Stay in Your Swim Lane


Earlier this morning, my supervisor called me to his office to discuss several projects in which we (budget) did not inform other offices of our policies or other offices did not inform us of their policies. In other words, “the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.” Below are just a few of the projects that were discussed along with the solutions I was given.

Project 1: For the past six months, Information Technology (IT) and I have been working to enhance a financial management system that the agency uses for budget forecasting. Simple, right? Wrong! Apparently, no one in financial management knew who the users were and what level of access they had. Now, system enhancements have been deployed without proper training. Solution: users do not need to be trained.     

Project 2: In budget, funding determinations are made on employees’ travel, and Human Resources (HR) informed us that an employee would be traveling oversees for an extended period of time. Routine, right? Wrong again! It seems that everyone thought the employee was doing a permanent change of station because the employee’s house was on the market. In actuality, the employee was only temporarily relocating and decided to sale his house long before this assignment. Solution: permanent change of station vs. temporary change of station policies need to be revised.    

Project 3: General Counsel (GC) was of the legal opinion that budgetary funding could not be used for a certain purpose. Straightforward, right? Wrong again! The project manager disagreed with the legal opinion and had documentation to support her assertion. Rather than argue the point, the project manager decided to accept the legal opinion.  Solution: a policy needs to be written for this issue.  

To me, it is simpler for everyone to “stay in their swim lane” rather than develop, revise, or write policies to address routine issues.  In short, IT should maintain a current user listing; travel administrators should make travel determinations, attorneys should provide legal opinions, and budget should fund approved projects. To “get back on track,” we should ask some questions:

  1. What’s being accomplished?  What do you want to analyze?
  1. What are you focusing on?  What is the end result for each process you are analyzing?  Where do inputs come from?  Who receives the output?
  1. Create a swim diagram.  List the participants in the far left column and assign each participant to a horizontal band (swim lane).
  1. List the step or activities required at each stage:  Map the process how it is currently being done – not how it should be done.  Keep the diagram as simple as possible.
  1. Analyze the diagram for potential areas of improvement.  Are there gaps or missing steps?
  1. Are there duplications or overlaps?

By using these steps, you (and I) should arrive at a well-designed and well-managed project without developing, revising, or writing policies.  Result:  no swim lanes violated.

Cynthia V White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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