25 things (that just might work) about measuring the right thing

I’ve concocted 25 suggestions, questions, hints and tips for a colleague policy officer who has seen the systemsy light yet still faces the task that everybody else hasn’t. Here they are. One just might work. All might be complete duff. No matter, it was my last day at work before my holidays so it was this or sorting out my inbox. Here are 25 things to do with measuring the right thing.

  1.  It’s all about changing management thinking, so if managers brains are not physically and metaphorically in the room you’re not changing management thinking
  2. To change management thinking you have to work at the cognitive level, not the email level, the meeting level or the report level. See point 1.
  3. Ask performance staff what measures they have in their scorecard that this pie-chart applies to…

    Always. No, wait….

  4. Or just tell them
  5. Trying to turn performance people against scorecards, targets and binary comparisons is like trying to persuade people who make a living from producing scorecards, targets and binary comparisons that producing scorecards, targets and binary comparisons is worthless and harmful. See point 1.
  6. Find a manager with a problem they can’t solve and want help with. All managers have problems. How to make a better scorecard is not one of them.
  7. Nobody needs persuading to learn how to eat cake. If they don’t want to pull for help on their problem, they don’t have a big enough problem.
  8. They actually do, they just don’t know they do.
  9. This is from someone’s LinkedIns profile, it says it neater than I’ve ever read. Every morning recite this mantra into the bathroom mirror. I am a tiger, raarrr.

    It is my aim to help organisations break away from gimmick and tool based projects to understand what truly drives improvement. Only with a thorough understanding of an organisation and utilisation of their own gifted people can leaders achieve real, sustainable improvement. To do this requires two skills: the ability to understand an organisation as a complex system and secondly the ability to move that organisation with intervention methodology to a new way of working. I work with clients to help them in these two areas of expertise to achieve stunning results and transfer expertise to design myself out of their organisation in the process. I only consider those programmes which have continued to drive improvement over time as the true success stories. Uninterested in modern fads, I find the key to success is the implementation of simple, proven theory in a practical context.

  10. The simple test of a measure is “Can this measure help me understand and improve?” This pre-supposes that this is what is expected from a measure. In a world of challenge and defend, demonstrating and celebrating, this has never been seen before with measures. You are talking magic at them and they won’t believe you until a rabbit actually does appear out of a top-hat. This is normative learning.
  11. There are three ways things change in organisations, only one of which will work in this case…
    1. Coercion: “You see a rabbit coming out this top-hat, alright. It is a corporate requirement that you do.”
    2. Logical/rational: “See this top-hat, I’m telling you that a rabbit is coming out of it, because if you look at the space between my hands and the top-hat it is clearly rabbit shaped and the same size as a rabbit too.”
    3. Normative: “Look!” [point at rabbit coming out of hat]
  12. The characteristics of a bad measure are what performance people aspire to having been told for years by my very team that this is the right thing to do. What will their response be to being told it was all wrong. What would anybodies response be?
  13. The right measures come from the right thinking. It is much easier to do it this way round. Performance people who get into this sort of thing may do so as a result of coming at it from seeing how measures are being done wrong. But that’s their problem. Not a managers’ problem. Getting the right measures comes a low 74th on the list of their problems. See point 6.
  14. If you don’t know what you’re measuring or why, any random measure is as good as any other. This results in a never-succesful endless hunt for “the right measure”. Hence people that think they have a measurement problem, one they can never solve. They don’t, but they don’t know it. This is because they have a thinking-about-the-work problem. Talking about measures might be a way in, but its just a way in. Not the problem itself.
  15. Ask people to split all their scorecard measures into one of three categories. All are good, but used in different ways.
    1. Customer satisfaction-how well customers feel  we give them what matters. A useless measure given the way we do it normally I reckon, but its canon.
    2. Capability-how well the service delivers what matters to the customer. eg time to solve problem completely.
    3. Process measures-how well the customer demand flows through the service, measures of the workflow that predict impact on delivering capability eg errors, time work has been waiting . etc. Then see how many of all these measures are capability measures. This is the key measure of how well the system is working. IT’S PURPOSE. If any measure should be going outside the service for others to peruse at a strategic level, it is this. I’ve never seen any.
  16. Question for managers : “If you never saw these performance measures, what would you do differently?”
  17. Question for performance people: “What would YOU do with these scorecard measures?”
  18. Question for both: “What is it you get out of performance monitoring?”
  19. Question for both: “Would you give us some time to work with you to make a different kind of measure, for you to compare its usefulness
  20. Question for the Boardroom: “if reporting these measures to this room drove the wrong type of behaviour, would you stop? How do you know it isn’t?”
  21. Question for the Boardroom, if yes: “What would you do instead?”
  22. Question for all: “Is it about improving performance measures or about improving performance? What is the difference?”
  23. I once was a directorate performance management person who DID know all this stuff and it got me nowhere. The problem is baked into the role, as the role is shaped by management thinking.
  24. I used to try and change OTHER directorate peroformance management people, who didn’t know this stuff. This got me nowhere as the problem is baked into the role, and the role is shaped by management thinking.
  25. Point 1 is the only point that matters.
Posted in command and control, data, me doing it, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

3 signs that you don’t like your customers


Public sector organisations don’t really like customers.

They’d prefer you’d go away and stop making all your unreasonable demands that are quite frankly BANKRUPTING them.

You keep ringing them up,  walking through the door even, and worse… asking to speak to someone.
This is not on, and they’re going to do something about it.

Why? Command and control organisations find costs and cut them.
They think customers are a cost, not their purpose.
This means that they tolerate you at best, but would prefer if you just cleared off.

Here are 3 myths that organisations believe that lead to them disliking, and in the case of public sector organisations actively avoiding YOU, dear customer…

MYTH 1: “Customers want a gold plated service”


Expensive. Whatever it is

A commonly heard statement about users of a service is that they want a “gold plated service“.
I’m not exactly sure what this is but it sounds expensive.
It also sounds impractical, demanding and not a value for money proposition for a public sector organisation.

It is often used when talking about the difficulties faced in doing things for a customer. If we find it hard to do what the customer wants, then clearly what they want must be the problem. What else could it be?

THE TRUTH: Customers want a service that works


Just a customer

I’ve never encountered a Diva demanding a gold plated service.
What I have encountered is customer asking for something and being told “no” they can’t have it. This could be wanting to speak with someone, wanting something on a specific date because that date matters or even just inside a specific timeframe. However, if this ISN’T what we do, if we can only give them it according to our timescale then they are a Diva.
And what do we do with Diva’s and their crazy expectations?….

MYTH 2: “Customers need their expectations managed”


Tame those expectations! TAME THEM!

Due to them wanting a gold plated service, customers need re-educating in what is reasonsble.

In organisation-speak this is having their expectations managed.

Sounds reasonable eh?

This is presented as a sensible and rational approach, who could argue with managing something eh? After all what’s the alternative, that it is left UNmanaged? What are you, some kind of communist?

The Truth: Expectations are managed only when organisations are disfunctional

As ever, Urban Dictionary gives us the low-down.
What is reasonable is what an organisation thinks is reasonable.

Which is entirely unreasonable to any sane person.

A sign that your expectations are being managed is when a service is to be provided within some purely arbitary timescale eg within 2 to 4 weeks. As a customer you probably don’t think in these timescales, you may want it at a particular time, i.e when you are in the house to receive it, or when it otherwise fits in with your life. That life that actually caused you to be a customer in the first place.
Being told 2-4 weeks is YOU being forced to fit in with THEIR organisational disfunction.  It is entirely possible to deliver a service when the customer wants it. Doing otherwise is NOT managing expectations, it is MISmanaging a service.

I’ve left until until last the worst and most telling sign that an organisation does not like its customers. This one is a BIG HIT in Public Sector organisations, but elements of it are to be seen in private too….

MYTH 3: Customer demand has to be managed

With all this demand pouring in, what’s a manager to do except to manage it. Being a manager and all.
But what IS demand management?


Whatever it is it seems very diagrammy

Local authorities see the following equation…

Fewer Customers = Lower Costs

The idea is that is customers are dealt with as cheaply as possible, or even not at all, then they should be.  So if a service can be provided on a cheaper platform such as online or an app, it should be. If a customer is funneled towards self-service it is better than showering them with paid for staff.
Sounds robust eh? Macho even. Butch? Perhaps!

It leads to off shoring of call centres to somewhere cheap, to moving services online, to signposting rather than delivering services.

The Truth: Managing Demand shows that you don’t know h0w to manage demand

Managing demand is not as fussily professorial as “study demand“, it is straight to the managing of the stuff. Who could argue with it? It appeals because it is the same as what is currently happening, it fits. It is about activity and work. “How much work is coming in“, “how much work can we do?” and crucially, “what is the cheapest way to deal with a customer“. Note, cheapest, not best. [see "Gold Plated Service" above]

As with Lean it is best to look at what actually happens rather than the claims. POSIWID and all that.

What do you get if you aim for cutting costs? Increased costs.
Putting something online MIGHT be the best option for some people or some services but not for all, if it is the default choice it becomes the stupid choice. Aiming for lowest cost results in short term thinking, putting customers through the lowest cost transaction route does not tell you if this is the lowest cost in the long term.
An online form to claim a complex benefit like Universal Credit may appear a cheap option of managing demand. But the complexity of benefits and the variety of demand presented is too high to be adequately dealt with by an online form. It will increase costs because purpose will not be met.

Focussing on the cost of demand and how it is handled leads to more expensive service.
Focussing on what matters to the customer is the cheapest way to deliver a service.

This is because focussing on customer purpose delivers the finest-hitting-of-nominal-value known to mankind.

Hitting customer purpose is the cheapest option for the whole system.

The further away you get from nominal value, the greater the cost to the system.

Managing demand increases costs but it is worth it as it keeps pesky customers away.







Posted in command and control, customer, Demand, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , | 3 Comments

If You Haven’t Worked a Day in Your Life, You Probably Don’t Love Anything


Autonomy, mastery and purpose.

THEN you’ll love it, the whole thing, not just the thing that you’re doing RIGHT now that might not be enjoyable in itself. Like the author says, nobody enjoys changing “diapers” (nappies) but people still have children.

Originally posted on The Indisputable Dirt:

You’ve heard it before, the beloved aphorism from the ever-intriguing Confucius;

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


I’ve also heard it attributed to Albert Einstein, but the internet tells me that Confucius coined it, so we’ll go with that. Regardless, you’ve probably seen it in the form of a meme, pinned a thousand times on Pinterest, shared on Facebook, tweeted on twitter, etc…


 ^stuff like this^

I understand why the quote is so popular. There is something inspiring, something hopeful about it. It is just poetic enough to sound reasonable, just vague enough to withstand any serious scrutiny.

The only problem, of course, is that it is almost entirely false.

If the phrase was not so oft-quoted, if I did not think it influenced people’s decisions, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But from where I stand, this…

View original 1,026 more words

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List post


  1. This
  2. This
  3. This
  4. This
  5. This
  6. This
  7. This

Don’t do

  1. That
  2. That
  3. That


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Curry by default


Yes. I said it.

Yes, you heard, don’t act shocked.



Posted in all wrong, customer, public sector, systems thinking, systemz comix | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong


Inexplicably popular

Read this first. It was very popular and there’s marbles in it.

If you’re too lazy here’s a summary: I went to the executive leadership team, I talked to them about something that started with studying demand and eventually led to huge improvements, though I deliberately didn’t say how as people lose interest when you explain it.
3 people put their hand up and said “I’m interested!“.

There is NO history of Vanguard at my organisation. We’ve never hired them in, the only use of the method was done with Housing Benefits 2 years ago, who are now ran by a private company who very much don’t have anything to do with Vanguard. I’ve never had any training from them. All errors here are mine, remember The Idiot Clause. This is the whole point of this post.

Here is what happened next in the form of…

7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong!

1: Let senior managers do it by remote control
What’s the purpose of the Vanguard Method? Change management thinking.

What isn’t the purpose? Change somebody else’s thinking.

After the handing-putting-up-ceremony we arranged meetings with the hand-putter-uppers. We met with them, and this was the last time we met with them. Instead there were another different bunch of people who were met with from then on. This is pants and does not work.
The current paradigm is that senior leaders spend their time in meetings being strategic.
This leaves no time for being an actual leader, so they delegated the work.
The old lie is that the art of management is delegation, when actually the point of management is acting on the system, but they don’t know this yet. Hence the delegation.

This is such a predictable feature of my organisation, the intense busyness with meetings, that it is very much a system condition not a personal characteristic. It is a feature that hinders leadership.  If they delegate, they won’t learn. Just as if you want to learn the violin you can’t send someone else to violin classes for you.

Instead of doing that…Show them this is all about them. If they don’t have time to do it due to meetings, tell them to cancel them. If they can’t, they’re not in enough pain yet to choose something different from what they are currently doing. Walk away, there’s no leverage here.

2: Don’t mention it.

CaptureThe people putting their hands up didn’t know what they were putting their hands up for except to find out more.

Nothing wrong with that, however the next bit really should be “finding out more“, and it wasn’t

The most important thing is to know what this thing is, but you can’t tell them, the first law of systems thinking being the first law.  “The way people change is normative learning!” so no lecturing, no preaching. I didn’t preach or lecture. Sadly I didn’t do much else either, I just avoided the subject calling it “the method” like Daniel Day-Lewis explaining his craft.

“I need to FEEL the pain for my craft”

This has to be pulled because it has to be wanted, otherwise it won’t work. To pull it, you have to know what it is. I didn’t give them the opportunity to find out what it was, other than “listen to demand then we’ll see what that tells us“. This isn’t going to help anyone, it ends up just sounding like some snazzy bit of customer research.

As a result, people didn’t know where it was heading.

Instead of doing that…Do a “light check”, spend a day in the work doing Check with the senior leader. Listen to a few demands, see how capable the system is at dealing with demand. Follow some old work that has already gone through the system, see where it goes and how long it takes getting there. Find out from the people who touch it “what is stopping you from doing what this customer wants?“. Ask the leader why they put those things in place, what did they expect to happen, how they decided to do it.

 3: Have meetings


It is SO easy to get sucked into meetings, they are what most organisations think work is.

It is not.

I found myself  sitting in a room around a table with the most important person in the room being the chair. All wrong. If you start like that, you will continue like that, and it did. Meetings, agenda, chairs.  No excitement, no curiosity, no introducing what the actual thing is. Imagine sitting in a room, being 3rd on the agenda and wondering how on earth the Washing Machine Exercise can be levered into it now.

It can’t. If you start normal and boring, normal and boring is what you are going to get.

Instead of doing that….WORKSHOP IT! Send an invite to people with the title “workshop” then when they arrive in the room you are standing at the front holding the big marker pen in front of a flipchart. You’ve wrested control, and it can be something different from now, and you can spend as short a time in the room as needed to introduce concepts to go out and learn with in the work.

4: Say it is systems thinking
It’s not, but it is easy to say that it is, as it used to be called that.

But ANYTHING these days is systems thinking. Or any day really, if it deals with understanding how things work as a whole. It doesn’t help calling Vanguard Method “systems thinking“, as people start arguing that it isn’t, or worse agreeing that it is.

The worse in this case was someone saying this…

Instead of doing that...Don’t call it systems thinking. The first rule is a rule for a reason. Call it Vanguard Method, at least then people can Google it afterwards.

5: Become part of the noise.

There is so much going on in the Council, most of it utter rot. The noisiest thing at the moment is this years transformation programme. It is everywhere and it is noisy with meetings, documents and project boards.


Or rather, the noise drowns out any signal, in this case MY signal.

Me hoving up with something else, in addition to all the other stuff happening, is just adding more noise to the noise.  In one of the introductory meetings I had, it was clear that I was starting my thing half way through someone else’s thing.
Signal+Noise<>Signal. Oh no, quite the opposite….


Becoming part of the noise is no help to anyone, I made a discrete exit.
Or rather I didn’t. This part of the blog post is me doing things wrong remember? Instead of my discrete exit there was a series of pointless meetings, agonising for all concerned, where nobody really knew why I was there.

Instead of doing that…As all points above, start it right. No meetings, senior leaders doing it, in the work, a choice informed by doing it at least for a day. Don’t be noise, stand above that and be signal.

I’m quite pleased with all these failures, as if you remember, I am on a quest to become The Man That Fails The Most



Why so keen on failing often and early….?

 NB Keen-eyed readers might have noticed that despite what the post title implies, I have only written 5 ways to do Vanguard Method all wrong. This is because I am planning on failing at least 2 more ways, and 7 is a much more marketable number than 5.
You’re welcome.

Posted in me doing it, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bikeshedding for fun and pleasure


This is a document from a real project that is actually happening in my organisation.

In the middle of an unprecedented budget crises that requires ingenuity, courage and, above all, a method, we have attention to spare to the notice board problem.

This is Parkinsons Law of Triviality in action.

Parkinson’s law of triviality, also known as bikeshedding or the bicycle-shed example, is C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1957 argument that organizations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson demonstrated this by contrasting the triviality of the cost of building a bike shed to an atomic reactor. [link]

He describes a meeting that has on the agenda building a nuclear reactor and also building a bike shed.

“The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.”
A reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it.
On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.[link]

This is similar to what I see happening in my organisation, a Local Authority that has to simultaneously cut budgets, sorry, slash budgets whilst also doing good, delivering essential services etc.

We know about having meetings and producing reports and plans, or in other words robust project management. This is something we are used to, so we continue with this as our solution to this crises. There is a complex network of interlinked documents and themed project groups all working tirelessly to produce more documents and project groups. Bikeshedding.
What people don’t know about is how to talk about work, just like they dont know how to talk about nuclear reactors, so instead they talk about that noticeboard problem that just won’t go away. Bikeshedding.

The only time I have spoken with people about work usefully was when I was speaking with fellow systemsy types. There is a grammar and vocabulary that allows people to talk. Without that there is just the inane empty wording of Key Priorities, Robust KPIs and the like. Signs without the signified.

To avoid Bikeshedding you need knowledge of what matters, but to get to that point you need to be able to speak about what matters.
What matters is purpose, measures, method.
What matters is thinking, system, performance.
What matters is demand, value , flow.

Until you can speak about it, you can’t speak about it.
Then all you’ve got is noticeboards.


Posted in communication, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , | Leave a comment