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The PIC's P3 Playbook

In 2015, the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) staff set out to define the foundational aspects of performance management in government. Using our experience working with diverse Federal agencies, we clarified our point of view about what it takes to not only achieve mission results, but actively manage ambitious and sometimes cross-governmental goals. We also went back into our archive of interviews, summits, and working groups to reflect what we’ve repeatedly heard from professionals who have given their careers to understanding, improving, and driving their agency’s performance.

We developed the P3 (Performance Principles & Practices) construct to go beyond the legal requirements, and capture the capabilities and spirit of performance management and improvement. We’ve turned P3 into a playbook for anyone to use who has a role in implementing programs, initiatives, and missions. Performance is a tool to help you achieve your goals, deliver the right things, and build the capabilities you need to evolve.


Make specific commitments: Goal Setting and Prioritization 

What is it?  Making specific commitments to a limited number of actions and results in order to focus our efforts and resources for maximum impact. Because if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

What are we aiming for? While our priorities may fluctuate and shift over time, our program and organization has a clear, steady purpose. This is articulated in clear goals that speak to the mission outcomes we are here to achieve. We can re-prioritize when it’s needed, but this is something we avoid doing frequently. Generally, people on our team should be able to explain what they do and how it relates to our overall priorities easily. Regardless of our level in an organization and our structure, we are headed in the same direction.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Do we have clear goals that we are trying to achieve?
  • Are goals too limited in number or are there too many to remember?
  • Can we easily show how we are achieving our goals
  • Are there senior leaders who help us prioritize and who enforce our priorities?


Determine a path forward: Planning

What is it? Considering and committing to the path forward in order to coordinate delivery decisions.

What are we aiming for? Our plans guide decision-making, both at strategic and operational levels. Our plans are living documents that we refer to or update on a regular basis. The planning processes we use include multiple stakeholders and consider the needs of our key customers, both internal and external to our team. We have a standard way of identifying and planning for risks, and our plans take into account timeline and resource constraints. When we develop plans, we make sure they align to our overall mission or organizational vision.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Do we have plans that we consult, update regularly, and use to guide our decisions?
  • Are multiple perspectives or stakeholders included in our planning process?
  • Do we have a process to identify and plan for risk?
  • Are the plans we work with aligned, or are they contradictory/in conflict?



Assess success: Evaluation

What is it? Assessing the success of goals to determine whether outcomes are being met and to inform policy or programmatic decisions.

What are we aiming for? We want to know that our programs are meeting their intended outcomes so we periodically dive deeper to gather evidence or data that helps us answer that question. We use the best available evidence to rigorously and credibly document program effectiveness, make hard choices, and learn more systematically what works, for whom, under what circumstances. We understand why we expect our program to have impact and we use that insight to inform our strategies, plans and measures. Where evidence is lacking for important policy and program implementation areas, we seek to develop rigorous evidence.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Do we intentionally assess our success in achieving our goals?
  • Are we able to make judgements about our impact with the information available to us?
  • Do we take the time to reflect on progress in a structured way?
  • Do we adjust or change what we are working on based on thoughtful, rigorous assessments?



Capture Valid Information: Data

What is it? Capturing qualitative, quantitative, and customer information, using consistent processes to ensure information is valid and accessible.

What are we aiming for? We can easily access or collect the data we need to understand how our program is going. We have a “good-enough” system in place to ensure our data is accurate and valid. The data we collect can be used by others

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Can information be easily located and gathered?
  • Do we have a way to understand if the information is true or correct?
  • Do we or other people use our information to make decisions?
  • Do we ask customers about how we are doing or their experiences?



Generate Insights: Analysis

What is it? Generating new or rigorous insights by making sense of data, and applying those insights to performance questions, trends, anomalies or issues.

What are we aiming for? We connect relevant data together to identify trends, performance issues, or progress made. There are people at our organization who have the necessary skills to analyze data to deepen our understanding, answer key questions and inform decision-making. We regularly use customer feedback data to create greater awareness or understanding about our performance.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Are we able to identify if there are trends that show us how we tend to perform?
  • Are we able to find specific issues that need to be addressed?
  • Do we have the skills needed to understand the information we have available to us?
  • Are there standards or processes we use to make sense of data?
  • Do we benchmark against our past performance, other comparable groups or across geographic regions to understand how well we are doing?



Understand what to track: Measurement

What is it? Creating a common understanding of data and what needs to be measured, at various stages of success.

What are we aiming for? We are able to capture final results, even if it requires using multiple sources of information. Our definitions of “success” reflect multiple stakeholder perspectives. The measures we choose and any targets we set are meaningful – generally they make sense to people on our team and are logically linked to our goals. The measures we choose may capture the activity of many different contributions, but we are able to understand the contribution we have made to reaching our goal.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Do we include people external to our organization or team when determining what to measure?
  • Are the definitions of success we use reflective of multiple stakeholder perspectives?
  • Would the majority of us agree that we are tracking the “right” things?
  • Do we revise our measures over time? Does this make them easier to understand and capture?
  • Are we using measures that will capture final outcomes rather than just counting stuff?



Manage and Deliver Results: Implementation

What is it? Executing plans and processes by actively managing them over time.

What are we aiming for? Navigating political priorities and legacy systems can be challenging, so we use data-driven reviews on an ongoing basis to ensure senior leaders and key partners are engaged in implementation. Regular reviews help us recognize where we are on track and where we need to make adjustments to have impact. We are able to advise senior leaders and managers about how to address performance trends or issues. Our team or organization uses program and performance management tools to ensure consistent, timely delivery across programs and initiatives, within budgetary and legal constraints. There is a transparent governance and decision-making structure which is not overly burdensome, people on the team understand their own roles and responsibilities as well as those of key partners.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • In our daily work, do we discuss or think about how to address performance issues?
  • Do we manage differently when we see results?
  • Do we conduct regular data-driven reviews with senior leaders to discuss how we deliver results? Are reviews used to identify what we should change about our work?
  • Do we have clear roles and responsibilities for how we accomplish our mission? Are all of us aware and on the same page about them?



Share information: Communicating Performance Information

What is it? Sharing information about plans, progress, challenges and results both internally and externally.

What are we aiming for? We have communication tools, such as dashboards, that make it easy to view progress and make decisions. Anyone internal or external to our organization could ask for or provide feedback about how our program, initiative or organization is performing. We build compelling visualizations and informative narrative around our performance data, and that helps us ‘tell our story’ to people who are not experts in our program. We recognize that effective communication can contribute to improved performance by motivating and inspiring staff and partners to play their role.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Are our leaders able to see or learn of our progress easily and regularly?
  • Are we able to ask each other for candid feedback about the performance of our program, initiative or organization?
  • Do we have a way of providing performance updates to our stakeholders?
  • Do we focus on sharing information internally as much as we do externally?
  • Are we providing enough information to the right people to be transparent about our progress and impact?



Drive needed changes: Improvement

What is it? Intentionally creating a positive change in the amount, speed, efficiency or quality of results.

What are we aiming for? Our team is able to apply – or can easily partner with someone in our organization who can apply – improvement techniques to specific delivery, process, or program challenges. Even when our day-to-day work operates well enough, we try to find ways to create better long-term results. When a change is necessary to our success, we can adjust what needs to be adjusted with the support of our leaders and stakeholders. We use experimentation and innovation to test new approaches to program delivery.

Key Questions (Ask yourself “why/why not” or “how” after each):

  • Do we have improvement tools or techniques that we can apply when needed?
  • Are we collaborating with improvement experts in our organization to tackle complex challenges?
  • Do we actually implement improvements? Do we track their impact?
  • Are we supported when we need to make necessary changes?


Power Play

Enable and Invest in Culture

Putting your P3 plays into practice not only should build essential capability at your organization, but should also help cultivate performance culture. And when performance becomes part of the “DNA” of a team or organization we also see certain cultural elements welcomed and sustained. We are calling these things, “performance operating principles.” These principles are habits or beliefs that an organization can adopt in order to drive a performance-positive mindset among employees and create a culture that values performance management and improvement.


1. More than just compliance

What are we aiming for?

list-item Our performance management activities are integrated with other lines of business.

list-item Teams working on performance collaborate regularly with business and program managers.

list-item Leaders talk about performance management as a way to drive results, not just meet a legal requirement.

list-item People at the HQ level and people at the Component level follow the same or very similar performance management processes.

list-item We have performance experts that we can ask for advice or assistance.


2. Results-Oriented Candor & Transparency

What are we aiming for?

list-itemWe are encouraged to speak up when we have ideas about what should change.

list-itemAnyone internal or external to our organization could ask for and/or provide feedback about how a mission area is performing.

list-itemAnyone internal or external to our organization could easily find performance and organization data.

list-itemLeaders consistently talk about progress, results, and opportunities to get better.

list-itemWe like to share information with one another.


3. Healthy Attitude Towards Risk

What are we aiming for?

list-itemWe set goals that we know may be a challenge to achieve.

list-item We have some flexibility in our plans, assessments, and decision-making to account for possible failures.

list-item We talk about how it is “safe to fail."

list-item Leaders protect people who take acceptable risks.

list-item We have clear guidelines about what is and isn’t considered an acceptable risk.


4. Positive Ownership & Accountability for Results

What are we aiming for?

list-itemResults are included in our job descriptions.

list-itemAnyone at our organization could identify and explain what they are accountable for.

list-itemWe know how our work connects to mission priorities.

list-itemWe find ways to improve or advance our delivery methods.

list-item Leaders take responsibility for achieving performance outcomes.


5. Stakeholder & Customer Oriented

What are we aiming for?

list-itemWe can receive or easily find information about customers.

list-itemWe pay attention to customer satisfaction data.

list-itemWe design our processes to suit various stakeholders or customer groups.

list-itemMultiple customer/stakeholder perspectives are included in our decision-making process.

list-itemLeaders talk about the value of customer and stakeholder needs.

list-itemWe see our stakeholders as our partners.

list-itemWe develop reviews, plans, and reports in coordination with multiple internal and external stakeholders.


Rules of P3

The P3 construct is designed to help you gauge where you are and where you need to go in order to drive performance for your mission. It helps you think about your capability strengths, identify gaps and opportunities, and have a discussion about how performance management can help you achieve your goals. It is not a step-wise process or model with a beginning and an end. When using the PIC’s P3 Playbook as a team, or just for yourself, keep in mind these two rules:

Not Linear

While these practices may feel linear to where you sit in the organization, all of these performance activities are interrelated and interdependent. For example, you may decide to set measures first and then prioritize your goal activities. You may first invest in analytical capabilities which will inform your planning and evaluation. You may begin with a performance improvement, which impacts your implementation and data activities. Anyone and any organization can start with what they have, and leverage these capability strengths to direct, initiate or incorporate other aspects of P3.

There isn’t “one right way”

How you run, develop, and invest in your P3 plays is totally flexible and up to the culture and skills of your team. Different organizations or teams will have varying degrees of activity in each, with none considered “more successful” than another. For example, we know that there are some organizations that do “data stuff” really well. Those data-oriented organizations can achieve performance results as strong as those organizations that do “goal setting and prioritization” really well. It just depends on how an organization invests in building its performance capabilities. However, to be most effective in achieving and managing the “right” results for your mission, each element of the P3 construct should exist in tandem at your organization, program, or initiative team.