Refreshing change at Scottish Water

A new system to ensure water quality in Scotland has meant addressing wider issues of governance and change management, say Stephen Simpson of Scottish Water and Paul Rayner, management consultant

Ensuring appropriate and effective governance is critical to achieving consistent levels of project success. The Office of Government Commerce identifies the "lack of clear links between the project and the organisation's priorities" and "lack of senior management ownership" as the two biggest
causes of project failure.

Sometimes, sponsorship, governance, and related change management activities are seen as afterthoughts that can be added when needed, without effort and at no significant cost. Scottish Water is determined that it will not tolerate this approach.

For many years it has used best practice sponsorship and governance within its civil engineering projects and is now turning the spotlight on to change management. It is now applying all three activities to a significant change project, delivered through an IT solution - the LIMS Refresh project.

Laboratory management
LIMS is the Laboratory Information Management System, which provides enterprise-wide IT services to manage, control and record all the activities of Scottish Water's four laboratories and of approximately 300 samplers, couriers, analysts and other scientists employed by the Scientific Services Division. It also interfaces with a range of other IT systems, including an asset management information system, accounting systems, and other corporate databases.

Scientific Services guarantees the quality of water, as required by the strict regulations within International Standard ISO17025, the Drinking Water Testing Specification and objectives set by the Scottish Government. Because of its fundamental role helping the organisation to meet these mandatory standards, the LIMS system is vital to the work of the Division and of Scottish Water as a whole.

Logistics
The geography of Scotland, with densely-packed cities in the central belt, large remote rural areas, belts of mountains and offshore islands in the North and West, creates special problems that are not encountered elsewhere in the UK. For example, water samples can take several days to reach the analytical laboratories from remote locations, so sampling, site testing and transportation create challenges unique to Scottish Water.

The LIMS system is based on a version of a software package that no longer meets all regulatory requirements and is unable to support Scientific Services in meeting its business targets. The Refresh project will deliver a comprehensive upgrade, replacing out-of-date core software, and providing a platform for future enhancements to improve the efficiency of the division.

Project structure
LIMS Refresh has been built on the foundation of a rigorous business case. This identified exactly what must be achieved, as well as why and how it must be achieved, and was prepared before any investment funds were allocated. To avoid uncontrolled changes to scope, cost and schedule, work will only allowed to start on implementation when all feasibility studies and design work was completed and approved by a "gateway review".

For this project, business constraints mean that the core software upgrade must be ready for live use by 1 January 2012, to mitigate the risk of audit failures, and ensure seamless transition to the 2012 sampling and work schedules, with enhancements following at a later date. Good governance requires all elements of a project to be designed before gaining approval to proceed, thus avoiding the risk of incomplete designs being initiated. The complicated enhancements to LIMS have been sectioned off for later action to prevent delays to realising the benefits of the core upgrade.

Change management
Dividing the project into phases in this way makes it especially important to gain the ongoing support of stakeholders, since the full benefits of the upgrade will only be realised when all enhancement phases are completed. Thus stakeholder management and communication activities are critical to success.

A detailed Communications Plan identifies all the engagement, training and reporting activities that are deemed necessary for every stakeholder group. Samplers based at-home in the Western Isles have limited or no access to electronic media: accordingly, they must be notified of changes to working practices by post and through regular telephone briefings by their Team Leaders. Team Leaders are also scattered across the country and will be briefed through teleconferencing and online presentations by a set of ASKEs (Area Specific Knowledge Experts).

Other change management activities include:
  • Roadshows across Scotland to inform as wide a range of stakeholders as possible
  • Use of communications technology, such as video conferencing, to minimise travel costs
  • Establishing feedback arrangements, so that those affected can be confident that their views are heard and that their concerns are addressed
  • Using volunteers from within Scientific Services to conduct validation and user acceptance tests
The phased implementation of the project makes it particularly important to manage expectations at all levels, and Scottish Water's formalised governance arrangements help in this regard. In the case of the LIMS Refresh project, governance is focussed through the Project Steering Group, which includes representatives of Scottish Water's IT Division, its Change Management Group, its Asset Management directorate and Logica, the IT partner that is managing the project. Chairing the Steering Group is the project's sponsor, a senior manager from within Scientific Services Division, whose remit is to ensure, amongst other things, that all elements of the project are co-ordinated to deliver the expected benefits. To this end, all activities that will contribute to success - IT, business working practices, testing, change management, training, communication, risk mitigation - are identified and included in the project budget.

Future payoff
To ensure success, many organisations impose methodologies on those engaged in delivering projects and rather leave governance, sponsorship and supporting change management activities to chance. At Scottish Water, there is no such abdication.

The role of all involved is understood and the pay-off will be received in future years when LIMS Refresh and other V2r projects deliver all that is expected, on time, on budget, and to specification.

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