Why 2016 sucked for me

2016. Worst Year Ever. The last post to this blog was October 2015, which seems like a lifetime ago now.  I was making progress on two strategic projects, planning to re-grade several staff and looking forward to a successful year.  It didn’t turn out that way, and 2016 was for me, professionally, the hardest year I’ve ever had. When you have year that bad I think it’s worth trying to ‘extract some learning’.  So here’s my quick introspective on what went wrong in 2016.

Staff turnover

Over a 12 month period (October 2015 to September 2016) 10 staff resigned, for a variety of reasons (ranging from improved remuneration or prospects elsewhere, performance management outcomes, relocation and other personal factors).  That’s over 35% turnover, with up to 25% posts in the department vacant at once for significant periods.  This has an inevitable impact on the entire department, as work overflows from the operational teams up the organisation to team leads, and then to managers.  However hard people work, however efficient they are, in this scenario some work just doesn’t get done.  That then impacts customer relationships and projects, which in turn has a significant impact on staff morale.

However hard people work, however efficient they are, in this scenario some work just doesn’t get done.

There are a number of contributory factors to the staff turnover which are difficult to analyse in any quantitative sense, because they are overwhelmingly qualitative and subjective in nature, however there are two factors I could control which may reduce the risk of this level of turnover in future;

  1. Pay parity.  I cannot compete with private sector salaries (the reason one of my team left) but I can ensure that my team are graded such that they have parity across the University.  A lack of parity was not the only factor in some departures, but it was a contributory factor.
  2. Culture.  This covers a multitude of sins, but can be rendered down to ensuring that everyone understands and embraces what the department is trying to achieve, and how we are working toward achieving that.  This starts with good recruitment, induction and training, and should be part of every managers toolkit.

Project Management challenges

I’m being polite here, but there were a number of significant challenges presented by project Issues (intentional capitalisation), which consumed a significant amount of staff time, particularly within the Management Team. Lack of timelines, communication, budget, and clear roles and responsibilities contributed towards repetition of work, or completion of work which was then discarded due to changes in priorities or products.

This isn’t something I can fix, except where those issues were with projects within my own department.  Project Management within the University is certainly an area of improvement, and all I can do is try and do my best to be an active and positive participant in that improvement.

Increased workload

Throughout the year the department’s workload increased, including;

  • A growing user base
  • Increased contacts per user per month
  • Increased workload from capital projects and minor works

The main lesson I’ve learned from this particular issue is that capacity planning was a significant gap in my planning repertoire. I had no real quantitative sense of how many people I needed to deliver business as usual services, service improvement, and other customer projects.

This was a big fail on my part, and one of the things we’re already working to correct, measuring the time cost of existing service support commitments, and working on a more concrete plan of change and project work over the next 2 years.

2017 will be better, right?

.. maybe not.  This morning we had three power outages, the office heating broke down, I had to relocate some staff and send others home, and two potentially serious security incidents to investigate.  But maybe that doesn’t matter, because dealing with this stuff is one of the things my team is great at. I just need to give them more time to do the stuff which they’re even better at, creating and improving great services for our users.

Richard Bartlett

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