In today’s world, solving big hairy problems requires flexible, cross-functional solutions. The siloed organizational structure of the Federal Government can impede our ability to meet these problems head on. The good news is that we are increasingly working across structures to identify long-standing problems, set clear goals, and implement solutions.
Sports teams use playbooks as a set of strategies to inform how to respond to the situation on the field. This set of plays is designed to help individuals and teams think through how to set a goal; develop a plan for the way forward; and achieve the goal through execution and continuous refinement of the plan, tracking progress, and continuous improvement. While inspired by the Cross Agency Priority (CAP) Goal and Agency Priority Goal (APG) processes which identify ambitious, time-limited federal goals, we hope this playbook will be a useful resource when applied to any new goal or initiative.
While the plays are broken into three phases — Set, Plan, and Achieve — we see all of these activities as interrelated and interdependent. It’s critical to loop back and forth throughout the phases as you learn more and the environment you’re working in inevitably changes.
The General Services Administration’s Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement can help you at any point in your goal journey, and if we can’t help you ourselves, we can connect you to excellent resources across government. To that end, you’ll see that each play has a resource section. While external resources (not developed by GSA staff) are not formally endorsed by the staff and definitions may not match our own perfectly, we find them useful. If there is a resource that you think others would find useful, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making specific commitments to a limited number of actions and results allows organizations and teams to focus efforts and resources for maximum impact. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
While priorities may fluctuate and shift over time, identifying desired outcomes and setting specific goals around those outcomes will give programs a clear, steady purpose. Developing and adhering to goal selection criteria sets organizations and teams up for success by ensuring goals will be relevant over the lifecycle of the goal.
Develop goal selection criteria in coordination with the appropriate senior leaders and communicate criteria for goal selection.
Develop and communicate the method of prioritizing, ranking, or otherwise assessing comparative value of proposed goals.
Develop a list of goal options and articulate, share, and incorporate feedback on those goal options with relevant stakeholders. (see “identify key stakeholders”)
Select which goal or goals will move forward for further refinement and planning.
Begin engaging with the potential goal champion/leader, discuss expectations, and gain a tentative or tacit agreement to engage further.
Once a goal area has been identified, developing a clear goal statement — specific, time-bound, measurable — is critical to framing and articulating the goal and vision of success for internal and external stakeholders. The process of developing the goal statement should cultivate a robust conversation around and decision on what success looks like.
Develop a one sentence goal statement that explains the planned action or initiative and the intended outcome including the key metric or milestone that will indicate whether the goal has been achieved.
Develop an inventory of available key measures to consider in the goal statement and solicit input from relevant stakeholders. (see “determine how to measure progress”).
Develop a succinct theory of change that maps the causal relationship between the goal and the outcome defined in the goal statement. Consider creating a visual representation of assumed or documented causal connections. As planning continues, further flesh out the map to include the steps in between the goal and the outcome.
Develop a methodology for setting a target that is both ambitious and realistic. Review the methodology with a data expert or statistician. (see “determine how to measure progress”).
A goal’s success is contingent upon having a limited set of senior leaders in place who are committed to providing vision and support, being a spokesperson for the goal, and delegating authority to make decisions and to take action, while accepting accountability for the goal’s results. Equally as important is a dedicated staff-level team that is given the authority to implement the key strategies over the course of the goal.
Identify and gain the commitment of one or more senior leaders who will help prioritize and enforce priorities. Begin to discuss and document expectations.
Identify and create a list of career staff who will be involved, with initial estimates of their time and availability.
Consider goal leadership and team incentives and accountability mechanisms (e.g., inclusion in annual performance plans, required presence and active role in data-driven review sessions, routine check-ins with senior leader, etc.). (See “manage for success”).
Planning is the act of considering and committing to a path forward in order to coordinate decisions and intended actions. The planning process should include multiple stakeholders, consider the needs of key customers, identify and plan for risk, and take into account timeline and resource constraints. The resulting plan should guide decision-making at both the strategic and operational level and be a living document updated on a regular basis.
Understanding the lay of the land sets the stage for designing a path forward which can help goal teams avoid pitfalls, manage risk, and take advantage of opportunities. Assessing the landscape and “identifying key stakeholders” go hand-in-hand.
Identify and document the key challenges inherent in the goal (calculation of potential pain).
Identify and document the opportunities related to the goal (calculation of potential gain).
Begin a stakeholder analysis that will continue to be fleshed out in the planning process. (See “identify key stakeholders”).
Complete a risk assessment.
Goals and Goal Teams never operate in a vacuum. Even goals that are championed by individuals or organizations rarely operate in a vacuum. Along with building the core goal team, knowing who and what exists in the ecosystem of the goal space will help clarify how to best coordinate efforts to achieve maximum impact.
Continue to build out a stakeholder map (see “assess the landscape”) with descriptions of roles, overlap, complementary programs or services, and competing programs or services.
Map out customers and end users. Where possible, incorporate customer journey mapping.
Map the delivery systems for each of the contributing programs to better understand how they are delivering services and to whom.
With a deeper understanding of key stakeholders, adjust the goal team as needed.
Examine which Federal and non-Federal organizations and people impact and influence but do not directly contribute to the goal.
If appropriate, consult with Congress and document what transpired.
After determining the ultimate desired outcome (the what) and doing the legwork to best understand the ecosystem that the goal exists in (the who), the next step is to figure out how to get there by identifying strategies, choosing the most effective approaches, and mapping out the specifics of what the goal efforts will look like.
Diagram the goal, including sub goals (as appropriate) and strategies to ensure that work on the goal is aligned to achieve the desired outcome (e.g., logic model or theory of change).
Develop a visual representation (chart, table, graphic, etc.) of the key strategies that make up the goal. Consider a logic model or similar structure that shows the relationship from inputs to the outcomes in the goal statement.
Begin to document evidence of the problem and the utility of chosen strategies.
Choosing milestones, measures, and targets that are meaningful — that make sense to people on the team and are logically linked to goals and strategies — will help the goal team track progress towards meeting the goal. Meaningful measures act as gauges to indicate when actions have moved the needle in the right direction or at the pace needed to meet the target within the timeframe. Each progress review can be used as an opportunity to make adjustments to strategies, resourcing, or actions along the way.
Develop a calendar of milestones that will help keep the goal (or intermediate outcomes) on track throughout the goal period.
Determine and get buy-in on which measures will be used to track progress on both the ultimate goal and any interim outcomes.
Baseline current customer satisfaction where possible.
Refine or expand the logic model (see “identify strategies”) that maps which strategies each key measure and milestone is connected to in order to ensure that activities and data collected are aligned to achieve the desired outcome.
Revise the data inventory (see “refine the goal statement”) or develop an inventory if not previously developed.
Navigating complex systems, differing management structures, stakeholder needs, and team dynamics to achieve the goal will be challenging. Putting in place clear management and decision structures and using program and performance management tools helps to manage those challenges and set the team up for success.
Determine the appropriate governance structure and consider developing a graphic (e.g., org chart) showing relationships and dependencies.
Develop a roles and responsibilities matrix or other chart to identify who is leading/supporting which aspects of the goal management.
Outline expectations and commitments (e.g., memorandum of agreement, charter).
Develop standard operating procedures (e.g., communication, reviews, clearance).
Develop a resource directory including staffing and funding. Identify resource gaps and options for alternate resourcing.
Health and Human Services handbook on formalizing a governance structure and establishing decision-making processes (Find the full guide to setting up effective governance models for complex initiatives here)
Proactive messaging about plans, progress, challenges, and results to internal and external stakeholders allows teams to discuss progress, get feedback, and keep decision-makers informed. It also provides a strategic opportunity to drive engagement from a variety of stakeholders (gather new ideas, become aware of unforeseen consequences, etc.), manage risk, and communicate success.
Develop a list of internal and external audience(s), frequency of contact, type of information needed, and the medium for delivering information.
Identify information exchange and feedback needs and sources, frequency, and mechanisms.
Develop specific language (e.g., message maps) to communicate goal information internally and externally.
Assess communication risks and develop a mitigation plan.
Determine an internal process for communicating progress to stakeholders, the associated expectations (e.g., clearance, public reporting, etc.), and who will be doing the communicating.
Before we move into the next phase, let’s pause and revisit the first phase. A few questions:
It’s time to set in motion the plans that have been developed and focus attention on achieving the goal. While goal execution looks like many activities and processes in motion at the same time, there are a core set of plays to help keep the ball moving down the field and adjust strategies as needed.
Good implementation requires a continuous cycle of monitoring progress using milestones and measures, determining where a goal is on and off track, identifying emerging challenges and opportunities, and making changes to how a goal is being delivered.
Collect, analyze, and present data in a way that can be consumed by the Goal Team, Goal Leader, and, if appropriate, external stakeholders (e.g., public progress update).
Assess the usefulness of collected data.
Hold data driven review meetings on a regular basis with the Goal Leader, Goal Team, and other stakeholders as appropriate. Adjust the timing, structure, and cadence of these meetings until they are effective. (see “manage for success”)
Consult with agency/component performance offices for insight, advice, or assistance.
As Goal Teams measure and assess progress, they learn more about their ever-changing operating environment and effect of early actions, making it critical to adjust strategies, activities, measures, and milestones. By asking “what’s changed” and questioning early assumptions, Goal Teams can flex, pivot, and adapt. Setting ambitious goals can and should also open the door to experimenting and innovating to test new approaches to program delivery.
Identify improvement opportunities and steps to implement needed changes.
Schedule a session with the Goal Team to reassess and revise the planning documents: project or action plan, stakeholder map, logic model, data inventory, and communication strategy.
Connect to innovation experts (e.g., Human-Centered Design, Continuous Process Improvement, Agile) across government (see “resources” for a partial list).
Develop guidelines about what is and isn’t considered an acceptable risk.
Consider conducting an innovation sprint.
Identify a pilot to test something out on a smaller scale and see if it works.
Test solutions with your customer. Solicit and implement their feedback.
Strategic communication and keeping stakeholders informed looks like different things - communicating progress, engagements with stakeholders, storytelling - and can be used for different purposes - getting feedback, engaging decision-makers, managing risks. Leveraging a communication strategy (see “develop a communication strategy”) to engage and communicate with stakeholders in an intentional, tailored way fuels progress and can contribute to improved performance by motivating and inspiring Goal Team members and partners to play their role.
Revisit the communication plan/strategy and adjust as needed. (see “develop a communication strategy”)
Ask customers and stakeholders if they are getting the information they need.
Assess the effectiveness of the platform or medium used to communicate (e.g., How many hits did you get on your latest post? Did anyone reach out with feedback?)
Setting and achieving a goal is a marathon, and it’s important to refresh along the way in order to keep Goal Team leaders and members motivated and keep up momentum. One way to do this is to acknowledge and celebrate progress.
Document key successes which would not have been possible without this goal effort.
Ask Goal Team members how they like to be recognized.
Consider adding recognition into standard operating procedures. (see “manage for success”)
Routinely pulse Goal Team members to gauge motivation and the need to recognize progress being made.
Identify which team or individual successes can be turned into content to communicate externally.
Capturing and sharing lessons learned in the pursuit of a goal are often overlooked and undervalued. The value of documenting actions taken, the conditions under which they were taken, and the results are, however, critical in an environment where resources are tight. Knowing what worked or didn’t can help Goal Teams (yours and others) save time and effort in the future.
Identify a standard, straightforward format to document lessons learned.
Incorporate lessons learned discussions into regular progress reviews. (see “measure and assess progress”)