Just taken over an existing program? Five quick wins you need right now.
Ready to get started with your new program? Use this simple checklist to identify quick wins you can implement right away.
1. If you don’t have one, develop a program logic
You know what this is by now so we won’t tell you how to suck eggs. If the program theory and logic isn’t clear, which can sometimes happen through ‘policy on the run’ in election years, you need to make sure it is clear and easily able to be communicated to your stakeholders.
If you haven’t developed a program logic by yourself before, try these tactics:
- taking a blank sheet of paper (handwriting helps you process ideas better than typing on a computer) draw out a table with the headings Problem, Inputs, Activities, Outputs, and Outcomes (which might be further broken down into Short, Medium, Long and Impact). Proceed to complete the table using bullet-points to list out everything you can think of. This will help you with divergent thinking to make sure you capture all the relevant items. Then move into convergent thinking by typing it up on the computer in your desired format and making the language you use as clear and tight as possible. (Download example program logic templates here)
- testing your draft program logic with your manager or director and other members of your team as well as any key stakeholders. Remember to determine the key performance indicators and data sources you will need to assess whether your outcomes have been achieved or not.
- updating and finalising the program logic as required and saving the final approved version in your file system clearly labelled.
- setting a reminder in your calendar in a year’s time to revisit the program logic and make any modifications necessary with the further information that has come to light.
2. Establish regular program reporting
You may have been lucky enough to inherit a well-run program where there is already a schedule and process for regular program reporting. If not, you need to set this up to ensure transparency and governance of your program as well as building your stakeholders’ confidence in you as the incoming program manager.
If you need to set up the program reporting, try these tactics:
- reviewing your program governance groups and testing with each of them what reporting they would like and when it is required, to enable their decision-making. Once you have this intelligence, determine how resource-intensive and feasible it is to provide reporting at the requested detail and frequency. If it is feasible, go right ahead. If not, you may need to negotiate with those groups to ensure the reporting you plan to provide is feasible. For example, one of the worst instances we saw of infeasible program reporting was that of one program manager who spent one month every quarter (that’s right, one month every three months) on developing reporting for their governance groups. Remember, you are the program manager rather than the program reporter and your effort is best spent on program management.
- setting up the structures to help you manage this easily. Now that you’ve confirmed the content and the frequency of reporting to each governance group, make yourself a table or a spreadsheet listing the type of report due on each upcoming date. You can also then set yourself calendar reminders for these dates to keep you on track.
3. Get some feedback
If you don’t know what your stakeholders and program beneficiaries think of the program, you are flying blind. How will you know if your program is successful or should be scrapped? If you don’t know what bits of your program are working well, and which bits need an uplift, you might be in trouble when your organisation commissions an independent evaluation of your program, which most public sector organisations are required to do.
To get ahead of the curve, try these tactics:
- getting out and about at least annually to speak to all of your stakeholder groups and collect their feedback. This could include any program partners, service delivery providers, your program beneficiaries or other parts of your organisation involved in your program. Focus your questions to better understand stakeholder feedback to determine whether your program is seen as appropriately addressing the problem it was designed to solve (and if not, why not?), whether your program is seen as an efficient use of your organisation’s resources (and if not, how could you more efficiently deliver the program?) and whether your program is seen as effectively achieving its intended outcomes (and if not, which outcomes are seen as being most in danger of not being achieved and why?)
- speaking to your counter-parts in other jurisdictions, to find out what worked for them and what pitfalls you can avoid. It is likely that another state in Australia, or another country, runs a similar program to you. Find out all you can about them through desktop research to understand how comparable each benchmark program is to yours and get in touch with the most comparable ones to see if you can speak with them over the phone to share notes and learn from one another.
- making sure you document the feedback you receive. Feedback is useless if it’s not used so make sure you group the feedback into themes to understand the issues regarding each element of your program to help you draw up a plan of attack. You can then also check with your stakeholders the next time you engage with them how successful they think you were in improving that element and how you can do it even better.
4. Manage risks
Risk management is often seen as a boring, box-ticking exercise which adds no value. However, if it is done properly – like project management, like stakeholder consultation, like evaluation – it adds tremendous value to both you and your program. You can be more aware of and mitigate risks before they occur. This makes you look like a champion and your program is more sustainable as a result.
To manage risks effectively, try these tactics:
- listing all of the risks for your program you can think of and grouping them into categories. The categories might include financial, legal and governance, reputational, delivery or other risks. Then assess the likelihood and consequence of each risk occurring and the risk rating which results from that assessment. You need to determine whether you accept the risk rating (e.g. you are satisfied with a medium risk of unhappy stakeholders) or whether you seek to mitigate the risk (you are not comfortable with a medium risk of unhappy stakeholders, and want to reduce it to a low risk). Identify what controls you can put in place to reduce either the likelihood or the consequence of that risk occurring and then determine the final risk rating. If you are not familiar with the risk assessment process, check out the ISO 31000 risk management standard for guidance.
- testing your risk management plan regularly. Are the controls you put in place to manage risks actually working? For example, if there needs to be dual signatories on financial expenditure, is this actually occurring or is a single person releasing the funds? If the latter, your control is not working and your risk is higher than you expected.
5. Commission an evaluation
It is likely that at some stage in your program’s lifetime you will need to commission an evaluation, either by choice or as part of your organisation’s requirements. You’ve probably heard horror stories of hiring a consultant to do a job but the client ends up being the one doing all the work! This is quite rare and, while a real risk, you can manage it by selecting the right evaluator for you.
To pick the best partner for you, try these tactics:
- confirming first what the purpose of the evaluation is and making sure it is clear not only to you but to your stakeholders and those in your governance groups. Evaluations can go wrong where there is no clear scope and no clear working group for the evaluation. The result is that the evaluator ends up trying to please everyone and ends up pleasing no one. To avoid this, document exactly what you want the evaluator to do. Do you want them to conduct a full outcomes evaluation? Do you want them to conduct a formative evaluation of a pilot program? If you’re not familiar with the lingo, check out our DIY Program Evaluation Kit to make sure you’re communicating your needs in a way that they will understand and can deliver on.
- setting you and your evaluator up for success. Collect the data the evaluator will need before they start the project so that you can hand it over to them in the first week. Evaluators often lose weeks of time because the client hasn’t been ready for them. This then costs the project time and poses a risk if the evaluation is intended to inform a decision such as whether to extend or cease the program.
- treating the evaluation like a partnership arrangement rather than an adversarial one. The evaluator wants to see you and your program succeed. There is no point withholding information from them or treating them like someone who wants to blame you for any issues in your program; because this just hinders the quality of the evaluation and your ability to do anything meaningful to fix your program.
- accepting the findings of the evaluation and making a commitment to act on them. Your organisation has selected an independent evaluator, and paid good money for them, for a reason. Sulking about the evaluation findings, or hiding the report in a drawer, is not helpful and will reflect badly on you. No matter how passionate you are about the program, remember you are the program manager and it is your role to ensure the program is the best it can be – the evaluator is criticising the program, not you. Understanding and coming up with a plan to address the evaluation findings proactively will make you look like a superstar and give others confidence that you have the program well in hand.
It is always tricky coming in as a new program manager to a program you didn’t help set up. You can be constantly surprised or wring your hands when the information you need isn’t available because someone else didn’t think to capture it. Put all that aside – you’re here now and it’s going to be great! These tips will give you an excellent starting point to get some quick wins and make it all happen.