A go/no-go meeting should be conducted for each funding opportunity of potential interest. The meeting ensures that there has been a thoughtful, deliberative process to determine whether to respond to an opportunity.
Ideally, the meeting should include all key stakeholders who potentially could be impacted by a decision to move forward with the application process. During the meeting, attendees will evaluate whether adequate resources exist (human, time, money) to respond to the opportunity and second, whether the infrastructure exists to implement the work if the organization receives the award. Without a structured review that considers everything from potential competition to possible staffing issues, it is hard to determine if an opportunity is worth pursuing or fits strategically with the direction of the organization.
In practice, the go/no-go process can often be cursory. Decisions to pursue an opportunity can be made quickly, often by only a few senior staff, and with limited representation from the wider stakeholder group such as the staff who will be involved in project implementation should the proposal be successful and result in an award.
The go/no-go decision process can break down for a number of reasons. A few common ones are:
- Time: The stakeholders who should be weighing in may not have the time to attend a go/no-go meeting or respond to requests for feedback.
- Responsibility: In an attempt to be inclusive, sometimes too many people get invited to the go/no-go meeting. A large attendee list can result in many of the stakeholders choosing not to attend. Individuals may think their opinion isn't needed, won't matter, or will be "covered by" someone else who they assume will attend.
- Consequences: If a go/no-go decision process is part of the organization’s standard operating procedures, but the procedures aren't followed (e.g. decisions are routinely made to go for an opportunity regardless of whether key staff have a chance to weigh in), staff may start to feel like the outcome of every review is predetermined and it doesn't matter whether they participate in the process.
- Money: When an organization feels pressure to bring in new funds, the go/no-go process can break down because there is an overwhelming drive to pursue any and all opportunities, regardless of fit or how strategically aligned it is with the organization's direction. It is hard say no to a potential opportunity when you are short of funds. Especially with multi-million dollar awards, the go/no-go process--methodically evaluating the opportunity based on fit, resources, and strategic value—can be skipped over in favor of focusing on the size of the potential benefits.
Changing the organizational culture so that go/no go meetings are worthwhile can be difficult. However, there are a few things that can make the process more effective:
- Identify the essential opinions: If go/no go meetings are generally not well attended or do not consistently happen, one option is to forego the idea of a group meeting and instead create a list of 4-5 people whose opinions must be sought before there is a decision to pursue an opportunity. People in this core group might be the head of development (so you can learn if anyone is free to work on the proposal), the head of the technical team that will do the work if the grant application is successful (so you can uncover staffing issues and issues with “fit”), the head of the finance department (to help put numbers behind the opportunity cost), and one or two senior leaders of the organization (to make sure the opportunity fits the strategic direction of the organization).
- Make the Go/No-Go Decision Group a Manageable Size: The stakeholder group should be inclusive and have adequate representation of the departments most likely to be impacted by the decision. However, it should also be small enough so that each invited member believes his/her participation matters.
- Protect the Process: The go/no go process is meant to unearth all the potential pitfalls of going forward with an opportunity. An organization's most senior leaders may not know all of the potential downsides of a particular opportunity if they make the go/no-go decision in isolation. To make the go/no-go decision process work, ideally there should be a consequence for not following the process. For example, a decision that any opportunity that has not gone through a full review, or review by key stakeholders, will not be pursued.
- Make the Decision Matter: Related to protecting the process, for the go/no-go process to be meaningful, the outcome of the meeting has to be accepted. There may be times when senior leadership decides to pursue an opportunity despite a "no-go" decision, but this should be an unusual event. Staff need to feel that the process, and their participation in it, matters.