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How our culture and values helped us complete a large and challenging programme 

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Office 365 team in custom t-shirts

I recently wrote the final report for a large programme that had ended successfully. Writing it made me reflect on how the team had managed to complete a complex programme with very tight timescales.

The programme was also ongoing during a time when Parliament was overloaded by Brexit and the report into the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff. Talking to the team members involved after the end of the programme made me realise how our team culture got us through this challenging piece of work (as well as lots of cake).

“Just get started and learn as you go”

Spreadsheet showing the Office 365 phases
The spreadsheet showing the different phases and work involved for the Office 365 programme

I was lucky enough to be the senior project manager on a programme to transition parliamentary users to Office 365.

In the early days of the programme, the team was fragmented into four different functional groups, all pulling in different directions. This made delivery seem impossible. We were given the directive of, “Just get started and learn as you go.” As a team, we decided to use agile project delivery techniques with daily standups in fortnightly sprints to develop our plan and start delivery.

We began with a few basic rules:

  • everybody must contribute ideas on how we can achieve this
  • everybody has tasks to do within the current sprint
  • when you complete your tasks, help others to complete theirs
  • celebrate achievements, however small they may seem

We migrated our first two pilot teams, ourselves and the user engagement team, but neither team could find any of their documents due to a lack of SharePoint knowledge or a workable library structure.  We also found our migration tools didn’t work as expected and needed a lot of effort to make them reliable.

We soldiered on and used external facilitators to run our retrospectives which was invaluable as it gave us all the opportunity to think about how we could improve along the way. We all contributed ideas and again everybody had tasks to do. We celebrated our small achievement with cake but we didn’t feel great about our progress.

Making baby steps towards progress

We then migrated another ten pilot teams, taking small steps and exuding confidence to users but feeling far from confident ourselves. Again, we made lots of mistakes but by the end, we realised that we had worked out how to achieve our objectives. We did full day workshops where we reviewed the feedback from our pilot teams which left us with a long list of improvements to make.

Our first main phase was to deliver Office 365 to the Commons Select Committees, but we encountered technical problems on day one which effectively stopped the phase and required complete rescheduling. We overcame the problems together, completing the phase two months later than planned but with a new belief in ourselves and pride in our achievement.

Defining our values

We delivered phase two at a faster pace and started phase three. By this time, the required pace had significantly increased and delivery became intense. Individually we added to our stress by caring too much for each other so as a team we defined a new set of values and rules for working together, recognising that a good work/life balance is different for each person.

Our values were:

  • respect each other
  • support each other and offer help
  • your best is good enough
  • making mistakes is expected, we’re all human
  • be receptive to other people’s ideas
  • continuous learning
  • celebrate success

And our rules were:

  • ask for help if you need it
  • admit your mistakes so everybody can help to resolve them
  • present a united front to users and address concerns away from them
  • make the most of working for Parliament
  • no emails at weekends, use delayed send
  • make your calendar open

After phase three, we started our biggest phase to date which required a further doubling of pace. The hours were long and intensity remained very high for over eight months. The work became gruelling but maintaining our values pulled us through.

Accepting that everybody makes mistakes and focusing on solutions as a team was very liberating and gave each of us the confidence to try new ideas. Introducing lighter moments provided laughs (a daily power pose at standups was one example) and cheering rapid progress was amazing.

The team really was bigger than the sum of individuals and nobody wanted to let their teammates down so all of us surpassed our best and developed personally.

Together we helped Parliament to:

  • enhance the security of Parliamentary information
  • be more efficient by providing access to information from anywhere, on any device, at any time
  • improve its ways of working by sharing information and collaborating
  • dispose of information in line with policy

Although it was a difficult and tiring programme, most of us also commented on how much we miss it now that it’s finished. Of course, what we really miss is the culture and the people. I feel proud and lucky to have been part of such a high performing team with such fantastic individuals. All of them are brilliant but they had to be in an environment where they could flourish. Together we could have achieved anything.

Read more posts about the cultural values at PDS. 

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