Sunday, February 22, 2015

The 4 Es of Evaluating Programs

One day I walked into my office, overwhelmed with what lie ahead. Treading water inside my head, making a to-do list was a release valve that took away some of the pressure. As I finished, I looked at the list, paralyzed where to begin, what to do first. I plugged away for hours and hours until the end of the day I realized, I had gotten little of importance accomplished.

I reflected back on my choices of what to work on from my list and it seemed that all the small inconsequential busy work sucked my time and energy. My mind tricked me by procrastinating through meaningless tasks. My subconscious dictated that I could not give my full energy and focus to the meaningful things until I had cleared away, cleaned up, and taken care of all the loose ends. The result: I never touched the meaningful things.

What’s worse, I realized how many tasks on my list did not need to be there in the first place. So, I devised a system to simplify my list by deciding what was worth taking on and what was okay to say no to. These 4 Es keep me focused in the direction I want to go and help guard against the multitude of distractions that can take get me turned around. In work, I use them to evaluate what projects, programs, and tasks to reinforce, revise, or drop.

At the National Association of Schools of Dance conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, I shared the 4 Es with colleagues following a presentation. From the response in the room and the questions that followed over the next three days regarding the 4 Es, I realized that others face the same dilemmas. We all need some way of evaluating what is essential, what is effective, what is efficient, and what is excellent.

Ask yourself, does this project, program, or task align with core values? If so, how closely? Is it merely extra?

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." ~ Lin Yutang

Often, we try in our programs to do too much. We try to be everything to everyone and take on projects that do not align with who we really are as people, as departments, or as institutions. If it is essential to your core values, say yes. If not, figure out how it can align with your core values or drop it.

Ask yourself, does this project, program, or task bring about the desired outcome? How can we measure its effectiveness?

Just because something is essential does not mean it is necessarily effective. Some things we do, some projects continue, simply because they have been going on for a while. Measuring its effectiveness helps decide whether to continue. If it can be fine-tuned, do so. If not, drop it.

Is the program, project, or task designed in a way that directly leads to the outcome? Is there a leaner way to do it?

You have determined that it is essential and effective; now, find the most efficient way to accomplish it. Clear away wasted steps, redundant procedures, and bureaucratic knots. Avoid wasting time and energy.

Does the quality of this program, project, or task reach a standard of excellence?

The old saying goes that if something is worth doing it is worth doing well. After determining that it is indeed essential, effective, and efficient, and clearing away things that are not, means that you have the energy and resources to focus on doing it well.

My to-do list still swells to the brim at times, but now I am more confident that those items are more essential, more likely to be effective, continually being adapted for better efficiency, and, because of each of the preceding thresholds, meeting the desired standard of excellence.

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