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Henley Business School

Case Study: Henley Business School

Enabling collaboration through a common approach to project management The University of Reading is ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide with 17,000 students from 150 countries. It is famous for its research in business, agriculture and meteorology.

Introduction

In 2008 the Henley Management College became part of the University of Reading, in a merger that created Henley Business School. The Business School works with individuals to enable them to become outstanding business leaders. Its continuing research in the fields of management, leadership and strategy has led it to be one of most respected business schools in the world.

We have been working with both the University of Reading as a whole, and the Henley Business School as an institution to develop more collaborative ways of managing projects.

Challenge

The University of Reading is a large organisation, with departments and faculties each running a myriad of projects at any one time. Over the last 8 years staff at the University have attended a number of project management training courses, including PRINCE2, Agile and APM. As a result, they have found themselves using different approaches, not only in terms of project templates, but also in the language they use to discuss projects. This lack of cohesion has created confusion and ambiguity. Teams and departments have found it difficult to work collaboratively on projects, both in terms of working within teams, and when working with other departments. There have been uncertainties about technical terminology and other teams’ project processes getting in the way of focussing on implementing successful projects.

To enable a more consistent approach, and reduce the confusion, the HR team at the University began to roll out a one-day training course, designed to give staff an overview of best practice in project management. For those taking part, this has proved to be an effective way to acquire a baseline understanding of projects and the skills a good project manager needs.

Having attended the day, staff from Henley Business School recognised that they had some further development needs. The main challenge for the Business School was that even within the School teams did not have a common agreement on how to work on projects together. To address this they asked for further training that would provide a consistent language and systematic approach to project management. In particular they needed to understand how projects overlap and come together, and they needed the tools to help them manage multiple projects. This, they felt, would then help teams to work better together on joint projects.

=mc brief

In November 2015 Anne Gallagher, then Head of Learning at the University, contacted =mc about running a two-day project management training course, that would build on the success of the one day course. She outlined three key success criteria for the course:

  • to create a common language for staff to talk about projects
  • to introduce a straightforward approach to project working
  • to enable collaborative project working across departments and teams

What we did

In response to the challenge and brief, we designed and delivered a project management course underpinned by =mc’s Systems Model. The Systems Model is routed in practical and proven project management techniques. Developed specifically for the not-for-profit sector, it enables a logical and flexible approach to managing projects. The Systems Model framework guides participants through systematically scoping, planning, delivering and reviewing projects.

Over the two days we complemented this with a set of essential tools, from stakeholder mapping, to risk analysis and Work Breakdown Structures.

One reason why participants find the =mc Systems Model so easy to use, is that there’s no jargon to get in the way of communicating with each other. By the end of day 1 they were able to explain to each other the scope of their projects, using clear and concise language. This means they can get on with managing and delivering their projects, where previously they repeatedly found themselves getting bogged down in agreeing process and language.

A core element of the course was facilitating participant discussion and agreement on how to:

  • embed common ways of working on projects,
  • improve the processes they already had in place
  • share their learning with colleagues.

The very practical nature of the training and the Systems Model meant not only that participants were quickly able to apply the model, but that there was also time to:

  • practice using the tools on their work projects, and come away with a much clearer project plan
  • share their projects and work together on live projects, demonstrating they could collaborate effectively
  • provide insightful feedback to their colleagues, and identify how they could help each other outside the classroom

Result

The feedback from participants has been very positive. The Systems Model now sits at the centre of their projects. They are using the Scoping Planner as a living document to frame the agenda in project planning meetings. The planner means they have been able to agree the main issues driving a project and the deliverables expected in a half hour meeting. This is less than half the time it would have taken previously.

Following the success of this programme, we were asked back to Henley Business School to work with the Careers Team to help them embed the =mc Systems Model in their projects. 16 staff attended a two-day training course, and again worked on live projects throughout. As well as looking at the tools and the =mc Systems Model, each person spent time working with their colleagues who are involved in their projects. The two days gave them time to explore their projects in a more collaborative way, by sharing internal knowledge and helping each other with project planning.

“This course was just what we needed. We immediately saw the benefits of the =mc Systems Model approach. By ensuring the whole Henley Careers Team has been introduced to this framework we know it will make project discussions connected and much more productive. The trainer was fantastic, she really helped us to see how we could help each other and understand each others’ projects better.”

Naeema Pasha, Head of Careers

What’s Next

In 2016 we are continuing to work with the University more widely to deliver the one-day training. We are also supporting them to embed a consistent way of managing projects across teams and departments

How to find out more

If you’re interested in finding out more about our =mc Systems Model – or using the model to solve project working challenges in your organisation – then please get in touch. We can support you in a variety of ways including:

  • introducing a straightforward project framework, avoiding jargon and using easy to understand language
  • enabling collaboration across teams and departments
  • solving the challenge of messy projects through a flexible, adaptable approach
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Laura Slater

About Laura Slater

Laura specialises in project management and management development Laura has 8 years experience in the charity sector, in particular developing and delivering volunteer and community projects. Before joining =mc...

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