10 Top Tips to kick start your change programme

Posted by Heather Dewing on May 18, 2017

change programme planning

When we work with organisations trying to make improvements in the performance of their field operations, we regularly see programmes of work that start to fail at the early stages or are already failing by the time we get involved. Of course, projects or programmes that require some form of change within an organisation, are often complex.  Achieving success is incredibly difficult; after all, you can update a scheduling system or change an asset management process, but the crux is getting people to change and that can be particularly problematic when your people are geographically dispersed.

I believe that focussing on the early “shaping” phases of a project or programme makes a considerable difference to the chances of success; I also think it is the part of the programme which is often rushed or insufficiently prioritised.  If you don’t plan and define things, how do you know you’re delivering the right outputs, outcomes and benefits?

There are lots of experienced project, programme or change managers out there who may not find anything particularly new in what I’m saying. Yet, programmes still fail to start off effectively. Why?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Organisations are often focused on managing a steady-state; major business change is a very different thing. This can be a particular issue in operational, service-based environments.
  • Senior managers may not have the knowledge or experience to kick the change programme off correctly.
  • Businesses are too slow in getting a qualified programme or project manager involved, with change management experience; you really need one as soon as you have an outline business case and some mandate to fix the problem. This creates ownership and accountability at an early stage.
  • Businesses are too quick to focus on solutions (including technology), without thoroughly understanding the problems, their root causes and the steps they need to go through.

This blog sets out 10 key things you can do to avoid these planning pitfalls:

  1. Write that outline business case; it will force you to crystallise your thinking and will generate a proper mandate and buy-in from your executive board. Do you really understand the problem? Why is proceeding with a specific business option the right one? What will be achieved at the end?  What sort of costs and benefits might be involved?
  2. Get buy-in for the business case; get a mandate to fund further work to more fully define the problem and what the possible resolutions might be.
  3. Get a Project Manager: a project manager is critical, they will be responsible for shaping the plan. They will be responsible for setting up any Steering Board and governance and mobilise any other skills needed to support the definition of the programme.
  4. Give yourself the time to fully understand your problem: You know you have a problem, but you don’t know what is causing it yet. Whilst there are lots of diagnostic methods, the key is to understand which part of your organisations’ design is contributing most to the problem.  Here are the key elements:
    • Operating model: Is the organisation structure optimum, with clear roles & responsibilities or is it causing barriers or constraints?
    • Processes: If people don’t follow consistent processes or the processes aren’t written down, or just aren’t fit-for-purpose, then this will be a barrier to change. Do you actually know how your people in the field are working now?
    • Systems: Do you have sufficient technology in place to enable proactive real-time management of your business and efficient delivery, or are activities largely manual?  How do you compare with other businesses in your sector?
    • Data: Do you have sufficient data available, with appropriate accuracy and granularity; is the data actively managed and updated? If you don’t have the right quality data available at the right time, it will be difficult to make optimum decisions.
    • People: Are your staff suitably trained and capable of undertaking the task and activities; is the organisation’s culture conducive to effective working? How difficult will it be to get your workforce to change the way they work?
  5. Prioritise your problems and build that roadmap: You can’t fix all of your problems, nor would it be cost-effective to do so. Prioritise the problems you want to fix and start to develop the plan to build your business capability in the areas that need it most;  the ideal plan needs to create the foundations for standard, stable and consistent delivery.  At all times, it’s critical you ensure that the costs and benefits of change show a favourable return.
  6. Give yourself time to assess the best solutions: The solution may be a combination of a new piece of technology, combined with some changes to the process, data and staff training.  It may not be appropriate to implement a highly-advanced system straight away if a simple spreadsheet report would suffice in the short term.  If a highly advanced system is the right thing for the long-term, then think about switching on functionality gradually, as the business’s capability grows. Set yourself achievable targets!
  7. Ensure the Project Manager develops this thinking into a detailed Plan. All of this thinking needs to be pulled together into detailed project plan (sometimes called a Project Charter, Project Execution Plan, Project Initiation Document or Programme Brief); a document that sets out exactly what you need to do by when, in lots of detail; it will define the project, the scope and approach, the timescales, costs, risks, the team and the key stakeholders, to name just a few.
  8. Develop your detailed Business Case. The project manager will work with the project sponsor to update the detailed business case. Is the problem still the same? How has the vision evolved? How have the costs, benefits and financial appraisal changed? Which options and solutions have been considered and rejected and why?
  9. Get business buy-in for your detailed plan & detailed business case! It sounds obvious, but just because it was the right thing to do 3+ months ago, doesn’t mean it’s still the right thing to do.  Get approval to spend further money fixing the problem and implementing that solution.
  10. Now you’re ready to start the delivery phase.

This may sound like a lengthy, laborious process, but it can be expedited by getting the right support in place, at the right time, and by ensuring you have the processes and templates in place to smooth the ride.  Just assuming that these things will fall into place by pushing ahead into delivery is likely to result in wasted time and effort, and/or a project that fails to deliver the expected benefits.

As a consultant who is regularly involved in major change and transformation programmes within the asset management and workforce management sectors, my one wish is that clients reached out earlier for advice on how to shape their change programme.  Investment in support at this stage can have a significant payback and reduce the need for much greater spend on external support later. I believe there’s nothing more rewarding than successfully helping a business improve its performance; I’d just like to see more organisations prioritising the foundations for successful change early on.

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Heather Dewing

Heather has 13 years experience as a chartered Civil Engineer and a further 10 years experience in business improvement and transformation predominantly within the water & other utility sectors.