THE CLIENT: The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is a UK level government department with offices and 4,000 staff across the UK, and a large cast of partner organisations.
THE CHALLENGE FOR THE CLIENT: The Department was set up following a merger of three bodies as part of a cost-cutting and efficiency drive in Whitehall. Civil servants were looking for something to unify this new creation, while at the same time saving money. The new Department opted for an intranet in a box, built on Microsoft SharePoint, rather than buying a bespoke intranet platform. By buying something integrated with Office365, it saved several hundred thousand pounds and extended the value of the department's Microsoft licensing.
The Challenge for Me
This project was complex from a human, business and technical perspective. BEIS' IT infrastructure was in a period of transition, following outsourcing. It was wrestling with Brexit preparation, which meant frequent changes of people with an interest/ knowledge of the project. The client's knowledge of digital communications was developing. This was additional to the considerable change management and cultural challenge of three organisations being merged.
WHAT DID I DO?: I managed the project to its successful conclusion, going live to quality expectations, within the agreed budget and to the agreed timescale. This involved co-ordinating: review of three sites worth of content, managing the creation of must-have content, liaising with teams of people within BEIS and their technology partners on the technical work required, organising content creator training, overseeing production through three iterative phases to a successful go live to all staff. I also organised commercial aspects, ensuring that the contract was completed both to the client's satisfaction and ensured it was of commercial value to my own employer.
THE COSTS: This seven month project was in the under £500,000 annual cost category.
THE OUTCOMES: Site went through three iterations to manage risk; the first phase took us through technical deployment to the deployment of the first version to a group of employees as a pilot. Then this moved to a soft launch, again to a restricted sub-set of employees, but this time many more people than the pilot, and then finally, we went to a hard launch for all staff within eight months of me taking the project on.
Staff survey results have shown an increase in satisfaction in terms of how people find the information they need to do their jobs, both in terms of searching for information of people as well as information on policies.
What were the lessons learned?
- If you are dependent on third parties, or contractors, to help your software be installed and maintained, ensure your client knows who is responsible for what! A linear responsibility chart or RACI chart is a must in complex projects. (RACI stands for Responsibile, Accountable, Consulted or Informed). Ensure every line in the project plan is clear as to who's going to do it (responsible), who checks it's been done (Accountable), it's been done using the proper method (Consulted) and everyone on the project knows what it means, and when it will be completed. (Informed).
- Don't assume any knowledge on the part of your client and budget for repeated conversations and briefings to help them get up to speed, and for you to manage their expectations. Digital stuff looks relatively easy, and sometimes people on your project teams will have no knowledge of the commercial side, nor of the agreed scope. Publicise the client's requirements internally, and ensure what people know what's in scope for when.
- As a contractor, you have minimal influence on this but continuity in terms of client-side project personnel is really helpful.
- Some contracts can be true partnerships (where there can be flexibility around scope in return for extra budget or timescale. Other contracts and engagements are less flexible, and more rigid. Be clear which category your client falls into- this can become obvious through the attitudes and behaviours of the people around the project, such as governance, or support staff, rather than necessarily the direct project sponsor and team.
- Don't be surprised if the client's business and IT teams don't know each other personally, and have different perspectives and agendas. Get a commitment that the client will provide a co-ordination or management resource whose role is to pull together their side. Otherwise the delays will mount up amid difficulties in cross-departmental collaboration and resolving the situation can be more difficult than expected when the project was first estimated.
- Which leads me to the biggie. Add delay/complexity/third party outsourcing risks to thinking when pricing work for the UK public sector.