the full vision of the transformation project this approach will serve you and your transformation project well.
- Identify early wins and tangible improvements
In many ways this approach is a reflection of the ‘think global, act local’ principle described above in practice. When working with a local authority on their transformation programme we always aim to have some quick wins that can be delivered swiftly.
When we say quick, we mean measurable and beneficial delivery elements, that form part of the wider project and can be completed within the first 2 or 3 weeks of the project kick off. This quick win delivery is important in multiple ways. It will help with enthusiasm and energy for those working on the project, it will help instil confidence in your project with senior leadership and it will make the project much more rewarding for everyone involved.
A quick win can be something quite simple and relatively small e.g. getting a first process and form live as a digital work flow. It doesn’t matter that it may be quite minor, the point is that it shows early success. Success tends to breed success.
- Identify enthusiastic stakeholders (senior management, service area heads, officers, elected members, users)
When planning and executing a transformation programme in a UK local authority, it’s vital to ensure that you have built a network of stakeholders and sponsors. These should represent a cross section of the organisation. Whilst you want stakeholders who are keen and enthusiastic, don’t overlook the odd naysayer. A naysayer turned champion can become a persuasive ally!
You will need your stakeholders to assist and support your project when things are going well and when your project is up against it. Keep them appraised of what is happening in the project more widely and ensure these same people are fully aware of what is happening in their business area. Keeping people informed does not have to be a formal meeting, effective communication can take the form of an informal update. The key is frequent effective communications.
- Plan to iterate
Expect to have to revisit elements of the project more than once. Iterating and making minor improvements to an earlier delivery outcome is not a failure. Your transformation project will throw up a huge number of learning opportunities and you should be ready to act on them and use these to your advantage.
The other way of thinking about this idea of iteration is the saying ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’. If you can get something done and working, albeit with continued opportunities for further improvement, you should do that. Don’t wait around waiting for perfection. Getting things done is much more important. If you later re-visit something and make changes to improve it further that’s not a bad thing. All projects require constant improvement and iteration.
- Commit to realistic delivery deadlines
Don’t allow your project to become the prisoner of unrealistic deadlines. Your objectives and deadlines should always be somewhat challenging but don’t crush morale with totally unrealistic deadlines and promises.
This can be hard, especially if you are under pressure from senior colleagues to sign up to an unreasonable deadline. If you’ve done your planning and documented your project, you can calmly and professionally argue your case. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if necessary.
- Educate and market both internally and externally
Make sure you are using every opportunity to communicate the headlines (and, when appropriate, the details) of the project plan. This includes internal colleagues and external customers. Don’t make the mistake of falling back on project or technical jargon. Explain and demonstrate what customers and internal users will be able to do as part of the new solutions, emphasising the practical benefits. Make doubly sure that your colleagues in the organisation who spend time speaking with customers are well-briefed and able to explain to customers how new ways of digital working can be accessed, used and will save time.
This programme of education, awareness and balanced promotion must be ongoing. Doing it once over a week or so will not bring about the desired effects. Plan your communication and promotion strategy in parallel to the programme delivery milestones. Use every delivery success as a rallying point to highlight the progress being made and the benefits being delivered.
- Resource it appropriately
There is no escaping the reality that a transformation programme requires resource. The required resources fall into 3 categories: people, funding and technology.
People and appropriate funding are linked and are critical. I am not going to speak on the specifics of technology selection here. That is another blog post.
Your transformation will need access to a mix of skills. These include project management, technical and business analyst type skills. The scope and volume of resource is directly related to the scope of your programme of transformation of course and it is crucial that your project has access to sufficient people and funding to get things done. This is something that should be planned and agreed at the very earliest stage possible. Available resources will dictate what is achievable and what is realistic in terms of project outcomes and delivery deadlines.
- Keep it simple (much better to deliver something more modest that really works…)
In many ways this last point sums up the entire approach. Keeping it simple is not to say that transformation projects and the local authority processes and service structures are without complexity. Complexity and variation abound in almost every area of local authority service delivery. The key is to design a solution that keeps things as simple as possible and as such it embodies many of the principles we have already explored e.g. a series of smaller achievable goals, get the right resources you need in place first, identify and plan for early wins. All of these concepts point to an approach of not over complicating things and a dogged focus on delivery.