Here’s the Scenario:

You’re a program/business owner or manager. How do you check to see whether your program is on track to achieve your objectives or goals?

Taking stock of where you are and where you are going may seem like a luxury in the midst of day-to-day operations. However, its importance is almost a truism: if you and your team don’t take stock of where you are versus where you intend to go, you can be working full out but chugging away from rather than toward your goals. So, how to begin?

To keep it manageable, we recommend a 5-step process: one that can be repeated at regular intervals (quarterly or semi-annually) and that SHOULD become a formal, at-least-annual organizational requirement. Note that this check-up can be kept very simple if that’s what is appropriate for the size and complexity of your program. Or it can be detailed and highly analytical, especially if you see either big changes or notable problems that need scrutiny and possibly major action.

The Steps

Step 1: Gather and analyze key data, focusing on unexpected changes from your most recent previous program review. The sources for this analysis obviously include your financials and other performance or business measures. Ask at least these questions:

  • How do our income/sales/accomplishments compare with our expectations?
  • How do our expenses/costs/efforts compare with our expectations?
  • How are our people doing compared with what we want: attrition, job satisfaction, productivity?

Step 2: Question and listen closely to your managers and employees. For quick checks, honest input from your managers and team members will likely provide the best information. Ask them at least these questions:

  • What is going right? And what is not?
  • What are the barriers or challenges that currently keep you or your team from being fully successful?
  • What do you need from management to remove barriers or meet short term challenges?
  • What if any potential problem areas do you see in the near or mid-future? What opportunities?

Step 3: Quickly scan your environment. Review the environment and major forces/factors affecting the program you operate. Consider at least the following:

  • Are there new or changing factors—external and internal—that are or will affect your responsibilities, your program, or your market? (E.g., regulatory change, major personnel changes, technological developments or problems, legal issues, production barriers, etc.)
  • Are any of your competitors or major partners facing any major challenges or problems—or showing any dramatic successes—that affect your operation?
  • Is your program or organization facing any major technological or business process-related challenges? If so, are there solutions “out there” that you should analyze and perhaps adopt to improve operations and results?

Step 4: Develop and continually use a “dashboard” that contains fewer than a dozen indicators that shows program or organization status against these indicators. The indicators you select should be closely tied to your performance goals and organizational objectives. This dashboard, once created, becomes your barometer, your road map, your status report. Used well, it can be the key to tracking and monitoring progress and show the health of the organization or program.

Step 5: Develop and implement action plans for moving the program ahead or addressing problems. This step obviously involves, first, deciding what actions should be taken and, second, good change management to maximize the likelihood that those steps will be successfully implemented. Ask yourself:

  • Are the planned actions thoroughly thought through (intended and unintended consequences explored) and clearly understood by managers and team members?
  • Are you following all the principles of good change management? (Successful change requires careful planning, thorough communication, setting measureable goals, evaluating results against those goals at regular intervals (i.e., when these check-ups are performed), and adjusting actions over the long run to ensure that the desired ends are achieved.)

In summary, a program manager should lead his team in regular check-ups, post the results to the program’s dashboard, and then use those results to prompt action to correct or update your course. The five steps we’ve laid out comprise a disciplined yet doable approach which can help lead your program or organization to success and goal accomplishment. And then, you can answer the question “Are you on track?” with a strong “Yes!”


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