Maribeth Vander Weele
Staffing Your ARPA Program: A Human Resources Planning Guide
Finally! Your pre-award work for your ARPA funds is finished. You’ve researched relevant regulations, navigated political pitfalls, collated stakeholder input, submitted your ARPA plan, and won necessary government approvals. Now, it’s time to execute! Or is it?
Not so fast.
Diving into implementation without devising a tactical plan is like walking onto a football field without a playbook. You can probably still play, but it’s going to be messy, exhausting, and likely unsuccessful. A better strategy is to invest time and effort into an often-overlooked but critical process: resource planning.
At its core, resource planning comes down to three questions:
What do you have?
What do you need?
How do you bridge the gap?
The first question is one your agency can answer using the inventory tools and methods that work best for you. The other two may be more challenging.
What Do You Need?
A cradle-to-grave grants management program has multiple components. While every agency’s needs—and therefore every grant program—are unique, some universally important things to think about include:
Researching and developing the legal and regulatory framework
Designing and managing the grant application process
Developing and conducting risk assessments
Conducting fiscal monitoring
Conducting programmatic monitoring
Financial and programmatic reporting
Technical Assistance and training
Communications (both internal and external)
With your list in mind, you can identify tasks associated with each area of the grant management process. As you develop your to-do list, don’t forget to include estimated completion times for each task, as well as the skills and knowledge necessary to carry them out. Remember: this includes project management capabilities! It’s not enough to be able to lay out tasks using Excel or a web-based project management tool; you also need someone who can monitor them through to completion.
Let’s look at this process using the example of managing a grants competition.
Example: Managing a Grants Competition
In this example, tasks include:
Developing the Notice of Funding Opportunity
Issuing the Notice
Recruiting the Grant Reviewers
Training the Grant Reviewers
Adjudicating the scores (if scores have, for example, a 20 percent variation)
Making the awards
Providing notices and opportunity for protests
Next, it’s time to define the skills and knowledge needed to carry out each task.
Capabilities you might need to manage grant competitions are:
Project management skills
Policy development experience
Experience reviewing needs analyses
Experience designing and applying scoring rubrics
A background in training
Defining necessary capabilities is frequently the most difficult part of the resource planning process. To further complicate things, it’s possible these will change over time. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time; instead, treat your initial list as a starting point, a living document, subject to change.
For experienced project managers, assigning hours comes naturally. For first-time managers, the process can be daunting. The following basic steps are a good place to start:
Review the list of skills necessary for each task.
Estimate the percentage of time that each skill should be applied to a task (i.e., 75% policy development, 10% project management, and 15% training).
Estimate the number of hours needed for each capability and add them up.
This process will give you your Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs)—the number of part-time or full-time resources needed to complete the tasks. These should be applied across the number of months (or years) for which services will be needed.
For any project needs that don’t require full-time capacity, look at your capability percentages across tasks. Where possible, find complementary capabilities and use them to build job descriptions that meet your needs. In addition to defining expectations, these are great for recruiting new or additional staff.
Pro-Tip: Ask your team to review your math!
Whether you’re a new or veteran project manager, it’s a good idea to solicit input from the rest of your team. In addition to knowing their own work pace and capabilities, they may have context you don’t that could impact project timelines.
As an example, in our work at the Vander Weele Group, we’ve adopted the following guidelines when working with a new client:
Kickoff Meeting: 1-2 hours
Meeting and Presentation Prep: 3-4 hours, depending on available documents
Post-Meeting Debrief: 30 minutes
Keep in mind, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Your time budget should reflect your reality and be adjusted as needed.
Bridging the Gap Between 'Have' and 'Need'
With your resource inventory and your needs analysis finished, it’s time to identify the gaps between them. Ask yourself:
Who do you have?
Do they have the bandwidth to take on their assigned hours (particularly if the hours are in addition to their normal workload)?
Do they have the knowledge and skill sets necessary to complete each task?
Do they have the project management skills to manage their own progress, or will someone else be responsible for ensuring everyone knows their deadlines and sticks to the project timelines?
If you find your team lacking either the capacity, skills, and/or knowledge to get the work done, use your calculations to build or lobby for more resources to meet those needs.
When it comes to building people-resources, there are a number of options to consider. However, the three most commonly used strategies are:
Expanding your in-house staff.
Hiring independent contractors.
Hiring professional services firms with grants expertise
Each choice has its own strengths and weaknesses, some of which we’ve captured here:
When considering your options, be sure to double check any assumptions you’re bringing to the table.
For example, a local accounting firm might sound like the perfect partner, but if they’ve only done corporate work, or don’t have experience with the fund-based accounting standards Federal grants are subject to, they won’t be able to leverage appropriate best practices to protect you from an audit. Hiring additional staff is often a good idea, but if your department has high turnover or won’t be able to fund the positions long term, you’re setting yourself up for workforce instability, lost knowledge, and lost time in having to train new hires.
At the Vander Weele Group, our goal is to provide clients with services that eliminate stress, free up resources, and allow managers to focus on their agency’s higher-level priorities. We do this by offering:
Years’ worth of specialized expertise in grants oversight, including monitoring, management, technical assistance, and forensic investigations.
A dedicated team of professionals who aren’t just accountants, but have managed programs and agencies all over the country.
Speed – no delays as with government hiring practices; we scale teams quickly to meet your needs.
Agility – we have the knowledge and capacity to retool or build new oversight programs quickly.
Dedicated logistical support and customized technical tools.
Grant-specific training programs.
National insight into industry trends and legal changes.
Financial savings – no onboarding, offboarding, or pension costs.
We welcome the opportunity to serve organizations like yours as technical advisors, risk evaluators, monitors, and full-service grant program managers. To learn more about our work or schedule a consultation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-929-3030.