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The transformative power of visualisation

04 Jul 2018

| Author: Nicoll Loyd - Guest blog


The transformative power of visualisation

Back in May, IndigoBlue consultant Laurence Wood and I facilitated a workshop at Agile Manchester called Visualisation – a virtual tour of the Digital Hub. We’ll be running the next iteration of the session at a meet-up in London in July, and you can register here.

So, what was it all about and why should you come along to the next session? It was on the transformative power of visualisation – on how it can actually create the conditions for successful delivery, helping change behaviours and shape ways of working.

It has been of pivotal importance to our Transformation Programme at the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) from the very beginning.

In case you’re not aware of the NHSBSA, we provide a range of critical, central services to NHS organisations, NHS contractors, patients and the public, including processing prescriptions, administering the NHS pension scheme and the Help with Health Costs schemes, along with issuing EU Health Insurance cards. Such is our efficiency, we’re often asked to be involved in supporting the delivery of other programmes, working cross-departmentally.

As with many departments and agencies, our processes and services used to be paper-based. Our Transformation Programme is in line with the wider government initiative to revolutionise access to public services and to design around user needs, being led by the Government Digital Service. 

The NHSBSA Transformation Programme is led by Darren Curry, Chief Digital Officer. My role is Organisation Development Lead and in our session in Manchester, Laurence described my role as being fairly unique in his experience – a ‘Servant/Leader’ on the programme, who helps create the conditions in which others have the best opportunity to perform and deliver well. And from the start, this is exactly how I worked with Darren on the programme, helping to provide the insights, connections and conditions that would allow him to lead the programme successfully.

When we welcomed guests to our session at Agile Manchester, we wanted to immerse them in visualisation right away. We asked them to think about an important challenge they were facing in their current work, and to indicate on a gauge how they were dealing with it, e.g. “Working independently”, “Seeking team input” etc. – demonstrating how visualisation helps expression and encourages discussion and collaboration.

This is what we found in the NHSBSA Transformation Programme. From the beginning, the visualisation in the Digital Hub symbolised the difference in how the programme was being run. The walls were being used – and with all the Post-its and illustrations on the wall, the explosion of colour in the Hub was markedly different from anywhere else in the NHSBSA. The space was configurable – some of the furniture was moveable, allowing for flexibility in setting up meeting spaces for stand-ups, one-to-ones or for show-and-tells.

This visible difference was important to Darren, making it impossible to ignore that this was a sea change in the approach to planning and delivering programmes. But this wasn’t going to be a change that was imposed. The Transformation Programme wouldn’t be isolated to a pocket of the NHSBSA, it would affect the whole organisation. 

So as soon as the Hub was set up, we invited people in from teams across the organisation, including those who might have thought their role in the transformation would be peripheral, such as Finance, Procurement and Governance. By talking through the visualisations and showing full respect for the rigour of their disciplines, Darren discussed the change programme with these colleagues so that they could understand its objectives, how it might affect their practices and how they could be involved in shaping the outputs and outcomes.

Senior stakeholders felt the difference too. The usual way of reporting to stakeholders on programme progress would have been to email them a spreadsheet. Instead, Darren now invited executives and the Board of Directors into the Hub, using the visualisations to tell the story of the programme, to show dependencies, to explain phases – with the result that their curiosity was piqued, they were more fully engaged and asked more questions. 

By talking colleagues through our story map and how the service would be delivered in an incremental way, they understood that a new approach was being taken to implementation: this programme would not be about delivering only when the service was finished; instead it would be about delivering early value and seeking user feedback – keeping the service in a ‘perpetual beta’ of continuous improvement.

This is the power of visualisation and this is what we wanted to give delegates a flavour of in our Agile Manchester session. It’s about creating the conditions for successful delivery – setting up the right environment and the ways of working in it.

Having encouraged our delegates to express how they were dealing with an important challenge, Laurence and I wanted them to leave the session with an important change they could aim to implement when they returned to the office. So, we asked them to visualise that change – what it would look and feel like, what stories they would tell their partner about it when they got home. 

In the process, we helped to demonstrate how visualisation helps you to express ideas clearly, to collaborate, to break down a problem, and to make better decisions about solutions.

If that sounds like it would be helpful to you, we’d love to welcome you to our meet-up session in July – click here to register your place.

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Nicoll Loyd - Guest blog

Nicoll is Organisation Development Lead at NHSBSA. Initially as an Occupational Therapist, she has been supporting people to be the best they can be for many years – always with a focus on maximising potential, participation, effectiveness and performance.


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