An agile approach with a sprint finish brings great results - Vicky Crichton

What do you do when faced with rising workload, inflexible processes and growing backlogs? You’d want to take significant immediate action to resolve it, wouldn’t you? You’d overhaul those processes and start saying no to new work for starters. But what if those processes were set out in statute, so you couldn’t change them? And if you had a demand-led business where you couldn’t refuse new work.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

That’s exactly the situation in which we found ourselves in 2018. Successive years of rising, and increasingly complex complaints, were starting to impact significantly on the time it was taking for us to deal with individual cases. We know that has a significant impact on the chance of successfully resolving a complaint, as parties become more exasperated and positions more entrenched. It also increases stress and worry for everyone involved. And the bottom line; it costs more, meaning the profession which funds our work was seeing their levy rise to pay for it.

We had a strong history of good process improvement work, but we needed a new approach. Previous improvement work had tried to tackle our full complaints process at once to have the greatest impact, but that meant results, or lack of them, took a long time to show. The risk of failure was high and difficult to predict, and changes were often complex and interconnected.

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That’s where Agile came in. It’s an iterative approach that focuses on breaking down large projects into more manageable tasks, completed in short iterations throughout the project life cycle.

For us, this approach fitted well with what we were trying to achieve. We completed training, learned from others and adapted our learning to our own context. We got everyone involved – staff across the organisation, our board, stakeholders – and we agreed what we wanted to achieve.

Since then, we have initiated 76 sprints; fast cycles of test and change; 28 led to the immediate deployment of a change, 31 led to further testing with deployment of a change in the longer term, eight failed but are recorded for future learning. Five are not currently deployed but give us tools for the future if complaints rapidly increase again, and three are ongoing.

These sprints have looked at issues across our entire complaints process, from the moment someone first enquires about making a complaint, right up to when we make a final decision, and beyond. We learned from what happened to complaints made to us too early to help complainers make a complaint directly to the firm. Our board members tested digital tools to help them work together more efficiently when making decisions about individual cases. We tested ways of sifting out ineligible complaints at an early stage so we don’t waste either party’s time in pursuing them. And we refined our communications to make sure our decisions are clear and understandable.

This work has had a direct impact on the results we’re reporting in our annual report, published this week. We’ve seen our complaint journey time half and we now have negligible backlogs in our system. That improved efficiency meant that last year we were able to pass on the benefit of those gains to Scotland’s legal sector, reducing the levy for all lawyers, with a greater reduction for lawyers within their first three years of practice.

In addition, that organisational experience helped us immeasurably in our response to the impact of Covid-19. Our success in keeping all services running and continuing to improve performance during the last 18 months has become a proof point for the change in culture and approaches which helped us cope rapidly with the biggest of changes in our operating environment. That included testing and deploying the changes we needed to adapt to remote working, conducting more mediations by video and telephone, and taking advantage of the growth of electronic files to explore simultaneous investigations with the Law Society of Scotland.

We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved (and delighted to see our work shortlisted at the Scottish Public Service Awards). Keeping this focus on improvement, testing and refinement is now a core part of how we do business.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

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