How to be hopelessly untrendy

I got me some data!

Done gone put it in a graph!

Added meself a TRENDLINE!


And me answer is THE TREND IS DOWNWARDS!

This is what happens when people get data and have excel.
They stick it in and press that inviting “Add Trendline” button and hey presto INSTANT ANALYSIS. It allows you to cut through all that silly binary comparisons and possibly separate out the noise to find the signal beneath the actual data to see which way it is moving.

I should know, cos that’s what I did for years. But here’s why it is ALL WRONG.

Have a look at that data again, with added trendline…


Trendlines make you think the data HAS been moving in that direction and WILL CONTINUE TO. It is a slope that starts and doesn’t stop. Doesn’t matter if that isn’t what it strictly means to a hardened statistician, if this is presented to a manager what will they think?  They will think that the data shows that whatever is being measured has gone down and will therefore continue to decrease.

If they thought that, they would be dead wrong.

Here is why….

I put the data above in to a control chart, using Winchart. Here it is in all its clunky 80s glory…


The blue line on it is the mean, the red line at the top is the upper control limit. But that’s not important, what IS important is that pressing the handy “diagnose” button will run a check on the data using a set of tests. These tests look at how the data behaves in relation to the average and upper and lower lines. It checks for any signs of a change. An actual change in the system, as indicated by the data.

When I pressed the button, it said “look at data point 37, cos from there there were 12 points below the average line” , and there were. This indicates that there was a change in the data, enough for there to have been a change in the system that produced the data.
So I click another clever button that split the data into two parts, to show the system before the change around data point 37, and the system after the change around data point 37.


Then I done gone and put a label to show what I had done gone and done.


This chart shown to a manager will lead them to think that there was ONE change somewhere in the middle of the data, a single step change. One that occurred once, and not again.

This is different from the the message that the trendline one communicates. The trendline says “its decreasing and will continue to”. Not a step change, but an incremental continuous change.

Now I’m no statistician, but these are two different messages.
Deming said “Management is prediction”, it relies on interpreting the past to make theories about how the future might be if you act a certain way.

Management is prediction.

The simplest plan – how may I go home tonight – requires prediction that my automobile will start and run, or that the bus will come, or the train. Knowledge is built on theory.

The theory of knowledge teaches us that a statement, if it conveys knowledge, predicts future outcome, with risk of being wrong, and that it fits without failure observations of the past.”

This means a manager relies on the data being presented and interpreted in a way that most accurately reflects reality. The map is NOT the territory, but a useful map MOST accurately reflects the territory.

In the Grand Battle Of The Charts, which of these is the MOST accurate map of the territory?


You can rarely directly see the territory behind the map, or the generator of the numbers…

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, […] The generator of historical events is different from the events themselves [link]

But I can cos I cheated.

I made up these numbers myself, using my own random number generator.
I used excel to produce two sets of 30 numbers.

  1. 30 whole numbers between 4 and 8
  2. 30 whole numbers between 3 and 6.

Then I put them in a row, the first 30 then the second 30.

So who is the winner in this instance? Which map is closer to the territory?


The control chart!

It said look at point 37, and i did.
I split the data there, the data pointed at around there being a change in the data being produced, and therefore a change in the actual system producing it.

It was correct! (almost, the change was at point 31, control charts are a heuristic but they’re the best heuristic we’ve got)

If I used that control chart to make predictions about the system producing that data, my theory would be that there would be no further changes in the system. I would be correct in that theory.

If I used the trendline I would think there had been continuous decrease and there would be further decrease in the data, and I would be wrong.

This matters. It matters because if I am making potential improvements to that system, I would want to see the effects of my changes. If I was managing that system without making changes to it the I would still want to know if it changed in any fundamental way.

This is why I don’t like trendlines, they are not used by thinking that wants to understand the system producing the data, they are just talk about the numbers themselves. “Hey look, it’s going downwards” as opposed to any insight into the behaviour of the system itself.

As per previous incoherent rants, don’t analyse numbers, analyse the system producing the numbers instead.

An analysts job is not what they think it is.

An analysts job is not to analyse numbers, it is to solve problems by analysing numbers.

Choosing the right tool to do this follows by asking the right question, not “what’s happening with this data?” but “what is happening with this system?”


Posted in command and control, data, statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Why you SHOULDN’T try to improve performance measures!

Imagine you come across a right mess of performance tat, all targets and comparisons against this time last year.
Like this!



You’d want to try and fix it wouldn’t you?

Turn them into measures of purpose, chuck the targets and the red and green coloured shapes cluttering up the place like toddlers toys.

Perhaps even put it in time series, perhaps even a control chart…

Stop! You’re doing the wrong thing. In fact, I say….



But I say it again.

You should not try to improve performance measures.

WHAT?! Has TP gone insane?

Last post I said…

Trying to improve performance measures is not wrong.  But it’s not right either.

The whole POINT of this blog is to improve how we understand work and what happens in it so we can improve it.


Here’s why…

Four of the most important little words (and 2 arrows) are in this diagram I’ve borrowed from elsewhere

This shows the cause and effect between work things.t1

Management thinking is how managers think about work and how people are at work, how managers and staff should act. Basically EVERYthing. Every work thing, anyway.

How they think causes them to act in a certain way (ie manage) and shapes how they design work, the way that you do things at work. This is the system that we are all in. You can spot it if you look for the things that help or hinder achieving customer purpose. Those are the visible bits of the system at work. System conditions lets call them cos that’s what they’re called.

Performance is the result of it all. How this affects achieving customer purpose. The length of time it takes, how well we do it, any failure demand, ALL THAT STUFF produced by the system.


This is why it is ALL ABOUT changing management thinking. If you change it, you change everything BELOW it.

So, go in at the TOP and change the actual root cause of both good and bad performance to make sustainable improvement cascade down. It’s just cause and effect.553286206f2df0684a15f75ec0282049

But think of changes that are attempted at the level below the level of management thinking. That middle one called system. This is where you go in and try and change the system conditions directly without changing the management thinking that caused it in the first place. It could be a spot of process improvement or Massive Transformation, a culture change attempt of badges and ribbons or a boring ol’restructure.

Something will result, but it probably won’t be big or lasting. Or even good. Whatever happens at the level of the system will happen without changing management thinking because it is acting WITHIN current management thinking. It slips down without touching the sides cos it’s acceptable.

All the system conditions currently in place, whether they help or hinder, whether wanted and put there by design or unwanted and evolved accidently, all of them exist because of management thinking.

They exist because of it.

Performance measures are system conditions.
They help and hinder achieving customer purpose because they direct managers attention which directs their actions. Like these…

These are rubbish obviously. But they didn’t come into existence because people can’t do maths. This isn’t just a simple set of errors that can be corrected with a technical exercise to explain rationally why these are wrong, and these over here are right.

These are system conditions.

They are caused by management thinking.

These specific pispoor measures exist because of command and control thinking.


If you improve performance measures you don’t change the thinking that created them in the first place.

Control charts won’t help managers know where they are in regional benchmarking, or if this quarters outturn has hit the departmental target.

Those questions will still be there, negating any information the control chart may contain.

So here’s your two step guide, the executive summary for executives too busy for cartoons…

  1. Don’t improve performance measures. It is not the problem you should be trying to solve.
  2. Do change the questions  and thinking. It is the problem you should be trying to solve.



Posted in command and control, measures, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The sun is in Uranus

astrologerThis dude is an ASTROLOGER



This dude is an ASTRONOMER.

They LOOK very similar don’t they?

Both staring up at stars, they both use telescopes, they both keep accurate records of  where astronomical bodies are in the night-sky.

But one is a total bull-snit merchant and the other an esteemed scientist.

It can be hard to tell just by looking which one is the one that builds knowledge through observation and testing of theories, and which one writes a column in the Daily Mail advising gullible muppets that Friday would be a bad day to book a holiday due to the moon rising in your an Uranus.
But there IS a difference. The difference is IN THE THINKING.

Although both involve stars and telescopes, if you could peel off their skulls and look inside you would see very different models of what on earth they were doing.

 To the outside observer they’re both doing the same thing-peering through telescopes at stars. So if I come along and point at one of them and shout “SCAM ARTIST!” it’ll be very hard for anybody to understand why I’m only pointing at the astrologer and not the astonomer. That’d require me to go into laborious explanations of the stars, and how bull-snit mongering is not the same as observation, data collection and theory testing. I mean that does sound pretty boring.

This is the same as the difference between performance management and “using data to understand what is going on in your work“. The second one doesn’t even have a name. They’re both totally different, with totally different thinking behind them. 

But to the outside observer, they’re the same thing. Both using data and numbers, both possibly using the word “performance”, “measure”, “indicator” and the like. They’re the same thing! Except not.

Performance management is as legitimate as astrology is, a busted theory. Something quite frankly a bit silly, and entirely untrue. But also something that normal people occasionally pay attention to, for some reason.

And cos they both look a bit the same, it’s often thought that you could turn one into the other. That performance management could be turned into “using data to understand what is going on in your work”.

That would be great! Just turn the one thing into the other! Cos they’re basically the same! Numbers and that!

Except they’re not. Peel back the skulls expose the thinking. That’s where the true difference lies. In performance management the thinking is command and control thinking. In “using data to understand what is going on in your work” it isn’t.

Trying to improve performance measures in a command and control organisation is a popular effort. I’ve been trying to do it since my job interview for my place 12 years ago. This guy has built a VG blog all about it. I refer people to it all the time.

Trying to improve performance measures is not wrong.  But it’s not right either.

So why’s it wrong TP? That’s in the next exciting blog post! Snore….


Posted in all wrong, command and control, measures, setting a numerical target is like..., statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Lean, ISO and 6 Sigma all walk into a bar. Hilarity ensues.

The three titans of ISO, Lean, AND 6th Sigma have come together in an unholy amalgam of codification!

At last!


I have a 6th sense that call-centres will love ISO 18404

Long time fans of onion-related blogs will no doubt remember my very first post, the epoch making “Things I no longer believe in and no longer do-ISO9001“.  All about the very-nineties international standard for how to run a business. Can you quite believe.

Well those ISO bods haven’t let the opportunity slip to hop on board and misapply  another management passing fad approach, and have mushed together a bunch o’rules stating what IS and what ISN’T “lean” or LEAN as we like to capitalise it. And they’ve bundled in 6ick Sigma as a bolt-on extra. This is the new ISO management standard for LEAN & Ziggy Zigma, ISO18404.

They call it [drum roll]…

Quantitative methods in process improvement — Six Sigma — Competencies for key personnel and their organizations in relation to Six Sigma and Lean implementation

And it is YOURS for only 138 Swiss Franc! THAT’S £110  IN BREXIT MONEY! (price correct at time I worked it out on my phone).

If you are so disposed you can click here to see the contents, but it’ll not give much away.

The purpose behind the existence of this document is like with any ISO document, how can we be CONFIDENT that something is what it says it is? How can we be confident that a product is safe? In the UK you can look to see if there is a “kitemark” on it, that shows it has passed the British Standards Institute so it wont blow up. Or if its dynamite that it will.

So this 30 odd page manual will specify what LEAN Sickth Zigma is and give people confidence that companies certified with it are all LEAN and Zigz Zigmaey.


Think of any example in your workplace where some auditor/inspector is coming to inspect something,  anything.

Do you…

  1. Become really really great ; or …
  2. Gather all the documents to the nth sub-clause that show that you are really really great

It’s 2 isn’t it? This is defined in the ThinkPurpose maxim, Documents-я-Us

Whenever a quality is judged by inspecting the documenting of that quality, then the documenting of that quality becomes the actual quality itself.

For example, my kid goes to a school that has been judged “Outstanding” by Ofsted, at the exact same time he goes to the actual real school judged by me as “run of the mill“. It is the exact same school, same building and same staff and same pupils. But I don’t have the advantage of judging my kids school using documents, so I am not looking at the actual same thing as Ofsted.

Same as with any management system defined by ISO, whether it is ISO9001, the old “quality management system” standard, or ISO18404, the new LEAN and 6thThickma standard. Defining something in a document and then sending people in to inspect for it does NOT put that quality into an organisation. It puts documents into that organisation.

Now, I’m no fan of LEAN, no matter how heavily capitalised, but if you can’t inspect quality into a product, then you also can’t inspect LEAN or Slick Sigma into an organisation.


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

Three Reasons Why National Customer Service Week Is Rubbish! Again!


Balloons! Oh Christ no…..that means it’s National Customer Service Week! Again!

As this mistake is repeated every year, I’ve decided to start repeating the exact same blog post I first did two years ago.

So, here again is Three Reasons Why National Customer Service Week Is Rubbish!

It’s National Customer Service Week! Celebrate!




Here at ThinkPurpose we love customers so we’d like to tell you about a fantastic event dedicated to improving service for the customer.

Set up by the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service to….

raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays in successful business practice and the growth of the UK economy.

And who could argue with that ?

Here are 3 reasons why it’s rubbish

1: It’s a gimmick

wpid-img_20141006_192504.jpgWhat happens before it? In the week afterwards? Why not all the time?

Why a week at all? It’s a jamboree of gimmicks. There are characters like Captain Keyple, on the left…


I’ve seen fun as a replacement for doing good work, as it’s easier.

Easier to dig into the dressing up box and have Pirate Day.

Easier to get an unemployed drama student to wear Captain Keyple’s foam costume.

There are people wearing sashes


Did they wear the sash home on the bus?

Standing round a bit uncomfortably but there ARE balloons as well to jolly along the customer service excellence.

2: It’s not about customer service


Some arcane part of the convoluted USA healthcare system is joining in too.

HANG ON here is a chance to see it demonstrating excellent customer service in action….







Time for some excellent customer service methinks…


Exemplary listening and knowledgeable. And utterly irrelevant to the customers needs. What matters is her family keep their family doctors. The system should be designed to deliver what matters to the customer. The WHOLE organisations purpose should be customer service. But here Customer service is reduced to mean the thin layer of call centres that surrounds and protects organisations from their customer, mopping up and being polite.

What other purpose would the other parts of an organisation have if not customer service? Who ARE they serving? It is a perfect example of not taking a systems approach. If there is one part of the organisation whose job it is to “service” the customer, then presumably this is NOT the purpose of the other parts. In the example above of the healthcare provider, one part of the organisation is failing the customers by changing their family doctors, it doesn’t matter HOW good customer services are, they cannot help.

There is a dead giveaway on the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service’s website






These two questions are the wrong way round.

Ask instead…

  • How do you measure the impact of your business performance on customer service?
  • To what extent do leaders in your organisation understand the impact of business performance on customer service?

The purpose of an organisation with customers is customer service, not “business performance”. That’s just a way of keeping score and continuing to have and serve customers.

3: It’s sloppy and muddled thinking



All the customer service consultants are crawling out the woodwork with their shiny smiles and sloppy thinking.

How about this from the guy with the teeth above…

Start making a plan for daily – yes, daily – reinforcement of your customer service standards.”
“Commit to empowering your employees. Employee empowerment, or autonomy, is important stuff.”
Important stuff! And here is from the lady pictured above rolling a bogey between her fingers…

Customer experience superstars celebrate what they contribute to the customer’s success. They take extra care and pride in doing it.
Be customer experience superstars. Shine through the customers’ achievements. Be instruments to their success. Get set and be ready for mission possible!”

This is typical of the bilge I’m seeing flow through twitter at the moment.

It is almost as if these people have no knowledge of the root cause of performance, the system, which is shaped by the thinking of people in charge. In fact, it IS it.

This is the reason why I retch, the unadulterated idiocy of organisations who’d rather wear a sash and wave a balloon than work on improving the system. Y’know, for the customers.



Posted in all wrong, customer, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s the purpose of a-SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!


I went into PC World last week to help make them into a business.

I was going to do this by making myself into a customer of theirs. Until that happens, PC World is not a business, it is just a large warehouse with loads of cheap electrical stuff stored inside, like a rubbish museum.

Let me explain…

The purpose of a business is to create a customer

A little quoted character in this blog, Drucker, said this and explains further…

There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is a foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. The customer alone gives employment. And it is to supply the customer that society entrusts wealth-producing resources to the business enterprise.


That is what PC World is for. To make me into a customer. I went to their shop,walked inside, found the thing i wanted to buy….and they didn’t make me into a customer.

They didn’t take my money off me, they didn’t give me the thing i wanted, they instead took my name and said that there was a bit of wait until they could serve me!
Yes, i was put on a list to become a customer!!

Turns out they don’t employ enough staff to sell people things and turn them into customers. I waited, like the idiot i am, for about 20 minutes for the privilege of becoming a customer of PC World. Turns out I’m not the only one, as i researched on Twitter in my interminable wait…

Buying HDMI cables and iPods and moving them to huge out of town warehouses does NOT make a business. Selling me things and me giving them money, that makes a business.

A large museum dedicated to the death of rubbish shops

When PC World forgot to make very sure indeed that they actually carried out that final link in the chain, selling stuff, they forgot to carry out their actual purpose-making customers.

This is the same as a lot of other organisations who forget to actually carry out their purpose, especially in the public sector. I was a customer in the private sector waving money at a company who didn’t want to take it. Imagine instead I was facing public sector indifference? I have no money to give, but instead a problem I need help solving, what do public sector organisations often do instead of helping me?

In Adult Social Care an enormous amount of time and money is spent on assessing and referring people, but surprisingly little on helping vulnerable people live the life they want to lead.

In Housing Benefits an enormous amount of time and money is spent on sending people letters asking them to send documents in, and surprisingly little time is spent on helping people claim the benefit they are entitled to.

In Planning departments an enormous amount of time and money is spent on sparring with planning applicants on their ability to fill in a form correctly, and surprisingly little time is spent on helping people make good decisions on developing their property.

It is ALMOST AS IF it is possible for an organisation to entirely forget their actual purpose, i.e. you.

Never mind, you could always measure customer satisfaction couldn’t you? Cos that would tell you if….err….never mind.

EITHER 95% of 303 PC World customers are idiots OR measuring customer satisfaction like this tells you bugger all


Posted in command and control, customer, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

How to have an organisational detox!


Ever wanted to empty your mind of organisational bumf?
Start again with a fresh clear mind, untainted by this year’s key strategic priority aims? This seasons value statements cluttering your head up too much to think straight?

Have an organisational detox!

The purpose of a detox is to remove harmful unwanted elements from your life, to leave only the things that you need and do you good.
People these days have digital detoxes and news detoxes, an organisational detox is very similar to them. Just as social media is full of gossip with no substance, and news is a constant onrush of events, organisational culture is mainly wind and air that pollutes the mind with nonsense. Nonsense can only harm, cos it’s knowledge you want, not wind-baggery and corporate posturing.

The essence of an organisational detox is to remove the toxins of the noise generated by the operation of a normal ordinary command and control organisations, and replace it with the simple clear signal of knowledge of what is actually happening.

There’s two steps you have to undertake…

1: Understand the difference between signal and noise

Signal-to-noise ratio is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful information to false or irrelevant data in a conversation or exchange. [link]

There is so much noise in organisations. Noise is any information that is false or irrelevant or otherwise not useful. Not useful to what? To achievement of purpose, ie customer purpose. Meeting what matters to customers should be what matters to organisations. It mainly doesn’t, although it will think it does, and it should.
So the toxins you want to get rid of is all that noise that gets in the way of the signal.
So what is signal? Signal is authentic knowledge, knowledge of what customers need, what matters to them, how the system is meeting that need and what matters, what is happening to help it, and what to hinder it, and ultimately why your workplace does what it does.

2: Distinguish between the signal and noise you encounter

See the pic below…


If you don’t do the conscious splitting up of signal and noise, deciding…

  • what is authentic and useful, and
  • what is inauthentic and not useful

…then you’re just bathing in pure noise unable to determine what to act on and what not to.

The signal to noise ratio in most organisations is quite high. ie simply boat loads of pure noise that should be ignored and a tiny amount of signal, if any. Finding the signal in that is impossible without a conscious deliberate decision of that is signal and that is noise.

Here are some suggested areas of noise you’ll want to avoid.

1: performance reports

There’s an awful load of nonsense in performance reports. This is because the wrong measures are measured the wrong way. This effectively shuts out any authentic knowledge of how your organisation is performing. So bin ’em. Go on. There’s nothing there for you.

2: anything about values or culture or transformation

Just stick your fingers in your ear and “la-la-la-cant hear you” etc Values and culture and that, if they’re good it’s because you’re doing the right thing, if they’re bad it’s because you’re doing the wrong thing. So concentrate on doing the right thing and ignore all talk of values. It’ll be HR doing the talking anyway, and you know what they’re like.

3: meetings

FOG- Fact , opinion or guess. Play that game anytime anybody says anything in a meeting.

  • A fact is something independently verifiable.
  • An opinion is a statement about the fact.
  • A guess is a prediction of a fact.

In most meetings there are no facts, only opinions and guesses all masquerading as facts. Avoid meetings.

4: talking about work

A different sort of thing than a meeting, its an informal meeting. Might happen at the watercooler, if you’re American, or the tea-room, if you’re normal. If it is gossip about who dislikes who etc, then pay rapt attention. This is good stuff. If it is gossip about which bit of your organisation is being reorganised into which other bit and what unlikely name it is likely to adopt next, then avoid, it’s rubbish.

5: your work

Most jobs do nothing to help the customer. Remember Sturgeon’s Law?

You’re probably plate spinning at best. Do your work, that’ll keep paying your mortgage, but try not to pay it any attention.

Avoiding all this might leave you with little to actually pay attention to at work.


It is essential to avoid the noise if you don’t want to drown in ignorance.
There IS signal to be discovered, but you’ve got to go work for it, it isn’t just laying around waiting for you unlike the noise. The good stuff has to be excavated.

Here’s where to go to find it!

  • Walk to the work. Authentic knowledge is nowhere else.
  • Understand demand. That’s where you’ll find your purpose, walking in the door.
  • Understand what matters to the customer. Now you know what matters to the organisation. Simple eh? No need for values.
  • Understand how capable your organisation is at meeting “what matters” . Find out your true performance, minus the red triangles and gold stars, it’s a real eye-opener.
  • Find out why work is the way it is. Track how customers are dealt with, beginning to end, from first contact to last. Look for all the things that help and hinder meeting customer purpose.

BAAM! There you go. Authentic knowledge, all signal, no noise.

And I bet you feel a whole lot better for it.





Posted in all wrong, command and control, plausible but untrue, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment