Irene Melo, Senior Project Manager at Arcus Global
Someone once told me that Project Management (PM) is about “being told things you don’t want to hear and telling people things they don’t want to hear”. PM certainly doesn’t come without its challenges and working with the Public Sector (notorious for its tight budgets and staff shortages) adds to it. However, having managed projects on both sides of the “fence”, I can say that it doesn’t have to always be like that.
Here are some key areas that, when implemented by the client, have contributed to successful digital project deliveries:
1. Onboarding stakeholders – changing hearts and minds
People are averse to change. I won’t dwell on the evolutionary reasons why our brains function this way, but instead list a few “tricks” to help people adjust to change in the context of a transformation programme:
– Plan and implement a change management approach: advertise the project across your organisation, particularly to those most affected by it. Open a forum for debate and for receiving feedback, make people feel involved.
– Address fear: people will get defensive towards a new system and / or way of working for a number of reasons. Try to preempt what those reasons are and provide reassurance in your communications. Most of the time it’s the unknown that’s scary. Share screenshots of the new system ahead of go-live and prepare user guidance.
– Ensure your project team feels supported: overworked and undermined employees won’t perform efficiently.
– Consolidate change: create incentives to firm the new behaviours you’re trying to implement. Provide guidance / documentation and training in a timely manner and in sufficient amounts to allow people to learn and put the new practices in place, autonomously. Psychologist Ron Friedman explains that ‘when people are empowered to make their own decisions at work, they naturally feel motivated to excel for one simple reason: Autonomy is a basic psychological need*.
(*Friedman, Ron; The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace; New York: Penguin, 2014)
2. A system administrator – championing the system
Your organisation has been using the same system for a long time and now you’re replacing it with this new modern, cloud-based, shiny new system. In addition to all the change management work mentioned above, your organisation will also need at least one role to champion the system from a technical point of view. This will be the person (or persons) who will get to know the system inside out, be able to advise the impact of any changes you may wish to implement in the future, train new users, and just generally keep things sane and organised with the system.
3. (Ye Goode Olde) Communication
This one always comes up and that’s because it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this for, every project brings on a brand new combination of characters and personalities that will need to work together to successfully deliver it. Here are some habits that have helped me:
– Get the nomenclature right: don’t start calling things by different names. Agree on terminology that works for all parties involved.
– Set regular catch-up calls for the core project teams from the get-go: start with once a week and then adjust frequency depending on the stage the project is at a given time.
– Set up regular calls between Project Managers only: these are the advocates for the project and they should have their own one-to-one time to discuss the project. Make sure your contract has sufficient PM time assigned for this level of involvement.
– Set up regular internal communications: not only to keep the project sponsor (and/or any other senior managers) up to date, but also to promote the project far and wider than that (see point 1 above). It could be by publishing blogs or newsletters, or placing posters throughout the office.
– Expect change: this is an inevitable part of any project. Communicate any changes to your provider’s PM early, and agree on a plan to manage it together.
4. “Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay.” (Sherlock Holmes)
Data migration has been, without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of every project I’ve been involved with.
– Get your data cleansed beforehand, if possible. A common mistake is to leave data considerations to last minute or make data consolidation a parallel activity to the rest of the project. This seldom works because data-related activities tend to grow arms and legs as they go along. The time needed to provide data fit for migration (clean, complete, and properly mapped) often overpasses the average time of a software delivery project (depending on the volume of data), unless a dedicated resource, with the right skills, understanding of the data, and authority to make decisions (eg, regarding where to map data to) is assigned to the project.
– Invest in the data aspect of the project, especially where large volumes of data from different systems are being migrated. The smart way to go about this is by investing time beforehand (ideally even before you go to tender) to put your data in order. That way you will go to tender better informed on what your data needs are, and thus get a more realistic and accurate offer from your providers. This will save a considerable amount of time and pain further down the road.
5. Cross your T’s: Time, Train, Test
I have already covered the necessity to allow sufficient time for various key activities, as this will save time in later stages of the project.
Time to train your key staff and test your new system (User Acceptance Testing) are another two important activities where time will be well spent.
I have attended training sessions where some of the attendees didn’t even know what system they were going to use and were then quick to dismiss any time for testing it.
This is not only frustrating for all involved, but also poses a risk to the project if the system doesn’t get properly tested before going ‘live’.
When embarking on a digital transformation project, purchasing a software package is
just half of the solution. Organisations need also to be prepared to invest in this change with time and commitment from their staff.
A good supplier, particularly their Project Manager, will be your partner in this transformation journey, and is as invested in its success as you are.
About Arcus Global
Arcus Global, formed in 2009 and based in Cambridge UK, is a market leading GovTech cloud company, delivering mission critical technology solutions that enable local authorities and other public sector organisations to transform their service delivery to citizens.
The Software as a Service division of Arcus has developed a platform based suite of Applications for Local Government. Addressing the challenge of legacy technology in Citizen Digital interaction, Planning, Building Control, Licensing, Environmental Health. Arcus has grown to over 30 customers including Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Eastleigh Borough Council and the London Borough of Southwark.
The Cloud Infrastructure Division of Arcus provides Consultancy, Managed Services and Cloud Storage to a large number of Public Sector bodies across Central Government, Local Government, the NHS and the Education sector.
Kate Warboys, Marketing Manager at Arcus Global