Action planning is a six step process involving:
1. Establishing a clear scope for the capability-building effort,
2. Building a vision for achieving the end goal,
3. Reviewing and finalizing the strategies that will guide the agency’s actions,
4. Determining a prioritized set and sequence of actions that will achieve the vision and use the strategies,
5. Building a team that will carry out the plan, and finally,
6. Monitoring and adjusting the approach as needed to achieve the goal and create a baseline for future action plans.
This action planning process can be simplified, expanded or adapted to meet an agency’s needs and fit within existing processes– the guidance provided in this chapter is intended as a starting point.
Initiate action planning for capability building by determining the scope of the effort, establishing a focus, determining why additional capabilities are needed and how much to take on at once.
Action planning should start with a determination by senior leadership of desired area(s) for capability-building. It is important to know at this step what is prompting the need for change. It may be that a specific disruptive change force is resulting in a capability gap that is driving the effort:
• Technology Advancement
• Legislation, Regulation & Funding
• Workforce Evolution
• Shift in DOT Role & Focus
• Public Expectations
For example, federal performance-based planning requirements are driving an agency to consider incorporating a new approach to project prioritization. The agency knows that it doesn’t have the processes in place or capabilities to perform some of the activities that will be needed to carry out this new function in an efficient and effective way. Agency leadership knows they will need to run forecasting scenarios, make programming adjustments based on their performance and work across divisions to get the data needed to make decisions.
On the other hand, perhaps an agency already has a big picture idea on how to move forward. It is possible that the agency has started down the road of focusing on a specific strategy:
• Organizational Management
• Workforce Management
• Knowledge Management
• Information and & Data Management
Perhaps leadership within an agency establishes a strategic goal to improve sharing of data and information across the agency. Leadership has a long-term goal to implement organizational changes that will facilitate information sharing and to eventually democratize agency data so it is widely available across systems, divisions and regions. Over the short term, the agency wants to implement data governance to establish principles around collecting, storing and sharing data.
Having knowledge of what is driving the need for capability building is helpful in determining where the agency is at in terms of mobilizing to develop the initial scope of the effort and understanding the current state of capabilities.1 There will likely be additional work needed to agree upon scope if a change force is prompting the need for change as opposed to the agency already having a strategy in mind.
Regardless of what is driving the need for capability building, at the end of this step, the agency should have a common understanding that there is capability gap that must be closed and an action plan is needed to formalize the process.
Action planning can be carried out for small changes or to have larger impacts on existing organizational structures, culture or strategy. Two approaches that can be taken in action planning for capability building are:
• Incremental – small changes over time to the existing systems and processes
• Transformational – systemic changes to an organization
Some of the considerations in deciding whether to use an incremental or transformational approach are shown in the table below.
Table 6.1 Action Planning Considerations
|Local scope – Isolated to one or just a few business areas
|Will not require major changes to structure or systems
|Will significantly change the agency culture, strategy and systems
|Few – small implementation team made up of process owners
|Many – medium to large team needed across multiple business areas
|Moderate- to high engagement needed, including strong leadership support
|Short-term but iterative
|Mid- to long-term
|Provides a quick win as a foundation to future changes
|Drives culture change based on agency-wide changes to strategy
There are times when it is most appropriate to use an incremental approach, such as when there is a high risk associated with making wholesale structural or strategic changes across the organization. For example, a DOT operating in a severely constrained financial environment may not be in the best position to undertake a transformational action plan to restructure operations divisions and hire staff to focus on major infrastructure investments in disruptive technology. On the other hand, they may benefit from establishing a task force or small unit focused on developing capabilities to innovate and drive efficiency within the agency.
An incremental approach can often be achieved with a small pool of staff and financial resources, and can build the foundation for additional iterative implementation that could lead incrementally to major transformation over time.
When the capability building effort is critical across the agency, and there is low risk of making a systemic change, a transformational approach may be in order. For example, a state DOT faced with a serious security breach involving employees’ personal data may undertake an agency-wide data management initiative to assess and mitigate system damage and data loss, and build up capability to secure data in the future. This approach requires mobilization of a significant number of staff and coordination across multiple business areas. Furthermore, it cannot be achieved without active project management and leadership support. These topics are discussed in more detail in Step 5 of this chapter.
See the attached Scoping Template for a guide on completing this step.
• On which needs should we focus?
• Which strategies are likely to support our selected needs and the capability(ies) that need to be built?
• Is the scale within current functions or does it require systemic changes?
• Do we know at a high-level the number of resources needed?
• Generally, how much outreach will be needed, based on the scope and scale?
• Do we have a general sense of the timeframe that will be needed?
• Have we thought about other benefits of our selected approach?
|Note: “Working name” for the initiative.
|Note: Describes the background, context and need for the initiative.
|Note: Describes the high-level project suppliers, inputs, process, deliverables, outputs, customers. For example, “develop a process for governance and management of knowledge within the agency. This will establish the sources and types of knowledge addressed, ownership, the knowledge lifecycle, dissemination of knowledge and list of knowledge recipients.”
|Note: How will we know the project is a success? This could include performance measures, if known. This section will be refined in later steps of the action planning effort.
|Note: Provide a rough timeframe for the initiative.
|Note: For example, could address whether scope is local or agency wide, assumptions about resource availability, other internal or external factors that could impact success. Assumptions should be tested and actions taken if any assumptions are false.
|Out of scope
|Note: What is “not” part of initiative? For example, if scope is local, out of scope does not include other divisions or agency wide activities.
|Note: Include summary of all risks, their likelihood (high/medium/low), severity (high/medium/low) and any mitigating actions.
|Note: Attach additional documentation, such as current process steps, business requirements, etc.
Finalize the more specific strategies that will achieve your capability-building goal.
The first step to building a shared vision is to clearly understand the end goal as it relates to the scope developed in Step 1 - Determine Scope. A shared vision provides the focus and motivation for stakeholders to understand and embrace:
• Where we’re going
• Why this matters
• What’s in it for me
• What success looks like
Understanding the expected outcome informs “What” is the expected destination, but does not describe the “How,” that is, what the journey will look like get there. An example of a supporting strategic plan vision statement is Arkansas DOT’s data management vision statement to “ensure all stakeholders have ready access to coordinated data for the optimization of business processes and decision making.”
This is also the step to ensure the action plan will be aligned and not working at cross-purposes with other strategic plans, initiatives, goals and objectives. The time frame for the expected outcome should be consistent with other strategic goals and help to bring them to life. This step is the time to give thought and consideration to elements within the action plan for putting in place the skills, resources, processes and tools to meet the target state.
An example of this step is a state DOT that has a performance level goal in their five-year organizational strategic plan to achieve a 10 percent improvement in pavement condition by 2024. The agency has already determined in Step 1 that a gap in their capability to perform predictive analytics exists, and that it is the result of a limitation in the way staff are able to share data across systems. Even if the data were available, the agency has always based its assessment of performance on post-project results. In this example, the agency establishes a vision to establish a data management effort to coordinate data, and put in place a formalized process to link target setting to outcomes for all projects going forward.
Another important component of this step is establishing performance measures that can be used to communicate a vision. This helps to bring focus to the effort by determining the ways success will be measured and how the tasks within the action plan will be coordinated across business areas within and beyond the agency.
In the previous example, the DOT could set a goal of putting in place a data governance structure by July 1, 2020, and running predictive analysis on 75 percent of their projects in the first year. The agency aims aim to achieve anticipated project outcomes 60 percent of the time in the first year.
See the attached Vision Template for a guide on completing this step.
• Is our vision clear?
• Are we able to articulate it?
• Do we have SMART goals?
• Are we aligned with other strategic initiatives?
• Are our time frames consistent with other agency goals and objectives?
• Do we know what measures we will use to communicate it?
• Do we have a mix of leading and lagging indicators?
• Do we have the data we need?
• Are our measures valid and reliable?
• Have we documented our measures?
• Have we engaged with our stakeholders?
• Have we established a measurement system for ongoing measurement?
|Note: “Working name” for the project.
|Note: Leader responsible for supporting implementation team and removing barriers to ensure successful project completion. Typically, the leader of the area responsible for the activity, or one of the key owners in the case of activities with shared responsibility.
|Note: Staff person responsible for managing project through implementation and post action assessment.
|Note: Goals for your action plan should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
|Note: Include a mix of leading and lagging indicators, if possible. Include period and timing of measurement.
|Note: Include as much detail as possible, including frequency, timing, hyperlinks, as well as any notes about data reliability/validity
PM1 – Data field(s), Data source/location, documentation location/link
PM2 – Data field(s), Data source/location, documentation location/link
|Note: Provide a summary of high-level actions to ensure the appropriate stakeholders are engaged throughout the process. This will be refined in later steps.
|Note: Attach any supporting business or data documentation.
Finalize the strategies that will guide action.
This step is the time to review the strategies selected as part of Step 1 and consider the decisions made during the Step 2 to ensure an appropriate level of detail is built into the plan before moving forward.
In the example in Step 2, the agency knows it needs to develop predictive analytics capability. Leadership developed a vision to establish data management and establish a process to link target setting and outcomes. Step 3 would be the opportunity to take a step back and think about all of the ramifications to tools, people and processes of embarking on this effort. Based on this step, the agency might refine their vision to comprise:
• using data management to coordinate financial systems data with planning and project data, and
• putting in place a formalized process to establish predictive analysis for all projects going forward.
It is possible that upon review, the scope and vision are too much to take on in one iteration. This is a good time to consider paring back the effort based on scope, scale and bandwidth.
Action planning for capability-building is meant to be flexible. This step might include adding strategies or preliminary steps that are outside of the current ACB framework. For example, perhaps an agency realizes that before it can embark on a data management effort, it needs to know additional detail related to the agency’s current state. This needs to happen before it can move forward. The agency may also determine that the action planning has a certain level of risk that requires leadership support. The agency decides it will need to free up a group of leaders to assist with the plan governance. This will involve temporarily re-assigning some responsibilities and bringing a project manager onboard to shepherd the initiative.
This is also the step to learn from those who have undertaken similar efforts in the past. This can significantly speed up implementation, reduce risk of failure and leverage resources, like templates and “how to” guides, that have been developed or used by peers. Those looking to take on a capability-building initiative would be prudent at this step to:
• review examples in the literature of how agencies used specific strategies to build capabilities, and
• examine strategies that have been untaken by peers to build capabilities in this area, and reported on their successes and lessons learned.
One possible approach that could be used at this step to finalize and fully develop the strategy is to host a cross-functional strategy development workshop. This format could help the agency move from conceptual scoping and visioning to practical planning and include all of the requisite knowledge, skills and perspectives to confidently move forward with an actionable set of next steps for documenting the action plan. The basic steps of a strategy workshop include:
Included is a sample agenda for a three-quarter day strategy workshop that can be adapted for state DOT use. By taking a step back for reflection on the scope and vision to develop additional planning details at this step, the agency can avoid the pitfalls of moving forward without a clear and achievable objective that is backed up by an actionable plan of next steps for moving forward.
By taking a step back for reflection on the scope and vision to develop additional planning details at this step, the agency can avoid the pitfalls of moving forward without a clear and achievable objective that is backed up by an actionable plan of next steps for moving forward.
• Are they comprehensive?
• Do the scope and scale seem appropriate?
• What additional detail is needed?
• Is there anything else we need to have in place before we start?
• Have we involved all the right people to ensure we have the detail we need to move forward?
• Are we fully aligned?
• Have we reviewed noteworthy examples and lessons learned?
• Have we got a solid set of next steps for moving forward?
Document the set, sequence and priorities of the actions that will achieve the vision and strategies
This step is focused on the project management steps related to the capability-building initiative. It includes documenting the set and sequence of the actions that will achieve the vision and implement the strategies selected earlier for enhancing inadequate capabilities and developing any missing capabilities.
The plan’s set of actions should map to the vision and strategies established earlier. The sequence of actions should reflect the logical and efficient set of implementation steps, and maximize value based on the time frame determined earlier. It should include the priority of the steps, along with the current status of the actions throughout implementation.
What distinguishes an agency capability-building action plan is that it should detail the design of each of the desired capabilities and how each of the steps contributes to the desired outcomes related to building capabilities.
There are several dimensions that contribute to developing capabilities, shown in Figure 6.1.:
Not all dimensions are present in every capability, nor necessary to enhance it. For example, the capability to establish data management capability is likely to require some dimensions of governance, systems and processes to enhance it. The capability to quickly adjust strategy may primarily require the organization dimensions.
In addition to the set and sequence of actions, the action plan should establish the implementation roadmap in enough detail that all responsible and supporting staff understand the role they play and the actions for which they are responsible.
• who should lead each action
• which business areas are involved or support each step
• when each step should commence, how long it will take and when it should be completed
• staff will do what and by when, including the list and schedule of activities and what will be achieved through each.
An action plan is meant to be a living document, and the action steps, start and end dates and progress should be updated in real-time. Step 6 goes into additional detail on monitoring and adjusting the action plan over time.
The agency could use a cross-functional action development workshop to determine the set of actions needed to develop capabilities. This approach helps an agency collaborate on developing the “who” “what” “when” “where” and “how” of the action plan. This ensures that there is agreement that the actions taken will be focused on enhancing the missing or inadequate essential capabilities and establishes joint responsibility for accountability.
The basic steps of an action development workshop include:
Included is a sample agenda for a half-day action development workshop with detailed instructions that can be adapted for state DOT use. Also included is an action plan template, filled in with an example of capability building for creating a learning organization. Note that it incorporates each of the project goals, along with the capability element developed, the business areas responsible for and supporting the action steps, the step priority, along with start and end dates.
|Action Plan Title: Capability-Building Related to Learning
Project Lead: Jane Smith
|Develop Capability to create a learning organization. Current capability is very low; department has no experience with continuous improvement methodology
Organizational Management approach: Continuous Improvement/Lean
|Goal 1: Establish Lean governance and management structure by October 1, 2020
|Business area/person responsible
|Human resources necessary to develop and monitor capability
|Deputy Secretary Jones
|Process for aligning leaders, determining gaps, prioritizing likely efficiency drivers, monitoring and reporting
|HR/ Talent Development Contact
|TD contact will be assigned by 12/15/2019
|Kickoff governance committee
|Leadership support and guidance for initiative
|Board of Directors
|Goal 2: Achieve $2M in organizational efficiencies bottom line savings) by July 1, 2021
|Document how to measure/ track savings
|Process documentation and baseline for future improvements
|Jane Smith, Division Reps
|Set up tracking mechanism
|IT Lead (TBD)
|IT Division Administrator will assign by 10/1/2019
|Measurement process for capturing results
• How does the plan map to capability-building?
• What are the priorities of the steps?
• Which business areas are supporting the effort?
• When will each step begin?
• When will each step end?
• What is the current status of each step?
Determine the team and provide them with what they need to be successful.
The agency will likely have mobilized a group of individuals during the earlier steps to develop scope, build a vision, select and develop strategies, and draft the action plan. This step is about building the tactical team that will perform the individual tasks to implement the vision for capability-building.
Why form a team to implement the action plan? There are several critical benefits of establishing an implementation team:
• Improved collaboration across organizational boundaries compared with simply assigning tasks
• Improved communication to increase efficiency of handoffs throughout implementation
• Shared vision of success and accountability for results
This step engages and coordinates all staff (and partners, if applicable) who will be conducting the actions, as well as assigning a lead to shepherd the initiative through the final two steps.
Note that the timing and details of this step are somewhat flexible. It is up to the agency when to form the actual team. It is possible and advisable in cases where a cross-functional team is required to begin this step earlier.
Clarity around roles is a critical success factor for teams. Teams need people to lead the effort, provide logistical support, contribute expert advice and carry out the implementation steps. These roles are distinct from the roles each individual plays within their assigned job duties.
Without clear roles, initiatives are at greater risk of failure because team members may be working simultaneously on the same activities, steps may be forgotten, and the focus of the initiative may be lost. Ambiguities also cause frustration for team members and compromise the development of effective team collaboration.
Following is a summary of common team and individual member roles:
• The team sponsor provides leadership support and removes barriers to the team’s success.
• The team lead is the single point of contact for the overall effort, including clarity around goals and actions.
• The project manager provides management of the project plan and timelines and tracks day-today progress.
• The team member is typically included on the team based on their area expertise or the balanced perspective they bring to the project.
This list is not exhaustive. Some initiatives are fairly simple and may involve one person serving several roles, such as team lead and project manager. Other teams require specialized skills, such as IT testing expertise or specialized communication or change management skills.
Team roles evolve over the lifecycle of the project. For example, the team sponsor may be called upon early in the project to help the team lead clarify and communicate the scope and vision. Later, they may be called upon to remove barriers to scaling an initiative or communicating the results to other executives within the agency. A team lead’s role will also change as the team members work to complete their individual assignments and also grow together as a team.
A common failure mode of project teams is lack of leadership support. This step provides the team with the resources and empowerment they need to be successful, particularly those things that require leadership to remove barriers, including:
• Time and permission to work on the initiative
• Vocal support, coaching and direction, if needed, by leadership
• Financial resources, if needed
• Tools, such as software
• Data and analysis support needed for performance measurement
It is up to the agency and the specific situation who needs to be on board to support and energize the team as they embark on the effort and throughout the implementation. In low risk situations, they should be given as much independence as possible within clear boundaries; when the initiative is higher risk, leadership may need to play a more active oversight role.
It is important for everyone participating in effort to feel like they know why they are participating and that the effort is worthy of pulling them away from their “day jobs.” Creating an “elevator speech” for team members and leadership alike ensures everyone knows and can communicate the vision for the plan in brief, including:
• why it’s important,
• what it will entail,
• how it will enhance capabilities, and
• how it adds value to the agency and its customers.
An effective elevator speech should be concise, clear and inspire listeners. It is linked to but distinct from the change management strategy described below in that its purpose is as much about motivating the project team and supporting leadership as it is about garnering support from those outside of the process.
There is ample literature available on the topic of change management, and the variety of formats for state DOTs to use is endless. We provide several resources in the bibliography for those wishing to explore this topic in further detail.
The key components that should be included in any change management plan for capability-building include:
• Articulating the change forces or other context around the need to implement capability-building strategies
• Understanding where the agency is culturally in their ability to change
• Creating a change management team to collaborate with the implementation team and leadership on the change
• Developing communication and outreach around the change
• Removing barriers and mitigating risks associated with the change
• Executing the change management strategy
• Evaluating the change and capturing lessons learned
A simple change management roadmap is included to assist agencies in the preparing for, manage and support their capability-building change effort. The guidebook also includes a list of items that should be included in a team charter. This list includes team names and roles, project objectives, success factors and additional project resources that should be made available to team members.
• Who should be involved?
• Who should be informed?
• Have we provided clarity to members on their team and individual roles?
• Do team members know the team and individual responsibilities associated with their roles?
• How can we free up their time to work on this?
• How can leadership help support the team?
• Do we know the agency's readiness for change?
• Do we have a team in place to facilitate change?
• Do we have a communication plan?
• Do we have a barrier/risk management plan?
• Do we know how to execute the change management?
• How will we capture lessons learned?
Check and adjust the implementation of the action plan
The last step entails periodically checking and adjusting the implementation to verify that the process is working as intended and resulting in the intended outcomes. This step includes scheduling regular check-ins with the implementation team, the project lead and leadership, if necessary, during implementation, especially at the start of the initiative.
This step includes developing performance reporting mechanisms, and documenting and executing a process to show progress toward the vision for the capability-building effort. Thought should be given to the reporting mechanism(s) most appropriate for the audience. Possible performance reporting mechanisms include:
• Performance reports
• Presentations to leadership
Reviewing how the process is operating and making small adjustments prevents major rework loopbacks that slow the overall implementation.
Triggers should be built into the review and reporting structure to provide a signal that an adjustment is needed to the overall implementation process or one of the tasks within the plan. This trigger should be based on performance measurement results, and an associated mitigation strategy should be aimed at bringing the project back within acceptable tolerance. For example, an agency is undertaking an implementation to build process agility/innovation using organizational management strategies, specifically, using the lean methodology. One of the action plan metrics is operational efficiencies, measured through process improvement dollars saved. The agency is targeting $3M in bottom line savings by the end of 2021, but has only achieved $250K in savings to date. A look at the pipeline of continuous improvement project savings on a quarterly basis could be used to establish a trigger based on dollars saved, active and planned projects and the deadline for achieving the savings.
The trigger in this example could signal a need for escalating results to division or regional leadership advice on ramping up the pipeline of projects. Adjustments are integrated into the implementation process steps.
The project team should track successes and lessons learned during the implementation to build a feedback loop and make the next set of actions more efficient and effective to implement. This activity should be built into the implementation tasks rather than completed after the plan has been completed.
Typical steps for capturing lessons learned include:
The resources at the end of this chapter provide a sample template for capturing successes and lessons learned.
• What mechanism(s) should the team use to report on performance?
• What are our mitigating actions?
• How will we integrate adjustments into the plan?
• What are our lessons learned?
• How will we integrate these into the next set of actions?
Lessons Learned (+)
|L1(+): Note: Brief summary of lesson learned
Lessons Learned (△)