The landscape of public services in the UK is undergoing a significant shift as it embarks on a digital transformation journey. While measuring the productivity of operational tasks confined within a department or function is relatively straightforward, assessing and improving productivity across teams within various departments or functions that are engaged in transformative activities, poses a unique challenge.

This challenge is particularly evident in activities such as business case development, delivery management, solution design, solution engineering, testing, and deployment, where the traditional definition of productivity (output per unit of input) does not effectively capture the strategic value created through transformation efforts.

To truly enhance the productivity of their transformation functions, public service organisations should focus on delivering more strategic outcomes with less transformation budget by embracing three key shifts:

Shift one: Transitioning from directive leadership to empowering servant leadership 

To propel public services into the digital age, a profound shift in leadership is paramount. The intricate and ever-evolving nature of digital environments demands leaders who embrace uncertainty, are open to challenge, and actively adopt an empowering servant leadership style. This approach champions experimentation, views failure as a stepping stone, and empowers decision-making at the grassroots level, building confidence in teams to enable them to succeed.

Bureaucratic, centralised decision-making not only saps significant productivity but also futilely seeks certainty where none exists, leading to wasteful practices. This waste manifests in various forms, such as endless lagging progress reports, decision-making by multiple committees, and the unnecessary production of detailed business case projections years ahead of implementation.

True transformational value is unlocked with a shift in leaders’ mindsets, reflected in their day-to-day behaviours, especially during times of stress. Leaders must facilitate rather than dictate; fostering transparency, trust, and psychological safety that encourage creativity and courageous experimentation within their teams, ultimately uncovering the shortest path to delivering value to public service users.

Shift two: Adopting cross functional team structures and ways of working

In most public service organisations, transformation team structures are typically based on specialisation or skill sets, leading to siloed workflows, circular dependencies, and misaligned outcomes. While productivity may be high within these silos, the overall flow of ideas from inception to fruition is severely limited, with waiting times accounting for up to 80–90% of the ‘Concept to Value' lifecycle. 

A fundamental shift in transformation team structure is imperative. Rather than organising teams around skill sets, prioritising the delivery of value for end-users is essential. This involves assembling cross-functional teams comprising individuals with a diverse range of skills, empowering them to take ownership of the entire change process and align with overarching transformation objectives. By emphasising collaboration and shared goals, public service organisations can cultivate a culture of adaptability and responsiveness, reducing the risk of misaligned priorities and enhancing overall productivity. This would also support a shift towards cross-government collaboration and alignment to cross-government missions, as signalled in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper and the Labour party’s development of its five key aims for government. In this way, departments can start to future proof their ways of working, making it easier to respond to changing priorities whilst keeping citizens front and centre of delivery. 

Shift three: Aligning funding and governance with outcome-based metrics 

We’ve previously discussed the importance of aligning performance measures to an organisation’s purpose and in the context of digital transformation we can take that one step further using outcome-based metrics to measure success. Traditional approaches to funding and governing transformation initiatives often prioritise (or even exclusively focus on) activity levels and predefined milestones over actual outcomes. However, in the pursuit of driving strategic value through digital transformation, a paradigm shift is needed. Embracing outcome-based metrics allows organisations to focus on the real impact of transformation efforts, rather than simply measuring progress against a predetermined plan. By aligning funding and governance structures with desired outcomes (framed as Objectives and Key Results or OKRs), public service organisations can ensure that resources are allocated effectively and that initiatives are evaluated based on their ability to deliver strategic value to stakeholders. 

OKRs serve as a strategic framework that create a seamless connection between the long-term transformation goals, achievable over a span of 12 to 18 months, and the incremental value delivered by teams on a fortnightly or monthly basis. By breaking down the transformation journey into smaller, measurable objectives, OKRs enable end-users to provide feedback on the value generated at each stage. This continuous feedback loop not only facilitates transparency and accountability but also empowers portfolio governance to assess the trajectory of the transformation efforts accurately. By regularly evaluating progress against leading indicators, governance stakeholders can identify any deviations from the desired outcomes early on and take corrective actions promptly.

Size of the prize

Based on Baringa’s work with 50+ organisations in both the public and private sectors, implementing these shifts unlocked productivity gains of 35–40% across the transformation lifecycle. This enabled organisations to deliver more strategic outcomes with the same or reduced investment.

Concept to value

Embarking on the journey 

Organisations often initiate these shifts from varying starting points, resulting in different roadmaps for the journey ahead. However, commencing without an objective assessment frequently leads to wasted effort and disruption, as interventions may be incorrectly implemented or sequenced. To assist organisations in navigating this process effectively, Baringa has developed a timeboxed assessment framework running from 2 to 4 weeks. This framework precisely identifies areas requiring improvement and offers assistance in crafting a tailored roadmap for implementing these shifts within your organisation. 

If you wish to run this assessment for your organisation and understand how you can improve the productivity of your transformation efforts, feel free to reach out to Katy Mirzaie, Deb Mukherjee, Hannah Bolton or Ailsa Cookson. 

If you’d like to learn more about some of these topics, check out our wider public sector productivity insights here. 

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