Identifying what is “mission critical” is probably the best question any organization can keep asking itself, again and again.
The mission which is critical to identifying that which IS mission critical, however, is thinking about time, and the total arc of the mission. I suspect it is all too easy, especially when one is cast into the sort of “lifeboat” scenario that sequestration provokes, to think of mission criticality solely in terms of what seems to matter right now.
If the mission, or family of missions, that public sector institutions are dedicated to, were things that could be initiated and wrapped up within a short time arc, that would be one thing, and what is mission critical would, in fact, be whatever seems important right now. But what if something has a time arc of 4-5 years? Could there be things that are not mission critical at the moment but will be critical 3 years from now? My wife once described me as a “fireman”. She noted that I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around doing nothing (part of my recipe for being here so much), but when my organization needs me, they REALLY need me, and I have to be available. I’m certain I’m not the only public servant lke that.
I’m reminded of something our provincial health care system went through during the 90’s. Nurses were being let go left and right, because balancing the books was seen as Job #1. But then when the system needed nurses, there were none to be had, because they had left en masse for other parts of the continent (many from southern Ontario had left for Texas). Don’t assume that because you don’t absolutely positively need something right this instant that it will be there for you when you DO need it. And of course, if it involves a skilled profession, you can’t just instantly make those folks out of thin air; they take time to train up.
Of course, by the same token, if mission critical included everything you might possibly need down the line, there wouldn’t be much point in even asking the question, right? Because it would ALL be seen as critical…eventually.
So the question then becomes one of balancing thinking far enough off into the future to not have blinders on, yet not so overinclusively as to be unable to set priorities.
And that’s why it’s good to think about what “the mission” is. What do we DO here? What is our primary and most important and enduring purpose? What and who do we need to accomplish it?