A New Year is a Great Time for a Program Gut Check

The beginning of a new year is a perfect opportunity for you to take some stock of your agency, office, or program. As a government leader, you don’t usually have the luxury of new starts and new budgets. Funding is tight and your fastest and most effective way to funding new priorities is to re-prioritize internal resources. I’m guessing that not everything your agency, office, or program is doing is of the highest value to the customer. If you as a leader can’t justify why your organization is doing something, then it’s time for the program gut check exercise. Here's how you do it.

Make a spreadsheet with three columns. In column A list all of the projects and investments you have ongoing within your agency, office, or program. In Column B write in a brief justification for each one. How does that project support a core need of your customer? Do your customers need and care about this program? If so why? That’s the justification. Using a spreadsheet forces you to keep those justifications short and to the point. Next in Column C estimate the resources dedicated to the project. That estimate can be dollars or FTE or some other combination of those or other factors.

Now you’re ready for some analysis. Reorder the projects based on how compelling the justification is. Usually you can find a natural breakpoint where the justifications start to sound dubious-somewhere about two thirds of the way down the columns. You can put a darker black line at that breakpoint. Total up all the resources below that line. Also look at where the highest resource projects lie in the order. If they are close to the black line, it’s important to think about whether they belong above or below that line. Below the line projects are the people, dollars, and other resources you have to build something new and more relevant in the new year.

Of course, there are lots of barriers to harnessing those resources including resistance to change from those working on the projects, but iIt’s more likely you’ll be able to reorient current resources rather than going through the process to find new ones. The key for any government leader is to build a compelling vision for the future and a reason to change. The more compelling and urgent the reasons for change are, the more likely people will be to get on board. If you are telling someone that his or her pet project has to go away they’ll resist but if you say,"We have to free you up to work on a high profile initiative," resistance can become enthusiasm.