Saturday, 11 May 2019

With A Little Help From My Friends

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At the end of last month, I had the pleasure on the last Monday of it, to go live with one of the smoothest migrations, from one integrated housing system to another, I have experienced for some time. It was down at Homes In Sedgemoor, the ALMO of Sedgemoor District Council, in Somerset. They often get confused with that other similar sounding ‘Sedgefield’, up in county Durham and for avoidance of doubt, I often say “near Taunton” for avoidance of doubt.

Watchers of South West English Social Housing and associated award ceremonies, will perhaps be familiar with #GoTeamHiS, an ALMO substantially punching above its weight. IMHO, many have much to learn from the Homes In Sedgemoor approach and particularly of its modest, but fantastically effective and likeable CEO Jen Barfoot.

Anil Majevadia, Javed iqbal, James Drury,Emma Jones, Tony Smith & Mike Carpenter
For a landlord of getting on for five thousand homes, and only around 65 staff, a full change of system, plus adding enhanced self service and staff mobile working, is clearly a big ask. Its no surprise then that they recognised the need for some critical friend help early, in order to assist the small core team (just two) and the wider management team, to organise themselves, work efficiently and manage their supplier effectively.

I am often asked what it means to be a ‘Critical Friend’.

I often explain it’s a bit like a person at your side who cares about you and when you ask, “Does my bum look big in this?”, you will get an honest answer. Also, if I am doing my job properly, I can point you to some effective under garments or a gym where you could consider getting your buns toned up!

Its that simple honestly, although many teams with large software and transformation projects struggle on, with a certain distrust of staff, what they are telling them and if they are indeed ‘doing everything needed/necessary’. Just get a ‘Contractor’ in, is often the refrain and while they may get on with it, there will generally be little around knowledge transfer and the organisation will be little wiser going forward into ‘Business As Usual’. Connecting with the right critical friend is, well, critical. Personally for example, I am a finisher. However long it takes, I will promise to be there and work realistically.

That last point is crucially important. As Brits, we are such a polite nation. We generally cringe a little if we have to deliver bad news and we are terribly optimistic. Where systems are concerned, in particular. We assume all issues are going to get resolved, our config is spot on, when UAT starts, no significant issues are likely to come out of it, we will have enough data cuts to be 100% confident of our data quality migrating between systems.

A reality check now good people. The world of changing systems is nothing like that. If it can happen, it generally does, so expect it all and be thankful when its not as bad as it could be. As a critical friend, I bring a lot of essential tools & techniques to the table to structure this lot and keep suppliers to account. Its my bag of ‘lessons learnt’. A folder I keep, called ‘Uncommon Knowledge’, after a really old month publication around a long dead database environment.

Suppliers reading this should not be worried. I only hold ones to account that need it when they are incapable of working as partners, as one big team with the client. I have met people who think suppliers always need beating up, even when they have done no wrong. Like some kind of 50 Shades Of Grey fantasy. I honestly don’t and will be the first to back up suppliers with genuine extra change control, if its really necessary. Goodwill needs to be built up on both sides and is a valuable commodity to be traded.

Needless to say, Homes In Sedgemoor went live when planned, using a very structured UAT and go-live timetable, citing timings, responsibilities etc. Monday of the go-live was quite a non-event, it went so well. Our supplier (Capita) told us it was “one of the smoothest” they had experienced.

So the right Critical Friends are good for Social Housing Organisations, as well as suppliers. Always question any consultants you do have in situ. Are they enabling the project to go-live as expected & in time? If not, seriously consider their future.

I care about knowledge transfer, guiding organisations I care about, through a journey I have done 20+ times, that they may only do once in 20 years. It drives me forward too, helping gift great tools to staff I have worked months or years with, to improve what they do and improve customer service to residents. I know the new system will enable Homes in Sedgemoor to further fill their (existing bulging) awards & trophy cabinet with more well justified awards. The thought of that is one of the things that gets me out of bed every morning.

A massive thank you to everyone at Homes In Sedgemoor, who made the smooth migration from Academy to OpenHousing happen. Particularly the fabulous Emma Jones, Javed Iqbal, (‘ar kid) Paul Barry and Rob Starr and the team champions (you know who you are – thanks for taking ownership).

If you have a project taking too long, going too far over budget, feel free to contact me & I will be happy to provide some free pointers. More astute organisations may want to consider connecting with a critical friend before projects start. That’s where the most difference can be made. Most of my customers save my costs many times over in extra change control cost and time saved. Always available for a chat!

Related Post: Who is in charge of your self-service for customers? Comms or Customer services? 


I would be pleased to connect with you on LinkedIn - Message me with any issues or queries, you would like to be explored in this blog. We generally receive a couple of suggestions each month.

The Beatles - With A Little Help From My FriendsThe Beatles - With A Little Help From My Friends.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

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