Organizational Effectiveness

The Value of Really Knowing Your Value

Value Blog Title Graphic_Skills

By Bob Etris

We all want a job where we can wake up each day and feel that immediate, energizing pull at the prospect of getting into the office.  To look forward to our work and the challenges that lie ahead. For many of us, that feeling is not there nearly as often as we would like.  Why is that?

Thinking of the working world as a whole, we can strip out certain parts of the population before we try to answer that question.  First, let’s remove the parts of the population that are not afforded the educational or other resources needed to develop the careers they would like, and instead focus on those that have (all things being equal) a real chance to select the career of their choice.  Taking it a step further, if we remove ‘exceptional’ circumstances that contribute to career discontent or low morale – a company buyout, layoffs, downsizing, terrible bosses, challenging clients, awful teammates, seasonally-driven workload or stressor events – we are left with some foundational questions that bear exploring.

How do you deconstruct the complex journey of finding a profession you love, into a simple and solvable problem?  What goes into creating professional engagement, loyalty, satisfaction, and personal and professional development?

I believe that for any of us to find our space to exercise our professional and personal passions, we need to find an employer that not only allows, but intentionally seeks ways to marry up three distinct attributes.  Figure 1 below illustrates how these attributes relate, and what follows explores how you can find yourself in the center as often as possible.

Sweetspot Graphic

  • What you love to do – there is no such thing as work life balance.  There is only life, and work is a huge part of it.  Your work should be a harmonious and satisfying part of your life. You have to know what you enjoy in your professional realm in order to take purposeful and proactive steps to find an employer that enables you to fully apply those professional interests.  Similarly, many of us have meaningful personal interests that align to the missions, values, and strategic plans of one or more organizations.  Applying your personal interests – such as giving to the community, mentoring others, contributing to a social good, relaxing with friends, learning new skills, or helping to create new connections – don’t have to be limited to your personal life.  Your professional career can and should further enable your ability to do what you love on a more personal level.
  • What you excel at – all of us have talents, and successful professionals know how to apply those talents in their jobs.  The *most* successful professionals know how to find jobs that require and reward them for successfully applying their skills on work that inherently sets them up for success.  For example, if you work best with people, you should not find yourself alone and behind a desk all day.  If you are fantastic with numbers, one would wonder if you should spend your time as a writer or editor.  It takes a lot of time, reflection, feedback, and personal development to really understand what you excel at.  It’s equally important to appreciate that what we think we’re good at and where others see us excel are not always one in the same. Ultimately, taking that time yields a productive investment because we enjoy what we are good at, and only through deliberate exploration of that area will we know how to aim our careers in that direction.
  • What your employer can derive value from – we all feel most valuable and useful when we know we are working on something that matters.  The framing around what makes it ‘matter’ can vary – it can be to help a colleague, to further a project or organizational outcome, to spur social change, to maximize profit, to achieve professional goals.  It can be any number of things.  What matters is that what you do must be something your company clearly values in a consistent and materially significant way.  That value may be measured differently, but finding it helps you to know that what you do is contributing to something greater than yourself.  We all want to know we are making a difference in helping our team and our organization achieve their goals.

How do you find the kind of job that meets these criteria?   You start by knowing what you are looking for.  I hope this short piece has helped you to think creatively about your career, and to know how to measure the value of the path you’re on.

Building and Maintaining a Culture of Innovation

By Nicole Morrow and Omoefe Abugo

Establishing a lasting organizational culture of innovation takes time, dedication and encouragement. During a recent staff meeting, our very own Bob Etris made a statement that resonated with me. Etris said that reaching our desired state requires “creativity, patience and having a view of the long road ahead.”

Just as Rome was not built in a day, cultures of innovation are not established overnight. It is something all members of an organization must be committed to. It is a desired state that will come into fruition when all members feel empowered to contribute meaningful, positive ideas and actions to the organization’s mission.

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Foster inclusiveness

Organizations must include all members to spark collective confidence. They must spark collective confidence to bring about repeated meaningful change. They must bring about repeated meaningful change to establish a culture of innovation.

Through our organization-wide training program, Evans University, we work to provide all staff members with a full package of tailored and agile training opportunities to meet their unique needs, and prepare them to handle all challenges or opportunities that may arise. Through out Discovering Individuals Styles of Communication training, staff members become more self-aware and continue to seek new, effective communication techniques based on their distinct traits. Our Strengths Finder Assessment has been a hit in the office. Through this assessment, staff members learn their five core strengths and are then provided guidance on how to develop, promote and use those strengths in the workplace and with our clients.

The Evans University stands as an invaluable tool in ensuring all members of the Evans Family reach their full potential every day.

Design is everything. It is all aroundEncourage failure

Freedom to fail is the freedom to flourish. We learn from our successes, but we often times learn the most valuable lessons from our failures. Disappointment hurts, but it is crucial to not dwell on the negative aspects of our mistakes. If harnessed, our failures can act as springboards for growth and advancement.

When employees do not fear failure, they act boldly and creatively. We saw this at Evans during The Challenge, an internal competition rooted in building relationships, sparking creativity and rewarding innovation through social media engagement and online content building. The competition did not focus on a right way to participate. It encouraged staff members to channel their creativity toward an organizational cause. We did not fear failure or missing the mark. Instead, we boldly sought out new channels to express our individual and collective expertise.

Celebrate success

We learn from our failures. We analyze. We adapt. We grow. Our collective and individual growth leads to the pivotal successes all organizations desire. As we continue to make breakthroughs and experience success, it is important to recognize the individuals who led the initiatives, braved the elements and saw to it that the race was won.

Our very own Iliana Alvarado outlined the importance of celebrating the successes of individuals in an organization. “By understanding what drives each person—and celebrating these drivers – I am able to discover their unique talents, skills, and interests,” Alvarado said. “This allows me to align them with the right role on our engagement and keeps them motivated to be successful.”

Nurture creativity

Creativity has no bounds. Organizations must realize this, and work to foster environments that nurture and encourage creative solutions to complex problems. Organizational leaders can accomplish this in various ways. Providing a workspace optimized for ingenuity plays a major part in the collective creativity of any company. Evans’ open concept office enables employees to easily collaborate with each other and explore various solution channels. When it’s time to hunker down and get the juices flowing, our staff members migrate to our closed-off meeting rooms.

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Workplace environments should never inhibit creativity. Instead, the environment should nurture ingenuity and innovation. However, we must know when to rest, refuel and return to work recharged. Working to our highest creative potential involves constant renewal. Spending time away from work not thinking about tomorrow’s tasks allows us to come to the workplace with fresh perspectives we can use to tackle the day’s undertakings.

In a recent TED Talk, Harvard University professor Linda Hill reminded us of the power of creativity. To spark meaningful innovation, “you have to unleash the talents and passions of many people, and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful,” said Hill. Unleashed creativity creates innovative solutions. More importantly, unleashed creativity spurs a collective organizational confidence.

Emphasize design

Design is everything. It is all around us. It shapes the way we see the world. When working with clients, it is important to design with the client’s end in mind. One of the major tenants of Design Thinking is implementing human-centered problem solving. All innovative solutions must be tailored around the needs the client. This enables you to understand your clients, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and build a solution that meets them at their needs.

The call for innovation is tremendous, but it is not something that can be developed at one’s convenience. We must focus on what is important, prioritize our goals and focus on delivering products and services of exceptional value. Most importantly, we must realize that it is a team effort. Once everyone is on board, an organization can move confidently toward its desired state.

Govern Effectively Through Better Organizational Design

By Bob Etris

Efficient and effective governance of organizational decision-making and strategic planning is at the heart of improving performance.  For the purposes of this post, I use the term governance to mean “processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem or function that lead to the creation, management, or termination of work.”  In simple terms, governance can most often be seen through the lens of various meetings with middle or senior level management that consider and disposition plans regarding the use of personnel and funds to conduct projects or programs.

Governance is a cornerstone for success in any form of organizational change.  Analyzing the requirements of constituent stakeholders who need to be a part of any governance model, and designing those governance structures effectively, benefits from a solid foundation in best-practices to know what approach will deliver the highest probability of success in a given situation. By incorporating some of the approaches discussed in this blog, you will be better positioned to:

  • Differentiate the requirements and motivating factors among organizational units
  • Communicate and defend a decision-making model that everyone can understand
  • Effectively balance collaboration, responsibility, and authority among the teams or organizational units impacting the project.

Be clear, be consistent, and be specific

consistencyThe worst meetings are the ones where we don’t know why everyone is in the room. At some point it may have been clear, but over time the meeting devolved into a combination of sharing information, providing recommendations, and either implied or explicit authority over decisions that are not implemented consistently from one meeting to the next.  We see many instances where groups fall into this trap.

Creating a high-performing governance model requires looking at all of the working level and decision-making groups that somehow impact the scope of the project.  Each group needs a clear purpose and a clear charter.  The challenge lies not in the design of the charter, but in the conduct and facilitation of the various groups to ensure they perform as designed and as expected.  There are a few techniques to improve the likelihood that this occurs:

  • Before implementing a new or changed governance model, develop scenarios and simulate them with participants representing each group to validate the intended purpose and flow of the model, or how a change in one component might affect other areas.
  • Identify and implement reporting and measurement strategies that indicate the health of the governance model. These measurement points can be particularly useful when positioned at key group interfaces, to monitor handoffs and consistency of information flow.  Some sample measurement techniques could include:
    • monitoring timeliness of decisions relative to the planned date or planned duration
    • adherence to established decision making standards as calculated by the % of time that decisions are made through an exception process (which helps assess the adequacy of the underlying standard itself)
    • a ‘total time in process’ metric that can assess how long it takes work or a decision to flow through the entirety of the governance process, as well as the length of time associated with each stage along the way
  • Invest in dedicated facilitators for each group, and ensure that this support is continuously in place to coordinate across the various groups to optimize workflow and consistency.

Govern the work, not the org chartPyramid with Colors

Creating an effective governance strategy, and implementing it with success, requires understanding the complexities of the scope of the work.  This should be job No. 1, and stands in stark contrast to an assumption that the ‘work’ is somehow tied to the hierarchy of the organization and its reporting relationships.  Change flows both vertically and horizontally through an organizational chart. Taking a systems-based approach to understanding the inputs, outputs, and suppliers or consumers to a process will help identify the full set of stakeholders of the work at hand. An organizational chart may demonstrate authority and suggest some level of involvement, but it is not sufficient to gain insight into how formal and informal decisions are made and how the work and information flows through various processes. When performing a stakeholder analysis, you begin to see how engagement across the organizational chart may be imbalanced. This understanding can help you make sense of why particular levels of participation, knowledge-sharing, or buy-in are stymied and impeding effective governance. This analysis can only be refined through careful understanding of the underlying processes, as well as the cultural, interpersonal, and behavioral factors of the individuals at play.

You are not alone, and you are not operating on an island

Gears_DependenceSuccessful governance requires that all facets of the decision-making network influencing the desired outcome are aligned and operating effectively.  A change to any one piece of that network has the potential for a ripple effect to the other elements.  In order to successfully change one or more pieces, this network effect must be acknowledged and analyzed as part of the overall change. For example, think of a simple production line.  In many ways, governance processes are like production lines that produce effective decisions (rather than widgets).  Changes to the stages of idea generation, definition, maturation, approval, execution, and monitoring/oversight cannot be made in isolation.  Each stage influences the other, and frequently in complex and non-linear ways.  In order to design for this change, consider the following:

  • When working to improve or otherwise modify a single team or group, take time to capture, define, and validate the interdependencies of that group on the broader process and decision-making business environment they are a part of.
  • Once validated, ‘stress-test’ any proposed changes to the group to ensure consequences for other groups and teams can be assessed and appropriately incorporated into the overall change plan.  This can be done by developing something as simple as representative agenda topics and either using role-play (in a small group) or a review of alternative outcomes (a ‘pencil and paper’ type of activity) to understand how different topics would flow through the envision changes.
  • Prior to implementing any change, develop and implement a series of stakeholder outreach events with these other groups to proactively communicate and manage the impact to their work.

In summary, these are some ideas that will get you started.  The next time you find yourself needing to stand up a new work group, redefine the purpose of a governing body, or conduct a wholesale analysis of a business system in your organization – keep these suggestions in mind.  You will be better positioned for success in what you implement.

 

Leadership competencies, coaching and performance

By Lauren Thomas

I am often asked whether coaching can really change a leader’s behavior, or transform the way they lead. Sometimes the question arises from people who are considering coaching. Others have a personal interest in discovering more about the coaching relationship. Sometimes the question stems from someone with a challenging relationship with a leader who may possess stronger strategic, operational or technical skills than interpersonal skills. Occasionally the people asking the question are very confident in their own abilities to lead, generally dismissive of the idea of coaching, and assert that they cannot see any benefit! Asking whether a coach can change someone’s behavior is a bit like asking how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Of course, the answer is that the light bulb has to want to change – as does the leader being coached. Interestingly, I find that the reason why people ask about coaching in the first place can provide valuable insight into their motivation and willingness to change.

Deliberate refinement

Photo courtesy of hrhero.com

Someone who is already considering a coaching relationship may already have a degree of self-awareness, understand that there are areas where they could enhance their performance, and be motivated to discover more. This attitude is often found among those who understand that leadership is human-centered. Sustaining a vision, delivering a major change, or leading an investment program are all important leadership activities. Yet the very best leaders manage to achieve these accomplishments indirectly, through other people. These leaders often engage in self-reflection to gauge the extent to which they can fine-tune their performance. In such instances, coaching the leader is like coaching a sporting champion. The performance gains are likely to be incremental, but once a new technique is mastered, it can have a marked impact, not just on the leader, but on the people led. While the tweaks and adjustments may be small, when they are intentional and deliberate, consistent and visible, they can help refine a leader’s performance. In these cases, coaching is really about maximizing personal effectiveness and interpersonal influence.

Leadership for technical experts

For the second group of people, the gains from coaching can be more dramatic. We have all worked with challenging leaders – leaders who may lead in name, rather than by example, and who don’t seem to understand our perspective. So how do leaders who are not “people-people” get into leadership roles? Organizations often need to promote technical and operational specialists to management and leadership positions. Some experts welcome the progression, while others feel they have to take the role when it is offered, because not to take it would send the wrong message. Such progressions are not always supported with adequate and appropriate training and education. Even where development opportunities are provided, there may be little encouragement or incentive for a new leader to try new approaches. Many technical specialists who struggle with the human element of leadership do not see the value of people management until difficulties arise. For leaders who value competence highly, as most technical specialists do, coaching may have negative connotations. It may be viewed as remedial support or performance management, rather than as a positive intervention to help them become even more effective in their roles. In these situations, coaching can help leaders see themselves as others see them and develop their own strategies and style for dealing with the people issues that they find most challenging to handle.

Reflective coaching

Photo courtesy of theilm.com

For the third group of people, I wonder whether their direct reports share their confidence in their own ability to lead. Sometimes their self-confidence is more than justified, but sometimes it is not. How many of us would readily challenge someone who repeatedly told us they were a wonderful leader? Most people would be reluctant to directly respond, especially if that person was in a more senior role. Would we be more likely to smile, and say something positive about one of their strengths? Or possibly even change the subject and let them believe what they want to believe? There are many reasons why people may prefer to not provide their leaders with feedback:

  • Respect for someone who is in a more senior position
  • Concern about possible reaction from the leader
  • Not wanting to be seen as someone who provides negative feedback
  • Concern about repercussion on own career prospects and development opportunities

Even where a leader’s confidence in his or her people’s management abilities is accurate, it can sometimes be rooted in opinion rather than objective feedback. It can be challenging for senior leaders to obtain objective, honest feedback on their own leadership style. Much depends on being able to ask in an appropriate way, the nature of their relationships with direct reports and peers, and the organizational culture. This problem is compounded by the “Whispers” game that occurs in organizations, where people can be somewhat reluctant to pass negative information to senior management. We often filter what we say to our leaders, especially when that information relates to their interpersonal style. In these instances, coaching can serve as a mirror, allowing leaders to see where their confidence is justified, and where there may be a mismatch between their beliefs and what others see.

Seeing yourself as other see you

Whatever the motivation for asking about coaching, there can be few leaders who are not interested in what people really think about them. There are many tools a coach can use to support leaders. One instrument valuable for its focus on leadership competencies is the CPI260. This self-completion questionnaire provides a view of the leader as seen by others, in key competency areas of self-management, organizational capabilities, team building and teamwork, problem-solving and sustaining the vision. The CPI260’s design does this without needing to use 360° feedback from other people. The CPI260 can be used with established, high-performing leaders and with emerging leaders seeking promotion from more operational or technical roles. Its valuable insights into leadership style enable the CPI260 to win over leaders who are initially skeptical about the benefits that coaching can deliver. Coaches like the way it supports personal insights for clients. However, whether change really results from coaching, with or without the CPI260, depends on a number of factors. It depends on the reasons and motivations for seeking coaching, the nature of the coaching relationship, the skill of the coach, and ultimately, by how much the leader really wants to change.

To Give is Divine – Why Giving Matters in Organizations

By Colin Christian

Most of us are familiar with the expression “give until it hurts,” but how many of us actually put that edict into practice? Clichés aside, there is value in considering the role giving plays not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives and places of work as well. Adam Grant, a professor of Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, tackles this task in his insightful and revealing book, “Give and Take” (2013).

In his book, Grant argues that our behavior falls into three basic categories, or what he refers to as “reciprocity styles”, consisting of giving, matching or taking. “Givers” seek to add more value to others than they take. In contrast, “matchers” seek to level the balance sheet between what they give and what they get, while “takers” seek to claim more value from others than they contribute. Through sharing the personal stories of a range of successful individuals across a range of organizations and fields, Grant provides a thoughtful and engaging dissection of what it means to be a “giver,” and the return on investment giving can yield.

While often viewed in altruistic terms, the act of giving can have a significant impact on organizational success, whether defined by revenue growth in the private sector context or mission fulfillment and service delivery in a public or nonprofit context. Grant notes this is particularly true for service- and team-oriented organizations. Giving within a group can improve individual and team performance as givers lend their expertise, skills and perspective to assist one another in completing a task or delivering a better product. Moreover, giving strengthens the bonds between team members, helping to focus their collective efforts in a shared direction. In doing so, giving lays the foundation for effective collaboration within groups and enhances the ability of an organization to harness collective efforts in pursuit of a shared purpose.

Giving in Practice

Evans is currently supporting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in implementing its NextGen initiative, a wholescale transformation in how the national airspace is managed, leveraging 21st century technologies. One of the primary FAA client organizations we support is responsible for the acquisition and deployment of NextGen systems across the range of FAA facilities responsible for managing air traffic. The complexities of these systems and the multiple stakeholders they impact result in the need for multiple work groups to work closely to ensure the systems are developed in a safe, timely and cost- effective manner.  As an added layer of complexity, virtually every NextGen system is dependent on several other NextGen systems or technologies to deliver their respective capabilities and functions. In  this type of environment, where close coordination and collaboration across a range of work groups is mission critical, giving can play a substantial role in determining success or failure.

Photo by firstuniversalist.org

Photo by firstuniversalist.org

There are a variety of ways organizations encourage giving at all levels of management, including employee recruitment and selection; performance management; training and development; and performance evaluation. Grant suggests several strategies that successful givers have adopted within their organizations, such as organizing a reciprocity ring whereby groups within an organization meet periodically to share requests for assistance from one another.  At Evans we are in the midst of our own effort to encourage greater levels of giving and collaboration. This two month initiative, called “The Challenge,” seeks to increase employee engagement and provide new ways for staff to support the firm’s service delivery and business development goals. The essence of “The Challenge” involves encouraging employees to give more to one another and the organization within the spirit of our three pillars of client service:  honest innovation, healthy collaboration and honorable relationships. Through this process, we are exploring new and creative ways to contribute to the collective success of the company, while recognizing everyone’s personal contributions and successes along the way.

What Does Giving Mean to You?

Evans is interested in your experience and perspective on giving and what it looks like at organizations where you work, or have worked in the past. In particular:

  • What examples of initiatives and/or management practices have you experienced that were successful in creating or maintaining a culture of giving?
  • How did employees respond to these initiatives and what were the results?
  • What barriers have you experienced to giving within the workplace?  Were you or your organization able to implement effective strategies to overcome those challenges?

Please share your experiences!

The “Four Be’s” of Effective Organizational Communication

By Beth Zimmerman

Regardless of an organization’s focus or size, communication is often identified as an area for organizational improvement. Why, when sharing information is easier in many ways than it has ever been, does communicating effectively remain such a common organizational challenge?

Photo courtesy of comnetwork.org

Photo courtesy of comnetwork.org

In many ways, it’s not surprising. Communication preferences vary across individuals; some prefer written information, whereas others may prefer talking. Interests may also vary; what one employee wants to know about might differ from what matters to another person. And then there is the matter of consistency; since managers have different communication styles and approaches, information flow can vary significantly across departments and locations where employees work.

Despite these variations in communication preferences and practices, there is a straightforward path to improved organizational communication. This approach is based on four foundational principles I call the “Four Be’s”: be reliable, be honest, be timely, and be interactive.

Be Reliable

Ensuring that communication occurs regularly and predictably is a core practice for building organizational trust. In selecting approaches to enhance information flow across their organizations – such as by holding a quarterly staff meeting or sharing a weekly newsletter – leaders should carefully consider the ability to reliably deliver on the promise. Otherwise, announcing a new initiative that is not executed as expected or sustained for a meaningful period of time will only serve to undermine the environment of trust that improved communication is intended to enhance. Being reliable also includes following through and reporting back on previously discussed items where future actions or developments were planned.

Be Honest

Honest communication is key to organizational transparency. Even if communications are occurring regularly, if they don’t address employees’ interests or address what’s really on their minds, they can feel empty or even breed mistrust. Sometimes the burning issue is something that remains in an uncertain state or a topic that leadership cannot yet fully discuss. In this situation, staff members are likely to appreciate their leaders’ acknowledgement of the issue, even if they don’t know all the answers. An honest statement about what is known, with a plan for sharing further information when available, will go far toward establishing transparency as an organizational value.

Be Timely

Another way to ensure that organizational communications are relevant and meaningful is to strive for timeliness. A broad interpretation of timeliness reveals opportunities to communicate along the organization’s ongoing timeline:

  • Before: What advance notice or preparation can you provide to staff so that they will be well positioned to meet upcoming demands and take advantage of key opportunities?
  • During: What is occurring that may prompt employee questions or require further clarification?
  • After: What milestones have recently been accomplished that can be celebrated, learned from, or built on for further success?

Organizations typically have room to enhance communications at each of these phases, but the “during” phase can be particularly challenging when something is underway that is unclear or possibly worrisome to staff. In these cases, remarking on known information in a timely manner is better than saying nothing until every answer is known, but rumors have long since spread across the organization.

Be Interactive

Ensuring that an organization consistently shares relevant information in a timely and transparent manner is fundamental to strong organizational communication. But pushing information only gets an organization so far. To create real engagement, communication should be a two-way, ongoing conversation. In-person interactions are a very powerful and critical supplement to emails; one in-person interaction with a leader can enhance the power of all other types of communications for an employee. Internal social business platforms offer another approach for fostering information-sharing and connections among an organization’s busy and often dispersed members.

The “Four Be’s” offer a solid foundation for improved organizational communication. Stay tuned for more blog posts that will describe strategies for putting these principles into action.

HealthCare.gov’s Lifeline: Effective Program Management

By Omoefe Abugo

When Congress asks the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit a government agency or program, it generally investigates areas of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement and areas thought to be in need of broad reform. When the GAO looked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s (CMS) management of HealthCare.gov, it found several factors that contributed to its painful and delayed launch. The GAO found the CMS-led initiative to be a high-risk program for many reasons, among them being: unclear guidance, lack of quality assurance plans and inadequate accountability functions. Our experience with complex organizations has enabled us to help program offices avoid such issues and adopt effective program management and balance crucial program factors.

When faced with a large-scale initiative, there will always be complex challenges and unforeseen problems to solve. When CMS set out to design, develop and launch the complex environment and suite of components known as HealthCare.gov, various issues arose that impeded a successful launch. According to the GAO’s Report to Congressional Requesters, these issues led to major unaddressed performance gaps, millions of dollars in cost overruns and a seriously flawed rollout of the HealthCare.gov website on Oct. 1, 2013.

Program Effectiveness

Photo courtesy of rt.com

Photo courtesy of rt.com

There were several problems that plagued CMS’ launch of the healthcare program, but the failure to adopt established program management (PM) best practices proved to be the weakest link of the HealthCare.gov initiative. The GAO report and testimony by GAO officials point to failure to adhere to effective planning and oversight practices, despite the challenges and level of risk required for effective oversight.  These failures led to scope creep, over-obligation of funding to contracts, and a decision to launchwithout verification that the site met its performance requirements.

In managing a program as complex as Healthcare.gov, CMS leadership should have placed greater emphasis on the human element of program management across its many components and over 60 contracts to ensure that the workforce and stakeholders remained informed and aligned for the transformation ahead.

Certainly, for an initiative of this size, the program office must lead from a clearly defined and communicated set of objectives. Evans’ Game-Changing Program Management approach uses these implemented objectives to drive day-to-day efforts in ensuring program effectiveness:

  • Clear organizational goals for program management
  • PM standards that are aligned with the organization’s process maturity
  • Improved organizational effectiveness and efficiency
  • Increased stakeholder and customer satisfaction
  • An audit-ready program office
  • A value-added and balanced quality assurance function
  • Metrics that realistically track program performance

Balancing Factors

The Project Management Triangle (PMT), also known as the Triple Constraint, tells program managers that every project is balanced on three supporting beams: schedule, cost and quality. Basically, if you want something done well and fast, the price will rise.

Photo courtesy of healthcare.gov

Photo courtesy of healthcare.gov

If a program manager wants something done well and for a low price, it will take longer to achieve favorable results. The main point: you can only pick two of the three sides of the PMT. For a program to achieve the objectives mentioned above, one must define which constraints it will operate around. Otherwise, less favorable tradeoffs will be made.  Unfortunately for CMS, the quality of the project failed and cost accountability evaporated. The deadline for the website became more important than the website’s ability to handle influxes of millions of users. Wanting it fast began to overcome wanting it right. Confusion about who had the authority to approve contractor requests and expend funds crippled CMS’ ability to implement an effective accountability system. According to the GAO’s Report, this led to more than $200 million in piled fees, and no improvements in HealthCare.gov’s effectiveness.

During a high-visibility, high-stress project like HealthCare.gov, it is crucial for the program office to leverage a balanced quality assurance function that helps to assess its process strengths and weaknesses. Instead of establishing a dependable quality assurance function, project roles and requirements were often unknown and unclear. What did this mean for CMS? Every action it took involved great risk. Unfortunately, CMS failed to put measures in place to alleviate these dangers, such as:

  • Clarified roles and responsibilities
  • Established best practices
  • Governance approvals
  • Accountability functions

In Retrospect

As HealthCare.gov’s lifecycle matured, it should have been able to demand more of its contractors and workforce and expect optimized performance and results. However, little to no risk management challenged the program office’s ability to properly facilitate each step of the institutionalization of HealthCare.gov. The program managers could not right-size their use of program standards to make HealthCare.gov more effective because the standards were unclear and unknown.

Communication always tends to be the fall guy when a project fails or performs inadequately, but in this situation, it would be unfair to blame poor communication. If CMS’ program office had implemented strict program management best practices, set rigorous performance expectations and established flexible, adaptive objectives at each level of HealthCare.gov’s process maturity, perhaps we would have seen a more successful, efficient launch.

If you would like more information on our Game-Changing Program Management approach, please contact us at 703-663-2480 or at info@evansincorporated.com.

We welcome comments and discussion on this blog below!