Streamlining Basics – More Project Streamline Essential for New Grantmakers (and Everybody!)

Streamlining Basics Series – Project Streamline Essentials for New Grantmakers (and Everybody!)

This series of blogs will remind you of Project Streamline’s diagnosis of our field’s application and reporting challenges, streamlining’s core principles, and practical recommendations for good practice.
Streamlining Basics blogs tackle the following topics:

Getting Started with a Streamlining Process

In this blog of our Essential series, I want to introduce you to – or perhaps remind you about – Making Streamlining StickPEAK Grantmaking’s guide to designing and implementing a streamlining process at your organization.  This blog will introduce the guide, and our next blog will talk about the types of barriers that streamlining work often encounters, and how to overcome them!

The process of streamlining is like any change management process – it requires certain key elements to be in place or it’s not likely to gain traction and stick. John Kotter, in his seminal and well-known book Leading Change, identified eight requirements of any effort seeking to create change:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture[1].

Project Streamline’s Guide, Making Streamlining Stick, proposes a sequence informed by this classic change management guide. It has four basic phases:  Take Stock, Make the Case, Plan Changes, and Implement and Refine.  Grantmakers who undertake streamlining initiatives don’t always start at the “beginning” – sometimes they begin streamlining because they are already making a big change, such as implementing a new grants management system – but eventually they always hit all four phases of the sequence.

    1. Take Stock: In this phase, you’ll engage your guiding coalition – all the stakeholders who are going to be instrumental to success (or who could get in the way!) and work with them to identify the issues and opportunities.  Together, make sure you understand the current state of your application and reporting practices and begin to envision and describe a desired future state to develop a vision and strategy.  It is helpful to map your process (outline all the steps you go through as a proposal becomes a funded grant) and conduct a cost-audit to get clear about how much it costs your organization to make each grant and how much it costs grantees to get the grant. If you don’t regularly collect anonymous grantee feedback… well, now’s a good time to start – with specific questions about your grantmaking process.
    2. Make the Case: This is where you establish a sense of urgency for change by sharing what you’ve learned across your organizations and with stakeholders who have decision-making power and stakeholders with the power to resist your changes (AKA: pretty much everyone). Often the case for streamlining was made earlier, since many organizations come to streamlining specifically because they learned the hard way that their practices weren’t working for grantees or staff. But you’ll still need to make the case for the specific changes you want to implement. After all, often change sounds a lot better in the abstract than it does once it gets specific. To make the case, it’s helpful to share data about your current practices’ impact internally and externally – and also connect the changes you propose to your organization’s ability to most effectively work toward your mission. Or, using Kotter’s language, you’ll communicate the change vision.
    3. Plan Changes: In this phase you’ll do what Kotter calls empower broad-based action and generate short-term wins. The staff who will be most affected by the changes must be part of the planning for them, and should be empowered to plan and test well-considered ideas.  Some of the issues that you’ve identified will require complex and long-term fixes (such as implementing a new grantmaking system) but others might be quicker and easier to begin. It’s essential for morale and momentum to tackle some short-term wins, so that you and your colleagues don’t become discouraged and impatient. In this stage, changes are piloted or tested – not finalized. You will assess their effectiveness in the next stage.
    4. Implement and Refine: In this final stage of the process, you’ll assess your piloted changes to determine whether they worked as intended, and whether they had unintended consequences. The changes that worked well can be fully embedded across the organization (or anchored in the culture). And those that did not work as you expected can be further tweaked and tested. It’s important at this stage to let grantees know that your organization has made changes to its grantmaking process. If you did so with their feedback, they will appreciate knowing that you heard them and acted accordingly.  And of course, reaching this fourth stage does not mean that you are finished. More likely, you’ll begin taking stock all over again by gathering feedback on the implemented changes.

If your organization moves through these four streamlining phases, you are on your way to making streamlining stick!  But anyone who has led a change process knows that even the most carefully planned and sensible initiative encounters resistance that slows it down and can derail it altogether. Tune in next blog for a discussion of what to do to head-off, minimize, and counter resistance to your streamlining work.  Project Streamline’s Guide to Online Systems was initially developed back when online grantmaking and grants management systems were new enough that it was not uncommon to encounter funders who still required hard-copies of applications, reports, or both.


Process and Change Management

Process and change management are core cross-cutting competencies for grants management professionals, and PEAK’s Professional Competency Model describes the specific indicators of this competency:

  • Assess efficiency and effectiveness of grants processes and make improvements as necessary
  • Use sound judgment to balance efficiency and effectiveness
  • Anticipate and be responsive to changes in the environment
  • Assess effectiveness of processes
  • Make timely, informed decisions that take into account the facts, goals, constraints, resources, and risks
  • Inform others involved in processes about new developments or plans
  • Approach work collaboratively
  • Document processes as a resource to the organization
  • Establish goals, plan work, track and communicate progress for specific projects
  • Anticipate and manage changes, as needed
  • Apply creative solutions to unusual or challenging circumstances

Email us at drstreamline@peakgrantmaking.org to share your opinions, questions, or stories about your own experience with online systems.


[1] Kotter, J. (1996) Leading Change, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Page 21.

Dr. Streamline

Dr. Streamline is also known as Jessica Bearman. She, along with her colleague Streamlining Surgeon Alice Cottingham, and a cohort of Streamlining Interns, are available to answer all of your streamlining questions. Together, they diagnose the good, the bad, and the mystifying, and prescribe cures for your streamlining woes.If you have a question about your own grantmaking process, or one that you’ve encountered, please write to Dr. Streamline at drstreamline@peakgrantmaking.org for a useful (and possibly entertaining) Rx.

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