The process for funding projects – in and out of government – is often not for the fainthearted. Here, Ian Dawson explains why good planning is pivotal
There’s long been problems with how projects across the public and private sectors get funded. In our digital world, it’s one of the few things that has frequently failed to move with the times.
The Waterfall process is often the root cause of difficulties in this area. Waterfall – whereby project activities are broken down into sequential phases, each one hinging on the deliverables of the previous one – assumes that the solution and all the necessary information is fully known before a project commences. But that’s by no means always the case – and don’t take my word for it.
Remember that old Harold MacMillan dictum, “events, dear boy, events?” The then British Prime Minister was talking about what can blow governments off course but his message is equally pertinent today, especially when you take into account the pace of technological advances. And certainly, Waterfall is hardly conducive to the core principles of approaches such as agile, which is all about sprints, failing fast, and changing as you progress.
A better way, a more effective way, is to focus on capabilities.
A route map for change
Capability Based Planning (CBP) is, on the face of it, a simple concept. Capabilities describe what the business does, through its people, processes, culture and technology. CBP will therefore enable an organisation to identify its capabilities; assess the level of change required to deliver enhancements to each capability; and prioritise and develop a roadmap for making the changes. It’s hard to argue with the logic of all of that.
So what better way to test whether CBP is fit for purpose than in our COVID-disrupted world? A world where the time for detailed planning has all but vanished, the pace of digital transformation is faster than it perhaps has ever been, and there is a constant need for so-called “hyper-agility” to deal with a never-ending series of unpredictable events.
However, all this doesn’t negate the need for some form of strategic thinking and planning.
When lockdown occurred earlier this year, employees at many organisations were empowered to quickly find new approaches – and that’s exactly what they did.
There is certainly no doubt that the impressive switch to remote working highlighted just how adaptable staff can be. Another feature has been the proliferation of new communications channels. We’ve all become accustomed to messages racing in from colleagues on text and instant messaging services, not to mention numerous online meetings on a multitude of different platforms.
This is good to a point – of course, when people suddenly have to transition to working from home full time there needs to be clear channels of communication – but their sheer volume can also lead to frustration and raised stress levels, while also raising concerns over potential security breaches, inadvertent or otherwise.
The advantages that a CBP approach would bring to organisations are helping to provide a clear strategic direction while staff are remote working and coordinating common requirements across multiple business areas.
What CBP offers is a measure of order and control and a better way of prioritising investment through a clear understanding of what an organisation requires. Easily accessible funding can be made available within these areas to allow for experimentation and rapid transformation, both allowing for a level of control within the umbrella of a capability whilst enabling a higher level of freedom to experiment.
Using CBP, you can ask “how much is it worth investing to fix that problem or continue with this capability?” This means you are intrinsically attributing a financial value to capabilities and setting a budget to fix it, taking all aspects of business and technical change into account. It also allows for processes to be paused at an early stage and you can explicitly call that out as a success.
Capturing the gains
As we hopefully edge towards a more recognisable state of normality, what we need to make sure we don’t lose is the scale and speed that we proved we can operate at. Now is the time we must rationalise what we have produced, regain coordination and ensure resources are partitioned towards capabilities that will maximise business value and CBP can undoubtedly provide the framework from which to do so.
Perhaps we don’t even need to call it CBP to make it work. Outcome based planning anyone? Whatever we call it, the approach and concepts still apply.
About the author
Ian Dawson is a Business Architect at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
With thanks to Mivy James and many others for their contributions during the creation of this article.
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