Creating ideas that work

By Jon Dakin, Director, Boxwood

What are the key things to get right when mining ideas from the workforce?

A surprisingly beneficial exercise is to simply assess what projects are being undertaken across the business today. How much change is being forced through for limited benefit or because no-one has taken a real interest in what’s happening? A simple, rapid assessment across all departments will generate a useful picture of activity, and a basis for making informed decisions on what to stop, what to continue – and what to perhaps accelerate. The key factors to form this assessment are both objective (sunk costs, anticipated costs to complete, likely benefits, dependencies) and subjective (level of risk, complexity, non-financial benefits, strategic fit). Gaining a detailed view of the current true state is always a useful starting point.

High quality analysis of ideas at the early stages is essential to weed out poor ideas, pet projects and those that are not timely, etc. It may also help to group linked initiatives into bigger projects, thereby improving focus and reducing the span of control and management complexity. The process should also include an ongoing oversight function that considers those projects in train, so that those proving to be too challenging, complex or risky to be fully implemented can be terminated early to free up resources for other tasks.

Building capability

Planning and delivery of change is complex and in no sector more keenly feels this pressure than Telecoms. There are a range of factors to consider including estimating, communications, methods and tools, risk management, testing, metrics, sponsorship, human change approaches, and more. Getting it right is not easy, but with the correct focus, determination and care, it is possible to improve an organisation’s capabilities in this area.

Possibly the toughest issue for most leaders to address is making sure that senior teams are fully aligned and committed to the change. In these tough times senior staff are keen to prove themselves in the shortest possible time. This can drive some challenging behaviours. Some senior executives resent tough constraints being imposed on their departments. Others don’t wish to overly complicate their departmental change agenda by considering the impact on other departments. Other executives may not want to shoulder accountabilities for delivering change outcomes at all. Modern businesses are complex, dynamic organisms; they demand highly proficient, aligned teams to manage them effectively. To be successful at something as soft, evasive and challenging as innovation and change management, a well-considered, simple set of transparent performance metrics is essential to driver appropriate senior team behaviour.

Great strategies and great innovations are essential to drive businesses forward. But what really counts is the ability to execute on them. In 2013, why not focus instead on doing less – and achieving more?

EXAMPLE: When attending a change portfolio workshop with a well-known UK mobile telco provider, the discussions became very heated. Everyone had a project that was vital and urgent, and resources could not stretch to meet demand. They used a model of resource demands against available resources, after several iterations the available resources were eventually ‘loaded’ at 120% utilisation to allow the portfolio to get signed off. The meeting concluded and the project sponsors left feeling happy they would get their projects delivered. A few months later the PMO leader was sacked on performance grounds! Faced with a similar discussion at Talk Talk a few years ago, Boxwood worked with the executive team to present their projects in terms of benefits, time and resource demands. We then facilitated a working session to achieve a consensus across the team on which projects to take forward, which to forget and which might be pursued later in the year. The assessment criteria that were developed became the template for any new projects looking to be resourced. This helped protect the organisation from unnecessary change and focussed the resources on a defined portfolio of important projects.

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