Your efforts to becoming data driven might be missing buy-in.

Hello! 👋 It’s been awhile, but this is Deven, excited to share with you why our projects often consist of establishing a task force or committee.

Let me set the stage. When we scope work with organizations to evaluate a program or initiative, set up an infrastructure for collecting and reporting data, or instituting organizational change related to personnel, we are already thinking about sustainability. In other words, how will the work continue on after we have completed our work together?

We approach our work in a way that creates capacity for the organizations we’re working with. That means we need to consider what components an organization needs to continue the work — even after we’re gone. You see…we aren’t in the business of creating eternal dependency. Instead, we see our time with clients as a collaborative relationship. And sure, that varies based on the needs of the project and our client’s desire to be involved…but at the root of it all, we know that the changes we help to facilitate will only reach peak effectiveness if we create an environment for continued success. Otherwise, we’re just checking a box.

Part of creating space for that continued success can often include helping to establish a committee or task force — a representative group with ownership in the implementation of data driven practices. Whether that’s fostering an environment that supports, encourages, and even demands ongoing program evaluation, strategic planning, organizational development, and/or engaging data visualization and reporting, there needs to be organizational ownership — especially when incorporating data can mean disrupting the current way of doing things.

Gaining support from leaders at different levels in the organization will make your pitch stronger and ensure managers have time to prepare for questions from employees that arise throughout the process. – Elizabeth Dukes, Inc.com

I like this quote (and article) a lot. But, I think we have to expand upon who we include in our dialogue around change and that means including more than just leaders. By creating a group of individuals with varying perspectives, insights, and power levels across an organization (or program or initiative), we create a space in which organizational-wide change has the chance to actually stick (and truly be organization wide, for that matter). That’s because these individuals are clued into areas that a consultant (or even a team of all high-level leaders) might not be able to tap, the initiative is no longer just the brainchild of a consulting group or the C-Suite, and because this group will ultimately be in the position to champion your change.

There are a lot of articles related to gaining buy-in to change…and effectively implementing change. However, most of them assume the right idea has already been selected.

Expose the idea to outside criticism – and acknowledge it. – Kristi Hedges, Forbes

It’s important that we are intentional about making this process participatory — acknowledging that no one person is necessarily the expert. It’s through this collaboration and vulnerability that we are presented with the opportunity to develop something meaningful. 

Interested in learning more about how we don’t do data to you, but instead, create a collaborative environment that leverages data for the purpose of achieving outcomes? Let’s chat.

Process Mapping: A Few Tools of the Trade

Levi Roth back with the third component of our process mapping blog series! In the previous posts, we’ve discussed a brief overview of process mapping, its benefits, and a few tips & tricks on holding the first couple of process mapping meetings with your team. This discussion will focus on a few tools/software that I’ve used so far in documenting process maps and my experiences with them.

When I first started process mapping, there weren’t a lot of sophisticated tools available to use. During this time, I used good old-fashioned sticky notes to help us through our process mapping meetings. Sticky notes actually work really well for getting your team physically and mentally involved in documenting the process! You can use different colored sticky notes to help provide more clarity with your swim lanes and who is responsible for tasks. Be sure to have plenty of pens or markers on hand to allow your team members to write their tasks on sticky notes. Then as individuals begin documenting their tasks you can work with them on placing the sticky notes on the wall. If you have a large white board available, it can help you organize your swim lanes even more! There are a few additional benefits of using sticky notes. It forces team members to be concise when writing their tasks, as there isn’t a lot of writing space available. 😊 Another benefit is that the tasks are easy to move around in your process. Just peel the sticky note off the wall and move as needed. One final piece of advice: don’t forget to take pictures of your process map once you have everything in the right place! Having those photos later on can be extremely valuable.

The sticky note strategy is great during the meeting, but you might be thinking to yourself, “but how do I create a digital document that I can preserve and share the process with others?” Well, I was asking myself that same question until I discovered that I could use PowerPoint for this! When you open a new PowerPoint project start with a blank template, go to the insert tab, and click on SmartArt (or, if you love playing with formatting, you can add your own shapes and earn a lot more flexibility). At this point you are going to see a lot of options for what images you can use.

Now you just continue adding shapes and tasks until you have your documented process map! If you are documenting a longer process you may need to continue onto different slides. Just be sure to properly document the ending and starting tasks across slides. It may take some time in getting comfortable with formatting the process map and making it look clean and organized, especially if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me. 😊

The tool that I have been using the most currently is, Microsoft Visio. From my experience, I really enjoy using Visio for documenting my process maps. There is a slight learning curve, mainly because there are so many things available to you within this program. After you begin to learn more and gain experience using Visio, you’ll find the documenting process fun and easy. But, maybe that’s just because I’m a little bit of a nerd. I’ve become fairly proficient in Visio so that I am able to replace the sticky note method during the initial session with the team. Now I am able to use a projector to develop the process map with the team and make changes in real time based on their input. This also helps cut down on the time I would have allotted for the moving of the process maps from physical sticky notes to a digital record. In my opinion, Visio is also the most aesthetically pleasing too. There are several cool format features in Visio that you can utilize. For instance, you can have connection lines automatically drawn between your task boxes. Much like most Microsoft products you can have your task boxes snap into place and there are guiding lines for optimal spacing and organizing. This definitely comes in handy with my perfectionism in terms of clean lines and formatting. Below is an example of a flow chart pulled from Microsoft’s website just to give you a small taste of what is possible with Visio.

I’m a big fan of Visio but I also know that it is not the end all be all tool for process mapping. There are a TON of available tools for process mapping. Some of the tools are totally free too. I’m interested in hearing what tools you’ve tried and what your experiences were!

Deven here! As a nerd that really enjoys mapping processes, I want to share a few other tools with you (some of which have free versions). The first is Kumu. This tool is GREAT for mapping relationships (e.g., visualizing networks). It’s interactivity can be next level with some extra time spent on formatting your dataset (and using the functions within Kumu to customize your end-product). One of my other favorites is Lucidchart, which I’ve found REALLY beneficial for sharing process flows with teams — especially developers. A lot of the work we do consists of collaborating with highly technical folks to build tools to collect and report data, but those tools are being used by analysts and program managers. Therefore, we need a tool to communicate things in a streamlined fashion that allows for the flexibility to collaborate and adjust as needed. Enjoy!

Logic Models: A New Opportunity

Hey everyone, I’m Phil Stoeklen! I’m excited to share some thoughts on a tool we leverage a lot with our stakeholders: logic models. Logic models are useful tools that help program stakeholders and evaluators gain an understanding of the strategic model or vision for their initiative. Logic models can help to map out what resources are needed to sustain program activities, and can also assist with visualizing  the outcomes and impacts of program activities…something that can be difficult to describe in mere words (especially when you have a lot of stakeholders to consider). The question I would like to pose, however, is do they actually help understand all outcomes and impacts?

If you think about it, the way that we organize logic models primes us to miss unintended (occasionally negative) program effects. Programs are, after all, treatments for existing problems. Like any treatment, there is always a potential risk for negative side-effects. By ignoring these potential adverse impacts when we lay out program logic, we open ourselves up to not catching problems as early as we can–or in the worst-case scenario, after it is simply too late. 

I think this is a commonly encountered phenomenon in logic model design, and I think it is because of a couple of important reasons. First, when programs are conceptualized the goals and imagined impacts are often quite lofty (not necessarily a bad thing), and almost always positive (again, not necessarily a bad thing). It would be quite odd, afterall, to design a deliberately harmful program, but it is worth pointing out that the negative considerations are not often a focal point of logic modelling sessions. A second reason for this is really a combination of the first observation and the literal format of logic models. We talk about inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impacts, but the latter two are almost never facilitated from the perspective of how this program design could conceivably harm populations. 

Now, having ambitions for programs to have wonderful long-term impacts is great! It helps program stakeholders  set big goals for themselves and fosters evaluation touch-points by identifying potential areas to measure for effect. The bigger problem that is happening is really a consequence of not thoroughly exploring what is realistic to expect as an outcome and impact of said program, and conversations about how we will react if/when something goes awry.

With this observation in mind, don’t you think it is time we have a real conversation about how we model program logic, and how we help our clients understand and anticipate as many program effects as we can?  It isn’t about focusing on the negative…instead, it’s having an informed conversation about how we recognize that every treatment has the potential for both positive and negative effects. In future posts, we will share some strategies to incorporating this important (but often missed) element of logic models. 

Phil is a Senior Managing Consultant at Viable Insights, where he leverages his strong background in evaluation. He has a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology with concentrations in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Evaluation Research, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Phil has been an evaluator and project manager on multiple projects, including: comprehensive needs assessments, community perception projects, formative and summative program evaluations, and impact evaluations. His projects have ranged from short-term to multi-year, and has collectively worked on more than $23 million in both grant and privately funded programs/initiatives. Clients he has worked with include Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, U.S. Department of Labor, University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, among others. In addition to Phil’s professional consulting experience, he serves as an instructor in the Evaluation Studies and Institutional Research graduate certificate program at the University of Wisconsin- Stout. In that capacity, he teaches courses covering evaluation theory, data collection techniques and best practices, and evaluation applications. Whether in his role as an evaluator or instructor, his goal remains the same —  providing individuals and organizations with the tools, skills, and capacity to collect and use data in their decision making process. Find him on LinkedIn or Twitter!

Process Mapping: The First Meeting

Hello! Levi Roth, here – back to share more on processing mapping! If you’ve had a chance to read our previous post, A Quick Introduction to Process Mapping, this new post will serve as a continuation of our discussion. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read this quick introduction to process mapping, I encourage you to check it out before digging into this week’s blog!

Now that you’ve had a chance to be introduced to the general idea of what process mapping is, I want to share some of my experiences with conducting the initial meeting. Here are five key things I’ve learned:

  • Make sure you have the key stakeholders in the room when going through the process.
    • You want to make sure that everyone in the room can accurately and enthusiastically speak to their role within the process.
  • Make sure you take some time to introduce your team members to process mapping.
    • It’s important everyone is comfortable! There’s nothing worse than trying to hold a process mapping meeting and looking out at a sea of blank stares.
  • Keep the team on task for your meeting.
    • One thing I’ve noticed during the As-Is process mapping meeting is that some team members like to try and jump ahead to the To-Be process. It’s crucial to keep them focused on the current actual process to flush out issues.
  • Allow for an appropriate amount of time to conduct your meetings.
    • It is very unlikely that you’ll be able to accurately document your process in 30 minutes or even an hour (unless you’re dealing with process mapping rock stars!). I typically schedule my meetings for two hours and let the team know ahead of time that we may not wind up using the full two hours. But from my experience, we almost always need the two hours (if not more).
  • Do not allow too much time to pass between your As-Is process mapping meeting and To-Be process mapping meeting.
    • Ideally, I like to schedule the To-Be process mapping meeting within one week of completing the As-Is process map. The idea behind this is that you don’t want the stakeholders to lose interest or their valuable ideas on how to improve the process.

Key Stakeholders

I tend to work closely with the process owner to make sure we have all of the necessary individuals within our meetings. Remember, the process owner should be someone who is a Subject Matter Expert (SME), can be considered a champion of the process, and has the ability to effectively communicate with other roles within the process. The main reason you want to make sure you have everyone in the room that can speak to their roles and responsibilities is that you can accurately and effectively identify the current process. Believe me…they will be more than willing to share some of their pain points within the process or describe some of the gaps or inefficiencies. What you do not want to happen is have someone who is speaking to a role or responsibility that they are not currently in.

Make Time for Process Mapping Overview

This is something I learned early on when I began my adventure with process mapping. During some of my early process mapping meetings I went in with the assumption that my key stakeholders had knowledge and experience around this. This mistake was definitely a lesson learned for me. Shortly after these missed opportunities, I developed a quick introduction to process mapping presentation that I go through during every initial meeting. Being able to establish what process mapping is, the goals for the meeting, and walking the team through a simple process map example (buying groceries is my go-to example) helps put everyone in the right frame of mind before working on their process. Ever since I created that intro presentation, my initial process mapping meetings have gone much smoother. I’ve also received feedback from team members that they really enjoyed and appreciated the introduction because they had no idea what process mapping was.

Keeping the Team on Task

This is especially important when you are trying to document the actual As-Is process map. Once the team really starts to get in the groove, they might begin to introduce new ideas to improve the process. Don’t get me wrong, this is great that they are starting to see ways to create improvement in their process! However, it’s best to save that idea in a parking lot and circle back around to it when the team begins to create a To-Be process map. I’ve also experienced some meetings where team members will provide tasks in the process and then follow it up with, well that’s what is supposed to happen anyway. This is a great time to ask a follow up question to understand what is actually happening in the process instead of what is supposed to be happening.

Proper Amount of Time for Meetings

Process Mapping takes a good amount of time to complete. Especially if you want to start the first meeting with an introduction to process mapping and establishing goals for the meeting. I typically will try and schedule a two-hour meeting for the As-Is and To-Be process mapping meetings. I’ll also inform the team that we may not need the full two hours and sometimes I’ll need to schedule an additional meeting to finalize the maps. This can be dependent on how complex the process is and how quickly and accurately the team can describe and go through their process. I’ve found that it’s better to schedule more time than you need in order to avoid running out of time when the team is in the right mindset.

Proper Amount of Time In-between Meetings

The final key point I want to mention is making sure you do not allow too much time to pass between your As-Is and To-Be process mapping meetings. You want to make sure your team members are able to stay in the mapping mindset. My current best practice is to schedule these meetings a week apart, at the most. I’ve found that if we aren’t able to reconvene until a week or more after the initial meeting, we spend more time trying to get into the correct state of mind. Additionally, some of the great ideas that team members had on improving the process were lost during the time in-between meetings. I understand that it can be difficult planning these meetings less than a week apart but the payoff is worth it!

These are five key things I have learned when scheduling and conducting my process mapping meetings. As you reflect on process mapping, what have you found to be essential to an efficient and effective process mapping meeting?

Levi graduated with a Master’s Degree in Applied Psychology with concentrations in Industrial – Organizational Psychology and Evaluation Research. Before completing his Master’s Degree, he was hired as a Project Manager on a $23 Million grant evaluation project within Wisconsin. During this time, he gained a wealth of experience in: Project Management, Resource Management, Evaluation, Analytics, Data Visualization, Process & Program Improvement, and many other skills. After the completion of the grant evaluation, Levi began a new adventure as an Agency Wide Business Project Manager for a large Government Agency within Minnesota (and he never heard the end of it from his Wisconsin friends ). He has been in his current role for roughly two years and loves the new experiences and challenges he is faced with on a daily basis. Looking to nerd out about process improvement or government work? Levi is your guy!

Interested in having us facilitate a process mapping session for your organization? Let’s chat.

Stay tuned for future posts on process mapping, including tools you can use for facilitating meetings and designing maps!

A [Kind of] Quick Introduction to Process Mapping

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying any of the following things:

  • There has to be a better way of doing this.
  • Ever since (insert name here) left the company we don’t know our own process anymore.
  • Wait, I’m supposed to be doing what again?

…then process mapping might be for you!

Hi, Levi Roth, here! Let me start by saying that I was drawn to process mapping as someone who has a passion for identifying and improving upon areas of opportunity within my organization. I’m excited to share insights and information I have learned along the way with those who share a similar passion or interest (or really anyone who needs a way to better understand their organization’s currents for the sake of capitalizing on strengths and addressing problematic areas. Who you are matters less, right? Because whether you’re an evaluator (internal or external), analyst, or program director, processes exist everywhere…and ultimately, we all seek to be as efficient and effective as possible. Okay, enough back story — let’s get started!

First off, let’s take a quick look at what I mean by a process map and discuss its purposes. I like to think of a process map as a planning and management tool that visually describes the flow of work. You can apply process maps to nearly anything; picking up groceries, cooking, getting ready for school/work, complex business processes, etc. If there are tasks to complete that have consecutive or sequential steps, you can map it. Creating a process map can help you and your organization in a variety of ways.

Process maps can:

  • Identify
    • Bottlenecks (i.e. a part of a process or procedure where progress is hindered within an organization)
    • Repetitions (i.e. an inefficient use of resources)
    • Delays (this one speaks for itself, right?)
  • Define
    • Process Ownership
      • Who will be ensuring that this process is properly followed? Typically these individuals are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) of the process, can be considered a champion of the process, and have the ability to effectively communicate with other roles within the process to make sure it is being followed efficiently.  Tasks
      • These are the specific sequential tasks that are established within the process itself. Let’s look at some of the basic tasks involved in one of the processes I’ve mentioned previously: picking up groceries! Some example tasks could be: taking inventory of groceries at home, finding recipes you want to make for the week, create a grocery list of items still needed, etc. Roles and Responsibilities
      • This part is the most crucial for the success of creating process improvement and often times is overlooked. It is important to establish clear roles within the process and the responsibilities that are associated with them.
  • Provide Insights
    • Having the key stakeholders in the room at the same time to go through the process can also help raise other issues that may be happening. This is where we can start to gather insights on potential issues within the process.
  • Allows Brainstorming Opportunities for Process Improvement
    • This often times rolls into the Provide Insights portion quite well. From my experience, during the As-Is process mapping meeting individuals will already start brainstorming ideas on how to improve the process.
  • Provides Process Documentation
    • This can be incredibly valuable, especially if your organization has a high turn over rate. Once the process map is finalized, you can distribute this to others within your organization who use the process. You can also provide this documentation to new hires in order to help them better understand the process along with roles and responsibilities associated.

When documenting your processes, it is important to start with your As-Is process or What’s Happening Now. The first map you create really focuses on how the process works currently. In my experience, there are almost always three versions to any process:

What you think it is:

What the actual current state is:

What it should be:

Your organization may already have some documented process or procedures, however, as you begin to walk through what the actual current state is you might see some serious variation. By documenting how the process is actually being conducted it allows us to identify the hidden issues which may be causing those bottlenecks, repetitions, or delays we discussed before. Exposing these hidden issues allows the team to critically think about how to improve their process. This leads us to the second process map you’ll want to create with the team, and that is your To-Be process map. Because of the awareness we now have of those hidden issues, we can draw a more ideal map that streamlines tasks, clearly defines roles, and eliminates redundancies. If you are new to the concept of process mapping, I hope this brief blog has encouraged you to think about the processes in your current job and life, and the ways in which you can work to improve those process experiences. If you are a veteran process mapper, then I invite you to please reach out so we can keep the conversation going and share best practices with our community!

Levi graduated with a Master’s Degree in Applied Psychology with concentrations in Industrial – Organizational Psychology and Evaluation Research. Before completing his Master’s Degree, he was hired as a Project Manager on a $23 Million grant evaluation project within Wisconsin. During this time, he gained a wealth of experience in: Project Management, Resource Management, Evaluation, Analytics, Data Visualization, Process & Program Improvement, and many other skills. After the completion of the grant evaluation, Levi began a new adventure as an Agency Wide Business Project Manager for a large Government Agency within Minnesota (and he never heard the end of it from his Wisconsin friends 😊). He has been in his current role for roughly two years and loves the new experiences and challenges he is faced with on a daily basis. Looking to nerd out about process improvement or government work? Levi is your guy!

Interested in having us facilitate a process mapping session for your organization? Let’s chat.

Stay tuned for future posts on process mapping, including:

  • Holding the Meeting
  • Tools for Process Mapping
  • Implementing the Change

#AZENET20: Let’s Talk About Soft Skills

I’m very excited to announce that I was recently elected as the 2020-2021 President of the Arizona Evaluation Network. As someone who has been involved in the American Evaluation Association since the beginning of graduate school, finding a local affiliate was one way to stay connected to our field throughout the year. The opportunity to propel the Arizona Evaluation Network forward with a fantastic board and membership, striving for an engaging, equitable, and relevant community, is definitely an honor.

In future blogs, I will focus more on my adoration of the field of evaluation, but here I want to share the theme for the Arizona Evaluation Network’s next conference (whoo, 2020!): Soft Skills for Evaluators (and institutional planners, analysts, project managers, and the like). In our most recent Arizona Evaluation Network conference, we took a moment to reflect and reengage in the fundamentals of evaluation. This prompted me to think about what else is relevant to practitioners and academics alike – regardless of the context in which we find ourselves in the field of evaluation (or the approach we take, for that matter). Combining that with the important critical role that interpersonal skills, reflective practice, and self-awareness play in our success (or so I think), soft skills was almost an obvious choice. So, let’s talk more about that…

As a starting place, I’ll share that I’ve had this realization, which is that by bringing more of me to my practice, reducing the disparity between who I am personally and the work I do, everyone benefits (probably one of those things someone much wiser told me 1,000 times but I had to learn the hard way). So, you could say my development of my own self-awareness (a really important soft skill if you ask me!) is something that has really shaped how I engage in projects and collaborate with clients.

The next reason is that when I take a moment to consider soft skills of evaluators, I see it as a multi-faceted concept that has the potential to enrich our work and, even more importantly, play a role in the impact of the organizations we partner with. Soft skills include having the ability to navigate difficult conversations…the ones where humility and vulnerability are at the forefront. It’s the point in which we remove ourselves from a pedestal, the expert role, and come alongside stakeholders to achieve a common, people-centered goal. Soft skills enable us to get the right voices involved, which often means more active listening and less prescriptive consulting. It’s when we are focused on who we are as people, knowing where our value-add is to an organization or community, and capitalizing on the skills of others (stakeholders and other evaluators) that we facilitate the greatest impact: we are stronger together! Soft skills also prompt us to consider our approach and recognize that sometimes we need to pivot. And almost more importantly, acknowledging that it’s okay to do so, as we’re trying to tear down the wall between consultants/experts and stakeholders.

As I consider our efforts to establish the technical skills needed to be effective practitioners, I propose that we should be simultaneously focused on the other part of the formula: soft skills. Because after all is said and done, if we can’t have meaningful dialogue with stakeholders…meeting them where they’re at…it seems aspirational to think that a reliance on our technical skills alone will result in the use of findings. Let’s start thinking beyond certifications and traditional forms of expertise. You might call it back to the basics on effective human interaction!

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about the importance of soft skills, but even more pumped to hear about what others have found to be effective in their work. Look for more details in the coming months on the 2020 Annual Arizona Evaluation Network Conference (even better, get on our mailing list to ensure you receive updates like a cool kid!).

Reflections from #AZENet19

A few weeks after the 2019 Annual Arizona Evaluation Network Conference, I felt inclined to reflect on my experience. This year’s theme, Refocusing on the Fundamentals, served as a call to get back to the roots of evaluation practice. This year’s conference really reminded me that we should never become too complacent with our skills in even the most routine of tasks. The reality is…things change – especially with environmental (i.e. situational or contextual) factors and stakeholder dynamics. We as evaluators need to flex to this for the sake of both our own development and that of the programs, collaboratives, or communities we are working with.

So as expected, I came away from the conference challenged and recharged (I love getting together with my people!); I was ready to take on a whole new set of goals! I realized that the conference theme leveraged two important aspects of how I strive to approach projects. The first is to maintain a heightened level of self-awareness, and the second (and really how I continually push for the first) is the application of ongoing reflective practice — asking myself questions like…

What are my strengths? What are my areas of opportunity? What do I enjoy doing? Where can I continue to develop? Where can I leverage others to add more value and impact to my clients’ projects?

Through my interactions with AZENet colleagues, I realized I was answering some of these questions naturally through peer discussions and a reminder of the foundational principles in our work. This experience reinforced the idea that we need to be coming together as diverse groups to enhance our practices and what we deliver. It’s how we move our field forward. Personally, I think the experience helped reaffirm how important it is to promote self-awareness and reflective practice in my work, and it also helped increase my awareness of the fact that I want/need more opportunities for collaboration my peers. Growth is difficult, so why not go through the process with other people that might be asking themselves the same reflective questions as you are.

I’m considering this my challenge to get in that space more…and want to encourage others to do the same!

Look for my future post, which will include my vision as the 2019 AZENet President-Elect.