• Opinion
  • February 18, 2019
  • 8 minutes
  • 1

How to set up transformation projects that could shape our future

Opinion: The UK Civil Service is adopting a common framework to deliver transformation

7 Lenses of Transformation

Across the United Kingdom, government organisations are transforming the way they deliver. The authors of this piece — Matthew Vickerstaff, the interim Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and Kevin Cunnington, the Director General of the Government Digital Service — have led work to help departments deliver these programs. 


The scale, ambition and complexity of transformation happening across the UK Civil Service is extraordinary. As a collective, we are delivering more than 40 major transformation programs across 14 government departments and agencies. These changes will not only realise tens of billions of pounds in benefits, they will improve citizens’ interactions with the government on a daily basis and transform lives for the better.

For example, the HM Courts and Tribunals Reform Program will create a straightforward online court to resolve disputes from divorces to debt enforcement. And the Universal Credit Program is simplifying a complex welfare system and transforming the way the civil service delivers help to people on a daily basis.

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Within the UK Civil Service, programs are already changing the way we work through better use of technology, improved facilities and flexible working. These aren’t just estate rationalisation programs: they involve big cultural and organisational changes.

But people’s lives will only be transformed if we get these projects right, and we know they are hard to deliver. To support departments, the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) have been working with people across government to understand what it takes to deliver such complex, uncertain, challenging programs.

Across the UK Civil Service, we have a lot of experience and expertise in delivering transformation programs successfully, but our best practice often sits in pockets. One of our most important tasks has always been to encourage sharing, so we can collectively learn quickly from our experiences.

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The 7 Lenses of Transformation

Our most effective method to describe, define and benchmark this work is the 7 Lenses of Transformation. This is a practical tool which can be used in organisations of any size, within the UK and internationally.

The 7 Lenses are what we identified as the essential elements of a transformation. Leaders and delivery teams should consider these not just at the beginning of their program but also throughout delivery. The lenses are vision, design, plan, leadership, collaboration, accountability and people.

These lenses are a way of looking at the same work from different perspectives. They are designed to give you confidence and reassurance that you are focussing on the right priorities, and they should help you to identify which areas need more attention.

We would encourage you to read the full version of the 7 Lenses of Transformation. At a high level, the lenses cover:

  • Vision — do you have a compelling picture of the future that is aligned across your organisation?
    The vision creates the case for change and describes both the user needs and the social outcomes of the transformation. It describes how the organisation will operate.
  • Design — how will the organisation be configured?
    Having a coherent and flexible design is important because complex transformations need a view of how the whole picture fits together to deliver the vision.
  • Plan — do you have plans set out in realistic delivery phases?
    This helps you to understand where you are heading and have a way to measure that the transformation is on track, while understanding how any critical services will be sustained during the change.
  • Leadership — have you got the right leadership skills and support in place?
    Transformation leadership is about creating the right amount of uncertainty to generate productive organisational distress.
  • Collaboration — are you collaborating in a structured way with all affected stakeholders?
    Successful outcomes can only be achieved when people across organisational boundaries are doing the right work at the right time.
  • Accountability — is it clear who is accountable and the governance supports this?
    Accountability is about clearly defining the roles within the organisation and the transformation — knowing who is ultimately accountable for what, empowering people to deliver and holding them to account, internally and externally.
  • People — are you supporting people to change the way they work?
    People underpin transformation: engagement starts with those people who are affected by the program and those that are supporting the transformation.

7 Lenses Maturity Matrix

The 7 Lenses of Transformation have been used by organisations across the UK Civil Service for the last couple of years. In one department, the Home Office, a team broke the 7 Lenses down into five different levels of maturity to support a conversation about their organisation’s transformation. We have recently published the result: the 7 Lenses Maturity Matrix.

The matrix allows you to have meaningful and challenging discussions about the current situation for each lens and what you need to do to improve. It is proving to be a very effective structure and has been picked up by thousands of people. We shared what people have learned about using the matrix in this blog.

A wide range of support

This is only one way we are supporting transformation programs, and it’s one we think can be used in different countries. We are starting to share more and more of our work on www.gov.uk/transformation, and we would encourage you to check the site for more tools and guidance over the coming year.

These are our first published versions of the frameworks. We are interested to hear your feedback, know what works for you, and learn from your experience. Have a read, test them out, and let us know what you think. And hopefully we can keep improving people’s lives together. — Matthew Vickerstaff & Kevin Cunnington

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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