(Part Deux) – How Northern Gas Networks became an “An Agile and Adaptive Organisation” in under 18 months


So a little later than I’d thought, (life can get in the way) I’ve had a stab at picking out some other bits of the NGN Revolution. As ever this can only ever be a personal perspective on a personal journey and personal experiences. Equally I’m always cognizant that in any change of this scale and dimension, friends and colleagues may have different memories although hopefully not too different! (If anyone wants to ask me more about this experience please feel free to connect or drop me an email at dave.clark@hivemindnetwork.com). Also apologies about the length of the posts, so much happened on this journey it’s difficult to shorten it….


In the last post I guess I shared the most positive parts to the journey and said I’d try and share the more bumpy bits as well. It’s probably worth saying however that in comparison to some of the stories you hear about trying to achieve enterprise class agile – I’ve no profoundly disturbing horror stories! It’s more just the narrative around the various smiley/sad faces I used in the original graphic.

The NGN Journey Graphic

Everyone wants to change. Until it’s about them (I’d include myself in that btw).

So it’s all pretty exciting when you’ve just started in a fab job, senior enough to make a difference, funds to make it happen, boss who “gets it” loads of great collateral, knowledge and material that you’ve wanted to apply for ages. Colleagues at the board who are skeptical but seem fair, if not very blunt Yorkshire-men, oh and one token Lancashire-man and even a Mackem (a native of Sunderland).

You have a deputy who’s awesome, with a great reputation and as smart as a smart thing, understands the company culture and how to make things happen….it’s going to be a walk in the park…..hmmmm….well sort of might be the answer at this point. “Everyone wants to change” – until it’s about them…a phrase worth keeping in mind as I chat through a bit more of the NGN experience.

Seeing is believing…

Having resigned from Gartner I still had a few months notice to serve before joining NGN properly. However before I actually physically joined I arranged a visit to Moneysupermarket.com for NGN’s CFO (David Waite) and one of the IT chaps who at that time was a project manager and would quickly become a brilliant Head of Accelerated Delivery – Matthew Little.

I was (and still am) fortunate enough to know one of the best CIO’s I ever met/worked for/helped? – Tim Jones the CIO at moneysupermarket and his CTO Pete Hanlon. Tim was more than happy for Matthew, David and I to have a walk around their operation and see good agile in operation.

(If you’re just about to have a go at doing something like this – get a bunch of your execs/business folk to visit somewhere that really has tackled enterprise agility – it makes the subsequent journey so much easier…it makes them realise it’s not about software it’s all about leadership and culture)

…anyway so a chap called Ian Carroll who I’d met when working at Moneysupermarket a few years earlier was kind enough to walk us round the IT department and share with Matthew and David how things fitted together and worked. Ian’s an outstanding expert in kanban, lean, agile, etc (in my view) who I’ve respected and liked for years. The absolutely brilliant part about this visit was that both Matthew and David W both got what they were seeing within a few minutes of starting to walk around the building. Which meant when they got back to NGN Matthew did something which I believe was absolutely critical and the bedrock of everything that came next…

Do something! – no matter how small

When Matthew returned to work, literally the very next day he made something happen….he set up a tiny whiteboard near where he and some of his colleagues sat. He read a load of books, worked a load of stuff out and HAD A GO. He didn’t ask permission, he didn’t grandstand or big himself up in anyway. He simply quietly and without fuss set up a small (really small) whiteboard and managed to get a few people interested in what he was doing. (I think the whiteboard still exists today – like an artifact of the early founders)

I wanted to highlight Matthew’s action because it really supports something that one of the HiveMind coaches Kenny Grant said many months later to me when I was waxing lyrical about a particular accelerated delivery team/board to some external visitors…and which I’d stress to anyone wanting to try and get started with some sort of accelerated delivery/effectiveness approach…

“You model how you work today on the board first, don’t start with dreams of scrum or kanban, just model what you do now. Things will emerge”

Kenny is both a superb coach and delivery person and his inner philosopher was and continues to be spot on. Indeed between him and another chap called Mike Burrows they’re like the Socrates of accelerated effectiveness.

So then I joined – properly…off we go…

So having served my notice period with Gartner I joined NGN in the May of 2014. Almost the first thing I did was ask Matthew if he’d like some more time with Ian Carroll to help develop out our thinking around the “mini-board” and to increase traction. Matthew thought this sounded a good idea and proceeded to engage with Ian. (a small but important point here is that I’ve met plenty of folk who think getting help is seen as a sign of weakness, for me it’s sign of strength and confidence…something which Matthew demonstrated day in and day out)

I knew from day one that I had joined NGN to help drive a top to bottom shift in the way we would do things. Not technology things…THINGS. I realise now how lucky I was that my CEO gave me a job scope which encompassed business change as well as technology – in fact in the first two to three weeks he and the Customer Operations Director handed over a team called the Process Improvement Team to 3iG (Innovation, Improvement and Information Group). A team that was another critical part of the success of the revolution. Oh and a group which I think thought I was off my trolley in the first few weeks of engagement!

Gartner often talk about the first 100 days of the CIO. I think nowadays in a modern, ambitious company this would be way to slow. Almost geologically too slow. For me you need to think of the first 20 days being the equivalent of the old 100. Make it fast, make it fun and drive it with relentless passion and enthusiasm.

Within a few days and guided by Matthews in-depth knowledge of the challenges of the existing NGN landscape (I mean people challenges, technology challenges, process challenges, funding challenges, the lot) we decided there were two key areas to address (I wanted to say pick a fight – but actually if we’d picked a fight we’d have lost in only days).

It’s NOT about the bloody software :-)!!!!!

We had two existing project running which were both being talked about as software implementations – people kept talking about the Avantex project and the CEM project (Customer Experience Management). I’ve said this before in many other rants/discussions – DON’T build accelerated delivery teams around the software (especially not it’s name)…in my personal view this is wrong, wrong, wrong. It can take you down to a dark place from which recovery requires a 12 step programme. We were determined NOT to create our early accelerated delivery teams around a software product – so how could we do something different?

How to start a different type of language?

Ok so we knew that Advantex was the software we were looking at for Workforce Management – I’m not going to bore the reader (any more than I am already) with the details – but I was more interested in getting everyone to talk about Improving and Innovating Workforce Management than listening to really long and tedious discussions about a software product. In mine and Matthew’s view this whole piece was really about ensuring that the Customer Operations Director (Howard Forster) and the Regulatory Director (Stephen were brought on-board with the idea that there were many ways of improving workforce management ahead of some full scale software replacement exercise.

In a similar vein the Stakeholder Director (Dave Gill) and one of his team Eileen Brown had put an enormous amount of energy and effort into selecting a software platform to help them improve Customer Service. Hence we kept chatting about the Customer Experience Management system – as in the software product.

So how could we stop talking about software and start talking about the BUSINESS???

The idea of using business capabilities seemed right for NGN

So this part of my narrative I approach with real trepidation as my Enterprise Architect friends sharpen their intellectual knives!

I’d come across the concept of business capabilities in Gartner and then learnt more and more from Cutter Consortium and other research firms. It seemed SIMPLE, LOGICAL and EASY TO DO – three things that appeal to me whatever I’m doing.

Look at WHAT your BUSINESS DOES – NOT HOW as the starting point. My thinking was if we could become more effective at WHAT we did and that the delivery squads were built around Business Capabilities we’d be in a good starting place.

Other folks have used the picture analogy below when describing the business capability model (Cutter first I think) – this was the version I used in NGN…reproduced courtesy of a hiveminder member (Alan Simmonds).

As an aside Alan and Ruta Blazeviciute are my go to folk on the subject of Business Capabilities. One day they may say I’ve even got it right :-)

Warning Zone….don’t get stuck in a debate that only architects care about….What’s the difference between a Business Capability and a Business Service. DON’T KNOW, DON’T CARE (but for anyone that does Tom Graves provides a simple perspective). We could have used the term service and capability in NGN to describe the same thing, we didn’t, I thought of top level services being made up of business capabilities (which can also sub divide). But don’t worry about it!!!

For the EA’s out there I’d just say “No-one who’s a business person cares“. For NGN everyone seemed happy to discuss and think about capabilities!

By doing this we could combine Customer Experience, Colleague Experience and Accelerated Delivery into a sort of “unified field theory” of change!!! – here’s the picture….!

Ok I want to write some more – but it is easter Sunday and the hot cross buns beckon….will explain more of this and how it all rolls up to agile portfolio management later this week I hope

…and explain more about how the following roles changed…PMO, Programme Managers, Project Managers, Business Relationship Managers, Account Managers, Developers, Architects, Testers, Business Analysts, Process Modelers, UX specialists and infrastructure specialists, and business subject matter experts…..but other than that NO change!

Oh and that there’s a really simple workshop for Business Capabilities called…

“Describing what your business does to reasonably bright teenager!”

have a great Easter break :-)


PS the lovely part of the NGN experience is that the horse picture at the start – never happened….the desire and thirst to learn and change was pretty incredible. Many folks embarking on this journey though will not automatically have the same experience, sadly.