Part of the Process of Strategic Planning
Self assessment can be thought of as the needs assessment step in the strategic planning process. Strategic planning is used by both the public and private sectors to help set the course for improving the effectiveness of their business. Public works agencies are simply businesses that exist in the public sector to provide services to the community.
Use of the self assessment in a strategic planning process will ensure that agencies address the key issues necessary for effective operation and management of public works. The recommended practices contained in the Manual
represent consensus of leaders in the field of public works.
An agency that complies with the recommended practices and sets goals for improvement based on the recommended practices can be reasonably assured of success in providing effective service to their community.
Strategic Plcanning for Public Works Agencies
APWA has chosen the term "Strategic Planning for Public Works Agencies" to describe a process that includes the development of an agencies mission and vision statements; conducting a needs assessment using the self assessment process; establishing goals for improvement: developing an implementation plan; and successful attainment of the agencies goals. An agency that completes the entire strategic planning process will be eligible to apply to APWA for agency accreditation.
Agency accreditation is not the end of the process. It is intended that the accredited agencies will use the strategic planning process to provide a framework for continuous improvement of their policies, procedures and practices. Agencies will undergo reaccreditation at three year intervals to ensure that the agencies are maintaining the standards of excellence that allowed them to become accredited.
No form of training or improvement program can succeed in an organization that is uncertain about its mission, is in turmoil, or is dysfunctional. It is essential the agency carefully assess its overall leadership and management abilities prior to beginning the self assessment.
It is essential that the organization have some sense about why they exist and where they are going before proceeding. The agency should prepare mission, vision and value statements before beginning the self assessment process. It is not surprising that Practice 1.1 of the Manual
discusses the need for these statements.
The agency may discover that they need to revise their mission or vision during the process of conducting the self assessment. As such, the director and project manager should remain open to such mid-course corrections.
Four Essential Ingredients
Before embarking on a self assessment program, it is important to recognize four key elements crucial to the program's success:
- Committed leadership all the way to the top,
- A high degree of employee involvement,
- An organized system of documentation, and
- Commitment to improvement.
The absence of any one of these factors will greatly diminish, if not negate, the program's effectiveness. The success of the process is also highly dependent on the ability of the organization to devote significant staff resources to evaluation of the agency's current practices.
The Director's Role
Effective, committed leadership at the top is one of the key ingredients for success of the self assessment program. This applies not only to the director and the program manager, but to the agency's top appointed and/or elected officials. Following are recommendations to assist the director in defining their role in the self assessment process. [MORE]
- Lend Support to the Self Assessment Program Manager. The program manager must be appointed by the director, and given direct and frequent access to the director through a series of regularly-scheduled meetings. The manager should also be empowered to use resources necessary to successfully complete the self assessment program. This includes office space; equipment; staff and administrative support; training and a budget allocation.
- Establish Agency-wide Support. The director should clearly communicate his or her expectations for the program at the outset. This communication should clearly outline the goals of the program, describing self assessment as a high priority endeavor, summarizing its benefits, and soliciting cooperation. The form of the communication will vary by agency, but could include letters, memos, newsletters, e-mail, voice mail, video or other appropriate media. The program should become a standing topic at staff meetings and other employee gatherings to insure all employees can participate in the process.
- Seek Support from the Chief Elected or Appointed Official. It is essential that the chief elected official and chief appointed official, if applicable, understand the importance of the self assessment process and fully supports the effort. This support at the top is essential to the success of the program. The agency should consider the wisdom of obtaining buy-in from the entire elected body prior to commencing the program. Commitment by top elected and appointed officials will pave the way for subsequent meetings with other government officials whose cooperation may become necessary during self assessment. The agency may also choose to share an overview of the process at community meetings so that the public is aware of the department's self-improvement activities.
- Seek Support from Organized Labor. The support of the entire staff is necessary for any program which contemplates making changes in how the organization accomplishes its mission. The support of organized labor is essential to the success of the self assessment program since many of the practices and procedures may be governed by contracts and agreements. Early involvement of organized labor will increase the chance for success of the program. Leaders of organized labor should be contacted prior to commencing the self assessment to provide information about the process. Continuing dialogue with the leaders of organized labor during the process is essential to maintain a cooperative atmosphere.
- Direct Involvement. Once the process is started, the director should take an active role in reviewing and approving each submittal as proof of compliance.
Become Familiar with the Management Practices Manual
The participants in the process are encouraged to read the Public Works Management Practices Manual
cover to cover. This is the best way to become acquainted with the project as a whole, and will make the process of prioritizing and scheduling much easier. The logical progression of the self assessment is to address the first nine chapters of the manual, which deal with administrative issues common to almost all agencies. [MORE]
The agency's organizational structure should be reviewed as one of the first work elements. The practices found in the chapter on organization focus on the description and dissemination of the agency's basic codes and purposes. The organizational practices need to be addressed early in the process, but could warrant change depending on the findings of the self assessment.
Next on the agenda is the method of developing, distributing and implementing policies, procedures and administrative directives. Refer to Chapter 6 in Management Practices for recommended practices. The question of documentation and compliance should also be addressed here, in terms of both the agency's use and documenting the practice for the self assessment process.
During the self assessment process, the agency's policies, operating practices and administrative procedures should be thoroughly reviewed for deviations from your agency's real practices. The practices should then be compared to the practices set forth in the Management Practices Manual. Inconsistent, confusing or contradicting policies, procedures and practices should be identified for early correction.
Agencies should expect that the self assessment process will provide an opportunity to correct outdated policies and procedures. In many cases the agency will discover that a recommended practice is not addressed by any formal policy or procedure. The Management Practices manual can be used as a starting point to develop appropriate policies and procedures. The agency should also take advantage of the process to resolve misconceptions which may exist among staff about the agency's actual policies and procedures.