Zombie Deming advises on the use of targets






When the Audit Commission was around targets were everywhere. Partly due to the existence of a national framework of indicators that Local Authorities and lots of other public sector bodies had to report against.
With these indicators, came targets.

These days there isn’t the national framework or inspection body, but there still is C&C management thinking. People are sheepish about numeric targets as the public sector conversation has moved away from them. When people are a bit ashamed of target talk, they’ll:

  • add a sprinkle of science (make ’em the same as last year + 10%);
  • add a bit of pozitivity (REACH for the stars!) by making them the same as last years top quartile.
  • add a bit of democracy (reach them in conjunction with staff who will be blamed if they don’t deliver them)
  • hide them in “outcomes” (nicey nicey smiley smiley reduce-by-10% huggy huggy kissy kissy)

But it doesn’t matter how palatable people try and make them.
A little bit of a target is like finding a little bit of shit in your breakfast. Just a little bit. No harm done.

Just imagine it, a little bit. In your breakfast.

“What are you, some kind of purist?” I can imagine some target-monger saying.

Well a little bit of a target is like having a little bit of cancer. No amount is fine.

Sounds in bad taste, to compare targets with a nasty lethal disease that probability says someone reading this will currently have.

But having targets in the NHS caused some peoples cancer to get worse [link]. In their case, having a little bit of cancer was made much worse by the NHS having a little bit of targets. So I stand by my metaphor as it references the reality that is much worse.

It’s like walking home alone at night along a dark street with a stranger walking right behind you, so close you can hear them breathing. It’s raspy laboured breathing, he smells of all-day drinking and fags. Do you care that he only has a stocky build when he could have had a knife? Or would you rather he wasn’t there at all?

A little bit of cancer, a little bit of shit, a little bit of targets. A little bit of anything that shouldn’t be there is always too much.

For me, it’s a sign of worse things. They are the Bellwether indicator of bad thinking. A little bit of targets shows that the mind set is still of the type that supports targets at all. That in itself is the problem, the thinking. The thinking that produces one small tiny smear of a target is the same that produces baskets of the fuckers. Yes, baskets. When I started working for a local authority I first heard the phrase “basket of indicators“.



This was in reality a list of targets. Perhaps basket sounds more home spun, all roughage and hand picked flowers? This was the first time I’d heard of this collective noun. Like “a raft of initiatives” it is an unlikely image when you really try to bring it to mind.

These baskets of indicators comprised a melange of hand-plucked measures in a miso foam with artisan outcomes on a bed of grated black truffle. And a smear of shit.

Only two more to go! Tell me, Zombie Deming, what do you think of the show so far?



This entry was posted in deming, systems thinking, systemz comix, targets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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