Sharpe Pritchard has always been known as an innovative law firm, with our advice often going beyond purely legal issues. The firm has taken this commercial approach one step further with the launch of a new division: Sharpe Pritchard Strategy and the appointment of experienced consultant Debbie Bondi to head it.
Debbie Bondi joins from Cambridge Assessment where she was Director of Process Delivery, although she is well known to many at Sharpe Pritchard from her time at Cambridgeshire County Council, where she was Director of Business Services and IT. She brings a wealth of experience in large scale projects involving complex stakeholder relationships and she has an enviable track record in delivering strategic change.
Sharpe Pritchard Strategy will be offering a range of consultancy support services which cover an entire project’s lifecycle, from setting objectives and scoping a new project through to procurement and performance management.
- strategy, road-mapping and project shaping;
- project start-up and delivery;
- IT enablement;
- business change and culture change programmes, and
- project recovery.
Debbie provides an insight into her experience and the philosophy behind Sharpe Pritchard Strategy in the following Q&A session.
Q: Debbie, what do you see as the objective of Sharpe Pritchard Strategy?
A: We are here to help organisations who are trying to achieve some sort of transformation. Budget cuts, new regulations or different customer expectations can prompt a realisation that the way they have done things for the last 10 or 20 years is not going to deliver what they need over the next decade. They may have decided to outsource a service or bring it back in-house, but they know they need to operate differently. At this stage, it can be useful to look outside the organisation to people who have done this kind of thing elsewhere and know how the market is likely to respond. At Sharpe Pritchard Strategy, we aim to bring those ideas about transformation and turn them into reality for our clients.
Q: What is the connection with Sharpe Pritchard’s position as a law firm?
A: Very often we are going to be working in partnership with Sharpe Pritchard lawyers, as they will be providing legal and commercial advice and may be managing the procurement. Sharpe Pritchard Strategy can support the other things that need to happen to make a transformation project effective. That might be looking at the IT and business processes or how the organisation itself needs to change culturally. It might be looking at how to structure performance and payment terms in order to make sure that a contractual relationship actually works in practice for the benefit of the organisation.
Q: At what stage in a project might you come in?
A: Sometimes we come in when the client first recognises that there has to be some kind of change. Often at this stage, they are not yet clear what the change means or what the strategy and approach might be. At other times their ideas are further developed, and the challenge is thinking about how to turn this into a programme or a set of projects. Some clients have made progress in their project, but things are not quite going as they had hoped. At that point we can do a contract audit or project assurance work to analyse what is going on, what needs to change, and implement improvement plans.
Q: Within a public sector organisation, who would you expect to be reporting to or working with?
A: Very often it is senior management recognising the need for change but being unsure of the best way to go about it. In that case, it can be the chief executive or senior directors in an organisation. At other times, it is much more ‘on the ground’ working with a whole project team of individuals leading particular work streams. We engage with a very broad range of people, trying to harness their efforts and align what they do in order to deliver that transformation.
Q: Are there any particular sectors that you envisage have more need than others?
A: All parts of central and local government as well as the rest of the public sector are operating in a climate of intense financial pressure and so need to make some kind of fundamental change. Sometimes the context is more specific such as changing demographics putting services under strain. Often these external factors make an organisation realise they cannot keep ‘salami slicing’ indefinitely and more fundamental change is required.
Q: Having worked in the private and public sector, do you have any lessons that could be learned in either direction?
A: I think one of the things that the private sector tends to excel at is a single-minded focus on what needs to be achieved, often because there is a contract that needs to be fulfilled. This can be very frustrating for the public sector because it creates a narrowness of vision that ignores external factors. But that focus is very delivery orientated and if it is directed properly it does drive towards the results that one set out to achieve.
On the other hand, I think the public sector is really excellent at evaluating the complexity of some of these transformational challenges and at thinking through the laws of unexpected consequences and what the transformation really means.
I think that there are examples of very good partnerships between public and private sector bodies, but it is not always easy to achieve. Ensuring clarity about the objectives of the different parties involved and designing projects that align those objectives to deliver what is required is something that Sharpe Pritchard Strategy excels at.
Q: Do you think the media focuses too much on the projects that go wrong?
A: I do. I think one of the things that the media can sometimes be guilty of is reporting the problems but you rarely see a journalist returning to report a successful turnaround that has taken place.
Q: How do you work with the staff of the organisations you support?
A: One of the things I feel very strongly about is that we should leave something lasting behind when we work with an organisation. Part of a transformation project should ensure staff involved have an opportunity to develop their skills so that the organisation will need less external help the next time around. We work with our clients to identify the staff who are keen to develop and to provide that experience and those learning opportunities.
Q: Tell me about what you and the team are currently working on A: Well, there is
A: Well, there is a lot going on as always. I’ve been spending time on a turnaround project for a local authority who wanted to change the way they were delivering some of their services. The project was failing to make progress and confidence amongst key stakeholders had fallen sharply. Our approach was to look at what was good and what needed to change. As a result, we set up a new project organisation which recognised the breadth of the activities required since things such as business change and culture change had not featured strongly before but were required to make the transformation. We helped the client to identify appropriate work stream leads all of whom were internal staff. Then we planned the work so that deadlines were more realistic whilst still achieving the end-date. Since the previous project manager was a contractor who had stepped down at short notice, we stepped in to provide interim project management to give the client breathing space to make permanent arrangements.