How to make the most of the Croydon Fairness Commission

By - Thursday 12th February, 2015

‘Project manager’ Robert Ward attended the Fairness Commission launch, and has some suggestions

Image by Opportunity Croydon.

The Croydon Fairness Commission, now renamed the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission, has started work. In a well-attended meeting at the Stanley Halls, the chair, the Bishop of Croydon, set the meeting on its way. This was followed by a rather longer contribution from Vice-Chair Councillor Hamida Ali. Various others shared their experiences and after questions from the floor the meeting ended with a call to action from the bishop, including a request for interested people to nominate themselves as resident commissioners.

Whether this endeavour was a wise investment or that the estimated £200,000 could be better spent elsewhere is now a debate to have after the commission has made its report. The commission is happening and we need to make sure that its value is maximised. One way of looking at that is to think like a project manager.

Crucial to delivering a worthwhile product is good governance

A project manager starts with the terms of reference, available on the commission web site. This reads much like a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry – a wide ranging remit, worthy statements of principle, a commitment to consult widely and an end date for the report. For a project manager, more is needed, and soon.

Crucial to delivering a worthwhile product is good governance. Sounds grand, but this is just being clear on who makes the decisions – decisions like who is on the commission, who gets to give evidence, how the commission will run itself and who decides what goes in the final report.

This is difficult in business but doubly difficult in anything political. The Croydon commission has been set up by a Labour council so if the report is to have value it must avoid the suspicion that it is pre-disposed to endorsing Labour policy. Visible governance principles, vigorously applied will not only ensure a good product, but also a product that can secure the buy-in of the wider community, without which it is less likely to lead to action.

Meetings must happen but these are not the building blocks of a good project plan

We also need a project plan, which the bishop committed at the launch meeting to post on the website. Without this, and the discipline to stick to it, we risk talk and muddle leading to a poor product delivered late. The plan is yet to appear, so let us look at what a good one looks like.

What it certainly isn’t is a list of meetings, and dates for issuing reports. Meetings must happen but these are not the building blocks of a good project plan. For this we need tasks that when completed it is clear that a decision has been made or the process has moved forward. As most of us know, the fact of having a meeting does not necessarily mean we have made progress.

These tasks should be spread over time so that progress can be monitored, giving early warning of things going off track so corrective action can be taken. At the start a wide remit is fine, but the scope has to be narrowed down quite soon so an early task is to establish a broad range of areas of interest, prioritise and define a more targeted scope.

As new information is received, priorities may change

With this narrowed range, we need then to decide how these areas will be covered and whether there are any gaps in the available expertise and how to fill them. The main information gathering phase can then begin. As new information is received, priorities may change so a review part way through this phase is helpful. At the end of this main information-gathering a serious review needs to happen to see where the gaps are. The final phase of information gathering, limited to plugging these gaps can then commence.

Now we need some analysis, often the weakest part of such reports. Too often figures are selectively quoted to support an opinion rather than true analysis. Beware.

Lastly we enter the report writing phase. Reviews and editing can be very time consuming so clarity in the governance is crucial or you risk either endless delay or a report that is the opinion of one or two individuals.

So what would a good result look like? My personal thoughts:

  • Few words rather than many. Grand phrases are tempting but ultimately counterproductive
  • Highlighting problems is great
  • Making new connections and identifying new opportunities are great
  • Endorsing contentious solutions is not. They are contentious because they aren’t clear cut
  • It’s about the future not the past

With a good plan and good governance there is a better chance of delivering on time a product of lasting value. A bit of good luck also helps.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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