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					                                                                                   Adam Goldstein
                                                                                  CMLDP 2008-09

   How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria a Dysfunctional Program Office?

       This is a case study describing a program office in trouble.1 The office is located in a

civilian agency and provides specialized services via a multiple-award task order contract, which is

designed for interagency use. The program is not operating optimally, primarily due to the lack of

cooperation among program staff and organizational issues relating to the team’s structure. After

arguing that bureaucratic politics accounts for a significant amount of the discord in the program

office, I use Franklin Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution as a framework for identifying and

explicating potential solutions—focusing on the integrated program team model.

Organizational Structure: an Overview

       The personnel responsible for managing this program are organized loosely around the

matrix management model.2 The team consists of a variety of program management, marketing,

and acquisition professionals who, while they each have somewhat different chains of command,

are all assigned to cooperatively run the program. The key players in this team include (see

Diagram 1 below for an illustration):

                      Program Office Head: The program office is headed by a career member of
                      the Senior Executive Service.

                      Service Management Branch: This division is responsible for providing
                      technical oversight of the program. The program manager is assigned to this
                      branch, who reports to the branch supervisor. However, the program
                      manager operates with a considerable deal of autonomy.

                      Marketing Branch: This division is responsible for seeking out other
                      agencies that may be interested in utilizing the program for their
                      requirements. There are two primary personnel that share responsibility for
                      obtaining and following up on new “sales” leads.
                 Contracting Officer: The contracting officer’s chain of command
                 technically runs through the local contracting office. However, the
                 contracting officer is physically located in the program office.

                 Contract Specialist: The contract specialist is assigned to exclusively
                 support to the program’s contracting officer.

                 Diagram 1: Program Staffing Structure


           Service                                       Marketing
          Management                                      Branch

   Program         Other program             Marketing              Marketing
   Manager             staff                 Specialist             Specialist

                                                Chief of Contracts Office

                         Contracting Officer

   Contract Specialist


       There are two major sources of difficulty in managing the program. First, the key players

act out their bureaucratic roles in an almost hyper-fashion. As one example, the marketing staff

sometimes conducts their search for new leads without regard to whether or not sufficient agency

resources exist to actually execute new actions under the program. This is not too different from a

corporate sales organization making promises that they are not personally responsible for keeping.

Such promises place undue strain on the resource-strapped program manager and the contracting

staff, who must bring a sense of regulatory and operational reality to the external customers of the


       Another significant fissure exists between the program manager and the contracting officer.

The conflict between the two is multi-dimensional. There are several issues, but most of them

revolve around one core point: whether certain programmatic decisions are ultimately the purview

of the contracting officer or the program manager. Determining who is responsible and accountable

for which aspects of the program are especially undefined since the program itself is managing a

contract for inter-agency use. That is, unlike a weapons system program, for example, the entire

point of this program is offering other agencies the ability to place orders against the contract. On

the one hand, the contracting officer has certain responsibilities, and authority, granted by

regulation. In essence, the contracting officer’s duties are largely fiduciary. However, by nature of

the role of a government contracting officer, this one is not particularly concerned with growing

business, and is not necessarily knowledgeable about the actual technical aspects of the services that

can be ordered from the contract.

       The drama of this conflicted relationship has been quite intense at times. On multiple

occasions, the contracting officer has actually locked the office door solely for the purpose of

preventing the program manager from coming in. He has also hung up the phone in the middle of a

conversation out of anger or frustration. The contracting officer has also engaged in screaming

matches with contracting staff from customer agencies seeking to use the program. To say that the

relationship between the contracting officer and the program manager is a pathological one would

be no stretch of the imagination.

       The context of the above stated difficulties can partially be understood through the lens of

bureaucratic politics. The old adage “How you sit depends on where you sit,” while cliché, may be

highly indicative of this case. In one of the seminal works on government decision making,

political scientist Graham T. Allison argues that government process outputs can be understood as

being the result of political bargaining. In this model, “…each individual…is, in his own right, a

player in a central, competitive game. The name of the game is politics: bargaining along

regularized circuits among players positioned hierarchically within the government.”3 Put

otherwise, government outcomes results from political bargaining that takes place from bureaucrats

who incessantly represent the interests of their sub-component of the organization.

       However, there is clearly something else going on here. While bureaucratic politics can

easily account for the positions that a particular program staffer may take on any issue, it does not

adequately account for the veracity, or intensity, with which positions and arguments are advocated

within the organization. Using a bureaucratic politics model, it should take nobody by surprise that

a contracting officer would argue that he should have primary responsibility for managing a

contract. What the model cannot account for are the personality conflicts that also exist.


       Having established that the problems in managing this acquisition program are rooted

largely in bureaucratic politics, combined with some personality conflicts, what solutions can be

undertaken to make the management of the program more efficient and more effective? By their

very nature, bureaucratic organizations are highly resistant to change. Accordingly, any

organizational change will require nothing but the strongest level of support from the bottom up and

the top down. Further, the fact that the discussion has largely not mentioned the formal leadership

of any of the program office divisions involved, or the SES of the program office, should be telling.

The absence of their mention is intentional, as they have largely been hands-off in the management

of the program, to date.

       Fraklin Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution model provides a useful framework for

identifying potential solutions to the issues being faced by this program office, in addition to

presenting some mechanisms for implementation.4 All of the components from this model are

merely tools to obtain results—they are not solutions themselves. The model begins with a call to

identify a “Wildly Important Goal,” or WIG. Covey notes that, “while any important goal is worth

achieving, a Wildly Important Goal must be achieved. Failure to achieve this goal renders any of

your achievements inconsequential.”5 WIG’s can be identified for any organizational level—

ranging from a corporate goal, to ones for individual employees. In the case of the scenario being

discussed here, the acquisition program is the most appropriate level of analysis, rather than

considering this at the level of the individual staff that work in the program, or the broader program

organization. And at the program level, all personnel involved with managing the program would

likely agree that the WIG should be, “Execute an effective and efficient acquisition program that

meets the service requirements of customer agencies.”

       The 4 Disciplines utilizes what is known as the 80/20 rule to focus on the specific barriers to

achieving the WIG, and then to elicit a list of possible solutions. In this context, the concept means

that 80% of outcomes result from only 20% of processes performed.6 In order to help identify those

20% of effective tasks, The 4 Disciplines model suggests itemizing barriers to achieving the WIG,

pockets of excellence (in relevant best practices), and brilliant and creative (new ideas that are

potentially very effective). Some potential ideas along those lines for this program are:

           Barriers                   Pockets of Excellence                Brilliant & Creative

-Overzealous marketing efforts    -Successful implementation of       -Offer incentives/recognition

-Personality conflicts            the Integrated Program Team         related to staff cooperation

-Unclear chain of command         (IPT) model                         -Team building activities

                                  -Clear roles and responsibilities

       Some of the barriers to the program office achieving its WIG have already been addressed.

The question becomes, what tactics can be employed to turn things around? Two major potential

steps revolve around the organization of the program office. The more general issue is how should

the program team be organized? While the current set-up currently brings in staff from all required

disciplines (program management, marketing, contracting), there is not necessarily a coherent or

hierarchical organization to the program team. One of the most common models within the

government acquisition community is that of the integrated program/product team. These are

“…typically comprised of individuals of multiple competencies and is led by a team leader...IPT’s

are staffed with personnel empowered to execute their expertise on behalf of their competency and

share responsibility (emphasis added) for program success.”7 Since a number of contract and

program management functions require the input of both contract and program managers, the IPT

model can be especially effective for ensuring cooperation across the program team. Some of these

functional tasks requiring cooperation include: reporting, program planning, earned value

management, schedule development and maintenance, financial management, and contract


       Even though the program has been operational for quite some time, there would be value in

implementing the IPT process in a counterfactual fashion—by making an “as if “assumption that

the team was not already in place. One practitioner suggests six steps for implementing an IPT9:

               1.   Writing a charter and laying a solid foundation,
               2.   Transferring the charter into specific goals,
               3.   Conducting open and honest discussions among all parties,
               4.   Identifying qualified team members and empowering them,
               5.   Displaying a dedicated commitment to proactive participation, and
               6.   Ensuring that issues are raised and resolved early

       Tying into steps 3 and 6 is the fourth of Covey’s 4 Disciplines, creating a cadence of

accountability, “a recurring cycle of planning an accounting for results. Disciplined execution of

WIGs require a cadence—a rhythm of planning, follow-through, and reporting.”10 Based on this

program’s challenges, there should likely be two levels of accountability meetings. First, those on

the front-line of running the program (program manger, contracting officer, contract specialist, and

marketing specialists) should meet on a weekly basis, which will help establish a norm of

accountability toward each other. However, as was mentioned above, the senior leadership of the

program has been somewhat hands-off. Accordingly, the manager of each division should meet

with the program office’s SES director on a regular basis to establish a level of accountability at the

top level, which would hopefully trickle down to the operational level. Further, the fact that those

at all levels of the organization will be held accountable should be well-advertised to help cultivate

the new norm of accountability.

       While the implementation of the IPT model will likely go along way to tear down the

barriers imposed by team members playing out their bureaucratic roles, action also needs to be

taken to overcome the interpersonal conflicts that exist. By taking the lead in implementing team-

building activities, the program manager could actively set a more productive tone on the program

team.11 Besides typical activities such as informal social gatherings or ropes/challenge courses, the

program leadership should develop a program that recognizes, or perhaps even creates incentives

for, exceptional instances of cooperation among team members. Especially compelling incentives

could be offered for instances where all members of the team contributed to an exceptional

outcome. The importance of new behavioral norms being role-modeled from the top cannot be over-

stated. As one consultant notes, “Just order a pizza, put a smile on your face and walk the halls.

You’ll see a difference in your team very quickly!”12


       Despite the intensity of the challenges facing this program office, they are certainly not

insurmountable. Although the proposed solutions require a lot of emotional sweat equity, none of

them entail any significant cost, while all would likely increase the efficiency and efficacy of the

program. At least equally as important, implementing the proposed solutions would make the

program office a more enjoyable and less stressful workplace. Further, this discussion can serve as

a case study for overcoming similar organizational and interpersonal challenges facing other

programmatic or project teams.

  In accordance with the request of the program’s contracting officer, the identity of the subject
agency, program, and personnel shall remain anonymous.
  See, e.g., Galbraith, J.R., “Matrix Organization Designs: How to Combine Functional and Project
Forms,” Business Horizons (February 1971), pp. 29-40.
  Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little,
Brown and Company, 1971), p. 144.
  Franklin Covey, The 4 Disciplines of Execution (Salt Lake City: Franklin Covey, 2006-A)
  Ibid., p. 8.
  Franklin Covey, Execution Essentials (Salt Lake City: Franklin Covey, 2006-B), p. 14.
  Naval Air Systems Command, Integrated Program Team Manual Update: Guidance for Program
Teams and Their Subsets (December 1996), p. 12.
  Kathey Tonnaclif, “The Bond Between Program Management and Contract Management,”
Contract Management (February 2007), p. 22.
  Michael Winn, “Reduce Program Confusion Through an Integrated Product/Program Team,”
Contract Management (October 2006), p. 39.
   Covey, 2006-B, p. 42.
   Robert McGannon, “A Project Manager’s Guide to Everyday Team Building,” Contract
Management (March 2003), pp. 4-6.
   Ibid., p. 6.


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