The Policy Challenge
Getting large organizations in sync when it comes to publishing and implementing policies and procedures can be a challenge. For one thing the policy developer and implementer often are not in the same department. As a result, implementation of the policy is carried out by people who do not work for the developer. The implementer and developer may be mandated to work in different directions, thereby creating and maintaining their own "silos" within the organization.
How do you reach across the structure of a large organization and get different departments to cooperate? This question is so common throughout large corporations and government agencies that when a policy-making group finds the solution, it is worth paying attention to. There may be valuable lessons to learn, such as how to promote understanding and teamwork.
Four Lessons Learned, So Far
The Department of the Navy (DON) Information Management (IM) and Information Technology (IT) Performance Measurement Program is just such an example of how the DON Chief Information Officer (CIO) staff met these challenges head on and learned how to work across boundaries. The objective of the program is to align command-level IM/IT goals with DON enterprise level IM/IT goals; in other words, to get everyone to follow the DON IM/IT Strategic Plan, and to do it using a common set of metrics by which progress will be assessed. This is an important and ambitious plan that promotes interoperability, security, and more. But the challenge is the actual execution of the plan, knowing that each organization has its own priorities, pressures, constraints and history.
In the DON, big steps were taken in seemingly simple ways, with impressive interim results: Diverse personalities and groups are now sharing information across boundaries for the common good. For a large government organization, this is not an easy accomplishment. While it may sound right and obvious, it does not reflect natural human tendencies, particularly in large organizations. The ultimate goal of the program still lies ahead, but progress is steady and early returns suggest a very favorable prognosis. Here are four lessons from that effort, so far.
Lesson #1: Practice What You Preach
Before asking anyone else to align metrics to strategy, DON CIO personnel did it themselves. Though a deceptively simple idea, "modeling what works" is a remarkably effective method to encourage people to adopt new behavior. Starting with then CIO, Dave Wennergren, the DON CIO articulated its own piece of the DON IM/IT strategy as a set of measurable results or "effects" and then cascaded these effects down to the level of individual accountability. "Lead by example" has been Wennergren's mantra, and it seems to be working for him because he was recently promoted to be the Department of Defense Deputy CIO!
This internal alignment has resulted in at least three positive outcomes. It has: (1) ensured that staff energy is focused on those activities that support the DON IM and IT Strategic Plan; (2) provided the foundation for the SMART Objectives to support the National Security Personnel System; and (3) created a common understanding of how success will be measured.
In addition, tools were developed to assist the DON CIO's continued focus and provide a mechanism by which teams are able to demonstrate progress.
The Whole Goal (WG) Alignment Map is the high level document that captures the results or WGs for each team and shows their alignment to the goals of the DON Deputy CIO (tier 2 level goals) and the goals of the CIO (tier 1); the Master Task List is a Microsoft Project-based tool that defines the key tasks and associated time lines teams have identified as critical to the achievement of WGs; and the DON CIO Internal Dashboard provides a simple graphical representation of actual progress.
DON CIO also followed the dictum, "Do good and avoid evil." This is a reference to the Whole Goal concept, an important idea taught by the Naval Postgraduate School in the Navy's Executive Business and Corporate Business courses.
By "Whole Goal" we mean that each effect was encapsulated as a single measurable desired effect to achieve with measurable negative side effects to avoid. Steering clear of unintended consequences is integral to the Whole Goal approach.
DON CIO leaders now gauge progress against measurable Whole Goals and ensure ongoing strategic focus through periodic "effects-based assessments" with their teams. In those meetings, teams tweak strategy, target issues to resolve and reinforce goal achievement.
It is this successful internal alignment and performance measurement effort that led to DON CIO's broader initiative to establish an IM/IT Performance Measurement Program to assess and report Department-wide progress toward the achievement of its IM/IT strategic goals.
Lesson #2: Be Focused on Your Result, But Flexible
The approach of the DON IM/IT Performance Measurement Program is to collect metrics from across the Navy and Marine Corps that are relevant to the execution of the DON IM/IT Strategic Plan, and then to create a one-stop-shopping dashboard made easily accessible to all concerned parties. The dashboard, developed by the DON CIO, provides a way for the Department's commands and organizations to compare themselves and each other against agreed upon goals and measure progress.
That's the blueprint, but there is a temptation simply to cobble together any and all available metrics. This is common practice in "metrics" efforts. The DON CIO could have collected a vast quantity of metrics whose resemblance to the strategic plan, if any, was purely coincidental.
But that is not what happened. The DON CIO asked for and received only metrics relevant to the Strategic Plan. However, even while being selective in the metrics employed, the pervading tone has been one of respect and collaboration. Ever mindful of project milestones, the team, nonetheless, invested heavily in the time it takes to build trust. The attitude — one that says we are open to learning and to new ideas and methods of doing things — invited trust and partnership. This is one aspect of the project that we hope others will notice; it is a key to inspiring good ideas and cooperation, and a catapult to future successes.
Lesson #3: Promote a Common Language
Any program dashboard is meaningless unless apples are being compared to apples, but escaping the "Tower of Babble" is difficult. Different organizations use different words for the same things and the same words for different things. For example, what one organization considers to be a single "legacy system," one that is old and difficult to support, may be considered by another organization to be three legacy systems, and yet another organization might not consider it a legacy system at all.
Sorting out common terms and meanings takes effort. It often means that at the beginning there will be disagreements and drawn-out discussions, but as difficult and inconvenient as that can seem, it is crucial for the success of any cross-functional effort, especially those entailing measurement.
The DON CIO Performance Leadership and Management Team tackled this problem through consensus. Getting everyone to use the same language and definitions took an incremental and iterative approach that was worth every minute invested, especially in gaining ideas, input and buy-in from the Navy and Marine Corps' IM/IT gurus and experts within the DON CIO. These discussions evolved into a "metric definition template," a straightforward format for describing candidate metrics, defining data owners and capturing data collection methods.
Another key to common language has been the team's investment in education early on. Through briefings and one-on-one communication, all DON CIO staff members and core DON IM/IT stakeholders became well-versed in the DON IM/IT Strategic Plan, the characteristics of good metrics and the goals of the performance measurement initiative itself. When people begin an initiative with a common understanding of direction and principles, consensus comes more easily.
As important as the early investment in education has been to this initiative, perhaps the greater lesson learned is the recognition that this promotion of common language is a continuous education requirement. Key players change, and the collective understanding of what is useful evolves as the effort matures. The continuous education, information sharing, consensus building and documentation of key definitions and business rules are critical to ongoing success. A metrics template proved to be an invaluable tool in structuring these discussions and documenting final agreement for defined metrics.
Lesson #4: Don't Get Fancy
The program team is using tried and true Web tools and Excel spreadsheets to accomplish what they need to. The dashboard is hard to break and easy to pay for. It's simple. It works.
Just like the temptation to get tangled in metrics, getting hung up on expensive, high-powered technology is also widespread and limiting. Later, if funding becomes available, upgrading to less manual and more powerful processes is a possibility. Meanwhile, the team is not beholden to vendors, funding agents or technological grandiosity.
Likewise the program team's project plan is hewed to simplicity. Leaning heavily on realistic goals and time frames, iterative efforts and consensus-building, the entire effort has been an exercise in the art of the possible.
It's Not Over
It has been just over six months since this program launched, so there is still plenty to be done. For example, the entire DON IM/IT Strategic Plan is not yet fully reflected in the metrics, even though all the metrics supplied so far do relate to the plan. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the DON IM/IT Strategic Plan is a moving target, updated and released every two years. So a complete reflection of the plan is still to come, and will continue to depend on collaborative relationships across naval organizations.
Will these metrics become goals and the goals become accountabilities? After all, that's how one advances a strategic plan. That decision will be up to the individual commands, but we think the answer is yes. Meanwhile, this program will have created a common language, a common dashboard and a common standard — all rooted in the DON IM/IT Strategic Plan.
A Good Example
Given human inclinations, this example of a group able to thoughtfully choose relevant metrics and share information and goals, should push others to achieve something similar or even better. In fact, Army and Air Force CIO organizations have already expressed interest in using this approach as a model to address their own parallel goals. But the implications are broader, still.
This is a standard for large organizations working together to join hands at the "seams," and produce the right result. It is an efficient use of limited resources, and an effective use of what we have in unlimited amounts – imagination, ingenuity and the capacity to see big goals — and how we each can make sure these goals are met.
Oh, the Places You'll Go! — this Dr. Suess story reminds us of the experiences of those involved in this program. It cleverly celebrates joys, challenges and even disappointments on a journey. Unknown territory, confusion and criticism are experienced, but ultimately, mountains are moved and success is obtained!
Led by Michelle Schmith, the DON CIO Performance Leadership and Management Team is comprised of William Casey, Lynne Gaudreau, Michael Khalifeh, James Kopetsky and Darlene Greifenberger. The team's Navy partner is N6, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications, represented by Harry McDavid and Denzil Thies. The team's Marine Corps partner is Headquarters Marine Corps C4I, represented by Robin Thomas and Brad Ellis.