Embracing your project vision

Embracing your project vision

When embarking on a project, setting a project Vision sounds like the obvious way to start, but often organisations think that they already know what they want to achieve and how they want to do it.

Key reasons for project failure include:

  • Not involving the right people at the crucial, early planning stages and so failing to get project buy-in.
  • Allowing staff to think its an IT Project – which means they disengage and rely on technology not outcome.
  • Misaligned project delivery and aims – allowing activities which don’t achieve the Vision.
  • Lack of understanding or ambiguity about project purpose – inability to explain “so what?”
  • Lack of understanding on resource demands – “unofficial” projects that have been initiated through other channels may be perceived as being strategically unimportant, but leadership teams often have a limited understanding of what they are approving and may prioritise them as a major project. As a result, “unofficial” projects can be approved with no insight into how team’s capacity is already stretched thin by existing demands.
  • Setting a project Vision tackles each of these risks, serving as a focal point throughout the project for course-correction and success measurement.

Setting a Vision

Project Vision should focus on the reason why you are making the change, describing the direction of the business and its aims in the medium-to-long term.
A Vision is designed to be aspirational, describing where the business wants to be, not necessarily where the business currently is. It should explain what the business will deliver and the benefits to customers.

A Vision without Principles is just a statement of intent!

Underpinning the Vision are Principles which will guide the project. They are the qualifying characteristics that show how the business will progress towards and achieve that Vision. Principles are a set of guiding decisions which influence tactical planning by outlining what the business wants to achieve; they are there to hold the project to account and remind the team of the purpose

As they signify the need for change, it is essential that the Vision and Principles are created and/or influenced by the project team, as well as senior decision-makers. This maximises stakeholder buy-in and ensures that everyone is signed-up to and working towards the same goals. Principles should be clear and easy to understand, free from jargon or ambiguity.

Icebergs ahead!

It is also important to recognise that there may be Constraints which will impact the Vision. A Constraint is different to a challenge. Whilst a challenge signifies difficulty, it may not be impossible to overcome that difficulty. A Constraint, however, signifies an immovable limitation or restriction. Therefore, whilst budgets or resources may feel like a Constraint, they are in fact business challenges, because it may be possible to overcome them (e.g., via a Business Case). However, a statutory factor, such as compliance or regulatory boundaries, are usually fixed.

Understanding and documenting the Constraints in which the organisation or change must work is an important tool. It provides the business with the opportunity to plan around the Constraint and may also reduce the likelihood of encountering a risk later on in the project.

Shout from the rooftops

Burying documents in SharePoint or only sharing with senior staff will not ensure stakeholder buy-in. Instead, promote the outcomes of the time invested in this essential up-front activity. Think about engaging ways to do this; visuals, cartoons and diagrams resonate more easily with stakeholders and reinforce the Vision.

Once created, organisations should take time to guide staff through the Vision and explain what it means and how it will be used. Consider how you will check understanding and ensure staff are onboard and motivated.

Reap the benefits

Organisations sometimes struggle to explain or measure progress or success, but the Vision and Principles are the parameters for those measurements. During the project, use the Vision and Principles to carry out a project health-check:

  •  Are you achieving what you set out to do?
  • How are you realising the Vision?
  • What are the gaps?

At the end of your project use the Vision and Principles as part of the project’s Benefits Realisation stage.

Top tips for building a Vision

1. Involve everyone to maximise buy-in (don’t forget IT, but don’t let them take the lead).
2. Be aspirational in your Vision; set out what you want to achieve and how it will benefit your customers.
3. Choose guiding Principles that underpin the Vision to explain how it will be achieved.
4. Set ground rules that everyone signs up to and agrees to be accountable towards.
5. Recognise Constraints and plan for and adapt to challenges.
6. Promote, share, and use the Vision throughout the project.
7. Create quantifiable targets for Benefits Realisation.

The year everything had to change…including us

How we expanded into being a digital consultancy when the world had to stop working.

Insight

Many CEO’s will talk about new products and services their business is launching in a very marketing specific way. I want to give you an honest insight into how we expanded our business with a new vision in a year where nothing was predictable.

My hope is that somebody can be inspired to use this story in creating their own digital offering.

We need to do something different.

So, like every business regardless of size or industry, during 2020 we had to change our ways of working and really look to see if what we were offering was relevant to our market.

Being a business and technology transformation consultancy was more relevant than ever, but it was going to be a lot tougher.

Whilst pipeline and sales were OK, it was taking a lot longer to deliver projects as Clients tried to navigate their way through the pandemic.

As CEO, I had to look at what could change. How could we make our offering more compelling; how can we meet those unmet needs and support clients more effectively now and in the future.

What could we do differently?

Like many of us, 2020 gave me more time to focus on some key hobbies during lockdown, specifically for me was cycling. I am very lucky to live right next to the countryside and so a couple of hours out on the bike each day was a great way to pause the day to day and start thinking about what we could do differently.

As a techie at heart, I have always been passionate about how to create new products and services using technology in the right way and I knew this is where I had to focus. The consultancy side of the business was growing, but if we really wanted to deliver value back to clients and drive value to our business, we needed a digital play that was a tangible product people can buy into.

We had been playing with new technology over the last few years, specifically around Robotics Process Automation, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain but only really in an advisory capacity.

That was all about to change… we were about to expand into a digital consultancy.

The bike ride that it all made sense.

One sunny day, whilst out on my bike, I was lost in thought on how my company could really start to add value.

It was during this bike ride that the ideas around what we could do with the tech that we have been advising on came to me. It was exciting, creative and I could clearly see a clear vision on how to make it real.

So, we decided to start building our own bot offering. I did not want to go off-piste and build something revolutionary that was for a market we did not have experience in.

If this was going to work, we needed to come up with an offering for the unmet needs of our current target sectors but more importantly we had to use the skill set we had in house to get us there.

That is the key, let’s build an offering that has transferable skills from our existing consulting team that would resonate with the unmet needs of our clients.

Getting the team on board

One of the many traits I have is coming up with ideas, lots of ideas! It is honestly the best part of my job to be able to have that creative freedom and I am passionate about this being part of our culture.

Now if I am honest, not all my ideas are great but that’s part of the fun. So how was I going to make this different?

I needed to get my team to buy into the idea. Our question everything mentality means we are very good at constructively challenging each other and not accepting what is in front of us at face value, and again I am very lucky to have a team tell me directly what’s good and what is not! The great news, they loved it! The idea of combining our consultancy skills and building a digital practice. I won’t name who, but certain individuals got very excited about the thought of mapping out lots of business processes!

The next challenge was convincing the chairman. Those of you who have met our chairman Paul Forrest will know that there is not much this guy does not know, and he will quite happily (in a constructive way of course) tell you exactly what he thinks. Luckily for me, Paul is also a creative guy and was immediately on board with the vision and agreed it was a goer for us to pursue.

Now with the teams buy in, we had to invest in two main things now – training and allocating peoples time to this initiative! We did both with relative ease, the vision was clear enough to allow us.

Where can we add value?

To make sure this did not end up as just an idea, we dedicated project time to build out the business plan to focus on what this would look like.

With the mantra of not going off-piste at this point and keeping to what we know we decided to focus on Higher Education. Right now, given our insight and experience within Higher Education, we knew we should only be focusing on two things:

· Student Experience

· Operational efficiency

Digging into this insight we had to think about what are the common themes and challenges that HE institutes face? Where do we know the student is not being considered enough due to limitations on “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or poorly implemented software.

Knowing the HE industry was crippled with technology debt, unable to make change quickly and predominantly resistant to large transformation programs we focused on how we can deliver immediate value without large investments or projects that expand for years.

And that is where we built our Student Experience bot focusing on Higher Education repeatable processes like Admissions, Recruitment, Clearing, Student Services etc.

Taking the Vapourware to reality

“Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied.”
Then comes the hard work. How do we take the bike ride idea to a reality?

This was no small task. Asking an institute to take on a new project is tough, asking them to help out with a vapourware idea and put together a POC is unlikely, asking them to do this during a pandemic, that’s high hopes!

But we believed we had something here and that was not going to stop us.

Now we had to reach out to some friends. Luckily enough, we have several institutes that we work closely with who very kindly agreed to come on the journey with us. Turns out saving money and improving the student experience without changing any core systems seems to ring some bells.

It’s become a reality.

We worked with these institutes to build out a list of business processes that happen throughout the year that were high intensity, highly complex, required heavy manual work but delivered huge value to the institute and students.

We narrowed it down to 43. This was the point we realised we had our offering. We could automate these processes and on average return a confident 240% ROI on the investment within 12 – 36 months.

“More importantly we created a platform that doesn’t require you to change any core business system”.
Testing the market
The problem with asking your friends their opinion, you’re always concerned they just tell you what you want to hear. If this was going to work, we needed to speak with other institutes, those that had not heard of us and had no preconceptions but were open to doing something different.

Introducing Niico

Now with a clearer strategy in mind, we renamed the product from Student X to Niico-SX. We gave Niico its own persona, so it became part of the team.

This was important, nobody should feel threatened by technology advances, Niico is there to be part of the team and take the robot out of the human so they can focus on student value services.

“we’re the first ever industry product for Higher Education that enables intelligent automation”.

As we now start 2021, we are now looking how we continue to develop the product further to make it as much “out of the box” as possible.

Our higher education expertise allowed us to optimise standard business process within an institute whilst ensuring flexibility to allow each customer to configure specific areas of their institute. So far, whilst the 43 product services mentioned previously include key and low value tasks, we are now taking this to the next stage including:

  • Clearing
  • Recruitment
  • Scholarships, bursaries, and processing awards
  • Student transfers
  • Data capture and transfer between systems

And of course, we welcome suggestions from the industry on where automation within the student journey can add value so continue to evolve and develop.

In closing…

If 2020 taught us anything, we needed to be creative and relevant yes, but we also needed fun along the way and boy have we had fun getting to this part.

When I started Equantiis, I always knew we would be able to build something more than just a consultancy.

Our services are wrapped around digital technology. This is not a scary evolution or what it once felt like a minority report but now here in action!

As we start to bring more institutes onto Niico, we will continue to develop the product using our industry knowledge and real-life scenarios.

Whilst we did something different in 2020, we hope now that we can continue to help other institutes challenge themselves and do something different.

I hope you find inspiration from this story to either a) take that idea and give it a go or b) join us on our journey to improve Higher Education.

As I write this story it really excites me on where we go with this and the best part is…we have only just started.

For more information on Niico-SX 

 

Clearing the path to enrolment with Robotic Process Automation

Equantiis helps UEL streamline enrolment with Robotic Process Automation

The University of East London (UEL) has been pioneering futures since 1898. With campuses in Stratford and Royal Albert Dock, they are a careers-led university, dedicated to supporting their students in developing the skills, emotional intelligence and creativity needed to thrive in a constantly changing world.  

The challenge 

In 2018, the University began implementing ‘Vision 2028’, it’s ten-year strategy. One of the central pillars is ‘sustainability’, where they aim to increase resilience and maximise value. 

In order to manage the annual clearing process, the Admissions Team have to manually transfer around 1,300 records from their internal system to the UCAS website annually between August and September. This part of the process takes approximately 15-20 minutes per application to transfer data and check its validity.  

During the peak of the clearing period, the University would normally recruit temporary staff to undertake and complete this task within the given restraints. In addition, the University has to account for a peak in enquires that need responding to in a timely manner to ensure a positive prospective student experience.  

The Outcome

UEL engaged Equantiis to run a ‘proof of concept’ using ‘Robotic Processing Automation’ (RPA), a process that involved the development of a ‘bot’ which would automate the transfer of application data between the UEL internal system and the UCAS website. 

Equantiis partnered with Automation Anywhere as a technology partner to develop the ’bot’ which would run the process unattended at scheduled intervals. Not only would the ‘bot’ reduce manual processing, it would also skip records with incomplete fields and log this information for further review. In addition, resilience and exception handling were built in to ensure data quality and accuracy of transferred records between systems. 

The first iteration of the ‘bot’ was ready within 60 hours from the initial briefing meeting and was quickly able to demonstrate how it would meet the success criteria: 

  • To reduce the time taken in transferring a record with the ‘minimum’ information that UCAS required 

The outcomes 

  • 15:1 

Once underway the ‘bot’ met the criteria with a 93% reduction in the time to transfer records, with an individual record now taking one minute instead of fifteen. The equivalent manual processing time for 500 records would take an additional 17 days. Not to mention a 100% data accuracy rate between systems. 

  •  Future use cases  

From the moment the bot ran for the first time, and it was clear that the time to process a record had reduced considerably, the team began to visualise how else this technology could enhance processes across the University. This would allow them to redistribute staff time to focus on other higher-value activities that improves the student experience.  

The impact of Covid on examination results also meant that for some courses the process may also need to be extended, meaning that the ‘bot’ can continue to transfer data whilst the time can focus on helping more prospective students at the beginning of their university experience. 

  • Demonstrable ROI 

The proof of concept also highlighted that utilising RPA would have a clear and demonstrable ROI for the University, leading the University to begin developing an automation strategy coinciding with other workstreams in their transformation. This will offer UEL more opportunities to enhance the student experience in more ground-breaking ways. 

Designing a University induction experience in 2020

Equantiis helps City University London welcome students in challenging times

The challenge

The challenges posed by social distancing, necessary to keep students and staff safe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, means that an in-person welcome to new and returning City University students might not be possible for 2020.

City were looking for help to digitalise as many activities as possible, so that they could be ready to implement an appropriate welcome and induction programme, in time for term start.

The Outcome

Equantiis recommended that instead of digitalising all activities, we use the opportunity to review and assess, and then improve and map out, a desired welcome programme for new and returning students.  This would enable City University to ensure activities were optimised as well as designed in such a way that they could be delivered digitally or self-serviced.

The Result

The project was phased as follows:

  • Phase 1: Review and assessment of what currently happens
  • What activities are delivered?
  • When do they happen?
  • What’s the student experience?
  • What are the desired outcomes we want to achieve?

This enabled us to assess the complexity and value (strategic importance) of each activity, and the opportunities to improve and digitalise.  Equantiis then presented recommendations to prioritise and  an opportunity report for phase two.

  • Phase 2: Design

In the next phase Equantiis worked with activity owners to design priority activities, mapping out the underpinning to-be (desired) processes required to deliver.  Staff were challenged to consider whether the activity was necessary, ways to improve it and to think about optimising the students’ experience.  Mapping also ensures that City have documented processes for consistency, training and an as-is state for future optimisation.

  • Phase 3: Mobilise

Once created and mapped, Equantiis created a functional and technical requirements specification in the form of User Stories to collate the resources required to deliver the to-be welcome activities.  This enabled City to review what’s needed to deliver and ensure viability.

  • Phase 4: Recommendations

Finally, Equantiis shared the outcomes of the project and a high-level implementation roadmap.  This included recommendations for continual improvement and future year’s planning.