Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Evidence of Continued Impact of JISC infoNet Resources and Workshops

Shrewsbury College of Art & Technology have already provided a case study of evidence of impact following the training of their Senior Management Team and Middle Managers, on a series of workshops from JISC infoNet.

The workshops included Project Management, Process Review, Risk Management, Change Management, Information and email Management and Managing Multiple Projects in a Complex Environment. Donna Lucas, Head of Human Resources at Shrewsbury, has recently provided an update to this.

She says, “The management of projects here at the college has improved no end. For example we now employ a project management facilitator who works with teams to ensure that they are managing their projects within the disciplines and that individual projects are coordinated from a cross college point of view. We have recently committed to a re build of our engineering block, a 3 million pound project and that will be the first big test of our new approach. Add to this new disciplines for risk management and a range of identified change programmes and the sense of progress is really tangible.”

Details of the events available can be accessed from with the related online resources available from

Please note that workshops are only available to the Post-16 Education Sector in the UK.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

To Plan B or Not To Plan B...

'I can't put a plan together, I wouldn't know where to start - I'm far happier just getting on with it...'

'It would be out of date as soon as we started working on it.'

'No one takes any notice of the plan anyway, they are all doing their own thing.'

Just some of the phrases I've heard as reasons for not producing a project plan. Of course plans change and of course this means producing another but let's put a few arguments forward for why you should.

I suppose the (almost) obvious one is that if you don't know how to plan, how can you 'get on with it'? Where do you start to get on with it? What do you do first? Isn't that the first thing that would go in a plan, then?

Plans fill a number of functions and are not necessarily just for the benefit of the project manager. They help others assess how well the project is doing against its targets, goals and objectives. Assuming it has any. I'm aware of a project recently that hadn't specified what the outputs would be other than that something would be 'better'. Of course the project manager claimed a success at the end of the project, but was it? There had been no plan so it was impossible to check whether tasks had been done. There were no stated tangible outcomes so it was impossible to check whether they had been achieved. The only outcome was that the process involved had to be 'better' but was that so because one or ten people thought it so? Had anyone checked to see whether anyone thought it wasn't better? Or worse?

If plans start out by listing all the things that must be done they can then be scheduled. Put in order. This can be essential if several or many people are involved and some tasks require other tasks to be completed before they can start.

Yes things will change and when they do everyone involved in delivering the project needs to know how it will affect them. So the plan has to be rehashed and the next version produced, circulated and the previous plan discarded.

The discarding of the previous plan needs to be formally dealt with. There has to be a way of knowing which version of the plan is current. Writing the words current or final version is stupid and meaningless because there is bound to come a time when they aren't. But the words will still be written on them!

So plans need version control. There will be draft plans being produced whilst previous versions are still current, so there needs to be a way of identifying a draft plan and an issed plan. There may be several iterations of a draft before it becomes an issue.

At JISC infoNet we use the following system. Each document has a suffix as the last part of the filename. d1a is a draft copy working towards issue 1 and is the first iteration. If I produce d1a and send it to someone else who changes it, they save it as d1b. Once agreed and issued it becomes version i1. If whilst everyone is working to version i1 another version becomes necessary, someone will produce draft copy d2a. That may go through iterations and amendments d2b, d2c etc. Until it becomes version i2 everyone still works to version i1.

If it is necessary to replan, then having the current working plan in front of us helps us to do that, because there is a list of all the things that need to be done and we can add new ones in the knowledge of where they are best placed and can predict how they will affect other tasks that still remain to be done. We can reschedule everyone's work (this being a draft copy until they have all agreed they are available at those times).

I had a long train journey yesterday and my second train was a little late into Birmingham meaning I missed my third train. Now if you were the train controller and your train was ten minutes late, how could you replan your journey without knowing when other trains were going to be crossing your track? In other words...from the current plan!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Self-Evaluating at Organisation Level

There are many reasons for undertaking a self-evaluation and many different ways to do it. Let's start with an evaluation undertaken by the organisation with a view to improving it, making it more effective or more efficient.

Evaluating or reviewing a process would usually call for some investigation at different levels within an organisation. How well does the process involved meet strategic objectives? Is it catered for in written strategy and thus adequately resourced, or does it meet a more localised need, being resourced internally by a team or department? Even so, does it then feature in that department's strategy and do senior management accept it as a necessary process so that the department receives adequate funding to include it?

Who are the end-users and participants in the process? How is the process governed, resourced, managed, delivered and monitored? Do people within the process understand why it exists, how it meets strategic drivers, have access to written guidelines, have a process for giving feedback, raising concerns, suggesting improvements and are these things adequately monitored and actioned?

A while ago I managed a project called Embedding Business & Community Engagement Through Business Process Improvement and Internal Engagement. The Embedding BCE project was only concerned with one (albeit wide-ranging) type of activity within FE and HE institutions. Yet the process of managing and delivering services under the umbrella of BCE meant that we had to engage with senior management, central co-ordinating units, core business process delivery teams such as HR, Finance, IT, Libraries, Estates/Facilities, Information Systems and Marketing and with practitioners from academic departments, research institutes and business units from all over the institution.

No one person could hope to know everything necessary to conduct a self-evaluation on their own.

The interview process in the Embedding BCE project gathered perceptions. The views put forward did not necessarily reflect the truth of the situation - as we got conflicting views and assertions from different people within the same process. But the point is that each interviewee thought it was the truth, or more properly the true situation, that they were giving us.

So a self-evaluation should aim to bring these different viewpoints together. After our interview process we staged a half-day workshop using a workbook that is downloadable from the link at the end of this entry.

The workbook contained around 25 questions. The workshop took around 5 hours. The intention was to stimulate some discussion by allowing these different perceptions to surface and be challenged by a small group of around 10-12 people representing all levels from SMT to Practitioner and from a range of teams and departments.

It identified quick wins where one department was doing something really well, where this could 'easily' now be communicated and replicated across the organisation. Although the workbook asked for scores against questions, this was again aimed at showing that some departments would score differently to others. Improved internal communications would benefit just about every organisation of 5+ staff!

In several cases the workshop discussions involved raised voices at some stage. But the managed conflict sparked ideas and suggestions that were quickly turned into a list of potential improvements or developments. It identified both strengths and weaknesses. It stimulated and inspired many participants. It bored a few.

It made me wary of results of surveys where a single person had completed the questions, or where perhaps several people have completed different sections from their own perception without any interaction. And it made me think that any system that attempts to score an organisation as a whole is going to both short-change good practice and perhaps paper over cracks at the same time. Even with a scoring system of only 1-4 we had arguments over whether a question should be scored 2.3 or 2.6 as the department who would have scored a 3 were reluctant to accept a score of 2! In most cases where these surveys are made public, there is no option to split scores.

Self-evaluating and then acting on the findings are essential to ensure widespread uptake of good practice and that external evaluations find consistency

The methodology and findings of the Embedding BCE project are published in the Embedding BCE infoKit on the JISC infoNet website. I can be contacted through JISC infoNet to help facilitate reviews or self-evaluation workshops of BCE in UK Further and Higher Education institutions if required.