Why your tech project will fail without academic and admin staff buy-in

Posted by  Andrew Garner

I’ve been fortunate enough to do several different jobs in my career, all in or around the HE sector, and I’ve been involved with many projects in that time, both working for a University and as an external supplier operating in a joint delivery model.

The one overriding learning from all the project closure logs I’ve written and read is this: without the staff on-side, any decent size project will fail. It doesn’t have to be an IT project, many Universities have cross departmental teams working on large projects which have nothing to do with IT. It might be a team trying to understand the impact of the latest HESA changes, it might be looking into the makeup of league tables, it might be working out how to get a better TEF score in the next round or it might be a large systems project. All these projects are ultimately about people, and in some cases creating a sub-culture for the duration of a project is absolutely the right way to achieve the project goals.

One element which is often overlooked in project planning is the roles required. I’d like to see Universities considering more creative roles in projects, such as always having a communications officer as part of the core team. It doesn’t have to be a full time post, but having someone whose job it is to publish product updates, interact on internal social media, arrange staff briefings and generally inform and engage staff to ensure everyone is on-board really makes a difference to the perception of a project and the way the team members interact with the rest of the organisation. Any project needs input from people outside the core team, and having a project profile which means people understand the remit and purpose of the work, helps enormously with engagement.

Another role which should be considered to ensure buy-in from all staff, is a project representation officer from each area of the business. Not just the areas that will be directly affected by the project but also the areas that will seemingly not be affected, because I can guarantee that, at some point, someone from HR, for example, will need to interact with a piece of technology that IT only thought marketing would need, and project deadlines will be missed due to confusion and lack of understanding.

The job of the project representation officer would include disseminating the information from the communications officer to the rest of the department, ensuring all staff know what the project is about, what the goals are and how the project will be run and implemented. This ensures that all staff are aware of the project and you can secure buy-in, and it may even make it easier to run a separate project in a different department later on, using the same delivery model or technology applied in a different way.

It all comes down to staff buy-in. If you haven’t got it, you risk your project failing. If you’ve got it, your project will run smoother and be successful and you will be able to use the learning from the project in different areas.

Andrew Garner

Andy has worked in the HE sector for the majority of his career, and joined Unit4 to specialise in Student Systems and Student Experience. During his career in HE, he has worked for several SI’s in different roles, giving him rich mixture of experience in the sector. He is passionate about making things better for students, and believes the power of higher education can transform lives. Andy has a unique perspective on how the sector works and he understands that success in the sector involves taking the time to build a strong relationship between parties, which can then be used to achieve great things together.

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