Agility under pressure: 3 lessons from the Public Sector

Last week’s Budget* emphasised the sheer scale of what is left to do to get the economy and our everyday lives back on track with an extra £65bn of support committed.

Last week’s Budget* emphasised the sheer scale of what is left to do to get the economy and our everyday lives back on track with an extra £65bn of support committed. This compares to the £55bn already allocated to Departments for Covid-19 during 2021** to address resource challenges and increased demand for key services delivered virtually. Making difficult investment decisions based on prioritising competing Departmental objectives has only become harder with everything seemingly urgent to implement.

Project delivery has been at the heart of many of the most critical programmes for the government, from the pandemic to Brexit. Resolving important blockers and facilitating cross-departmental collaboration under pressure has been key. Reflecting on some of the work Clarasys has been involved in over the last 12 months, we found three emerging principles that consistently led to driving greater agility in delivering public sector programmes.

1. Rapid and effective decisions are best made locally

2020 challenged organisations to rethink how enabling structures - governance and decision-making - could foster greater autonomy and local decision-making within delivery teams. Healthcare has been under extreme pressure and continues to deal with unprecedented demands from Covid-19 admissions. Given the smaller role that central government has played within local health, community partners have proactively stepped in to great effect. For example, translating national policy on primary care and designing creative, localised solutions to address operational challenges such as workforce planning. By moving decision-making into the hands of those managing primary care staff, opportunities to innovate and improve have been adopted quicker, improving patient outcomes.

2. Ruthlessly prioritise key user needs 

Starting with the absolute minimum for what the end user requires is crucial to prioritisation and sequencing on constrained programmes. One of our recent projects saw the delivery of a new service on a central government programme stutter due to obstacles with suppliers and technical development. These challenges were at risk of gaining unwanted media attention so a different approach was needed. The delivery roadmap was reviewed, breaking down the core product into separate releases and prioritising it by what would positively enhance the citizen experience. By focusing on the key user needs which delivered the most value, the programme delivered the core product quicker, realised user benefits earlier and accelerated the return on investment. 

3. Collaborate by addressing data and people needs

Collaboration is crucial to deliver at pace on pressurised programmes. However, the reality is that legacy systems, security settings, data sharing, and legal cover can often hinder this. For example, legally accessing data across organisational divides can be tricky without pre-existing memorandums of understanding in place and tenant access. An example from one of our recent projects where the service set out to establish system and data access for various stakeholders - including civilian users and those from multiple executive agencies. This enabled self-service access to up-to-date information, removing the challenge of manually shared data becoming quickly outdated. To achieve this, the team focused on the data needs of the stakeholders, and sought permission to pull this data into one place. In this way, the team took a data and people-led approach to determine where to focus collaboration.

With “Zoom fatigue”*** reported to affect those spending their days on lengthy video calls for work, wellbeing and fun have a big role to play in programme delivery. At Clarasys we believe a collaborative, people-oriented culture will enable teams to build trust, deliver unencumbered by organisation constraints, and create space for innovation, resulting in excellent customer experiences. After the last 12 months, how will you and your organisation take this opportunity to strategically redefine your culture in 2021 to deliver programmes at pace, rather than react to changing circumstances?




*Budget 2021 - Protecting the jobs and livelihoods of the British people, HM Treasury, 3 March 2021

 **Spending Review 2020, HM Treasury, November 2020

 ***Mattha Busby, “How to avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’ during the Covid pandemic, The Guardian, 27 February 2021

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