Implementation with integrity

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At Marchment Hill Consulting (MHC) we work with our clients to create value. An expression, which many of our clients will have seen on proposals, reports and presentations, proposes three necessary components to the value of a consulting intervention.

QSI 16-Water-Article-Implementation with Integrity-Fig1Rather than being additive, these components are multiplied together, so that if any piece is under-played or missing, the value proposition is degraded.

A few recent projects helped us give new attention to the third value cornerstone above – ‘I’ which means ‘Implementation with Integrity’.

Feasible Value Proposition

Working with each of these clients, MHC had developed a feasible value proposition, for example, redesigning a service category to increase customer value while boosting the organisation’s productivity and reducing risk. To reach this point, there will have been a range of methods used to:

  • Develop objectives and possible future states
  • Identify and define the problem, and
  • Develop feasible paths to improved performance.

Quality: As shown in Figure 1 below, the ‘Feasible Value Proposition’ places heavy emphasis on ‘Q’ or ‘Quality of Insight’. The decision to proceed to implementation means that senior management, often the executive leadership team and the board, will have understood, debated and agreed on the path forward.

Support: Employees at all levels may have been engaged in and be generally supportive of the proposed change. However, the ‘Feasible Value Proposition’ is based on strategic considerations deliberated at senior executive and board level. The ideas are simply too propositional at this stage for their practical implications to be fully articulated, understood or accepted. ‘S’ or ‘Support for Change’ is therefore shown as only partially developed, as employees, executives, board members and other stakeholders will naturally reserve their judgement until they can see a comprehensive and well-resolved solution.

Implementation: Arriving at a ‘Feasible Value Proposition’ involves some, but not much, attention to ‘I’ or ‘Implementation with Integrity’. This is because feasibility rests on practicability. For example, a proposition that cannot reasonably be implemented with available resource, time or affordability constraints is not then feasible.

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Figure 1: Applying the Value Model

Value Delivery

Once the ‘Feasible Value Proposition’ has been endorsed for action by board and/or executive, the challenge of delivering the value begins.

As shown in Figure 1 above ‘Value Delivery’ emphasises implementation, while continuing to underpin this activity with support and insight.

Implementation: For many client engagements implementation needs to be an internal program of change, led and run by employees of the organisation. MHC’s first challenge is:

How can we most effectively ‘pass the baton’ so the organisation can continue to shape, refine and run its own change initiatives?

Support: A big reason for internal leadership and resourcing of change is the extent to which necessary changes, and their implications (and opportunities), reach deeply into the organisation. For example, a change program focused on maintenance activities has impacts across functions as diverse as customer contact, finance, IT, human resources and asset planning. Therefore, a large cross-functional cohort from within the organisation needs to own and actively participate in the design and delivery of change initiatives. MHC’s second challenge is:

How can we assist the large number of participants from across the organisation to own and realistically contribute to the work that is most relevant to them?

Quality: Once started, there is a risk that change programs drift from their original purpose – becoming ends in themselves rather than means to an end. ‘Implementation with Integrity’ requires an approach capable of ‘truing up’ and refocusing implementation activities to ensure they remain aligned to purpose. As implementation proceeds and more detailed knowledge is developed, some activities may require adjustment. Discipline is also required to ensure the change program does not inadvertently get weighed down with every good idea within the organisation, and diverting the scant resources available from the specific goal at hand. MHC’s third challenge is:

How can we help articulate the purpose of change so that participants have an agreed view against which initiatives can be evaluated as they develop?

The three challenges summarise our motivation to develop a modified approach to how we may best support our clients in these types of change programs.

Leading to Value Capture

MHC likes to learn, respond and adapt to our clients’ specific preferences, situation and needs. Therefore, we are not committed to ‘boiler-plate’ or one-size-fits-all solutions. Everything we do is flexible to the goals and circumstances of an assignment and we enjoy the challenge and opportunity of that flexibility.

This openness to alternative approaches led us to develop a modified approach to implementation of particular kinds of projects – those where our client needs to own, lead and run the effort, and where the nature of change does not suit an offline, segregated or external implementation team.

So while we retain flexibility in individual assignments, there are some common threads emerging which are highlighted here, responding to the challenges outlined earlier.

Quality – How can we help articulate the purpose of change so that participants have an agreed view against which initiatives can be evaluated as they develop?

At the start of implementation, we work with our client to establish the aspirations and targets for the change. Aspirations are typically 5-10 short statements of what the intention of the change is. They generally encompass alternative perspectives on the change, such as the desired outcomes for customers, the community, employees and the organisation, as well as the headline purpose.

Targets relate to the aspirations and provide a way of articulating more precisely what needs to be achieved and by when. As measurable indicators, targets tell us whether and when the change has delivered what we require.

Aspirations and targets are generally developed to about 75% by the executive team. They are then shared and discussed with the board (if appropriate) and with employees, especially those employees most affected by the change. During this initial discussion, the aspirations and targets provide a concrete way of learning from and demonstrating openness to employee input. Once finally agreed, the aspirations and targets have proved extremely valuable in maintaining a clear and shared view of what is needed, and how achievement of these needs will be demonstrated.

With outcomes agreed (as aspirations and targets) a related activity is to work together with the executive leadership team on program outputs, and when these are required. This is very much a top-down view where the executive focus on what change their employees or customers will see, and when these changes need to be in place.

Of course, the feasibility of achieving these delivery dates will emerge as the detailed implementation plan gets developed; however, it is very valuable to gear the implementation activities to outputs and dates. This ensures we design the program to have maximum prospect of delivering – interim outputs provide important motivation for the whole effort, and also make it possible to curtail or redirect the program part-way through without foregoing benefit from the work to date.

About 5-10 practical implementation initiatives, or themes, are identified, according to factors such as senior executive ownership and their orientation to specific outputs.

Themes and outputs can then be mapped on a time board, as illustrated in Figure 2, below.

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Figure 2: Implementation themes and outputs

Presentations of this kind, and the associated clarity of direction, provide a ready reckoner throughout the change program and a means for reducing employee uncertainty and side-tracking or ineffective implementation activities.

Support – How can we assist the large number of participants from across the organisation to own and realistically contribute to the work that is most relevant to them?

Building on the careful articulation and engagement around the ‘Quality of Insight’ that carries through from the ‘Feasible Value Proposition’ stage, MHC has developed an approach and associated project management tool called the ‘Compendium’.

The Compendium, described in more detail later, provides a single electronic tool for conducting the essentials of project management, including communication. It is written in Excel and so does not require specific software licences and is relatively simple to adapt or create add-ons suited to client needs. Most relevant to this article is how we have used the Compendium to support a gradual and extending engagement of client participants in the program of change.

Starting from the time board view in Figure 2, the Compendium builds a high level Gantt chart as shown in Figure 3.

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Figure 3: Example high level Gantt chart

From this high level view, themes can be broken down into 3-5 work streams and sub-projects can be identified within each stream. Sub-projects are developed progressively:

  • A first-cut of probable sub-projects is developed by the program leader based on the desired high level outputs and dates, and each sub-project is assigned a leader from within the organisation
  • Each leader reviews and refines their sub-projects, adding the timeframe, deliverables, and who else needs to be involved in the effort
  • The sub-project details are re-integrated and dependencies and other adjustments discussed with each leader
  • Sub-project leaders then nominate the time requirement (average FTE per week over the sub-project duration) from each nominated participant.

This information provides a sound basis for planning out the implementation of the program as a whole; checking for resource constraints and output feasibility, for example.

Most importantly, assembling the required information for the Compendium provides a relatively low-key way for a wide range of participants to engage with the program and develop ownership of their role within the overall picture.

By defining sub-projects as typically 4-12 weeks’ duration of effort, we can effectively track progress while giving sub-project leaders freedom to design and implement their tasks. That is, leaders are positioned to lead, not micro-managed, so that ownership is promoted and time-consuming monitoring work is reduced.

Once dependencies or absolute end dates have been developed, a more detailed Gantt chart for the overall program can be constructed. This is a simple button choice of view where the Compendium user can select to see the high level or the detailed Gantt chart.

The resource allocation feature is the aspect that our clients have found the most useful. Here, we combine the detailed Gantt chart (schedule of work) with the nominated time requirement for each program participant. We can then generate a summed view of the time commitments anticipated by employee. This time commitment is compared with a simple table of anticipated employee availability to work on the program (for example, Joe Bloggs may be able to allocate 1 day per week in addition to his business-as-usual activities). Annual leave, public holidays and sick leave (if planned) can also be recorded.

The resource allocation feature then gives us a very clear picture of who is overloaded, who is underloaded, and whether the inputs required from each employee participant are realistic. This informs an iterative approach to revising the program until realistic employee commitments have been achieved, while maximising the delivery of required outputs. An example of the resource allocation outputs from the Compendium is shown in Figure 4, below.

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Figure 4: Example resource allocation charts

So far, every program we have worked on with the Compendium has benefited from this resource allocation feature. Programs have been adjusted, often substantially, to ensure that outputs can be delivered on time without making unrealistic demands of employees.

Implementation – How can we most effectively ‘pass the baton’ so the organisation can continue to shape, refine and run its own change initiatives?

Our idea to develop the Compendium came first from this question – organisations wanted MHC to translate our strategic level recommendations into an implementation plan that they could put into effect themselves using internal resources. What would we provide?

A large Gantt chart in a relatively costly and inaccessible format fell short of what we believed our clients would need. Further, we could see that the client would be unable to fund the kind of specialist dedicated resources that a traditional project management approach would require. So we set about a ‘fit for purpose’ project management tool – suited to mid-sized programs of change that involve multiple business units.

The Compendium serves as a one-stop-shop for the core aspects of setting up and running a change program, as shown in Figure 5.

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Figure 5: MHC Compendium – main functions

As we developed the Compendium alongside active client engagements, the tool allowed us to develop new ways of thinking about how best to ‘pass the baton’ to all client participants and to promote shared intent, ownership and enthusiastic resolve for the tasks ahead.

The benefit

Creating, delivering and capturing value is a challenging task, especially when placed alongside the plethora of other organisational priorities. Working with our clients, MHC’s approach to Implementation with Integrity tackles the important transition from an initial value proposition, with its emphasis on insight and high level support, to a fully articulated program with clear ownership, broad engagement and measurable purpose.