“The United Outcomes team fully integrated with our teams – they helped ensure Open Water was a success.”
The unique challenge
In April 2017 the UK business and non-household water market underwent its biggest shake-up since privatisation in 1989 – Open Water.
Businesses and non-households were, for the first time, free to choose their water supplier from a range of companies across the country, no longer restricted by region.
For Thames Water, Open Water presented a step-change – an opportunity to reach customers across the UK.
More pressingly, the opportunity presented a challenge: to divert from Thames’ regional past and rebuild its processes and IT systems for a sustainable, national future.
Tools & thinking
Preparing for the Open Water programme was always going to be a demanding task for the UK’s water companies, but for a business that supplies 15 million customers (27% of the UK’s population) making it the largest water services company in the country, this was a doubly challenging task.
United Outcomes partnered with Thames to deliver a diagnostic of the programme – what were the benefits, what were the pitfalls, and where were the risks.
It became clear throughout this diagnostic that preparing for the Open Water programme was going to be a major change initiative for the business.
The headlines of our diagnostic were:-
- Siloed business units needed to work together – workshops engaged teams across the business, mapping interdependencies on a matrix across workstreams rather than business units. The Open Water programme would affect all teams at Thames and the approach needed to be unified.
- Business built to work as a regional operator – in particular, data management reflected this. Improved data governance, driven by a specific Data workstream, would provide greater visibility of legacy data issues and improved data capture as a result, would expand Thames’ ability to provide for their customers wherever they are.
- Improved knowledge transfer – best practice in one department should be mirrored in others, and knowledge transfer should be the necessary final step of any process improvement. By developing template artefacts and reusable methodologies for improved governance, Thames could use them to become better at knowledge sharing techniques and implement continuous improvement as part of Business as Usual.
Success is never a straight line
As with all engagements, not everything goes 100% to plan.
Thames’ business as usual involved running a high number of programmes run independently of each other, and firefighting within these programmes swallowed much of stakeholders’ time.
United Outcomes developed the dependency matrix mentioned above to enhance collaboration across workstreams.
This work in particular was crucial to enabling effective risk and issue management, allowing the teams to maintain a focus on delivery of the Open Water programme and drive the project toward success.
Building positive relationships is at the heart of fostering successful transformation.
When business units engage in a silo mentality, they are 37% less likely to share resources or ideas with their colleagues in other business units.
Working in isolation, in short, prevents natural cross-pollination of best practice.
From the beginning of the engagement we promoted collaboration across business units, bringing team members together in a series of workshops.
Emphasising a workstream, or issues-based strategy, United Outcomes developed an atmosphere of issue sharing; colleagues in a variety of business units faced the same concerns, and by sharing them within their themed workstreams they developed shared solutions.
The development of cross-unit relationships within Thames has proven invaluable to the continued success of the Open Water programme and the business as a whole.
We are now helping Thames Water implement our suggested improvements and build their own capability to continue to build solutions internally.