Blog: How to effectively utilise a project team

With the growing demand on services, increasing staffing issues and tighter regulations within Social Care practices, Local Authorities are under immense pressure. The need for effective project teams within social care is becoming more important, it can not only help with ongoing attraction and retention strategies, current team morale and capacity, but can also and perhaps most importantly, have an overall impact on the level of care that service users receive. To construct an effective project team, there needs to be elements of strong communication, objective alignment, and effective collaboration tools.

What is a project team in Social Care?

A project team can take many different guises within Social Care, but the most effective structure includes a designated, Social Care qualified, Project Manager with experience in delivering projects. The Project Manager should work closely with the wider service to not only ensure effective delivery but also to maintain a level of continuity between the values of the service and what the project team are delivering.

However, to achieve success, there are key things to consider before engaging with a project team.

  • Ensuring that the onboarding process is managed effectively – making sure that your existing teams understand why this team are being brought in, i.e to help support you through a period of transition brought about by your current recruitment needs and gaps in the service. They should not be positioned as a team brought in to “firefight” but should work coherently alongside your existing teams.

  • Scoping out the project effectively – not all projects need to look at a “backlog of cases” but you do need to ensure that you clearly set out what your expectations of them are from the outset, this will ensure that you and the service get the best outputs, legacy and ultimately value for money from your investment. A service provider should build this into something called a Statement of Work (SOW) which will be adhered to throughout the duration of the project to ensure that key deliverables are being met. This should also include what your exit strategy looks like to ensure that the Project Manager (PM) can work towards that with you.

  • Integration – whilst this will be a standalone team with clear objectives, it’s imperative that they work with the wider service. It is useful to have some “Project Sponsor’s” from the Local Authority who can liaise directly with the Project Manager to ensure that as the end user you still have visibility around the work they are completing and to encourage their integration into the wider service to facilitate knowledge transfer.

  • Timescales – limitation around funding within the Public Sector is never a factor that should be ignored; however, it is vital that when looking to bring in a project team that enough time is allowed to see an impact. As a minimum, a 12-week period should allow a Local Authority to see some impact, although this will vary depending on complexity of cases and the work that the team have been brought in to do. A more realistic timescale is 24 weeks, as this will allow for the implementation, delivery and exit plan to be executed effectively, although even this can vary depending on the scope of the project.

The supplier that you engage should support you with the organisation, planning and implementation of a project, including the individuals and resources that are deployed. Depending on how you would like the project to be delivered, they could even take full ownership of delivery.

Regarding the correct number of individuals to have on your project team, there is no correct number, each team will differ in size depending on the situation. The most important thing to consider when creating a project team is to use the number of individuals that it takes for the planning and carrying out the project. To add, the Social Care project team may expand over time as issues may occur once the project launches, therefore, there needs to be room for flexibility within the project team.

How to align your team’s objectives

It is important that the Project Teams’ objectives are in line with the needs of your wider service. Moreover, the team must have a collective understanding around the required outcomes, and this is heavily reliant on a strong onboarding plan and consistent collaboration and communication throughout the duration of the project.

Key things to consider to achieve this are:

  • Clear Statement of Work (SOW) – this should be agreed prior to Project Kick Off and have contributions from the Local Authority, Supplier, and the Project Manager. This should clearly state the objectives and required outcomes of the project and be shared with the team members and wider service ahead of the project going live.

  • System training – each Local Authority will use different systems and whilst most project workers will have proven experience using different systems, it is imperative that an introductory course is undertaken within the first week of the project so that the workers can quickly get to grips with any specific nuances.

  • Checkpoint meetings – these should be held regularly between the Project Manager and the designated Local Authority Sponsors, with support from the supplier providing the team. During these, the progress against the scope of work should be addressed as well as any issues/concerns that have been identified within day-to-day practice.

The importance of communicating effectively

To provide and achieve the best quality Social Care services, the communication between individuals in the project team and individuals who are affected by the project needs to be very strong. As stated previously, project teams need to be flexible as new challenges or ideas may arise at any given time throughout the project timeline. This may result in new team members joining the project team or a change in how the project will be led, therefore, communication is critically important in this situation. If the communication isn't effective within the project team, the whole project could essentially breakdown and fail which costs a money and resources. Additionally, the project team needs to communicate updates with their stakeholders throughout the whole process of the project.  In the case that a requirement should change a clear change process should be followed, including contractual changes and updating the team of the new requirements.

What if a project team just isn’t for us?

Despite the clear benefits there are around bringing a project team in, for some Local Authorities it just isn’t the right option for them and their current needs. Here are some of the most common concerns around engaging with a team of this nature.

“How will we still have visibility of what the team are doing if they have their own Project Manager?”

It is imperative that a Local Authority still understands the work being undertaken and the outcomes of the project team. Essentially, even though these are a team of workers, acting independently they are still a representative of your Local Authority, and you will be ultimately accountable for the work they deliver. Therefore, the integration and transparency mentioned throughout this article is key to the success of a project.

“We still have ongoing recruitment challenges – how will a team like this change that?”

A project team should never be seen as a standalone solution. The idea is that it is utilised alongside a variety of other solutions like your ongoing permanent and temporary recruitment strategies, Employee Value Proposition, and internal practice improvements. You should also look to leverage the expertise within the project team to consult with you around service improvements and changes – a project team are there to provide specialists and expertise so don’t be afraid to use it. We commonly see that projects have an element of advisory consultancy to help ensure that the project delivers the core outcome which is to help the service deliver better outcomes for its community. It should be seen as a short-term measure to improve your service and to give your staff the headspace to think about the longer-term strategy.

“What happens when the team leaves, surely we will be back in the same situation?”

Despite this being a short-term solution, the legacy of using a project team should not be ignored. To see quantitative return on investment, an exit strategy needs to be implemented almost immediately to ensure that the Local Authority sees the long-term success of a project far after they have left. This should be led by the Project Sponsors within a Local Authority and the Project Manager and can include anything from practice improvement workshops to mentoring newly qualified members of staff within the service.

The utilisation of a Project Team can add huge amounts of value to a Local Authority, whether it be a struggling one or one that is operating successfully and needs to continue to do so. The key thing to remember is that if implemented in the correct manner, it can and has added demonstrable value to numerous Local Authorities across the country, within Adults and Childrens Social Care. The Social Care climate is an ever changing one and is currently facing some of its most challenging times to date. Whilst the aim should always be to attract and maintain quality permanent staff, there is and should be a room in the market for well managed projects to support not only Local Authorities but most importantly the individuals that these services seek to protect and help.

If you are looking for support within your social care projects, get in touch today.

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