A major issue for an organisation of our type is who to involve in any project. This may be glossed over in many commercial approaches on the assumption that it is generally obvious who should be allocated a particular job. Things aren’t quite the same in the education world which is why we focus here on involvement rather than simply setting up a team.
Most project methodologies will take you through identifying your key stakeholders, assessing their likely attitudes to the project and designing strategies to keep them on board. In education you ignore this at your peril. There are various approaches to involving stakeholders and you must think carefully about the best approach for your particular circumstances in order to get input from the right people at the right time.
It is important that the analysis is shared with colleagues and preferably signed off at project sponsor level to ensure that you do not get a ‘rabbit−out−of−the−hat’ stakeholder emerging unexpectedly in the middle of your project. This can derail a project.
In drawing up this sort of schedule it sometimes helps to assess the ‘potential impact on the project’ heading if you consider the type of involvement various stakeholders have on complex projects. If the project has been set in a strategic context it will follow that most members of the organisation will be seen to some extent as stakeholders exercising some sort of influence or control as follows:
- Strategic - determining the strategy which this system underpins − may sponsor the project
- Managerial - executes managerial control over elements of the system being implemented
- Operational - is involved in operating the system or parts of it
- Direct influence - is directly affected by outputs of the system but is not engaged in inputting to it
- Indirect influence - is only indirectly affected by the system if at all
This is not an exhaustive list and you can create your own types to help you analyse your own organisation. However it is particularly important for you not to ignore the last two types of stakeholder. Although it could be argued that the last type is not a stakeholder at all, it is a particular characteristic of education organisations that particular interest groups have disproportionate negative power.
You need to acknowledge this and devise a management strategy for it. Typically, this often involves large−scale communication exercises just to ensure that people remain on-side. This is another reason why systems implementation in an educational environment is often so complex.
This covers organisational stakeholder analysis but you might ask “What do I do about directly involving people?” There are two basic approaches to this which can be summed up as representation versus delegation. Both have advantages and drawbacks.
|Representation||Attempts to take in the full range of views, interest groups and organisational units as part of the full decision−making process. Characterised by democratic, committee−type decision−making. Covers full range of views.|
An obvious route to gain widespread acceptance of decisions (?)
|Involves people who may have limited knowledge of the subject area.|
Slows decision making
Can result in compromises which don’t really represent ‘best fit’ in any particular area
|Delegation||Delegates responsibility to those identified as being best suited to the job. Work carried out by those with appropriate skills and knowledge permits project to move forward rapidly.||Acceptance relies on trust in those delegated – may be an alien approach in education.|
Needs care to ensure that all relevant issues are properly understood and covered.
As time is particularly constraining in the education world, with processes and policy moving on rapidly, our suggested model is to follow a delegation route with a small team of committed subject experts empowered to undertake work on behalf of the wider community. The empowerment aspect is crucial, as is (under either approach) a robust communication strategy, devised in accordance with your stakeholder analysis as outlined above.
A selection methodology very similar to that proposed here was used by the University of Sunderland in order to select a new student Administration system; a key difference being that it adopted a more representational approach to the evaluation team. The Sunderland case study dates to 2001 but remains relevant as it describes a generic approach to the decision-making process.
Whichever approach is most suitable to your organisation, the following key pointers apply:
- To ensure a consistent approach, make sure the same people evaluate all of the solutions under consideration
- Don’t assume that the ability to critically evaluate a solution can be taken for granted. The assessors may require some formal training. At the very least they should attend a briefing session where they have the opportunity to ask questions and resolve any differences of perception/approach
- When planning the work allow time for training/briefing and thorough debriefing. Ensure your assessors are aware of the total time commitment required
- If the project is particularly large or complex, it pays to think of your assessors as a project team. There is a vast body of literature on the development of teams. The phases of team development are commonly referred to as Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing (The Tuckman Model). If you need to bring together people from different backgrounds and experience in order to take major important decisions for the organisation, you need to allow some time for them to develop as a group. In small projects, very basic training or a detailed briefing as described above may be all that is required. In more major undertakings, time invested in developing your team will help ensure you make the right decisions
- Ideally the people involved in assessing the potential solutions will be the same people who are responsible for defining the requirements in the first place. Where the constituencies are different there is again a need for briefing/explanation.