Re-engineering project and program management to deliver government services
In this paper the author will illustrate the pivotal role that project and program management can play in the delivery of government services. Program management in government appears in two forms: first, in achieving transformation, particularly transitioning from the traditional bureaucratic agency-based managerial approach to a business-focused model that is results-oriented, citizen-centred and market-based; and second, in actually delivering services in a flexible and customised manner. Delivering services through a program management approach requires radical innovation. Agencies can achieve their mission far more effectively, flexibly and economically if they design their operations as programs. Delivery of such programs, each serving a particular constituency or locality, is delegated to autonomous teams with adequate degree of central support.
What is the next big wave of change in the delivery of government services? Are current government reforms sufficiently focused on stakeholders and results, and if not, why not? Can program management provide an impetus for change in the delivery of government services? If that is so, what are the underpinning principles for success? These are just a few questions that the author has attempted to answer through research in progress at Asia Pacific International College.
The term “government” is used by the author to denote public sector management in its broadest sense. Governments worldwide face a number of challenges: (1) complex legislations and rising public expectations, particularly in the OECD countries; (2) ambitious development and improvement targets adopted to accelerate economic and social progress; and (3) shrinking budgets and resources due to general reduction in public spending. Public sector agencies are under immense pressure to meet these challenges and it is self-evident that the business-as-usual approach cannot work. The choices open to government agencies are not many; either initiate reform internally and or face public criticism and externally imposed reforms or sanctions.
Symptoms in poor performing agencies are typically: (1) missing targets in development and improvements continuously; (2) lack of balance between the available resources and the agency mission; (3) poorly aligned or confusing roles and responsibilities: (4) poorly trained staff and managers; (5) bureaucratic and non-responsive processes and procedures; (6) outdated and inefficient communication system; (7) frequent criticism from local politicians, the press, and the public; and (8) high staff turnover and poor morale.
While effective government is pivotal to the economic and social wellbeing of nations, hard and verifiable information on good government is not available. This fact was recognised by OECD, which in November 2005 initiated a study called “Management in Government: Comparative Country Data,” specifically to “provide a set of key indicators of good government and efficient public services to help member countries to better assess, plan and measure their public sector reform agenda.” According to OECD, lack of valid data on best government practices, particularly in the delivery of social and development programs, means that the majority of government reforms have been based on subjective views and assumptions rather than verifiable facts (OECD, 2005).
In addition, much of the reforms to date are driven by a push to e-government and the desire to manage the country at the macro-level based on data collected at the micro level (Forman, 2005; Executive Office of the President, 2003, 2005; Australian Government Information Management Office, 2006; Jones, 2006). Many Western governments have attempted to apply the private-sector models of management in the public-sector management, including pursuit of economic rationalisation. There are many questions regarding such an approach, such as (1) Will private-sector managerial approaches work well in the public sector? (pursuit of profit? stock price rises?); (2) What about social and environmental value inclusion? (3) What responsibilities do governments have to support the development of arts and culture? For example, Australian governments have invested a significant sum on e-government to drive cost down, but no hard data is available to prove that commensurate cost reductions in the delivery of the services have been achieved. It is generally the view that IT vendors and service providers have oversold ICT benefits to governments (Forman, 2005). In the U.S., staggering sums are spent on IT-based security systems. In summary, few lessons learned are published on good practices in public-sector management.
Information needed for good government relate to the following areas:
- Business models and organisational architecture and processes
- Best practices to support delivery to business model
- Organisational roles and responsibilities
- Managerial infrastructure and tools
- Structured data for robust benchmarking based on common units of analysis
- Effectiveness of different institutional and managerial approaches
Against the above needs very little information can be obtained. Perhaps the best source is “Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World,” by the Harvard Policy Group (Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government), March 2000 – August 2002. It contains best practices, guidelines, model government websites, and other resources. In addition, a white paper published by the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council on e-government strategic planning is a useful resource. The expenditure on e-government is huge across the world: for example, the U.S. government spends $65 billion annually to further develop e-government.
Focus of Current Government Reforms
Government reforms vary a lot internationally, but generally have one thing in common: they are driven by advances made in information and communication technologies (ICT). The common belief is that automating business processes in government organisations will yield significant cost saving in the delivery of services to the citizens. Forman (2005) states that the U.S. government has identified 6 major areas of concern in effective e-government, as follows:
- Paving cow paths: “We found that agencies automated their management problems instead of leveraging e-business to fix them.”
- Redundant buying: Reflects a general government problem of having multiple agencies buying the same item, instead of driving economies of scale or creating one-stop points of service.
- Program management: “Few programs are delivered on time and on budget.”
- Poor modernization blueprints: Few agencies have a business-driven enterprise architecture, and few road maps show which IT investments will be used to improve performance.
- Islands of automation: Citizens have a choice of 22,000 federal government Web sites to sift through, rather than a single point of service or a call centre. Furthermore, this makes it difficult for agencies to collaborate on key missions such as homeland security.
- Poor cyber-security: “IT security is seen as an IT or funding issue instead of an agency management issue.”
In the U.S. the reforms are part of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) of 2001. The following guiding principles inform the scope of PMA, including expanding electronic government (Executive Office of the President, 2003):
- Citizen-centred, not bureaucracy or agency-centred
- Results-oriented, producing measurable improvements for citizens
- Market-based, actively promoting innovation (focus is on getting value for money).
- Focus on high-priority IT modernization initiatives.
- Set objectives for delivering major IT projects within 10% of cost/schedule/performance variations.
- Secure major IT systems (certified, accredited, or otherwise authorized as being properly secured).
- Ensure system functionality and benefits realization (for example, cost reduction, response time reduction, burden reduction, improved citizen service, and so forth).
- License software to cover the entire government.
- Reduce redundant IT spending in the six overlapping lines of business identified in the FY04 Budget, by defining government-wide solutions.
The Australian Government is also moving towards a more connected and responsive government by 2010. Activities will be in four main areas (Exhibit 1):
- Meeting users’ needs
- Establishing connected service delivery
- Achieving value for money
- Enhancing public-sector capability
The main aim is to develop a single government portal through which the citizens can access all the necessary information seamlessly. The strategic plan prepared foreshadows a three-phase approach to reaching the aims of this program: identification of the present status, initial phase, and final phase (to be completed by 2010) (Australian Government Office of Information Management, 2006).
To summarise, it appears that the existing reforms are driven by agencies (development of IS/IT systems to support their current business functions) rather than by stakeholder needs. Despite the rhetoric, the success rate of IT projects remains low and much of it is due to poor strategic planning, neglect of cultural and people aspects, poor management of stakeholder needs, and lack of integration into core business processes. Most government businesses tend to do their own things and duplication is not uncommon. A major shortcoming referred to by Forman is automation of the current business practices, not a radical re-examination of how the service should be delivered given technology available to government organisations (Forman 2005). Huge sums are spent annually by various levels of government on e-government systems:
- Government-to-citizen (G2C)
- Government-to-business (G2B)
- Government-to-government (G2G)
- Government-to-employees (G2E)
Kuryl (2006), referring to the progress made in Tasmania, Australia, stated:
“It should be noted that the Tasmanian Government Project Management Framework stipulates that Departments frame Business Case funding requests and Project Business Plans in terms of the business drivers rather than solely technology or infrastructure requirements. In this sense, there are no ‘ICT’ projects as such, but rather projects with business drivers that may include an ICT component as part of the solution.” (p. 11)
Thus, there is evidence that government agencies have started to understand the key success factors in achieving successful transformation.
Re-engineering Government Organisations
Re-engineering commences by defining the business philosophy of the relevant organisation alongside the following principles:
- Citizens’ needs
- Social outcomes as per the relevant mandates
- Opportunities for innovation
The next step is to define the business architecture to respond to the above needs. The business architecture broadly represents how the services are to be planned, packaged and delivered to recipients. Thus, it plays a crucial role in any re-engineering attempts. Upon adoption of a new or revised architecture that recognizes both the ICT and program management capabilities (described subsequently), the organisation needs to transform into an outcome-oriented (not agency-oriented) structure. Instead of technology driving the innovation or the agency attempting to acquire new infrastructure to support its current functions, the business model and respective processes should be designed to create a dynamic self-adapting organisation (Jaafari, 2003; Jaafari and Hensman, 2004). Technology should be considered a tool and a component of the delivery system being developed, rather than the system itself.
There are two principle forms of organisations to choose from: process-based (centralised delivery) and project-based (distributed). Each has its own characteristics and application range. Process-based organisations typically suit repetitive delivery of standard and rather simple services. Project-based (distributed delivery) organisations suit the delivery of customised and unique services to customers whose needs tend to shift with time and location. Stakeholder needs exhibit diversity. Often local characteristics have to be reflected in the planning and delivery of services and thus, flexibility and tailoring are the norm rather than exception.
Process-based organisations are well-known and documented. Management consultants typically recommend process-based organisations to their clients. The organisational design is influenced by enterprise processes spanning different sections of an organisation. Re-organising the business alongside enterprise processes will require a significant investment in systems, tools, and staff training; virtually all levels of organisations need to work to a coherent and well-defined system, otherwise delays in decision making and processing can be expected. This level of fine tuning can be achieved with repetitive business volume, where feedback can be used to fine-tune the process. While continuously improving the process is desirable, its frequent re-engineering is not practical. The problem is not just the redesign of the relevant business processes, framework, and tools, but more importantly, the cultural changes that need to be achieved. In a process-based organisation people are generally trained to operate a certain procedure; changing these can cause chaos. Re-training will take time and will disrupt the organisation’s operations. Exhibit 2 shows the author’s recommended approach to re-engineering an existing organisation to become customer-focused and results-oriented, and Exhibit 3 shows the broad schema of a fully projectised organisation with 3 lines of products (services).
What is the definition of a program and what are the differences to projects? The author defines a program as an organisation unit (typically distributed) designed to achieve a defined set of goals (based on specific user needs). Normally it has a longer life and many comprise many projects of shorter life (Thiry, 2004; Iyengar, 2003). A program can comprise: (1) projects only; (2) a mixture of projects and operations; and (3) operations only. So it should not be assumed automatically that all programs comprise a number of projects. Program management ensures that constituent projects and activities of a particular program or operations are integrated and focused on delivering the goals (meeting users’ needs optimally). Actual detailed planning, production, and delivery of services take place in projects or in operations and by teams. What characterises program management is the autonomous and discretionary team/project behaviour guided by the program and organisational goals, quality management practices, criteria, strategies, processes, and regulations.
Exhibit 4 demonstrates how program management can guide the planning and implementation of constituent projects and activities in a given program. Note that the experience gained in attaining program goals through the conduct of prior activities and projects and stakeholder experience will all guide the design, development, and delivery of the project under consideration. As seen, it will be possible to learn what works and what doesn’t in terms of reaching goals, a continuous learning and feedback process that is generally absent in the design, development, and implementation of a single project.
It must be noted that pilot studies and/or evaluation of stakeholder response to a service delivered by a team in a particular location will provide a rich picture to learn about the most efficient ways of reaching the goals and realistic estimation of the resources required to deliver a program. As seen from Exhibits 4 and 5, during the implementation phase typical functions performed are: business case alignment, implementation adjustment, high-level leadership and governance, provision of resources, relationship management, and integration at program level. A program is thus an umbrella organisation that directs the flow of resources, feeds back information to adjust or realign project business case and project plan, provides support to project implementation, and so on. The scope of the program is delivered through the scope of projects and or operations where the bulk of the budget is spent.
Types of Programs in Government
Two different types of programs are normally encountered in government organisations: organisational transformation and service delivery.
Organisational transformation (particularly directed at business process re-engineering) intends to reshape an organisation’s capabilities and take advantage of technology to reduce costs, increase effectiveness, improve quality of services, and refocus on the mission. It is widely acknowledged that most transformational programs fail to deliver to client expectations, principally due to underestimating the difficulties associated with cultural transformation, poor program management, and political machinations often experienced inside large organisations. To avoid such an outcome it is essential to apply a rigorous program management approach that places due emphasis on managing the cultural and political aspects of change and transformation.
A rigorous method of assessment is needed to ensure that the goals of transformation will be achieved. The author’s suggested approach is shown in Exhibit 6, in which clear targets (or KPIs) are defined for the transformation under each of the general headings of staff and stakeholders, internal, environment and sustainability, learning and innovation, and financial.
Delivering Government Services as Programs
Treating organisational transformation as programs is not new. The area that presents most potential for innovation in this sector is the delivery of the actual services. Assuming that the organisation has undergone transformation, the question is how should it go about delivering its services with a program management approach?
Delivering services as programs has multiple advantages, such as:
- Integrated approach to the conduct of all relevant activities at a given location or period (project and work packages designed within the broad program structure)
- Learning and feedback from the conduct of projects can be used to improve the planning and execution of the remaining projects.
- It will be possible to search for solutions that suit local conditions and apply creative thinking within the local constraints.
- The capacity to balance resources and the scope for each team (local balancing)
- Teams can work autonomously.
- Generally a more effective and customer-focused approach
- Particularly suits sparsely populated populations with diverse needs
As seen, programs offer opportunities to focus on stakeholder needs at a local level while working within the broad parameters set in the program. Even standardised services can be packaged as programs and delivered in this manner. The learning that comes with the delivery of the first batch of services can lead to realignment of the whole program scope and refinement of the delivery methods. This approach has the potential to deliver significant saving of resources and costs due to its inbuilt flexibility and balancing of the resources to achieve goals at local level. In addition, the delivery of services can take advantage of local volunteers or other community organisations. The main challenge is however an understanding that all—even the most routine services—can be packaged and delivered through programs. So there is no limit to innovation on this front.
Program performance assessment using a set of KPIs or key result areas, as shown in Exhibit 6, is fundamental to success. Using the decentralised approach advocated by the author, it will be necessary to evaluate the performance at local unit levels first and then aggregate the results at program level.
The author presented a case for re-engineering government organisations to re-focus on the needs of citizens and achieving results using innovative ideas and achieving value from a holistic perspective. One such major innovation advocated was to transform organisations to use programs as the basis of delivering their services to the respective citizens and stakeholders. In particular, a program-based service delivery provides: (1) Integrated approach to the conduct of all relevant activities at a given location or period (project and work packages designed within the broad program structure); (2) learning and feedback from the conduct of the program’s first projects can be used to improve the planning and execution of the remaining projects; (3) a program management approach permits a search for solutions that suit local conditions and apply creative thinking within the local constraints; (4) it provides a capacity to balance resources and the scope for each team (local balancing); (5) teams can work autonomously; (6) it is generally a more effective and customer-focused approach; and (7) it particularly suits sparsely populated populations with diverse needs.
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© 2008, A. Jaafari
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia