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Observations on facilitating effective use of government performance information

Posted Jun 29, 2018

By Richard Beck

Toolkit ImageRich Beck delivers remarks

For 30 years Richard Beck has integrated strategic planning and performance information into federal agency decision-making, program analysis, and budget formulation. Mr. Beck shares what he has observed in facilitating the effective use of government performance management information.

There’s a difference between providing performance information and having it considered and used in decision-making. Based on my experience, these approaches work the best:

  1. Match the level of detail being presented to the corresponding level of management. As project managers focus on the implementation details of their specific projects, agency leaders need to focus across the contributions of numerous projects to determine if their overarching goals are being achieved. Help agency leaders gain perspective using fewer, broader scoped metrics while project managers use more narrowly focused detailed metrics. Using a limited select set of key performance indicators or critical path milestones with agency leaders might not provide the total range of exhaustive details, but are representative enough to promote the type of constructive discussion that is necessary for effective decision-making, knowing that the projects can provide the greater level of details when and where specifically needed.
  2. Levels GraphicMatch appropriate level of detail to corresponding level of management

  3. Performance metrics must be considered informative and useful by program managers and agency leaders. Metrics should be tested to verify their intended purpose. Too often it is assumed that collecting more metrics will provide more information. Some metrics are implemented to comply with a directive. For a metric to be effective, it must be considered useful by the program managers and agency leaders. This better ensures that the metric is employed and its practiced use increases the probability that the metric will be accurately maintained. Ineffective metrics can be burdensome, and in higher quantities are often ignored, exist without related context, and interfere with the conduct of constructive discussions needed to achieve effective conclusions.
  4. Less can be more. Never underestimate the power of a limited set of well-chosen representative indicators (with a corresponding table or graph) to provide a perspective that creates constructive discussion that can help better ensure success. Many agencies have successfully used the focus provided by Agency Priority Performance Goals, which define specific areas of change/improvement in recognizable quantifiable definitive terms over a specific timeframe (i.e. 2 years). Use of Agency Priority Performance Goals includes applying a limited set of select representative indicators to facilitate discussions of progress among leaders and experts on a quarterly basis to anticipate potential problems before they occur and determine where an alternative approach is needed. This is achieved by bringing the right collection of information together that promotes discussion and collaboration. In summary, to benefit the agency’s decision-making, performance information needs to be actively used and discussed. Performance information is more likely used when it matches the scope and perspective of the program managers and agency leaders. This does not mean a greater quantity of information, but rather employing the right type of information that is considered most relevant, informative, and useful by the program managers and agency leaders.

Levels GraphicAfter 37 years of service, Rich Beck (DOI) is retiring from his work in promoting good performance management in government. We have enjoyed his stories, his enthusiasm, and his contributions to our collective work in advancing government improvement through performance practices. Thank you, Rich, All the best in your retirement. You will be missed.