Step One for Web managers

As federal Webmasters continue their evolution into increased responsibilities for their agencies' business, they need to develop their understanding of the structure of the organization to create lasting improvements.

Being an effective business manager depends on an understanding of the structure of the organization with an end toward improved interactions horizontally and vertically. This column provides an overview of one way to think about how organizations in the federal government are structured.

The federal government is required to produce high-quality results while protecting the public confidence. Many federal organizations are accomplished practitioners in serving the public interest in this way and have implemented a wide variety of new practices that can be shared with other agencies. Such sharing drives down the overall costs of change as government addresses new demands from the public and other shareholders.

Historically, energy and attention have been focused on sharing individual elements of successful activities. The expectation is that improvements in some facets will lead to overall improvements.

However, this column recommends taking a broad view of the total organization in order to assess how specific activities, directed at changing various parts, will affect the overall performance of the organization.

To understand how the part affects the whole, one must understand the positioning of the part. After this is determined, the next question can be asked: "How will change directed at this part affect the rest of the organization horizontally and vertically?"

For example, improving a manager's program management skills will affect only the programs for which that particular manager has responsibility. But training all managers has the potential to improve all programs in the agency.

The next step is to look at the parts collectively and assess their impact on creating lasting change in the overall organization. Think of a set of activities for improving parts of the organization as a portfolio. For instance, improved strategic planning at the departmental level in combination with training in project management skills for first-line supervisors could be a combination of activities that lead to achieving performance improvements across the organization.

These synergies could not be achieved if either activity was addressed in isolation from the other. The biggest advantage will result from developing a portfolio of activities that creates the most organizationwide improvements.

The "portfolio for change" could benefit from having its own champion. The part of the organization responsible for implementing Web efforts seems one obvious source for such a champion because many of the enhancements in delivering products and services to the public are focused on agency Web sites.

The organizational model provided via this link — A Model for Defining the Structure of the Executive Branch — is the first step in addressing an organizationwide approach for creating improvements. We recommend using this organizational structure for the following purposes:

  • As a model for understanding where to direct your activities for improving your organization — the vertical and horizontal positioning.
  • As a model for assessing how activities interact vertically and horizontally across your organization.
  • As a model for mapping activities to assess synergies in the overall portfolio.

Rice is deputy director of the Emerging IT Policies Division in the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. She can be reached at nora.rice@gsa.gov.

Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the federal WebMasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.

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