Andy Palmer, group director of technical operations, MBC Group, sums up current views on changing broadcast technology workflows As Bernard Burnes, a well-known writer on managing change noted in 2000, the history of the past 200 years could well be characterised as successive periods of unprecedented change. Similarly, the technological world around broadcasting is, by […]
Andy Palmer, group director of technical operations, MBC Group, sums up current views on changing broadcast technology workflows
As Bernard Burnes, a well-known writer on managing change noted in 2000, the history of the past 200 years could well be characterised as successive periods of unprecedented change.
Similarly, the technological world around broadcasting is, by general agreement, in a state of constant change and a lot of companies broadcasters, media entities and content providers are seeking change or have already embraced it. The model of 70% run the business and 30% change the business is increasingly being turned on its head.
Introducing business and workflow change into a company presents a very different set of challenges to managers than does the task of project administration or strategic planning. Often, however, the managers responsible for bringing technology and workflow changes into everyday use are much better equipped to guide the development of the new workflows than to manage their implementation.
The people in a broadcast organisation who manage business and workflow change must very often perform two jobs, that of workflow developer and that of implementer. Whether the systems and workflows are developed in-house or bought in from a supplier, at some point, they will need to be handed over to the users, who are quite well versed with their own areas of implementation. It is, however, quite common to see that the point at which the implementer wants to hand over the project and the point at which the user is ready to accept responsibility for the new workflow does not necessarily coincide. This gives rise to the tossed-over-the-fence syndrome, where the end user feels that they have been left to simply get on with it.
Whoever is responsible for the implementation has the task of ensuring a seamless transfer from the workflow developers to the workflow users. This may well involve a period of parallel running so that integration between the developers perspective and the users perspective is achieved.
This is often described as a selling job. Getting the user to buy into the new workflow or system should perhaps be viewed as a marketing job where the needs and preferences of the user are researched and taken into account.
Quite often, new workflows demand that the user undertake tasks in a new way or employ tools that are different to the ones they are wont to use and consider to be just as effective and efficient. The marketing of the new broadcast workflows and systems must, therefore, consider how to position the new in relation to competitive products already in use and consider distribution methods and channels and support mechanisms for the new workflows and systems.
By adopting a marketing approach, implementation managers can be encouraged to seek the users involvement at an early stage, identifying how the workflows can be enhanced to give the best fit to user requirements, thereby, speeding the shifting of ownership from workflow developers to users and operators.
It is all too easy to underestimate the importance and scope of the preparatory work that needs to be undertaken when developing and implementing new workflows and systems. Many implementation managers tend to feel that because the new workflows are superior to the old ones and the technical systems are more advanced, they will automatically be accepted and embraced by the users. Its new, theyll love it is assumed. A consequence of this is that funds and resources are targeted at development rather than implementation. Continuing the marketing theme, the implementation needs to take the form of a reiterative process.
Information gathering ? assessment
and adaptation ? user trials
? information gathering
The communication loop between those involved at the various stages needs to be kept as tight as possible. What information is important and which people are key will vary throughout the process but it is the implementation managers role to coordinate all of this.
The difficulty for those implementing new workflows and systems is that the higher up an organisation the need for new workflows solutions can be identified and accepted, the greater the chances of success for the project. Similarly, the closer the solution is to the users needs, the greater the chance of a successful implementation. This can so often be a source of tension.
It is useful to see all the groups of individuals within the broadcast organisation as many internal markets, each needing its own marketing plan and carefully thought out message. The Executive level, for example, will have concerns and outcomes biased more towards the bottom line and return on investment, whereas users may have a perspective that is concerned with ease of use and efficiency.
One of the problems with Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems and automation workflows is that they can be difficult to justify in traditional financial terms, but are nonetheless essential to the survival of a business in the long term.
It is, therefore, important that there is a simultaneous involvement of all user groups as well as the executive and management levels, and that a sense of ownership is encouraged in these groups. There is also a need for evangelists and champions of the new processes and workflows within these groups at all levels.
It is not always possible to involve every single user within a group, so it is essential to have valid and credible representatives, especially from large user groups. Often, the transfer and handover of new practices and workflows to users is the weak link in the process but it is important that enough thought and time be given to developing appropriate mechanisms and setting realistic timescales to allow the suppliers to interact fully with the users who often understand the operations best.
Often with the introduction of new workflows in a broadcast environment, it is useful to conduct test schemes as they serve two purposes. Firstly, they help prove the feasibility to the higher levels of management, and secondly, they provide a credible demonstration of the workflow model to other departments within the organisation.
The site for the tests must be carefully chosen. As the political survival of the new workflows depends to a large extent on the testing, it is tempting to choose a low risk area to conduct the tests. However, this has the disadvantage that it has no real benefit to the organisation and fails to establish the workflows credibility with other departments. Conversely, if the test scheme is located in one of the most capable and flexible areas then it will be seen as having been demonstrated in a non-typical departmental environment. Testing in the areas that presently have the most acute problems are not without its pitfalls. If the tests go badly, it will be difficult to distinguish issues with the workflow from possible problems in the chosen department, and if they go well, sceptics will be quick to point out that anything would have helped.
The answer lies with being clear about the nature of the workflow testing. Is it to be a demo or an experiment? Choose the testing site based on this. Presenting a workflow that is still in a formative stage and needs experiential testing as a demo risks damaging the credibility of the process. It is important to conduct the workflow demos or tests in an environment that has credible role models. They must be neither particularly adept nor poorly skilled and be seen as an average operator of the workflows.
Targeting decision makers who may be at first resistant and getting one or two to embrace the change can open the floodgates for the rest of the areas. It is also necessary to create new role models for the workflows. Experienced staff who possibly aspire to the expert status are often good choices, as they will be open to new ideas but nonetheless have the required internal credibility.
For any large-scale change of working practices to succeed, it will need its champions and evangelists. At the very least, this will need to take the form of a sponsor, a project manager and a systems integrator.
The sponsor must be able to bring to bear sufficient resources for the change to succeed. They must also be able to ensure that there has been commitment expressed openly by the leaders involved in the various areas or departments.
The project manager needs to be able to organise the implementation and workflow testing in the manner described earlier. Their feedback to the sponsor on how well the new workflows are being received is crucial.
The systems integrator will need to manage the priorities, the conflicts and should, through good communication, be able to form cohesive teams amongst the system users.
All of the above champions will have to deal with the sceptics and the fence sitters those who, in order not to be seen backing the wrong horse will commit neither one way nor another until there are clear signals which way to jump. It is the role of the champions to ensure that suitable and timely messages are delivered from the right level in the company such that the way ahead for the fence sitters is made clear as soon as is possible.
This may take the form of a policy change or a carefully timed pep talk to departments. The message needs to be clear that senior management are behind the changes no matter what. They also need to be uniform across the organisation, so that, for example, a drive for increased production of web-based content is not just targeted at one area but is seen as a company-wide initiative.
Lastly, if workflows are being changed then the performance criteria used to measure individuals and departments must be amended accordingly. It is unwise to measure new technologies using old standards. It is also worth remembering that with more automated workflows, the headcount will move from direct involvement with the process to a more supportive role.
Changing workflows and introducing new technologies and concepts into an established organisation is never going to be a simple matter. It is no secret that it is only 20% to do with the technology and 80% to do with people, their habits, desires and aspirations.
Success is only possible if you really know your people and your organisation. It is an opportunity to move the company to the point where it becomes an organisation that learns constantly and where mistakes are used as tools to drive the process forward. Even in companies where there is no perceived blame culture, people will still be afraid to innovate for fear of criticism.
Understanding clearly at the outset what needs to be achieved, and how to measure that achievement; building a learning organisation, and carrying them with you based on a communicated and engaging plan, gives managers the best chance of success.