Six Techniques to Finding Grants Management Solutions within Your Organization
By Patrick W. Ballinger, CGMS
Grant Coordinator, Pasco County Board of County Commissioners

One of the greatest benefits of the National Grants Management Association (NGMA) is the wealth of knowledge we can obtain from several great resources at our disposal such as:

  • Grants Management Body of Knowledge (GMBoK) Training
  • Annual Grants Training (AGT)
  • Current and past webinars
  • NGMA Network message board

Yet, as grants specialists, we struggle with how to share with our teammates and co-workers the knowledge about guidance and regulations that is trapped in our heads and screaming to get out in a way that is effective and clearly understood.

As it’s been fondly stated many times, learning about grants is like drinking from a fire hose. While this is true, why don’t we take control of that fire hose and be a firefighter? After all, in the grants world, we are often moving from one fire to another, right? What makes a firefighter successful is the training and education they receive formally and on the job. To define it further, how a firefighter can apply their education and practical skills is what makes them successful in protecting lives and property.

In grants management, training and education provide a solid foundation for internal controls throughout the entirety of the grant cycle. A simple Lean Six Sigma1 technique known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) can be used to find a solution for challenges in your organization. I have found using these techniques to be successful in my own practices.

Define - Identify Needs

Look within your organization to determine what your challenges are. Often, a simple self-assessment or a survey is enough to get a snapshot to understand your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

Measure – Mapping the Process

Mapping out your organization’s processes and how the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) impacts your organization gives you a solid understanding about what is missing. As you start to analyze what your challenges are, you can find ways to improve them, like developing trainings. You can add additional “swim lanes” to determine how agency-specific guidance or state regulations and statues impact your organization and the process.

Analyze – Find Focus and Solution

Using the challenges that have been identified in your organization within the grant lifecycle, you will find a lack of formal and consistent training is often the root cause of many issues. This could be long-term employees who need to learn the changes within the CFR guidance or new employees who have never worked on a grant before.

Determine if you want to consider contracting an outside consultant to assist with training or if you want to implement training in-house. Factors such as budget, capacity, space and scheduling should factor into your final analysis.

Improve – Implement the Trainings

Take action to tackle the identified issues, come up with a plan or strategy to develop and implement these trainings.
Every organization is different and how you implement your training is up to you! Choosing the appropriate platforms is crucial and may cover a variety of methods including:

  • Training courses (in-person and/or online)
  • Recorded presentations
  • Written manuals and materials

The attention span of the average person in a training or educational setting is very limited. It has been widely debated how long an attention span may be for the average person in a session. Below are a few tips to help keep your session lively and make the best use of your training time for maximum impact:

  • Keep your sessions short. Longer trainings should not exceed two to three hours and short sessions or quick updates should be no more than 20 minutes.
  • Plan time between trainings and allow attendees the opportunity to use what they learn.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Distill the information into short factual points. Keep it simple.
  • Teach attendees where to find the answers at the source.
  • Plan exercises – find methods in the training to keep the group engaged and foster teamwork.
  • Make the course interactive. Don’t just lecture, involve the audience in your session by:
    • taking questions throughout your presentation,
    • giving examples and stories,
    • showing videos,
    • giving live demonstrations,
    • adding funny photos, memes and artwork,
    • calling on people to share their experiences,
    • and asking questions.
  • If possible, provide snacks and water – foster a friendly and welcoming environment. Did you know that hydration is key to cognitive processes? It keeps the blood sugar levels up!

Control – Maintaining the Solution

Now comes the easy part! Set the trainings as part of your regular offerings within your organization. Make sure to budget, if needed, or secure resources to continue the program.

Take surveys to get feedback from attendees on how to improve the process even more. Listen to your audience - they are your customer!

Use Your Resources!

And finally, the last bit of advice… Remember those bullet points at the start of the article? Use these and other resources as tools throughout the process. Learn from others and discuss challenges! Don’t invent the wheel again; improve upon it instead!

Patrick Ballinger, CGMS is a grant coordinator for the Office of Management and Budget with the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners in Florida. He currently serves on NGMA’s Education Committee and the GMBoK Training subcommittee. He is the current president of the Pasco County Government Toastmasters, mentors with the Leadership Development Program and has obtained the Green Belt certification with Lean Six Sigma. Patrick works in partnership with the Pasco County Training and Development team to offer regular training courses about grants to county employees. He may be reached at [email protected].

1 Lean Six Sigma is a method that uses a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. It combines lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste.