12/08/2011

Monitor Progress

Section of

Summary

Organizations that are effective at strategic implementation have strong processes in place for systematically measuring and evaluating progress towards their goals. Step 5 o f "Living Into Your Strategic Plan" explores processes that can help you ensure your nonprofit stays focused on executing its strategies, while learning and adjusting as you go.

Organizations that are effective at strategic implementation have strong processes in place for systematically measuring and evaluating progress towards their goals. Those processes help them remain focused as they execute their strategies, learning and adjusting as they go.

  • Are you on/off track in terms of our implementation timeline?
  • If you are off-track, determine why:
    • Did you underestimate the challenges involved in making progress on a particular issue?
    • Did you have the right staff involved in the process?
    • Did those who were responsible have enough capacity to make expected progress?
    • Did this initiative get de-prioritized due to more pressing concerns?
  • What, if any, changes have occurred internally or externally that are affecting strategy execution? What speed bumps are being encountered and how should you course correct?
  • Was your timeline realistic? Do you need to update the timeline given changing conditions?
  • Do your priorities have sufficient resources?
Annual reviews
  • What are the most important strategic issues facing your organization this year?
  • What significant changes (internal or external) have occurred since you set the strategy and what are the implications for your priorities going forward?
  • Given your longer-term strategy, what must you achieve this year?

Questions to Consider: Progress Meetings

Quarterly meetings
  • Are you on/off track in terms of our implementation timeline?
  • If you are off-track, determine why:
    • Did you underestimate the challenges involved in making progress on a particular issue?
    • Did you have the right staff involved in the process?
    • Did those who were responsible have enough capacity to make expected progress?
    • Did this initiative get de-prioritized due to more pressing concerns?
  • What, if any, changes have occurred internally or externally that are affecting strategy execution? What speed bumps are being encountered and how should you course correct?
  • Was your timeline realistic? Do you need to update the timeline given changing conditions?
  • Do your priorities have sufficient resources?
Annual reviews
  • What are the most important strategic issues facing your organization this year?
  • What significant changes (internal or external) have occurred since you set the strategy and what are the implications for your priorities going forward?
  • Given your longer-term strategy, what must you achieve this year?

One simple mechanism that many organizations use to monitor progress is the quarterly review. A quarterly review meeting provides an opportunity to bring together all of the people who are leading strategic initiatives. It offers an opportunity to update each other about progress, share lessons learned, identify any dynamics that affect the strategy, and determine what must change about their approach. Once a year, perhaps in the quarterly meeting that occurs before you dive into your budgeting process, it may be useful to do a more extensive annual review of progress against your strategy.

Templates to Guide Step 5: Monitoring Progress

In order for these quarterly and annual reviews to be effective, we’ve found a few things are necessary. For example, you need to articulate critical milestones and performance metrics for each of the major initiatives that you are undertaking as an organization. This is an opportunity to celebrate progress and achievements, as well as a time to highlight areas where you are off track and determine why that may be the case. (For more information on measuring to improve performance, see “Measurement as Learning.”)

According to Boys Town’s Vice President of Program Fidelity Shann McKeever, his organization’s quarterly strategic review meetings are critical junctures for assessing performance data and identifying tactics “about what we need to do differently to change the plan moving forward.” Continuous monitoring and evaluation has enabled the organization to make smart adjustments in a timely fashion. As Boys Town’s Vollmer explained, “It feels to me like we are more prepared when things go off plan, and we have the methodology to deal with those things when they occur.”

Beyond knowing if implementation is on schedule, another important element of these monitoring meetings is to determine whether you are on track to achieve your goals. In our work with clients, Bridgespan often creates dashboards—tools that tell you at a glance if you are making planned progress toward achieving your strategic priorities, both in terms of timeline and anticipated results. You may find it useful to have several versions of a dashboard, including one for your management team and one for your board. Dashboards also can be useful in ongoing communications with staff beyond your management team, helping to reinforce your strategy and highlight progress.

We’ve seen dashboards take a variety of formats. The formatting of the dashboard is less important than the thought required to determine useful, available measures of progress and realistic targets. As you develop your dashboard, it’s important to keep in mind that dashboards don’t populate themselves. That means that you will need to have someone responsible for keeping track of the data, as well as a process in place for updating and reviewing the dashboard on a monthly or quarterly basis. Given this, we’ve found that fewer measures are better. While you may think you need 20 different performance metrics related to growth, it’s generally best if you can boil down the number of metrics in each area to a critical few.

Next In: Living Into Your Strategic Plan: A Guide to Implementation That Gets Results

1. Translate Strategic Goals Into Actionable Initiatives

2. Create a Blueprint for Change

3. Mobilize the Team

4. Align Finances to Support Implementation

5. Monitor Progress

6. Revisit and Repeat

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