Leadership – The Critical Element in Best Practices
In my last blog, “What makes a ‘Practice’ Best?” I used a client example to cite various components that create an organizational environment where best practices can survive and thrive.
In this environment, executives, managers, and supervisors coach, mentor, and support those at the operational level who are supposed to follow the policies and procedures set out by their leaders.
Unfortunately, our team found multiple GAO, Inspector General, and audit reports on failed programs and projects where effective policies and procedures were in place but not followed. In many instances, the organization’s leaders were “shocked” to learn that this was the case. Was this a failure at the operational level or a fundamental absence of leadership?
Increasingly, GAO reports cite executive and stakeholder involvement as a key or critical success factor in Federal agency’s large and complex projects, programs, and acquisitions. In our work with several organizations, omissions at the operational level are matched by gaps of involvement by middle, senior, and executive leaders.
Governance is established to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to at each level of organizational performance. Managers and executives are accountable for the vital role they play in organizational key business processes.
Here are just a few vital roles for leaders in oversight and decision making from various recent GAO reports:
- Ensure requirements are well-defined
- Secure stable funding that matches resources to requirements and programs receive sufficient funding
- Establish an adequate program workforce with the necessary knowledge and skills
- Clearly define and empower leadership at the program/project level
- Continually make informed go/no-go decisions
- Ensure pre-solicitation planning is effective and approve necessary documentation
- Make sure the procurement request is complete, up to date, and includes all necessary documents for contracting actions to begin
- Confirm that appropriate solicitation reviews have been completed
- Ensure effective acquisition planning and oversight practices are followed
- Encourage stakeholders to actively engage with program/project officials
- Build senior department and agency executives support for the program/project
- Ensure government and contractor staff are stable and consistent
- Establish and implement incremental development policies
Given the multiple GAO reports where this list of key activities is cited as crucial “get rights” for major procurements, this should be a call to action for an organization’s leaders at the mid, senior, and executive levels. Organizations should assess whether key leaders and decision makers know what these actions consist of in order for them to ensure their programs and projects are compliant. It is simply not sufficient to receive a regularly scheduled 30-minute status brief. The leader must be an active participant and know when the program/project manager needs their intervention to be successful. Here are three things leaders can do that will make a difference:
- Be involved and be proactive. Passiveness is not a trait of good leadership. To be involved you should know the policies and procedures that govern the relevant processes (requirements management, budget and finance, program/project planning, risk management, acquisition strategy, contract administration, and contractor oversight, etc.) and what to expect.
- Break down barriers. These stand in the way of progress. Resolve issues at your level or escalate them on behalf of your PM. Be a champion for the program/project, not an observer.
- Ask insightful questions. PMs can be too focused on the here and now and solving current issues. By taking a broader view and looking longer term, you may be able to provide a perspective they have missed. Share information you have that might have an impact on the facts and issues known to the PM. Always end each session with the PM with one question, “What can I do to help?”
Project/program staff actions alone are not sufficient to ensure the preservation of a healthy environment for best practices to flourish. The active involvement of the organization’s leaders is the vital ingredient for a best practice to be sustained, shared, and continually improved as conditions change.
Stay tuned! Next in my series: Integrating Internal Controls with Best Practices