02 Jul 2021

dxw: A blended approach needs partners not contractors

When you’re at the start of a transformation programme you need to build new capability quickly. The outcome you should be looking for is not simply people to work with, but to build your own team’s confidence and capability. Interim people are a good option but if you rely on a contractor workforce, it’s hard to move away from that and build a permanent team. 

For organisations at an early stage of transformation, there are huge risks in only using contractors. You are effectively giving control of the work to them rather than learning and iterating your own approach. 

It’s far better to create a blended team with a trusted partner. This team must include your own people as a partnership will fail if it consists only of suppliers. Outside expertise helps you build your capability where you don’t have it, but you must combine this with your domain expertise. A delivery partner will have an approach and a way of working which can be a basis for your team to create its own. 

Most importantly, teams set up this way retain institutional knowledge. If you rely on contractors, they take their knowledge with them when they finish the work. Don’t forget, the best way to transform is for that transformation to come from within. This is how you create teams that can sustain and improve services over the long term. 

Creating the right conditions to build something new 

Teams succeed when you create the right conditions for them to thrive. If you’re bringing in a partner, you should be looking for them to help you find approaches that are compatible with your organisation and culture. We often hear the phrase “post-it note fatigue” when we arrive at an organisation that’s been through endless workshopping but hasn’t delivered anything tangible. 

It’s important to understand an organisation when coming in from the outside. To deliver, you need to know which levers to pull and every organisation is different. There’s no point hiring a partner to come in and either tell you things you already know or try an approach that’s totally incompatible with your culture. A good delivery partner will be humble and alive to this. Too many projects fail because a partner fails to understand how an organisation *really* works. 

Organisations need to invest in the partnership too which means taking time to brief and properly introduce a partner. It also means being open to feedback and challenge from them if you want to maximise the value they add. 

Collaboration and growing capability

The pandemic has shown that the most successful services are built on top of existing capability, for example the scaling of Universal Credit at DWP or the Job Retention Scheme service by HMRC. It’s the same with blended teams. They offer a way to bring in outside expertise to do things differently while at the same time building capability on top of what exists.  

The best approach to team building is through pairing and mentoring, matching specialist capability with domain knowledge. If you succeed in this blended approach, a delivery partner will disengage over time. As client team members grow in confidence, we step back into more supporting roles. 

What happens when you “finish” the work?  

If you take a blended approach you will have not just built a product or a service but a team. This team will have the flexibility to work on something else, carrying the institutional knowledge they have built up with them. They’ll keep on improving and strengthening your services. 

Dave Mann dxw.jpeg

This article was written by Dave Mann, Managing Director, dxw.

Prior to joining dxw, Dave was part of the team that built the alpha of GOV.UK at Government Digital Service (GDS).

Companies like dxw share the same philosophy of putting users first and designing services around their needs.Transformation on this scale is a huge cultural change for government and it can only be successful if suppliers play their part too. Read more... 

To learn more about dxw, please visit their LinkedIN and Twitter page.



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