All organisations, not just law firms, should invest in building a ‘change machine’. Change machines allow organisations to implement projects quickly, consistently and cost effectively.
It does not matter what the nature of the change is: new processes, IT systems, pricing strategies, legal project management, regulatory compliance and lots more besides. All can be put into effect via a change machine. The change machine is generic, while the nature of the change leads to specific outcomes and benefits.
Projects, programmes and portfolios (P3)
‘Change machine’ is my preferred shorthand for a well-executed project, programme and portfolio strategy. This is referred as the P3 strategy by the Association for Project Management (APM) in its Body of Knowledge (APM BoK), 6th edition.
The APM BoK begins by pointing out the three P’s:
provide a professional approach to managing change, the universal challenge of the modern age.
True enough, but I wonder whether the P3 terminology hinders communication with people unfamiliar with techniques and methods used for successful change management. Hence my preference for ‘change machine’, which I hope conveys to the uninitiated what P3 is all about.
Recently, at an APM event in Leeds, I heard how a change machine is being built. I was not alone in leaving the event impressed and inspired.
Implementing change at the Yorkshire Building Society Group (YBSG)
The event was a presentation held at the Yorkshire Building Society Group (YBSG) offices. It was called ‘The YBSG Portfolio Strategy and Change Lifecycle’. Presenters were Stephen White, YBSG Chief Operating Officer and Garth Newboult, YBSG Delivery Transformation Manger. They explained why and how they had built their ‘change machine’. Their new change machine has been launched formally to staff responsible for change delivery and due to be launched more widely throughout YBSG in early November.
Why the need for a change machine at YBSG?
The financial services industry is a very competitive and closely regulated sector. Suppliers must contend with the dichotomy of needing to deliver innovative products and services aimed at new (and younger) customers, while also providing reassurance and security to what may be called traditional customers concerned with their personal savings and home loans.
The YBSG has grown in part due to takeover and amalgamation of some former competitors. As anyone who has worked in an organisation resulting from mergers and takeovers can attest, ensuring that things are done in the same way consistently and to the same quality standards throughout the organisation can be challenging. To put in context, the YBSG group is the second largest building society in the UK, with over 230 branches nationwide.
The YBSG change machine: a simplified portfolio lifecycle
The YBSG has a Transformation Team. That team has developed what they call a simplified portfolio lifecycle. I’m still calling this a change machine!
Key points of the YBSG change machine are:
- Processes and procedures are in place to capture ideas for change.
- The ideas / projects must pass through a series of decision gateways before becoming implemented.
- As part of the gateway process, ideas are tested for validity and relevance against organisational business objectives.
- The ideas are ranked in terms of implementation priority.
- The model YBSG has devised is premised on an iterative approach to change, especially with regard to testing. and validation; an idea may be tested and validated several times before reaching delivery and implementation.
- It was explained that a lot of effort has gone into reducing the volume and complexity of project documentation required to support projects from conception to completion. Project control still exists, but the project implementation process is now said to noticeably lighter than it has been previously.
Impressed and inspired
Most of the points above seem pretty standard, almost textbook like, when discussing P3. So why was I so impressed and inspired with the YBSG change machine? A few reasons:
- They already have a Transformation Team, implementing change. I think few, if indeed any, law firms in the U.K have something similar.
- Moreover the YBSG wants to improve the effectiveness of its Transformation Team!
- Some clearly very capable YBSG staff have been working on improving their portfolio strategy for several years. The current model has not suddenly arrived out of the blue; it is a result, in part, of some dogged perseverance.
- The new model has strong support from senior executives. The relatively new COO has taken a personal interest in its development and completion. The importance of this should be obvious and not underestimated.
- A feature of the model which was emphasised, and which I particularly like, is that it will be for business owners of particular change initiatives to be responsible realising business benefits flowing from the change. Again, this is textbook stuff but how often is this applied in practice, especially in law firms?
- Perhaps most impressively, the YBSG is putting lot of effort embedding the new change machine into the fabric and culture of the organisation. The new model is represented by a fantastic graphic. Everyone involved in YBSG transformation work will receive this graphic as a pocket sized fold-out map along with key points for reference. So everyone will know what the model is and how ideas are brought to life and implemented. Everyone will also know what is typically expected of them as individuals during the change lifecycle.
Why law firms should build change machines
Law firms are faced with many of the same issues as the YSBG. Like the YSBG, many law firms are undoubtedly complex organisations which have grown in part due to takeovers and mergers (although I don’t think any firm has as many branch offices as YBSG) . All law firms are subject to regulatory control and they operate in highly competitive markets. They under pressure to innovate so they can compete effectively and the new wave of AI infused legal systems look set to disrupt the legal services market quite significantly.
These are just some of the reasons why I think law firms should build their own change machines.
Change capability at law firms
Project Management Offices (PMO’s) are an increasingly common feature of the very largest law firms. PMO’s promote best practices, quality and consistency of project delivery. It follows that these firms must, to some degree, be taking steps towards building their own change machine. The number of steps taken so far will reflect the project maturity of the PMO and the firm.
Most commentators agree the legal sector lags some way behind other sectors in terms of project management maturity and project delivery capability. Hence I’d be pleasantly surprised to find any law firm with a change machine comparable to that of the YBSG. Indeed, I think the vast majority of law firms are a very long way from building their own change machines.
Surmounting the cost barrier
The potential upfront cost involved with creating a change machine may appear a significant barrier towards progress for many law firms. I appreciate that few firms can afford to recruit and employ a full-time transformation team. Having a fully fledged transformation team on-site would be great, but this is not an essential prerequisite.
It is possible to train staff to become effective change agents, and support them with appropriate change management practices and procedures. The key word here is ‘appropriate’. To serve the host organisation best, change machines should be built to scale.
I have helped legal organisations put in place change machines and trained their staff about how to become effective change agents. If you would like any help with building your change machine, please do get in touch.