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Case Study: Federal government

Using data visualization and strategic planning to improve organizational performance

The client’s perspective

The Strategic Improvement & Business Information (SIBI) Directorate drives effective implementation of strategy for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Administration (OA). [1]

In the face of budgetary pressure, SIBI sought to mature OA’s Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Accountability (PPBA) framework and processes. SIBI recognized that OA PPBA was not well understood within the organization and that PPBA activities were operating at varying levels of effectiveness and maturity. The group brought Eagle Hill aboard to help develop a framework to assess PPBA’s maturity in OA and create a three-year strategic plan that would provide SIBI a blueprint for maturing OA PPBA that would help optimize and streamline financial decision making for CBP’s mission support functions.

A new view

To develop this plan, Eagle Hill’s first step was assisting SIBI in getting a handle on all of OA’s PPBA-related work products—what information different documents provide, how they are used, and how they interact with each other. This “pause to reflect” was a crucial element in determining informational gaps—first bringing clarity to the value of what OA already had in place before determining how to proceed. We worked closely with SIBI leadership, asking straightforward questions, and seeking candid answers. Our plain-spoken approach set the tone for open discussion of strengths and weaknesses in OA’s current PPBA environment.

From these discussions, we developed an OA relationship map diagramming relationships among current OA PPBA activities, which aided in identifying activities that needed to be implemented. For example, it visually illustrated how OA’s annual priorities are informed by directorate multi-year plans and needed information from to-be developed program plans in order for OA PPBA to be effective as possible. By bringing together and presenting information this way, SIBI could see beyond individual process maps to understand the bigger picture.

Concurrently, SIBI asked Eagle Hill to assist in drafting the annual OA Environmental Scan—a snapshot in time that documents the current state of OA with an eye on anticipated future impacts. The Environmental Scan contained valuable insights but was not being used widely in OA. Our team reviewed the previous year’s edition and revamped the text-heavy document to present the information in graphical ways that allowed stakeholders to better understand and use it.

An unconventional approach—and breakthrough results

Eagle Hill’s unconventional approach to presenting information in ways new to OA had an immediate impact on the organization. As part of our work on the Environmental Scan, our team analyzed workforce data and determined OA was at risk of losing many of its most senior staff to retirement in the next three years. This investigation called attention to the critical need for succession planning. By visually depicting the scale of the potential issue, OA could think about how to manage impending retirements and take proactive steps to address the challenge.

The PPBA relationship map has been described by the OA Assistant Commissioner as “one of the best views of PPBA I have seen—one that expresses all the layers of information and the moving parts of PPBA. It isn’t a linear process so traditional diagrams don’t do it justice.” Our graphical map also highlighted some work products that were delivering information that was no longer needed, thus using valuable employee time and effort unnecessarily. This pointed the way to opportunities for immediately streamlining OA PPBA.

The Environmental Scan won an internal Office of Administration award in 2015, as well as generated discussion about future roll-out of the format to other offices within CBP. The results of this work were further advanced in 2016 to help inform the organizational structure of CBP’s realignment bringing together it’s mission support functions in a more collaborative structure under Enterprise Services. Through this realignment that the Eagle Hill team was brought back to help OA lead, the PPBA framework would mature and extend its reach in a more corporate approach to managing four distinct lines of business across the agency enabling the tradeoff discussions and prioritizing spending decisions critical to the changing needs of the mission.

[1] After a reorganization in Spring 2016, activities of the Office of Administration were distributed across the new Office of Enterprise Services.

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