Why public sector IT is like a fart


A council faced with an IT product WILL buy it in the end.
It’s like holding in a fart.
Sooner or later it’s going to happen, and nothing can hold it back forever.

Posted in command and control, public sector, RuinedByBestEfforts, systems thinking, tools | Tagged , , ,

Your cheatsheet for why league tables are total balls


Public Sector bodies waste huge amounts of money on total balls.

One of the most futile are the self-created league tables of performance indicators, showing where their organisation is on sorted lists against other similar organisations. Even though the government got rid of the despised and appalling Audit Commission, the thinking remains that comparisons aren’t in fact odious, but essential in driving improvement.

In the absence of any method of improvement this rot is still lying around stinking up the place.  So here are 10 reasons why league tables aren’t essential, they are total balls. 

1. They’re targets. League table positions and quartile numbers are basically numerical targets. They are an arbitrary number that an indicator “should” be at. This encourages gaming of indicators and distorting purpose just as normal everyday targets do.

2. Based on flawed assumptions. Comparing something with something else to justify if something is “good” or “bad” is a feature/symptom of command and control thinking, and is based on a set of flawed and inaccurate assumptions about work, rendering them flawed themselves.

3. Aren’t useful knowledge. Knowledge of what to do and why lies in the (i) customer/client/problem you are trying to solve, and (ii) the design of your solution to it. Deep authentic knowledge of these two things are what is needed to know what to do,

4. Don’t help learning. Experimenting with solutions will help you learn what works and what doesn’t. Learning gives you the improvement. League table postions do not provide learning. Organisations that are the best got there by learning how to be the best, not copying.

5. Can’t show the causes of improvement. Copying work design won’t help you because you can’t see the thinking. “The thinking” is what drives work, good work and bad work. It is how people think that work and people should be managed. That drives decisions and actions and is invisible. The design of the work is just the end product of the thinking.

6. Don’t show good or bad performance. Everyone in a league table could be good, or everyone could be bad. All the league table does is show relative positions, not absolute, whether the customer gets what they need is irrelevant.

7. To get better requires that others get worse . Any change in a league table position will logically be caused by relative positions of two numbers, your indicator and others. To get better requires that others get worse, stay the same or improve slower than you. You can’t improve on league table positions without the “competitors” getting worse.

8. Ignores natural variation. Benchmarking is riddled with binary comparisons. Comparing last time period and this, your number against others, your number against quartile positions. It is what people do who don’t know numbers, but happen to have two of them, so they put them side by side and announce proudly which is the bigger. Well done Einstein.

9. Futile time wasting. Managers and leaders waste time talking about the wrong thing, explaining and justifying things that doesn’t matter and won’t improve anything, in order to move a number that doesn’t matter up a table that shouldn’t exist.

10. Against continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is just that, continually improving actual work performance against the permanent target of perfection. League tables assume that people will do different things based on where they are in a league table. If you are the bottom, work hard! But if at the top do you slack off? Do top positions do anything differently, with less focus, because they are top? If not then why bother knowing you are top?

Posted in all wrong, command and control, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , ,

All children in Rotherham are safe

All children in Rotherham are safe.

Sounds pretty sick doesn’t it? These aren’t my words, they are what the “Performance & Quality” team of Rotherham Council said here. Look….



This is a coloured scorecard, green signifies that that particular “theme” is on track and succeeding. That is, that all children in Rotherham are safe.

This was in September 2013, the same month that Professor Jay’s enquiry was commissioned and her subsequent report showed the exact opposite, that Rotherham was a very dangerous place for vulnerable children. Rotherham Council was shown to have failed in every way in fulfilling its safeguarding duty and this  resulted in more than 1,400 children being sexually abused.

By the time a Rotherham Council performance report was claiming that “all children in Rotherham are safe“, their Chief Executive had appeared in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions, and apologised to the victims of child sexual exploitation who have been “let down” by its “systemic failure“.

A daming report last week into the child sex exploitation tragedy concluded that Rotherham Council wasn’t “fit for purpose“, and it was put under the control of the Government, the council leader resigned and the Council Cabinet stood down en masse.

If the most scandal hit council in recent memory, that signally failed in every way, can say such lies about its own performance, what does that say about it’s “performance management”? It’s ability to at least tell truth from lies? Not very good perhaps? Not fit for purpose even?

My own organisation is thankfully nothing like Rotherham Council, in any way. Reading the compulsively readable report, I am very glad it isn’t.
However. About 8 years ago, we wanted to copy Rotherham’s performance management framework. Some people had read something about it, and we wanted to copy it. The royal we, not any actual large groupings of people, but enough so that documents were downloaded, Rotherham staff telephoned and spoken with, there may even have been a visit, to see this sterling example in action.

Rotherham’s performance management was mentioned in admiring tones so often, that a counter-joke was developed, by the more sarcastic performance types, whenever the word “Rotherham” was said outloud, people in on the joke would stand and applaude or blow an invisible imaginary trombone. Physical comedy, rather than the outright sneer it deserved.

Although it would be accurate, it wouldn’t be tasteful to say that after 8 years I have been proved “right“, given the things that actually really matter about this whole tragedy in Rotherham. It does show that performance management lied and got away with it.
I think that it shows that if the worst council in the country can tell itself how good it is using performance management then any council is at risk if it uses performance management.

RAG ratings, scorecards, targets and performance reports are dangerous because they don’t work and people think they do. If your job is to protect people or deliver services it is irresponsible and dangerous to use performance management. Just…


Posted in all wrong, command and control | Tagged , , ,

The difference between lean and systems thinking


“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker


Posted in all wrong, lean thinking, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Proud…and excited!


Ever feel sick when a “leader” in an organisation claims they are proud of the organisations achievements? Read squiretothegiants post, click for it here

I get the same irritation, and never really thought about why. But of course, it is the patronising assumption that they’re somehow in a position of superiority to be proud at all.
I can see that parents, coaches of teams, teachers of classes etc can be proud of their children, teams, classes achievements. They have a direct and one to one relationship that has influenced the success of their progeny. They have a RIGHT to feel proud. Whatever achievement is because of the two working together. The child/team/class achieves, but they do it WITH the parent/coach/teacher etc it is just that the parent etc is the absent partner whilst the achievement happens. They aren’t on the pitch, or in the examination hall, but they helped them when they were there.
That’s a nice thing. You can feel proud FOR someone who you’ve helped, but the “leaders” announcement of pride is sickening. You can feel pride if you have helped.
Just being higher up the hierarchy is NOT THE SAME THING.

Originally posted on Squire to the Giants:

The Oxford Dictionary defines the meaning of the word ‘proud’ as:

“Feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated”

i.e. If you are ‘proud’, it is essentially about yourself, even if it is about the actions of others that is making you feel proud.

What compelled me to look up this definition?

…because I find myself with feelings of (almost sub-conscious) irritation when I hear or read about leaders feeling ‘proud’ about what ‘their people’ have achieved (essentially for them) and I wanted to understand why I should feel this way…it was bugging me.

It seems obvious now that I have studied the dictionary definition.  For someone who isn’t, say, your parent to say “I am proud of you” is condescending. It suggests superiority.

It happens to be a phrase used…

View original 275 more words

Posted in Uncategorized

What business are you in?

 I was in Chicago airport, drinking from a water fountain, and I saw this out the corner of my eye….

CaptureI was intrigued, so I squatted  down next to the pillar and read the words…

This is telling the poor unfortunate, squatting down outside a public toilet, phone charge in hand ready to plug into that outlet and try and get some charge before their flight, that their next phone really should be a Samsung. It is part of “Wall Huggers” a campaign Samsung are running to show off their ultra low power mode. See the vid below…

Squatting down in an airport next to a rare power outlet, it cleverly positions in the right place, the use of a phone and the story of another different phone that is elsewhere. A phone where you aren’t.
Samsung show here clearly that they are in the people business. Not the mobile phone business. The people business.
They MAKE mobile phones, but they SELL them to people.

But what’s this got to do with systems thinking then?
Imagine it is 1960, you open up a magazine and see two advertisements for different cars…

This one for Ford…
And this one for Volkswagen…

Can you tell the difference?

One seems to be  Victorian, the other could be produced today.

The VW advert is modern, the Ford advert isn’t.

The VW advert speaks to you, the Ford advert doesnt.

The VW advert works because it is closer to how you think, the Ford advert might have worked on your grandparents, if they’re old enough.


It doesnt matter how they are different, but what they have in common…

They both are in the people business. Just different people.

The VW advert spoke to a post-war generation who had grown up, the Ford advert spoke to their parents.

They both speak to what matters to those people though.
What matters to the parents who would buy the garish be-finned Ford was Status and that a new model was bought every single year. It looked different every year and displayed that you could afford to buy a different car every year. It was planned obsolescence.

What mattered to the children of those parents who would buy the VW was that they wouldn’t buy a new car every year because they didn’t need to show that they could. They wanted to show that they wouldn’t.


 The VW adverts traded on the fact that the shape was always the same, that nothing changed with the VW year on year, so much so they could use this ad, without even showing the car…

Ford, VW and Samsung both work on what matters to their customers.

This is their business. And it is your business too, public sector or private, making cars or phones, answering the phone or processing a claim, whatever it is that you’re doing, that’s not your business.
Your business is what matters to the customer.

Posted in clarity of purpose, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Is this How Jobcentres Operate? Beyond Belief Barely Covers it…..


This is revolting.
This is an evil system.
This is how Abhu Ghraib was created.

Originally posted on Ipswich Unemployed Action.:

From written Parliamentary Evidence just out (Hat tip  NB).

John Longden –Personal Adviser

A Statement on events witnessed by me at Salford Jobcentre Plus and Rochdale Jobcentre Plus between 2011 and 2013


1.0              Managers at both district level and in the local office created a culture which encouraged staff to view the customer (benefit claimant) as an obstacle to performance. The Jobcentre operations became wholly performance led. Sanctions of customers were encouraged by managers daily, with staff being told to look at every engagement with the customer as an opportunity to take sanction action. I was personally told by a manager to “agitate” and “Inconvenience” customers in order to get them to leave the register. The staff performance management system was used inappropriately in order to increase submissions to the Decision Maker and therefore to increase sanctions on customers. Senior HR managers condoned this behaviour by refusing to issue…

View original 2,195 more words

Posted in Uncategorized