Project Managers' Stories - Paston

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Project Managers' Stories

Throughout the merger process; Laura McLean, Peter Pazitka and Christina Sadler worked as the main project managers on behalf of CCN, NES & Paston College. These were incredibly wide ranging roles that saw all three overseeing the workstreams that covered every aspect of each institution's operations.

"Christina Sadler for Paston, Laura McLean for City College Norwich and Peter Pazitka for Norfolk Educational Services you are stars. You have encouraged, cajoled, gently persuaded and sometimes pushed us over the line. You are all inspirational leaders and it has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside you."

Following the completion of the merger, we caught up with Laura, Peter and Christina to find out how the project was achieved:

What are your everyday roles outside of the merger project?

Laura McLean - Head of Planning and Performance, CCN

Peter Pazitka - Group Financial Controller, Norfolk Educational Services

Christina Sadler - Merger Consultant. 

When did the merger process start?

Laura - Prior to the specific ‘merger work’, I was involved in the whole Area Review process, pulling together information in autumn 2016 ahead of the official process which kicked off in December 2016.

The final Area Review meeting was on Wednesday 29th March and I remember Corrienne and Jerry asking me if I’d like to project manage the merger on Friday 31st March just as I was about to have the 2 weeks of Easter as annual leave and jet off to sunshine in Thailand – they said, “have think on the beach and let us know when you come back”.  Clearly the answer was yes!  The start of the official merger work however did not really start until late April 2017.  As for the sunnier climates in Thailand – try torrential rain!

Peter - For me the process started in the summer 2016 when I was invited to a meeting where the framework of the Area Review Wave 5 was discussed and what it could mean for City College Norwich.

These initial conversations were quite broad and at that point my role was to analyse the financial health of a number of colleges in the region and compare them with CCN. This high level due diligence was carried out to help us better understand the environment in which colleges in Norfolk and Suffolk operate. Once the Area Review was underway and the recommendations were communicated we started to focus more and more on Paston Sixth Form College.

Christina - It was March 2017 and I was completing my work as Project Manager of the East Coast College merger (Lowestoft College and Great Yarmouth College) when Paston asked if I would like to be considered for this role. Of course I said yes as Paston is so special and I admire how the college staff change young people’s lives. I knew many of the staff as for 10 years I had supported Paston as their financial consultant.

What has the merger involved?

Laura - I have been part of the Core Project Group along with Christina and Peter.  Between us we have been responsible for ‘making things happen’ with the expert help from ‘workstream leads’ responsible for Curriculum, Student Services & Support, Legal & Governance, Estates & Facilities, IT Services & Registry, Finance, and Communications.  I took a particular lead on Curriculum and Student Services & Support, as well as supporting Peter with some NES elements such as IT Services & Registry and, Estates and Facilities.  There is absolutely no way that we could have done it without the workstreams, so thank you to those involved.

It was an extremely speedy start to pull together documents such as the ‘Project Initiation Document’, ‘Transition Grant’, a timeline to get us to December 1st, a merger risk register, but particularly the business plan to allow for the statutory consultation to take place prior to the start of the summer holidays to allow the timeline to work.

With a short break for summer we all returned for enrolment which was a key time for both organisations.  Following this we were able to review enrolment figures against the business plan (positive in both instances may I add) and get the final elements of due diligence completed and start to ramp up the work of workstreams to get us through to the end of November in a good position with regular reviews of detailed action plans for pre and post-merger as well as the risk registers.

We were meeting once a week as a Core Project Group and with the workstream leads once a month to review progress and actions which I would chair.  We would then attend Joint Steering Group meetings with Corporation members, both Principals, NES Managing Director and Paston College Foundation members to provide an update on progress.

Peter - Throughout the merger process I had three roles:

1. Core project group manager. This is where I managed (often by delegation) a number of support services, especially the delivery and harmonisation in areas like Estates, IT, Registry, Legal, Communication, Finance… Simply, those areas which NES delivers to other TEN Group members. The purpose of the core project group was to provide support to the colleges’ principals and the Boards’ of Governors.

A risk register was initially created for all support services and we were managing these risks to make sure they are mitigated as efficiently as possible. Harmonisation of processes between CCN, NES and PSFC involved a detailed plan of activities which needed to be looked at before and after the merger to enable a seamless merger.

A big thank you goes to all my NES colleagues who helped us deliver the merger on time.

2. Work stream lead responsible for Finances and the harmonisation between our organisations. While other support services were often covered by my NES colleagues, in the area of finances I was managing those day-to-day processes.

3. Thirdly, since May I have been working at PSFC as their Financial Consultant (similar to an Financial Director). This helped me gain a very good understanding of Paston’s financial position and performance ahead of the merger.

Christina – April to November has been the fastest merger that I have ever worked on but we were able to deliver on time thanks to the “can do” attitude of all the team and in particular the workstreams who developed the detailed project plan for their areas. Thank you for all the extra hours worked alongside your day job!

Whilst it was essential that detailed plans and both the legal and financial paperwork were in place, the key focus of the boards was to develop the new shared vision for North East Norfolk building on the history of excellence.

What will you be doing now in relation to Paston College?

Laura - I will be supporting the transition period between now and August 2018.  With the merger being ‘in-year’ there are many things that still need considering and implementing ahead of the new academic year in September 2018.  I’ll generally be on hand at Paston College for 2-3 days a week over the next few months to help support wherever I can.

Peter - My involvement continues beyond December 2017. Although Paston Sixth Form College dissolved on 1 December there is still a requirement to prepare statutory accounts for the period ended 30 November 2017. I suspect this will take another couple of months until the accounts are prepared, audited and signed off.

Christina – My contract finished at the end of November and I am now taking some time out to reflect on what I want to achieve with the rest of my life! I look forward to following your progress and the exciting curriculum developments at Paston College and of course will “retweet”!

What have you enjoyed the most?

Laura - Three things I suppose:

  1. The personal challenge and opportunity to learn many new things
  2. Working collaboratively with an amazing group of people
  3. Being part of a process that is going to have a positive impact on the young people of Norfolk

Peter - I enjoyed the technical tasks related to the project such as the preparation of the Financial Due Diligence which involved assessing the financial situation of both Paston Sixth Form College and the merged entity. The results of this were than used to help both Corporations in their decision making.

I also enjoyed spending a day a week in North Walsham. The setting of the college is impressive and my Paston colleagues were great to work with!

Christina – I have enjoyed working with such an awesome team including Corrienne Peasgood, Martin Colbourne and Kevin Grieve who have had the students at the heart of every decision. This merger could only be achieved because of the vision of the College boards and the positive “can do” attitude of the merger project team.

I enjoy making a positive difference in the world every day and this project will not only deliver financial stability for the future but also  maintain the excellent 16-18 delivery at Paston whilst enhancing the curriculum opportunities for the wider community

What have been the challenges and how were they overcome?

Laura - Simply not having done anything like this before and doing it within such a tight timescale.  There have been several deadlines to hit over the last 8 months and missing some could have easier moved the merger back – a position that none of us would have wanted.  It has certainly been fast paced.

Peter - The merger was a fast process and we have worked towards (and against) many tight deadlines in the last 6-7 months.

This challenge has mainly been overcome through detailed planning. It was great to have 3 of us in the core project group as we shared the workload where possible and I have learnt a lot from Christina who has got extensive merger experience and Laura who is a great project manager.

Christina – Although you plan the merger you never know what challenges will surface – that is what makes mergers and project management so exciting.

Any challenges were overcome by working flexibly as a team for the hours needed (both day and night) and taking advice from those with the expertise in that area. In particular I want to say a special thank you to Liam Morton, who was the Clerk to the Corporation at Paston, who spent many hours resolving complex issues and I will miss our Sunday morning project update phone calls!

Why do you think the merger is a good thing?

Laura - It allows education and training to continue within North Walsham and will provide greater opportunities for the young people of North East Norfolk which is positive.  Going forward we’re going to be able reach ‘cold spots’ which were identified through the Area Review process and work towards engaging those young people who are not in education and or training.  And, as a larger organisation we’ll be more financially stable going forward in times where post-16 funding is providing organisations and training providers with significant challenges.

Peter - It is impressive that Paston College and its predecessors have been in North Walsham since 1606 and I would like to think that this merger will enable the educational excellence to continue in North Walsham and the North East Norfolk for another 400 years. It is a great news for students as a bigger and financially stronger entity we will be more resilient in what is financially quite a challenging environment.

Christina - It will broaden the educational offer to all - not just to increase and enhance the choice of A-level courses but also give access to apprenticeships, post 16-vocational and adult learning and provide new pathways into Higher Education. This new curriculum offer will serve the needs and aspirations of the community of North East Norfolk and ensure a skilled, local workforce for the future

How do you feel like the merger is complete:

Laura - I feel like I should have loads of time on my hands, but I know that’s not going to be the case – it certainly hasn’t been in the initial few days post-merger! There is lots still to do and I really want to just get stuck in.

It’s great to have been able to have met the Area Review recommendation in a timely manner.  I feel a sense of pride that along with several colleagues we’ve ‘made it happen’ – it’s a massive achievement.

Peter - I feel a sense of achievement and am quite proud that, supported by many colleagues, we managed to successfully meet the recommendation of the Area Review and merge by December 2017.

After months of being very busy I am also (a bit) exhausted and look forward to the Christmas break!

Christina – from experience of other mergers the successful achievement of the legal merger is only the beginning of the journey! The legal merger is completed but now the real merger work starts as you build a new shared vision and culture together and then deliver the exciting new curriculum to change lives! I wish you every success!

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