A year on, have our Lessons from 2014 been Learned?

By Allan Watton on

A year on, have our lessons from 2014 been learned?

In December of 2014, we waxed lyrical about the importance of an ICF Team. We even went as far as to say that it’s the number one lesson that organisations would do well to learn in 2015. Truthfully, we haven’t stopped talking about it since. It’s all been for good reason, though.

Throughout 2015, outsourcing and strategic partnerships have become more prominent than ever. Calls for innovation to drive down costs and improve service delivery have seen the formation of some of the most complex strategic partnerships seen to-date.

With great complexity, comes great responsibility.

Procurement, operations and IT professionals from all sectors and industries have seen the shift and many have been enthusiastic in their willingness to adopt innovative models, malleable contracts and strategic approaches to complex problem solving.

But this hasn’t been without a tinge of disquiet.

True collegiate behaviour in these partnerships hinges on unprecedented levels of collaboration and evidence-based results that drive commercial trust. Yet, the headlines this year haven’t been forgiving to many of the better-known outsourcing and consulting giants.

Interest has certainly hinged on the avoidance of risk and interest in the tumultuous stories of some of the better-known organisations in the procurement and partnerships space.

To reflect this, here are our top five most-read blogs of 2015 and the lessons learned in each:

1. BT Sues Cornwall Council: 9 lessons to avoid the costs of early strategic partnership exit damages

Building an ICF team: Every project and procurement manager’s nightmare, an early contract termination. Substantial time and resource are invested into beginning a partnership like that formed by BT and Cornwall Council; so there’s great pain when such an exciting project comes to blows in the public eye. What did we learn from this? That clarity of purpose is absolutely critical in avoiding misalignments and later termination in projects of this kind. A well-resourced ICF team can prevent some of the issues that were raised in the public documentation in this case.

2. Serco boss questions viability of public sector contracts in an austerity-led world – 4 ways to reduce outsourcing risk exposure

Mitigating outsourcing risks: For big outsourcing and partnership providers, big contracts pose a huge risk, particularly when operating lean contracts for the public sector. A miscalculation of the work involved can quickly see margins diminished and even result in negative profitability. What do you think might happen to the quality of your service delivery in these instances? This story hinged on comments from Serco on the viability of contracts in an ‘austerity-led world’. From this, we learned much about the possible consequences of your supplier shying away from work in your sector. Remain alert, hope for the best, plan for the worst, rigorously maintain your project documentation and get a thorough feel for your contractual position. All of these will help those procurement and project professionals stuck in a very difficult place, to help guide events in their favour.

3. Serco’s Darkest Days: Do we Know the Full Story?

Supplier due-diligence: An update on the news on Serco up to August, it talked through Serco’s monumental successes, the challenges that began to hit home and the resulting impact in the news headlines. The Thameside Jail, the House of Commons PAC report, and the well-known tagging scandal all came together to see them prevented from bidding on public sector contracts. In fairness, they’ve done a mighty good job of putting things right since.

4. Two Public Sector Organisations Sue Each Other: Has Austerity Really Made us Sink This Low?

Mitigating procurement risks: A particularly unique situation where two public sector organisations decided to take their dispute to court. For us, the lesson was in understanding how the legal procurement challenge arose in the first place, and what you as a stakeholder can do to reduce the associated procurement risks so you can avoid a similar fate.

5. Serco’s “path to recovery” reviewed. Six sensible steps to check your service quality in any outsourced relationship

Protecting yourself from a troubled supplier: In this article, we briefly reviewed the criticism levelled at Serco in the headlines, and talked of their proposed recovery, posing the question: “What of their clients?”. We then went on to outline six steps to help project stakeholders protect themselves if their provider’s own circumstances changed. Most of which hinged on the importance of collaboration, open communication and a thorough understanding of your contractual position so that you might renegotiate your contract to mitigate the risks of failure.

As ICF teams are fast becoming the most reliable safeguard against procurement risks and project failure, we might be tempted to repeat ourselves in saying that forming ICF teams for complex projects is still one of the most valuable lessons that organisations would have done well to learn this year.

With so many high-profile IT project failures hitting the headlines, the quietly under-delivering shared service partnerships that claimed to be the route to £millions in savings – it appears that there’s still room for ICF teams to proliferate across both the private and public sectors.

So, has the ‘ICF Team’ lesson been learnt?

Kind of. Some forward thinking organisations, particularly in the public sector, have really learnt from past mistakes and have gone to great trouble to pioneer some of the most collaborative, experienced ICF teams the field has seen. Yet, the headlines continue to brim with somber stories of failed projects, poor implementations and wasted £millions – so arguably there’s still room to improve.

Not to worry, though! If forming an ICF team is on your agenda for next year, we have plenty of resources on the subject:

With that, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year from everyone here at Best Practice Group and we hope that you have a relaxing break to look forward to!

Until then, we’ll be giving your inbox a much-needed break until January 5th.

If you’re in need of some bed time reading over the Christmas period, check out our latest whitepaper below:


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