Getting projects done as a social housing provider is very difficult. Today I am going to go through some of the reasons why projects get stuck. I will also provide 3 quick and easy steps that you can implement to get your projects delivered.
Why Social Housing Transformation Projects Get Stuck
No matter which social housing provider you visit there are always lots of projects on the go. Whether it is a new customer portal or a new housing management system there are lots of change projects happening.
One of the reasons why there are so many projects on the go is the unique environment that they operate in. I don’t think there are any other organisations that have so many different organisations affecting the amount of projects and change necessary just to maintain the current level of service. The list is long and varies from provider to provider with most having the government, numerous local councils, regulators, commissioners and customers to name just some of them.
So whether it is a new portal for customers to manage their account or log a repair through to a new housing management system there are often lots of customer experience projects that need to get done. This is on top of projects to improve compliance processes and other projects that come about through a change in government policy such as universal credit.
With so much on the go combined with reduced amount of money available (rent reduction for example) and limited amount of people available to work on projects it is no wonder projects get stuck.
Why saying yes is also saying no
A project manager called Janet had a project to deliver a new way customers could view their rent information through an online web portal. To make this happen she had to make some changes to organisation website. To do this she needed John the website manager to change the website. John is a very helpful and friendly member of staff who Janet gets on well with. Janet has a meeting with John and they agree what change needs to be made and John agrees to do it on the following Monday. This is great for Janet as it fits with her project timescales.
On Monday John comes into work ready to make the change to the website for Janet’s project. Just as John sits at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee Susan from finance stops by his desk and says there is a problem with the text on one of the organisation website pages. She asks him if he can update the text today so there are no queries from customers. Being helpful and friendly John says yes no problem he will do it now. Thinking the job will not take long he makes a start on changing the text for Susan. As he is working to make the change Susan comes back and asks if he can insert a graph on the page. John try’s to insert the graph but it moves all the text and the webpage does not display correctly. After a few hours work John is able to have the graph and text displayed. However what should have only taken a few minutes has ended up taking most of the day.
Janet pops by John’s desk to see how he is getting on with making the change that she needs for her project. John very apologetic says he did not have time due to the work he did for Susan.
The result is the project ends up delayed as John’s time needs to be rescheduled. By being helpful and saying yes to both Janet and Susan he indirectly said no to Janet by working on Susan’s request. John also did not know which piece work had the highest priority.
This happens time and time again in many social housing organisations. While people are trying to be helpful the end result is projects delayed. I call this the Yes effect.
There is a myth that magpies are attracted to shiny objects. Following research by Exeter University they found that magpies were no more attracted to shiny objects than dull objects. They did discover that they are very inquisitive birds. When they see something new they go and investigate.
People working on projects are very similar. They are all happy working on their project but then a new project starts up. Suddenly the old project looks boring and the new project looks more interesting.
People get drawn to do work on the new project and leave the old project unfinished. I can this the Magpie effect. Social housing organisations who have lots of old projects on the go which never seem to end are often suffering from the Magpie effect.
3 Steps to get your projects unstuck and delivered
To get your projects unstuck keep it simple. Instead of delivering slow moving large projects break them down into lots of smaller projects. Smaller projects are easier to deliver. It is like that old saying how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You will be able to get the smaller projects delivered quicker which will enable the organisation to start receiving the benefits early. The quicker a project can be delivered the less chance of there being a Magpie effect.
Once you have broken the large projects down the next step is to put them into a list with the highest priority project at the top and the lowest at the bottom. With all the projects listed in order of importance you now know which projects you should be working on.
The next step is cut the list down. There is no point spreading people and money across too many projects. All that happens is the projects do not get done. It is like when you go to a hotel and they give you lots of pieces of toast but only one packet of butter. Imagine your projects are the toast and your people and money are the butter. Don’t spread them too thin! Doing less with more people reduces the likelihood of the yes effect.
You need to cut the list right down and only do the top priority projects. Even a list of 10 projects is too many the aim is to have as few active projects as possible.
The final step is to use a simple gated approach to deliver your projects. Rather than trying to deliver a project from start to finish in one go a gated approach takes a project step by step along the delivery lifecycle. The advantage with this is you can stop, pause or cancel a project before too much time and money has been spent if the project turns out not as expected.
I have developed a simple gated approach to deliver projects based on my time delivering projects for a number of social housing providers. I have called it the Social Housing Project Life Cycle and you can download a free copy here.
In summary delivering social housing projects is really difficult as it is such a unique environment where there are so many external influencers. It is also one of the most exciting places to be with lots of change happening right across the sector in every organisation. There are also two effects which make it difficult to deliver projects.
- Yes Effect – Saying yes to everything which means saying no indirectly
- Magpie Effect – Leave projects half completed to start a new shiny project
There are 3 steps that you can take to get your projects unstuck:
- Break large projects down into smaller projects
- Put the projects in a list and rank them in order of importance
- Use a simple gated approach to deliver your projects
You can download for free the Social Housing Project Life Cycle a simple gated approach to delivering your projects here.