In the previous commentary, we spoke about the difficulties of matching resources to service demands at a managerial level and the scope for successful careers to be forged. One of the key advantages of achieving a best fit for service delivery is an ability to strategically redeploy resources, away from areas where any overcapacity might exist, and into areas in demand. But this is dependent on the capability of the staff within the department, many of whom will have experience which is focused entirely in one area of planning.
Often the decision by planners to work in a particular area of planning – whether policy, development management, enforcement etc, can appear to be a very distinct choice, taken at the start of a career. It can feel like a choice between entirely different professional fields.
However, this choice can then reduce options for service managers. For example, at a local level, local plan delivery in particular can represent a huge project management challenge, requiring significant resources over a prolonged period of time. Developing a detailed project plan for this allows for periods of time to be identified where capacity might be available for other service areas, such as development management.
It is important that the planning industry recognises the value of this flexibility and the individuals who provide it. Staff who embrace the benefits of working across teams should be as highly valued as those who may have specialised in one area and developed a greater level of knowledge in that particular area.
Another crucial area of resilience is an ability to recognise areas of service vulnerability, and to seek to address this. Planning departments have routinely looked at practices and processes via a system of business project review (BPR). However, such reviews have routinely focused on compliance and process as a timeless exercise but we know that time is a critical aspect of modern service delivery (as is essentially cost and quality). At best, these reviews will have reflected principles of lean processing – ensuring things are done as quickly as possible, but often these are without management information on process timings and sequencing to challenge and review.
However, through the process of capturing such data it is possible to obtain a greater amount of management information about processes, and in particular the identification of areas of vulnerability or bottlenecks. These bottlenecks can impact upon performance figures and lead to service delays on critical projects such as local plan preparation. So the marginal gains obtained through having such information, particularly for larger services, can have big impacts.
Furthermore, such data can highlight the value of particular individuals who assist the development of a streamlined service, and can thus allow for clear succession plans and mentoring programmes to be developed. These should then present individuals with career development opportunities and managers with greater confidence in service resilience.
Such detailed reviews of our working practices and data capture of individual performance also gives directors and managers the opportunity to drive a recognition and development framework that is underpinned by clear management information on the contribution of the individual to strategic goals. Again, this can help to create a clear thread, which might be lacking, between the individual, how they are developed and recognised, and important corporate priorities such as maintaining performance standards, member engagement and stakeholder management. In the modern environment, seeking to visibly acknowledge high levels of productivity (and quality) in priority areas is something which I am sure ambitious planners would embrace.
Steve Ottewell is director of planning and building control at consultancy Capita.