In November 2016, Wellingborough Homes launched its mobile working solution to frontline staff, using Housing Insight’s PanConnect mobile app on tablet devices.
Like a lot of housing providers, we had tried mobilisation before… Actually, we had tried twice before, each time unsuccessfully.
Why was it different this time? Why did the business suddenly embrace this new way of working whereas previously it didn’t gain any traction?
Lead from within the business
To start with, the project was not run by corporate services. Of course, IT was heavily involved, as was the communications team, but they did not lead on the delivery of the project. They were support and advisory functions, implementing the solution wanted by users and needed by the organisation.
The lead for mobilisation came from within the business, a front-line services manager who liaised across the organisation and managed the overall project.
Ownership therefore came from within the business to identify and implement a solution that would meet their needs. Rather than feeling that they were ‘being told’, our staff actually felt they owned the project.
What users wanted and what the business needed had to be identified and aligned to ensure that buy-in was gained from across the organisation to successfully launch mobilisation. Workshops were held involving a quarter of the workforce to identify the specification for a new solution.
Our staff decided that they needed to be able to access their emails, have property and tenant information to hand, write notes back to the housing management system, and complete a number of forms which incorporated the most commonly-used processes and tasks carried out when working in the community.
Users trialled different devices and, with guidance from IT, ultimately decided on the mobile device they wanted to use, again putting ownership in their hands.
The solution that could provide all of their requirements at a reasonable cost was Housing Insight’s PanConnect. We worked closely with them throughout the project and they were happy to support us until we had the solution that would work for us.
Carrying on from the success of involving users early on, staff have since been involved in and shaped the baseline of Wellingborough’s IT strategy for 2017-19, with consultations carried across senior management, middle management and front-line staff. They have identified their priorities aligned to our overall objectives and a clear two-year action plan has been created to deliver the necessary IT developments.
At the beginning of the PanConnect project, staff clearly identified their requirements which included the creation of 15 forms , two tasks and two system extracts to be set up, and five data write-backs to be implemented.
Issues arose during the form design stage which was very labour intensive, with many iterations of some of the forms. There was also little prioritisation of tasks, leading to conflicts of interest and slightly delaying the final delivery of the project.
Milestones are important to measure the successful delivery of a project and to show clear progress, but they are also good motivational tools for the staff involved and to gain further buy-in from across the organisation. Being able to show tangible outputs throughout the project delivery keeps the momentum going.
User acceptance testing is the other area that can really make a difference in gaining buy-in. It’s where users see the benefits of their involvement and continue to feel that they make a difference. They are the ones who sign off the outputs and vet what the final solution will look like, again putting ownership into the hands of the business.
At the time, project management was only just being embedded within Wellingborough Homes and Housing Insight provided the initial Project Initiation Document. While high-level benefits were identified, such as allowing staff to work much more flexibly, minimising preparation time before going on site, and having all the information at hand to deal with more than just an isolated customer query, many of the benefits were only discovered during our review of the lessons learnt.
While there is no doubt that mobilisation is beneficial to both staff and the organisation, defining SMART benefits at the beginning ensures that everybody is clear about why mobilisation is being done in the first place and what to expect once it’s in place.
Every organisation has different reasons and there are many levels to mobilisation; our implementation using PanConnect is only the start of the journey. There are two major projects on the horizon for Wellingborough Homes – channel and culture shift, which will shape the next level of mobilisation.
“People, even children, aren’t really afraid of change. They’re afraid of not being prepared for change.” – Paul Smith
During this project, we never actually used the word ‘change’, or ‘mobilisation’ for that matter. Even though, having involved users early and throughout the delivery, we could have done. Staff were prepared for what was coming; they led the change.
Can mobilisation be done without change? The simple answer is ‘no’. Processes have to change, staff have to change and the organisation has to change for mobilisation to be successful. It’s a way of working which involves much more than just providing people with the right technology. It’s more of a cultural shift but that doesn’t mean it needs to be overwhelming.
“Don’t make a change too complicated, just begin.” – Anonymous
We simply asked our staff to begin. There was no ‘big bang’ approach. Wellingborough Homes is implementing lots of different parts of our channel-shift agenda, with mobilisation merely being one of them. And it’s only the first stage of the PanConnect project. The second phase will see us review some of the forms and implement additional functionality.
Did we get it right first time? Of course not. We probably didn’t get it completely right the third time but it doesn’t matter as long as we learn from the experience, review and continue to look for improvements. Change will continue; it just becomes part of business as usual.
Loreen Herzig is head of IT and business improvement at Wellingborough Homes.