Reports & Research

Five Tips for Program Resilience

Businesswoman preparing presentation on graphical screens
Feb 9, 2017

For many years, Federal programs have undergone reviews to ensure that they are generating value and are well managed. What constitutes value can change as agency or Administration priorities shift. When priorities change, it is an ideal time to tune your value story and strengthen how you communicate the important work you do. Here are five tips that can help you focus your value proposition and navigate change.

Tip 1: Prepare a solid business case. Your business case makes the case for why your program should be funded. Be prepared for evaluators that are unfamiliar with your program or agency to do the evaluation. Your business case should clearly state the program’s purpose, the value it generates, the key risks it faces, and the resources required to operate the program. Many of these inputs can be drawn from budget materials that are developed annually, but content may need to be improved upon to resonate with evaluators.

Your business case should present a compelling and defendable characterization of the program as a value center in the eyes of the evaluator. Your program may be and extremely well run, efficient and productive, but if policy makers don’t see value in it, it may be cut. The bottom line is that there will be winners and losers for funding, and the business case is a vital tool to making you a winner.

Tip 2: Establish a performance baseline. Managers should have a firm understanding of the program’s financial position, performance, contributions (i.e., value), and dependencies. Several resources can help leaders to characterize their program baseline:

1. An operational concept paper. This resource provides a summary characterization of who does what where. Typically, this paper contains a graphic that provides a high-level illustration of the programs major functional elements, stakeholders, and their relationship. It also provides a summary description of the program that highlights the unique value it provides. Elements of the operational concept can be used in a business case.

2. A budget with a breakdown of project and operational costs as well as monetized program benefits. This information helps to characterize the program’s return on investment. Several methodologies are available to managers to characterize the financial dimensions of their programs. Not all program benefits can be expressed in monetary terms; however, it is often possible to draw relationships to societal benefits that align with the Administration’s priorities.

3. A performance baseline. Here, managers can draw upon operational statistics, expenditures, customer dependencies, customer satisfaction, and historical performance. Aligning the performance baseline to new priorities and environmental realities will help protect funding.

Tip 3: Understand and manage program risks.

Risks are uncertainties, good and bad. It is important for managers to identify and assess program risks that stem from current and anticipated executive orders, memoranda, or policy changes. Managers who have not evaluated risks are likely unprepared to address these policies and will be busy with damage control rather than proactively managing change. Here are a few steps you can take to manage your risks.

1. Stand up a risk team. Evaluate a range of risks that span categories such as financial, human capital, performance, legal, technological, strategic, and others. Risks should be recorded within a risk register that is used for ongoing risk management.

2. Assess and prioritize risks. Consider whether risks should be absorbed, mitigated, or transferred to another party. Risks that have minimal impact or are somewhat superficial can be absorbed, but others may need to have the program take some action to minimize damage or amplify benefits. Based upon your assessment, risks should be prioritized based upon possible impact to the program.

3. Continually manage risks. Hold ongoing risk management meetings to determine if new risks have arisen, identified risks are likely to become real (i.e., an issue), or whether risks are no longer a concern. Ensure decision-makers are involved to drive action where needed.

Tip 4: Communicate with your stakeholders. Stakeholders, like you, may be assessing their risks and may be concerned about their future. Stakeholders may include program staff, operational partners, and program beneficiaries or customers. They do not know whether your program will be affected and must make decisions about how to address uncertainty. Be proactive about communicating with program stakeholders, consistent with your governing policies.

Communication can help to stabilize your workforce during a time of uncertainty. In addition, it will help others know that you are prepared to manage shifting priorities. Programs that do the legwork, engage operational partners, and broadcast a shared vision for navigating change strengthen the agency and its ability to provide continued public value.

Tip 5: Be vigilant. Pay attention to the Administration’s priorities, tactics, and challenges. These arm you with cues how to champion your program’s value. Aligning program benefits with job creation, security, and other Administration goals will strengthen your business case and help to focus your workers.

Also, learn from the successes and failures of other programs so that you can refine your messaging around program value and performance. Others’ experiences will help you to understand how the Administration perceives and responds to business cases. Knowing them will help you to refine your value proposition and align delivery for sustained success.

While any one of these back-to-basics tips can add value, weaving them together as a unified approach will help you champion your program’s value and remain resilient during times of change.

Check out the original article on LinkedIn.