It used to be a rule of thumb in the post-compulsory education sector that, in order to change anything, you had first to set up a project, give it an acronym (the sillier the better) and then go out and get stakeholders behind the project by creating and maintaining a strong brand.
Many change projects are now finding that, although the rigour of managing the process as a formal project is important, the question of brand identity is a double-edged sword and in some cases a strong brand can work against wider and deeper embedding of change by singling the activity out as something different rather than part of continuous evolution.
Projects are instead focusing on showing themselves to be responsive to their institutional context and priorities and are aligning themselves to other initiatives where they are content to be seen in a supporting role. Some projects indeed describe themselves as taking a guerrilla approach to transformational change. By this they mean they are providing specific solutions to institutional problems in order to win gradual support for the broader strategic approaches they advocate rather than trying to ‘sell the big idea’ up front.
This is indeed a sensible approach in any large-scale change initiative especially those which relate in some way to the use of new technologies. The clear message that the project is addressing real business needs and priorities is one that gains credibility when the strategic plan is in the driving seat and the project fulfils a supporting role. Such an approach is also helpful in organisations that risk suffering initiative fatigue with too many changes taking place at the same time.
The project location and staffing are also of relevance in this context. Wherever possible project staff should be perceived as neutral and work through existing channels without setting up any new power base.
A possible downside to this type of approach is that the project could be seen to lack clear direction and be at the whim of many different stakeholders and hence at risk of scope creep. On the other hand the value of the flexibility to be responsive and deliver some quick wins should not be underestimated.
The University of Greenwich has provided a helpful set of questions for projects in a similar situation wondering whether to accommodate stakeholder requests to achieve a quick win:
- Has the project identified clear overall goals, deliverables and activities?
- Do you have a strong sponsor/champion with sufficient influence to deliver the quick win?
- Is the balance between investment of time and impact of change weighted towards low investment and high impact?
- Are the main beneficiaries of the change central to the wider change your project seeks to deliver?
- To what extent is the change proposed a recognised/shared business imperative?
- Are you confident that the primary agents of change will deliver what they promise in the required timescale?
- Is the project in a position to delegate work to others and/or lever additional resources?
In some cases your project may be simply laying the (absolutely essential) foundations for further change. This could take the form of technical underpinning that is relatively invisible to the end user but which cannot succeed unless cultural and other changes take place. In such cases it can be particularly difficult to get the required support.
The University of Bristol recognised this as an issue in trying to promote a move to service oriented approaches in its core data integration project, “Getting senior level buy-in for significant investment in something that is not clearly visible to the end-user – ie middleware – and which may involve high upfront costs and a longer time before benefits are realised is a challenge that requires a lot of strong evidence and good communication with a non-technical audience.” In this instance the University project team was able to make a good case and benefited from a clear roadmap and effective governance model.
Projects can often undersell themselves by failing to effectively communicate the full extent of their achievements. Common problems include:
- Failure to communicate why the project was needed
- Reporting on what their project aimed to do rather than what it has achieved
- Using sweeping statements with no indication/evidence anything has changed
- Reporting from one perspective, with little/no input from other stakeholders.
Before following the steps below please remember that you are free to adapt any of our templates. Feel free to amend the template to suit your own needs. We suggest the following three steps:
Step one - current state
Access the template and begin to capture information about your project. Focus on the ‘early stages of your project’ section of this template, which includes:
- What the current issues/problems are that you face. Why are you carrying out the project? What needs to change?
- Stakeholders (who has been or will be affected by the change)
- Indicators (develop or choose qualitative or quantitative indicators to record change that will happen)
- Expected benefits. What do you anticipate these indicators will be at the end?
- Baseline (current state).
If you’re struggling to list the expected benefits of your project, you may find it beneficial to run a matrix exercise to help brainstorm ideas. For example, our emerging practices initiative used a matrix to help a number of projects list the benefits of applying enterprise architecture.
Step two - evidence
This is where you focus on the actual change achieved by your project. Complete the template by filling in the ‘latter stages of your project’ section of the template, which focuses on:
- Actual change (outcomes, or what happened)
- Jisc inputs that have helped, or not helped, in the change process. Resources that would have helped
- Narrative around this. Low and high points, HITS analysis (barriers experienced, unexpected outcomes, things to do, solutions).
HITS analysis is another matrix exercise, this time to help you think through the Hitches, Innovations, Solutions, and Tasks faced throughout your project.
Step three - impact story
The third step is to flesh out your narrative. Begin to tell your story of change/impact. This can be produced in a variety of formats, for example: written, audio, or video. Be creative as possible, but if you’re struggling ask for help by seeking advice from your internal marketing department.
The Leeds Building Capacity project produced a very creative video as a part of their final report which might provide some inspiration in this area