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Get on the BUS!

Delivering programmes and projects in any organisation can be a tricky task. There are many things to consider when delivering change and usually, the larger and more complex organisations require very clear and informed decisions especially when delivering large and complex changes. But whether you are changing the world or changing a light bulb, decisions still need to be made.

Governance is a key theme in the delivery of change. We need to make sure that the right people are giving their informed consent to a course of action before we proceed. Those people need to make sure that they have the right accountabilities to make those decisions too. Everybody needs to understand their role when it comes to decision-making (even if it is deciding that somebody else should make the decision).

So how do we make this happen in the fluid, ever-changing dynamics of a big programme or project?

Simple…get everyone on the BUS!

There are five key roles in making any major decision for a change initiative, five important functions that need the right people to perform them.

  • Chair – someone who will facilitate the discussion and make sure that a decision is achieved.

  • Secretary – someone who will document the discussion, record the decision and make sure that it is communicated.

Okay the first two are easy and tend to be the spine of any governance board or steering group involved in your typical programmes and projects. Best practice usually suggests that the Chair would be a senior manager and somebody with the authority to influence the wider group. This may be a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) or Programme Director, even a member of the organisation’s executive team but whoever plays this role needs strong leadership, strategic vision and the ability to control a meeting to achieve an outcome (among a host of other talents, of course).

What about the other three roles? This is where it gets interesting and an area that organisations sometimes fail to get right…

  • Business Representative – someone who will provide corporate insight, usually from the main area of the business that will be impacted by the change.

  • User Representative – someone who will provide user insight, usually from the main area of the business that will be responsible for managing the end product or service (for internal change) or a representative of external customer/stakeholder groups (for external change).

  • Supplier Representative – someone who will provide delivery and implementation insight, usually from the team responsible for building or changing the end product or service.

Business, User, Supplier. BUS. Got it?

This is the golden triangle of change governance, the core of decision-making for any major change initiative. Each of these three roles brings a strength and a weakness to the governance process that means the process will only work if all three are working together.

The Business Representative is the voice of the people within the organisation. These will be the people who have to deal with the outcomes of any decision that the group make in the longer term. Their representative should be standing up for the practicalities of operational management and thinking about value for money for the organisation, even if it is broader than just their own scope of accountabilities.

The User Representative is the voice of the target audience for your change, the people who will use whatever you are building. Many organisations with customer-facing products and services may struggle to understand what their customers actually want so somebody needs to represent their views in the decision-making process. Modern businesses are learning from this by placing a greater emphasis on marketing, customer insight and market research but when it comes to decision-making, somebody needs to be the “champion of the people” when the important calls are made.

The Supplier Representative is the voice of the service developer, provider or project delivery team. This is particularly relevant where the creation of the product or service has been outsourced to a third party as their interests also need to be considered in the governance process.

Three very important roles. Sometimes one person can be in more than one role (for example, the Chair could also be the Business Representative) but this could lead to unbalanced, diluted discussions during the decision-making process. Sometimes the roles blend into one but again, this can make decision-making less clear and possibly open to challenge. In some cases, the wrong people sit in these roles and are making decisions they should not be allowed to make. In many cases, there are other roles that play a part in the decision-making process (representing Policy, Legal, Finance, etc) but ultimately, these five roles form the core of a strong governance approach to any change initiative.

It is important to appreciate how these three roles complement each other. Bringing them together is a source of strength for the governance arrangements. That does not mean that all three need to be in complete agreement all of the time; in fact, there are rarely decisions that clearly benefit business, users and suppliers (and if they did, it would not be a difficult decision to make). The point is that having these three viewpoints expressed in any decision ensures that all implications have been considered before a final decision is settled upon.

Some of the challenges/pitfalls to be aware of when planning your governance arrangements include:

  • Do not let any individual’s grade, experience or seniority of the “day job” influence their role on the board/steering group.

  • The Chair should allow equality between business, user and supplier representation during discussions and decisions.

  • Documented terms of reference with clear roles and responsibilities will make sure that everyone understands how the process works.

  • Even if the named individual is unavailable at times, a suitable deputy should be identified to take their place when required.

The challenge here is not to overly complicate the process of making decisions, it is about making sure that decisions are made fairly, openly and consistently. Change is difficult enough when everyone agrees with everything but when key people do not have a voice in those discussions, the end result may be catastrophic. You could have meetings of 20-30 people but if these three roles are suitably represented and resourced, everyone can get on the bus together and the journey to success will be all the better for it.

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