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A recipe for stronger program management in the public sector

January 23, 2023

A recipe for stronger program management in the public sector

Synopsis
4 Minute Read

From emergency response to income assistance, here’s how to close the gap between priorities, policy, and execution in public sector program management.

National Leader; Provincial Leader (SK) – Public Sector

From municipalities all the way to the federal level, government departments and organizations face immense pressure to turn policies and priorities into action. After you’ve conducted studies, made promises, and put policies in writing, the most difficult part of program management is actually delivering value to citizens.

Strong program management will help narrow that execution gap, enabling departments to be agile and government employees to spend their time where it’s most needed. But this ideal scenario is not always the reality — the public sector often lacks the time, resources, or expertise to execute programs how they envisioned.

For anyone overseeing programs in the public sector, here are the six ingredients that will make your execution and service delivery run smoother.

Align political direction, strategy, and outcomes

The first element of strong program management is to get all internal personnel pulling in the same direction. Political imperatives and priorities should be set at the top, with buy-in at all levels.

In the early phases of program management, clearly define the outcomes you want the program to achieve for citizen groups or constituents. If you don’t ensure early in the process that everyone wants the same thing, internal friction can hinder your ability get the job done.

Engagement with stakeholders or citizen groups

The ultimate goal of program management is to deliver high-quality services to a target group of stakeholders — these could be a group of businesses, private citizens, etc. Even if your department sets the goals and priorities of a program, you shouldn’t assume you know how to solve the problem, or what the end users truly need.

Engage in conversations with the stakeholders who will use or benefit from the program. Ask questions that help you get to the root of the problem you’re trying to solve, or the opportunity you want to capitalize on; you may perceive it differently than the end users do. Their insight should give you clarity and inform policy.

Policy

Armed with knowledge of what the end users need and expect, you can begin the process of drafting program-specific policy. It should cover questions such as:

  • What is the purpose of the program? Where is the greatest need?
  • What are the qualification requirements for the program going to be? Who is eligible?
  • Will there be different levels of support available? What are the cut-offs for certain levels?
  • How will we prevent the program from being abused? What safeguards can we put in?
  • What metrics and KPIs will determine if the program is successful?

A clear framework that addresses these types of questions, when put in writing, will be your policy.

Operationalizing

This is the execution phase, where you deliver the promised service to stakeholders. You’ll find this is usually the hardest phase to get right, but it will go much smoother if you thoroughly complete the first three steps.

This element of program management will require you to have the right technology, people, and processes in place.

Accountability reporting

The next key component is to track the success of your program and report back what you’re accomplishing.

The metrics you use to measure whether or not the program is successful should always be tied back to the outcomes agreed upon in the first phase. Many public sector organizations even create a Benefits Realization Model for their specific program.

Building dashboards to track and report this key information, in as close to real time as possible, helps you diagnose problems and adjust course.

When you begin to share the positive outcomes of your program externally, remember that not everyone understands and appreciates policy like you do — executives and the public are more likely to understand storytelling. Charts and infographics, including some from your dashboards, can be a visual aid in telling your success story.

Continuous improvement

Often you can’t afford to wait until your program is perfect before you launch. Don’t marry yourself to its initial version; commit to continuously improving it over the long term.

Start with a small and basic version of your program, then add new components and expand its scope gradually. Stumbling now and then is almost guaranteed; iterative program design allows you to be agile and fail quickly, so you can learn from mistakes early and refine your processes with the help of stakeholders.

Continuous improvement is only possible if the previous component, tracking the program’s effectiveness, is in place.

Program management in action: a success story

Effective program management yields benefits for all kinds of stakeholders.

For example, one of Canada’s provinces conducted an assessment of how effective their Provincial Income Assistance Program was. They realized staff were spending roughly 80 percent of their time on administrative tasks, while only 20 percent went to actually helping their clients on the path to independence and self-sufficiency. They set a goal to reverse those figures and spend 80 percent of their time on the more fulfilling, client-facing work their program was designed for.

After redesigning their processes and technology with the help of an outside consultant, they were successful in meeting this goal. All parties benefitted from reducing the burden of administration and bureaucracy — clients got more of the help they needed, and staff spent their time where it was the most valuable.

Getting external help

When the challenges of managing a certain program appear to be insurmountable, an external consultant can help. Depending on the program, a qualified advisor can manage it on your behalf, help you redesign it so you can manage it more effectively, or some combination of both.

Contact us

To learn more about how MNP can help your organization, contact Craig Kutarna Gates.

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