Program Management

Initiating and Mobilizing Non-Tech Programs

It was great to catch up with a professional connection over coffee on Friday. She’s starting a new job running a large federal program and was looking for advice on where to get started to get the program off and running.

After spending the last ten years of my career in tech, I had to dig deep for strategies and tactics I used when I worked in services consulting and state government, which were very non-tech, that I could share with her.

The experience I drew on was when I managed a large program for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to align the various Education Agency Heads (pre-k through college/university) around Georgia’s education goals and their activities to meet the goals – things like decreasing the high school graduation rate, strengthing teacher quality, improving national test scores, etc.

This was the Governor’s program, so we couldn’t ask for a better executive sponsor, and one of the Education Agency Heads was tasked with chairing/leading the overall program.

From a program management side, I got to work with aligning and organizing the group as follows:

  • Goal Definition – as a group/program, what were our top goals? We came up with five.
  • Strategy Definition – for each Goal, what were the strategies that we needed to employ in order to meet our goals.
  • Initiatives Definition – for each Strategy, what were the Initiatives to execute on that strategy. Each Initiative had a Lead, Success Criteria, Timeline and Budget needs.

The output of this exercise created a master catalog of all the Goals, Strategies and Initiatives for us to track progress and report against, which was the program. The catalog served as our framework and organizational model.

Side Note: This is very similar to setting up a tech program if you think about the Strategies as how the product development teams are focused and Initiatives as Features/Epics that they work on.

In parallel to setting up the Goals/Strategy/Initiative framework, I built out the more administrative side of a program management framework. Things like:

  • Stakeholder List and Analysis (who’s who and how to they need to be involved in the program)
  • Communication Plans and Cadence (e.g. how often did we report back to the Governor)
  • Meetings Framework and Standard Agendas (e.g. set expectations for reporting frequency)
  • Program Templates (for reporting, key decisions, process related items, glossaries of terms, etc)
  • Budget Management (how are we tracking against the overall budget for the program)

The framework was such that we could frequently review the success of the various initiatives and decide to make changes, similar to agile software development with “plan, do, inspect and adapt” cycle.

While there were no “demos,” there were moments for each Initiative where the team working on it could report out on the successes, learnings and impact throughout the program and recommend adjustments, as needed, including stopping the Initiative because we weren’t seeing the returns.

I left the organization before the end of the program (this was in the mid-00s), so I don’t have any headlines on the success of the strategies and initiatives, but on the program management front, those working on the program gave me a lot of feedback that they felt that the program was organized and they had clear understanding of how all the parts fit together and the process we were all following.

I decided to write this blog post to share one of the ways agile thinking can be applied to government program management. If I had written this post 12 years ago, while I could have described the mechanics of what we were doing, I wouldn’t have the language that the agile community has brought us to explain the power of the framework and process to learn and adapt as needed.

Image courtesy of: https://www.weforum.org/communities/global-agenda-council-on-the-future-of-government

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