In this third article, Claire, a Transformation Project Manager, talks us through her experience of being seconded to the transformation programme from her post as a food safety officer and the tools she learnt to utilise in order to make efficiency targets.
My initial involvement in the council’s transformation programme stemmed from my manager selecting me to represent our Food Safety team for a project designed to centralise our licensing processes.
This involved bringing together representatives from the Licensing, Food Safety, Imported Foods, Trading Standards teams and the Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) to look at our individual applications processes over the course of a week in order to create one central application point for all our customers.
After this week, I was asked to participate in the prototype and write up the new procedures and, during the course of the prototype, I undertook the same training Adrien and Janet completed. I eventually ended up, after an extended secondment from the Food Safety Team, being asked to manage a risk-based assessment transformation project involving all the above teams, to identify through four weeks of Rapid Improvement Events what efficiencies could be made.
The key challenge was to work out where the teams could be amalgamated, despite their individual specialist areas, and to streamline the technical administrative support surrounding them by migrating more calls to the contact centre. I also had the uncomfortable remit of leading a management restructure, which meant, in effect, having to restructure the team of which I had previously been a member.
This was something that I found quite difficult. I was supported in this totally new area by a consultant from RedQuadrant, who taught me, over time, that we were looking at removing posts and not people. We worked together on creating a new structure, which removed three top tier management posts, before agreeing this with the heads of service and sending to HR for consultation.
In the meantime, we ran four discovery workshops for each of the five service areas involved in the project to identify a huge range of potential improvements, before whittling these down to one per service area. Again, I was glad of the external support in the workshop with the Food Safety team as I found it a real challenge to set the appropriate footing for the new relationship we needed to develop.
That aside, all the teams were on board with the transformation programme and its principles due to their participation in the licensing project, and our information centre and comms bulletins sent around after each workshop helped to keep everyone on the same page.
The area identified for improvement within the Food Safety team related to inspections, which took an hour of officer time at the premises, and a further three hours of detailed administrative work back at the office. This had led to a real backlog of inspections. We identified that many outlets we were inspecting, such as chains and outlets in a local airport, were also being inspected by BAA, and could even have a third inspection if a chain such as Costa had its own internal Environmental Health Officers!
The solution we proposed was to prioritise the inspection of high-risk premises first, with the ability to decide not to inspect the low-risk premises if it was known that other agencies were managing these. The team struggled to accept this as a solution as it really went against the culture in which we work. As a result, they only half-heartedly implemented this solution, which reduced about 15% of the inspections, although we estimated that robust implementation would lead to a 25% reduction. Due to this, there is still a backlog in the team, and I find that quite frustrating as we provided them with a genuine solution that we just couldn’t get them to accept.
Other challenges included a manager of one of the teams promising a lot and failing to deliver on several occasions. During implementation, I held weekly meetings with all the managers and their nominated representatives to report against the implementation plan, and the representative from this particular team walked out halfway through as he was so fed up with hearing his manager making empty promises.
From this I learnt that without the real buy-in from everyone involved, a transformation project can derail very quickly – it took a lot of concerted effort to re-engage with the team representative and energise his team manager.
As a result of Adrien’s transformation work, the EPU had a 30% reduction in their workload. Imported Foods had previously had a paper-based system of faxing information and this project introduced a bespoke IT system, which had to be implemented in stages due in part to people’s nervousness of IT changes and also due to the dependency on external IT company to develop the necessary changes.
Our internal IT department was managing this process which was inevitably delayed as they often struggle to keep up due to the volume of transformation projects currently ongoing.
Its final implementation, however, will allow us to release two admin posts. The Licensing team had previously had to deal with lots of calls from customers requesting information on the status of applications or asking for application forms.
This project stream focused on redirecting these customers to the Applications Processing Team or the Contact Centre as well as a gradual migration to an online application form solution. The result of this was that Licensing officers were able to spend 20% more time out on inspections. We also introduced a risk-rating regime to categorise all the premises so that low risk businesses required less frequent inspection. This had the effect of freeing up officer time.
The Trading Standards team calls should be filtered through Consumer Direct (as was; now Citizens Advice consumer service) but many customers still called the team directly. The project identified where these telephone numbers were being published and changed them to the Consumer Direct telephone number to ensure these calls were appropriately managed.
We identified that the team manager was the only officer skilled enough to be able to input matters for investigation onto the system and this had created an inevitable backlog of unentered information. We therefore purchased training so the team could make more use of the back office system.
Additionally we found out that the team received a high proportion of notifications (40% of all notifications received) which they were not required to investigate but were still logging.
These are also captured on a Consumer Direct database to which the team has access for intelligence purposes, so this practice was immediately stopped providing a good ‘quick win’.
This project was an incredibly steep (and exciting!) learning curve for me. I hadn’t done any service discovery training at this stage so I really had to learn on the job through completing workshops and through one to one sessions with a more experienced consultant. At first, my delivery of service discovery training with the teams relied quite heavily on chunky Powerpoint presentations stuffed with potential tools, which I soon realised switched people off.
They got impatient and just wanted to try out the new theories as quickly as possible, so I’ll definitely lay off the Powerpoints in my next project. I learnt the importance of responsive communications and being available to manage issues as they arise without allowing them to fester, and also the importance of having cake at all day workshops – its value in securing goodwill cannot be overestimated!