Author – David Hughes is a self-employed ICT programme and project manager specialising in social housing and local government.
The suggestions here are based on over 20 years’ personal experience of having successfully completed a wide range of projects and programmes in social housing and local government in the UK and overseas.
All programmes and projects should consider all of the issues described below in order to define what is to be done and by when as well as with the required resources. Failure to do so will almost certainly compromise the intended benefits and the timescales needed to successfully complete. Detailed plans are essential to managing resource requirements and timescales. Note also that any plans issued by suppliers will typically only include activities in which they are involved.
The programme/project objectives must be defined before the plan is developed to ensure these can be achieved within any approved plan.
From the objectives the scope can then be drawn up and agreed by relevant management, stakeholders, sponsors, users and suppliers. Any changes to the scope during the implementation should be minimised and must be agreed by relevant management as part of the change management and maintenance of the plan. The (changing) scope should be communicated to all stakeholders including all users.
Controlling expectations makes for an easier implementation. It is important that the project manager questions the scope especially if they think anything is missing.
For example, lots of spreadsheets are typically used in housing and often are stored in someone’s top drawer and few others know of their existence. In my view, as many as possible should be in scope for replacing within the system if possible. The same applies to ‘what if’ questions – e.g. what if the wrong trade is sent to a job, the tradesperson who goes there should have a function within the system or the system provides the precise telephone number of the person in the office who will sort that out. Any time taken to do that is wasted at the tenant’s property, hence increasing cost and irritating the resident/tenant to sort that out, have to call the office and be passed from pillar to post before the issue is addressed.
3. Planned benefits
The benefits realisation should be defined via value-chain analysis, and reviews included in the plan to ensure that the RoI/projected benefits are actually being achieved (the benefits may be cashable and/or non-cashable).
4. New processes
It would be very unusual to do any implementation without the need for new processes to match new or changed software/functions. Furthermore, a new implementation is always a good time to review processes to see how they could be made more efficient and/or effective.
Ideally, ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ process maps should be developed to reflect the workflow. This does take a fair amount of resource and time but it’s the only way of maximising the improvements available from process automation by taking advantage of new functionality in the new system(s).
5. Real-time processing
It is widely being recognised that there are huge benefits in terms of resources, customer service and digital transformation that come from introducing mobile technology and moving some office-based staff into the field to be closer to the tenants, e.g. housing staff and trades personnel.
6. Implementation plan
Implementation plans should be very detailed otherwise timescales may easily be under-estimated (that is quite typical). If procurement of new software is a part of the project then significant time needs to be included and is usually (massively) under-estimated.
Senior management often imposes the delivery timescale based on some arbitrary matter and doesn’t attempt to work out how much time should be allowed to successfully include all of the required elements. Detailed plans will help to support discussions with senior management regarding the length of time needed to achieve maximum benefit from the investment.
It is very unlikely that realistic timescales can be set for the implementation unless and until details of the plan have been established.
Implementations of new hardware/software should incorporate a data-cleansing exercise to ensure timeliness and accuracy. This is often put off until the next project is undertaken, itself using that same out-of-date data.
Data migration is another key element of implementation, including how much to migrate (e.g. current year plus one for rent transactions). To ensure customer satisfaction, it is essential that all relevant data is brought into the system and is readily available to any staff dealing with customers.
There are still far too many spreadsheets and other tactical solutions in use but many hold essential data that you need in your line-of-business applications. Customer-related data quality will largely drive project timescales; if your starting point is really poor-quality data, the likelihood is that a project will take much longer than expected or hoped.
Communication with all stakeholders is essential to any project. It enables scoping to be defined so that no-one is under any illusion about what should be delivered and the respective timescales for doing so.
9. Supplier management
Supplier management and building relationships with them is vital to success. Changing systems is not a cheap, short-term initiative, so collaborative, strategic relationships should be developed with suppliers. Housing and asset management systems are significantly more mature and integrated now, so if you’re changing supplier (as well as systems), you’re likely to be investing significantly and probably contracting for at least five years, so put some time and effort into making it work.
Your stakeholders include your end-users, tenants, members and unions, all of whom should be involved to some degree in any implementation. Only they know how things happen in the field, which is often different to what is expected by management and other office-based staff. With customer-centric services, the key here is to engage, consult and collaborate with them on the design of services, not design services around what you think they need.
In-house and field testing must be included in the implementation. Ideally a test script should be developed so that those doing the testing cover all functions in the software and all testers do the same test. Testing should include at least all functionality, workflow, data access, integration with other systems and reconciliation of the data.
12. Housing management in the field
Customer–centric software has become the standard today. This is ideally implemented by having the staff who carry out the customer interaction do so in real-time.
The implications are that housing/neighbourhood managers are based in the field with mobile devices, providing ready access to all the data relevant to the issues that might be raised by a tenant. This form of staff structuring (i.e. housing staff being location-structured rather than by function) increases staff efficiency, so saving costs. The staff get to know the tenants far better and so become more aware of new issues arising and understanding of users’ concerns.
13. Software versions
IT staff often tend to assume that when doing an implementation, the latest available version of the software should be used. Although this sounds counterintuitive, this is not necessarily ideal because immediately after the release of new software, there are often errors in it.
14. Risk and issues logs
These are essential elements in any implementation project. By logging them as they arise coupled with monitoring and reviewing them throughout the project should ensure they are all dealt with.
15. Post-project review
In most instances, a post-project review is missed out. The aim is to discuss what went right and what wrong, what objectives were met and weren’t and, most importantly, what benefits were actually achieved.
Including all of the above points in a project or programme is highly desirable because taken together they will maximise the final benefits.
Of course, they will affect timescales and resources; your senior management will need to decide what trade-offs between investment and return they wish to achieve in order to justify leaving any of the activities out of the plans.
David Hughes is a self-employed ICT programme and project manager specialising in social housing and local government. He can be contacted via Housing Technology (firstname.lastname@example.org).