Silo Busting Heavyweight Teams Take on Minneapolis’ Budgeting Process

Posted by Ronda Jackson on

At a recent meeting of the mayoral chiefs of staff network that Living Cities partners with the Harvard Kennedy School to convene, there was a discussion of the structural
ways to break down silos in the public sector. This discussion was spurred by a
keynote address given by business and government innovation expert Clayton
Christensen on the use of “heavyweight” teams for public sector innovation. The concept of heavyweight teams was developed by Christensen’s Harvard Business
School colleagues Kim B. Clark and Steven C. Wheelwright.

Christensen defines heavyweight teams as a group of people who are taken out of their
functional role and placed in a team structure with others from outside of their functional area. These teams are often located in the same geographic area and dedicated to creating new processes within an organization. Heavyweight team members bring their “functional expertise” to the team, but once on the team they are not there to represent their function’s interest. Their only interest is the success of the project – even if what is required for success is not optimal for their function or department.

In 2011, Minneapolis entered into a priority-driven budgeting (PDB) process using heavyweight teams to minimize silos between city agencies. Heavyweight teams are a perfect companion to the PDB approach that a small number of U.S. cities and counties have adopted. PDB is a departure from the commonly used incremental budgeting: where the current year’s budget is the basis for the next year’s budget. With PDB resource allocation, decisions are based on if a city program provides the greatest
value to the community and how well that program is aligned with the city’s priorities.

Prior to using PDB, Minneapolis’s budget process was siloed. Department heads created their budgets with little input from any other department. The old process made
it more challenging for the Mayor or city council to determine exactly what programs needed to be cut or continued based on its performance or strategic value. “There were just all these walls in the old budget process that needed to be broken down,” said Latonia Green, Budget Director.

As a result of this knowledge gap, the city would typically use across-the-board cuts in
order to achieve savings. These cuts often led to weakening of critical programs and continued funding of programs that were no longer operating effectively. In these lean economic times, continuing that type of cutting was not politically or economically optimal. “We needed to be more selective and strategic about what was cut and how those decisions were made,” said Jay Stroebel, Deputy City Coordinator.

In search of a solution, the city began to do some research and was inspired by what other cities, like Baltimore, were achieving with PDB. Their first step in implementing the PDB approach was to have department heads actually write funding proposals for programs that were currently in place and for any new programs they wanted to develop. The unifying element of these proposals was that they demonstrate the program’s alignment with the city’s six major priorities.

The next step was to create six teams for each of the city’s priority areas. Those teams
were comprised of 10-12 mid to upper-level staff from an array of city departments. Minneapolis’s budget review teams mirrored the characteristics of a heavyweight team described above. They were cross-sector, democratic, and charged with putting the goals of this new process over the interests of their agency.

The teams used a unified scoring rubric to rank each proposal. The overall rankings for
the various proposed programs were shared with the department heads and the
Mayor. After the rankings were submitted, a larger review meeting was held with
the Mayor, department heads, and review team leads. Here department heads had
the chance to defend proposals that scored low. This was a very bold step for
the city and for the Mayor.

City officials believe significant progress was made in achieving their goals of greater transparency, collaboration, and alignment. This year, several departments submitted joint proposals for programs that would be managed jointly and could lead to significant cost-savings and greater efficiency. “That would have never happened before…we have a long way to go in our silo busting efforts, but we’ve for sure taken small steps in the right direction,” said Latonia Green, Budget Director.