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Critical Friend Review

A Critical Friend Review (CFR) brings powerful external insight to a programme of work, often reviewing complex high-risk projects at critical points in the project life-cycle.

A CFR provides an informed external perspective that can help to provide new thinking and insight into a variety of areas to increase the chances of a project’s eventual success.

Critical Friend Review Sign Post

Some of the Reasons why you might need one

• You need someone to act as a catalyst to help kick start a struggling project
• You are looking to help develop a digital transformation vision and need an honest appraisal and opinion about how it could be delivered
• You are experiencing a disconnect within your leadership team
• You need someone who can help align disparate digital initiatives, change and transformation programmes
• You would like to discuss your programme management approach
• You need to improve your organisations the digital skills, mindset and culture

Benefits of effective constructive feedback:

• An informed external perspective from an experienced independent “friend” that helps to provide new thinking and insights to the project
• Increases the chances of a project’s success by widening the support available
• Helps to align expectations and priorities which can sometimes get lost over time
• Identifying and helping to fill in knowledge gaps enabling individuals, and teams, to understand and see where corrective action is needed
• Alleviating the fear of the unknown – sharing challenges can help to identify and fix problems quickly

A critical friend takes the time to [fully] understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person, or group, is working towards. The critical friend is an advocate for the success of that work.

The role of the critical friend is essentially a strategic role that is designed to help improve the project by both supporting and challenging scope, key assumptions, processes and approach as supporting the prioritisation and sequencing of activities.

The size of the project drives the time required, but typically a CFR can take from a couple of weeks up to a month or more, encompassing six defined sprints. A CFR can be used at any time, for example, prior to starting a project or as a midway feedback opportunity for longer programmes of work, or as a final assessment for shorter projects. A CFR can be conducted as short specific project sprints or across multiple projects and assignments.

A CFR can also be used to review other areas such as the sales process, where the CFR can be used at different points in the sales lifecycle of a deal to review and coach around the Sales Strategy, the Solution and any subsequent Transformation programme. Typically, a 30-day programme of work with six defined sprints.

Why NWT?

A Critical Friend is both a person and a process with the use of the term ‘critical’ meaning key or important (as in challenging a tendency for individuals or organisations to avoid difficult issues) as well as referring to critiquing as a review technique. The practice is widely used across the UK private and public sector.

To challenge honestly and constructively, the Critical Friend must have a demonstrably strong background in delivering high value business change projects or initiatives that are deemed to be relevant to the review in hand.

NWT has considerable experience in the delivery of complex, high risk and high value programmes that are designed to help our clients modernise their IT and embrace the digital world. We have been appointed as a Critical Friend to work with individual and groups of projects with considerable success. Our role as Critical Friend has often gone beyond the facilitation role to that of being an independent expert acting as an advocate for the work, a means of leveraging external networks and a source of suggestions and examples.

It goes without saying that each relationship is unique and that it is important for each project team and the Critical Friend to define roles and responsibilities in a way that works for them.

If you choose NWT as your Critical Friend, you will be choosing a team player with the skills and the attitude to thrive in intense and sometimes challenging situations, incisively getting to the heart of issues, delivering difficult messages and being robust and resilient in the face of challenge and delivering and receiving feedback.

We are a team of experienced forward looking independent thinkers and sound communicators that can engender trust and openness between all stakeholders. We can quickly assimilate and evaluate information and put forward recommendations based on our extensive experience.

Our business consultants have real-world experience in complex high risk programmes and projects and can participate in business critical reviews and challenge projects on deliverability, affordability and value for money. Acting as a Critical Friend, they will engage with, influence and challenge senior stakeholders without disturbing wider relationships. Achieving Results takes leadership and hard work, and the investment you will make in NWT through CFR will help you to deliver the performance and results that you expect and need.

What makes a good critical friend?

The Critical Friend role is essentially strategic and designed to stimulate discussion about organisation, cultural or project challenges.

An effective critical friend is someone who:

• You trust and respect, you have a strong relationship with already or believe you could develop a strong working relationship with over time
• Provides honest, constructive (critical) feedback
• Is a skilled observer and listener, and can ask provocative and insightful questions that provide balance between support and challenge
• Understands the context of the work or takes the time to develop this understanding
• Provides a different perspective / new eyes on a situation.

Critical friends do not:

• Perform a directive role
• Offer solutions to problems or provide “quick fixes”
• Rush to judge
• Pretend they know the problems better than those within the company
• Impose their own agendas or undermine the authority of others

Critical Friend Review Flip Card

Working with your critical friend

Confidentiality is essential. The ‘critical’ aspect relates to the task and the ‘friend’ aspect relates to the individuals as a people; all discussion, comments and feedback should be seen as professional challenges rather than direct criticisms.

Expectations about availability, commitment to the process and how progress will be evaluated and discussed are agreed before work starts. The critical friend will own the agenda and take responsibility for preparation and follow-up.

New World Examples

Book a meeting with our Critical Friend team to discuss how NWT can help you