Partner & Associate Director, Transformation & BCG TURN
Public-sector agencies help people, often people in crisis. More than ever, agencies are being asked to improve the services they offer, despite having to work with static or reduced budgets. Still, many fall short of maximizing the time and effort they invest in reform initiatives.
To help initiatives succeed, public agencies can adopt the same practices that for-profit organizations use in implementing major change programs. BCG’s Activist Program Management (APM) approach for government agencies combines the rigor of traditional change management with agile ways of working. The linchpin of the APM approach is the Impact Center, a hub where initiative teams meet to set goals, prioritize work, resolve problems, and measure progress.
Public agencies that use the Impact Center and other APM methods can streamline their decision making, improve interagency collaboration, reduce time spent on administrative tasks, and ultimately deliver better outcomes to their clients.
Around the world, social-services agencies and other public-sector entities provide help to people who are dealing with often-interconnected issues related to unemployment, physical or mental illness, disability, family violence, substance abuse, and homelessness. By lessening or resolving people’s problems early on, agencies can prevent those problems from getting even worse. When agencies can’t do this, issues may escalate, resulting in higher costs to the public-health system, the social-services system, or the justice system. For example, if a person with mental health issues receives support the first time they interact with a social-services agency, the agency’s help may keep their situation from declining to the point where they land in the hospital, or worse.
Public agencies have ambitious agendas for resolving these issues, including improving how they support clients who have complex needs and coordinating with other agencies to accomplish that work. But traditional management practices prevent them from realizing the full potential of the improvements they seek to achieve. This situation has several common causes:
BCG’s Activist Program Management approach helps public agencies manage reform initiatives more efficiently. The Impact Center is a key element of this approach. The center, often referred to as a situation room or obeya room, is a physical or virtual hub where the members of a project team working on a reform initiative meet to conduct work in a way that creates consensus and reduces the time needed to make decisions and deliver benefits. Work in the centers gets done in accordance with specific guidelines:
In addition, the APM approach includes these elements:
In BCG client work, we’ve seen public-sector agencies use the Impact Center and the APM approach to overcome multiple challenges and deliver significant benefits and outcomes.
Clearer Goals. By creating a visual representation of a reform initiative’s goals in the Impact Center, team leaders shift the way they report their progress, from emphasizing the activities they have launched to focusing on the value those activities create. Because they are working with better metrics, project teams see what they have accomplished sooner, which helps them resolve issues and reset goals faster. They also identify targets they aren’t reaching while there is still time to do something about it, rather than after the fact.
Improved Collaboration. By gathering for meetings in a center, subject matter experts from different groups become acquainted and get up to speed on projects faster. Working more closely helps teams discover previously undetected problems. It also helps them see and fix previously unrecognized interdependencies, actions, or activities that could go off the rails if another action or activity doesn’t function properly.
Faster Decisions. Shifting from ad hoc gatherings of senior executives to regular meetings of cross-group teams substantially reduces the time needed to make decisions. One agency that implemented Impact Center–based team meetings cut the time required to make decisions from up to six weeks to as little as an hour.
Less Time Spent on Reporting and Governance. We’ve seen program managers use the Impact Center to halve the time they and their teams spend performing administrative tasks and writing reports. Clients also hold fewer governance meetings, since the centers help them make governance-related decisions in a timelier manner.
Because the Impact Center and APM represent a significant change from the status quo, agencies that adopt them may face pushback, including resistance from top leaders to commit to the change. For a smooth transition, we suggest taking the following practical steps:
When public-sector agencies’ attempts to improve their performance fall short, the consequences can be severe and costly because those shortcomings affect the people that the agencies serve. By locating reform activities in the Impact Center and using other elements of BCG’s APM approach, agencies can operate more efficiently and collaboratively, which can make a big difference in their ability to serve their community.
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