Turning Working Groups Into Programs

In any organization, there are many types of groups, ranging in formality, size, and duration. At one end of the continuum, there are ad hoc groups that may assemble over a single lunch to address a very limited issue, such as how to fix a software bug. At the other end of the continuum are formal organizational components such as a division branch, with a formal structure and activities designed to endure indefinitely.

Using Maturity Models to Measure Performance and Progress

Traditional approaches for measuring performance focus on a classic model of identifying and collecting metrics and reporting them through summary reports or dashboards to management. Improvements are then measured as changes in these metrics. While this approach is better than failing to identify any performance measures, it typically falls significantly short in terms of measuring progress. In some cases, little thought and refinement went into which metrics are meaningful as well as what to do with the information collected. Dashboards may look cool, but often fail to convey meaningful insight.

Where Consultants Add Value


One of the biggest values external consultants offer is a fresh perspective. With a hopefully better understanding of the broader possibilities based on experience with many other organizations and efforts, consultants often see the gaps and opportunities between the requirements an organization, program, or project is attempting to address and the mechanisms it's employing to do so.

The Real Value of Tools and Methodologies

A common selling point for many consultancies and contractors are in fact their unique or specialized methodologies and tools. What one often finds under closer inspection of these methods however, is that the vast majority of them are fairly similar to a handful of almost universally common approaches. One firm’s specialized methods for example, as published on their website under different service areas, are actually all the same approach with only a handful of words changed and the color scheme altered within each one.

Time-Boxing Activities

Another important concept for managing within the structure of working groups is placing limits on the time spent on any given topic and assigning due dates to action items. This concept, known as time-boxing, can act as a significant accelerator for efforts, especially those with open-ended objectives. The best efforts possess a macro level time-box for the complete effort. Within that time-box, smaller segments of activity are also time-boxed to help ensure they are accomplished within the overall timeframe of the larger effort.

Leveraging New Players

New individuals represent a significant opportunity and mechanism for taking ground quickly. Whether joining an organization, a working group, or an effort in any capacity, new individuals typically enjoy the unique benefit of being personally unencumbered by politics and history. 

New individuals possess a personal window where they can take ground quickly. Like running into the ocean, these individuals can move fairly quickly at first, as if on wet sand or in a few inches of water. However, as they wade deeper into an organization or effort, their speed slows as the water level rises around their waist. And after a period of time, they're simply treading water to keep their heads above water, merely keeping pace with the operational and compliance requirements of their role. Unencumbered by history, politics, and personalities these individuals possess a good, but diminishing opportunity to make progress.

Driving Accountability

At the individual level, more personal motivators are often required. One such motivator for individuals is the use of increased visibility by the organization into an individual's activities. Accomplishing this requires two primary components; assigning explicit activities or performance metrics to an individual and a public forum or mechanism for displaying progress.

Developing Visioning Tracks

In highly inclusive environments, initiatives and projects will often include a combination of individuals who lack a material understanding of all the dimensions of what is being considered as well as those who simply want to contemplate and discuss things but have little impulse to do much more. The initial education of these individuals serves a useful purpose as initiatives get underway, helping the larger collective learn various dimensions of the problems or opportunities under discussion. The time comes however when action is required, and these same individuals and their desire to continue to 'understand' and 'evaluate' become roadblocks to progress.