There are only 6 graphs you’ll ever see on a performance report and they’re all rubbish. Here they are.

This is Performance Cat, and she doesn’t like rubbish performance reporting.

And she definitely doesn’t like dumbass explanations for meaningless shapes in graphs…

One of the more adorable features of performance reporting in normal ordinary command and control organisations is the total inability to see signal through noise.
EVERYTHING is packed with meaning, every tiny twitch of a line chart, every minor bulge in a pie-chart, every spurt of a bar chart. Like a spurned lover obsessing over their exes Facebook page, every thing means something.

Take three numbers. Go on. I’ll do it too.

10, 20, 30

There are 6 permutations of these three numbers ( ignoring a number appearing more than once). Here they are in every order they can be in a line chart.

These shapes appear all the time on performance reports, but they are accompanied by something weird, an EXPLANATION. An explanation why these meaningless shapes, made out of pure math, are shaped as they are. They’re only actually shaped by random permutations, not anything to do with life’n’that. These shapes are the only shapes that these numbers can make when you’ve got 3 of them! This is it!

The explanations accompanying these squiggles are often exactly the same.

These are [drumroll] The Performance Monitoring Archetypes!

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance continues to be SKY HIGH! We’ve built on our successes and the trend shows we will improve further into next quarter and beyond”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance has been disappointing. A downward trend of 3 months in a row have lead to a new management team who are currently addressing the root causes of performance and will be rolling out a robust improvement process to ensure a turnaround in the next quarter”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “The dip in performance in month 2 has been turned around by the strong leadership of the new management team, ensure we are going in to next month with a strong trajectory”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Factors have combined to produce an unfortunate downturn in performance. A peak however in month 2 show we are maintaining our strong performance over the quarter.

What it looks like:


Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “There’s a small setback in performance at the end of the quarter in month 3, following the stellar success of month 2, but this remains higher than month one’s outturn.”

So there we are, a description of three dots relations to each other and a made-up explanation as to WHY they are in that order…hey presto, a performance report!

For the true performance connoisseur, what tops off the appearance of these is a trend line. A trendline, provided by Excel, sprinkles these turds with the glitter of a statistical validity that they do not deserve.


Take the last performance archetype, The Setback. With a simple linear trendline added from excel, you can now interpret these 3 numbers arranged in this particular order as showing that performance is improving, that it IS only a setback, and that next month you can continue to see higher numbers. Cos that line is going up, look.

This is of course total rubbish. However it is total rubbish that is being produced daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, with no end in sight. No special IT will make this better. This is not a technical problem requiring a technical solution. It won’t end with a more expensive and colourful IT application producing these shapes and words.

I don’t think it will end when there is a better understanding of numbers and statistics. Saying “these are only three numbers from which it is impossible to draw conclusions of future performance” is true, but pointless. There is a reason why people provide reasons and justifications for random noise and continue to be “fooled by randomness”, and it isn’t  mathematical ignorance. That is not the cause.

Typical hierarchical command and control organisations runs on a binary view of the world where performance is “good” or “bad”, this cause a binary view of the numbers themselves where numbers are “good” or “bad” rather than numbers that just ARE.

For example, the last known control chart in this organisation was several years ago, I should know cos I did it. It didn’t stand a chance because the environment is not conducive to it’s survival. Like putting a lemur 50 feet below the ocean, not going to work, it’s in the wrong place. For a control chart or similar approach to understanding performance to survive, never mind thrive, requires a curiosity and a wish to find out. What thrives in normal typical command and control organisations are the performance archetypes above, and Performance Cat will remain very annoyed indeed.

Please note the 3-numbers and the names i used for the “performance archetypes” are totally the creation and property of Davis Balistacci who is my new favourite, he came up with the arrangement of 3 dots and given them names, and all I’m doing is adding swearing and knob jokes and cat gifs. Go here for the real deal cos you’ll learn loads, I am. Hopefully he won’t get mad if he sees my cheap popularising. I’m referencing my steals!

Posted in data, information, leadership, questions, setting a numerical target is like..., statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

If it’s too complicated to understand it’s probably total nonsense

I stand on the periphery of “improvement activities” going on elsewhere in the organisation.

I see things second and third hand through organisational gossip, i.e. people mentioning phrases or names of IT companies doing work elsewhere, somewhere. I’ve got no involvement in it thankfully though.

Despite working in a corporate position, i have no idea what these activities actually are, and when they’re explained, in reports or in person, i still don’t. They’re totally opaque. Just words without any seeming concrete activity behind them. I’m sure there is activity, all sorts of meetings and lots of workshops and theme boards. But it’s completely mystifying what any of it actually IS.

I think this is because they’re mainly IT projects. IT projects being a synonym for improvement projects in normal ordinary command and control organisations. And I’m not an IT professional, so why would i understand? I don’t.

But there must be SOME activities that aren’t IT projects, got to be, but any mention of these still are opaque and don’t reveal what they actually are.

This stands in total contrast to any actual improvement activities I’ve seen or read about. They seem to be REALLY straight forward. You find out what the customer needs, and you help them get it. That’s it. Everything is reorganised around that simple thing, the purpose of the system is to help the customer. Wherever IT appears it’s in the context of serving that purpose. Pulled in because it’s needed.

So i don’t think I’m thick. I think the scary thing could be that all these activities are just total nonsense. Money and time being thrown at services to make them more more complex, cos simple things are easy to understand. Adding IT rarely is a simplifying action if it is pushed, if it is leading the redesign then it’s mucking things right up with unneeded complexity and waste.

I’m thinking that if it’s too hard to understand, that’s because there’s nothing there to understand. There’s SOMETHING there, obviously, just not something worth understanding.

I’m not advocating some kind of Brexit/Trump style bonfire of ideas and experts. But the basics ARE simple.

Eat food, not too much, mainly plants. Move your body, don’t smoke, don’t over drink. That’s easy.

Don’t fight European wars on two fronts. Facebook makes you sad. Nature makes you happy. Dead simple.

Design your organisation so maximum value flows to the customer with minimal waste, and keep on improving it. Easy as.

Rule of thumb: if it’s complicated, it’s​ probably rubbish. If it’s simple, at least you can tell if it is sooner.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Can you count up to 8?

Do you produce loads of whizzy hard performance data?

I bet if you do you use one of these clever whizzy performance applications to showcase your wares…

There’s lots of different types of these things, and an even larger number of people who use them, they like them, they think they’re the bees knees.

Being a contrarian systems thinker I don’t. I think these are symptoms of command and control management. They are not good things, but resultant things.  Symptoms.

In themselves they are neutral. Just bits, literally, of zeroes and ones that produce snazzy graphics to gawk at. But they are part of something, and that something is how large ordinary command and control organisations manage.

Command and control organisations (ie most of ’em) separate decision making from the work. They do this by making these two things (decisions about the work and the carrying out of work itself) be done by entirely different sets of people.

You know, like this…


So if those at the pointy triangle end are going to make decisions, they’d better be making decisions based on pieces of paper.

Which instead of paper is these days likely instead to be a screen, totally full of coloured muck like this….

Which is why this rot exists.
Because nobody knows what they should be looking at or why, not really, they default to stuff that looks clever. Merely having clever things like the above is a substitute for doing clever things. Like buying a book and not reading it, or going to university.

Those pointy-end-dwellers are to be pitied. It is not their fault, it is the system they are in. But because they go in a room and look at screens purporting to show the world outside that room, there is a bit of a disconnect. They could be looking at anything, and they often are. Whatever seems PERFORMANCEY.

There’s a word “truthiness that describes something that possesses the feeling of truth, something that you would personally WANT to be true, regardless of it being true at all.

Well I think that a lot of this stuff produced is performancey.  This is somethinig that looks like performance data, cos its all bar charts and that, but it actually isn’t.

All the stuff above despite being called performance dashboards are actually just performancey. They aren’t the right measures, shown the right way. They are facsimiles of performance measures that grant the illusion of performance. They are performancey.

I think a solid rule of thumb is that the more something tries to persuade you that it IS a thing, whatever that thing is, the less likely it actually IS to be that thing.

These dashboards go to immense lengths to swagger around looking performancey, this shows to me that they aren’t.

A chart drawn in the dirt with a stick would persuade me more.

That’s why I’m a fan of this man here….

He is Davis Balestracci and I’m rudely summarising him as a Demingy/Shewharty/ Donald Wheeler-ish kind of guy. The sort you need to read books and columns and that, because he knows his stuff. About data!

One of the things he says is you DON’T NEED all this complicated stuff and therefore you don’t need to know all the techy stuff that sits behind it, to produce it.

Instead, can you do the following….

  • Counting up to “8”
  • Subtract two numbers
  • Sort a list of numbers
  • Multiply two numbers
  • Ask better questions!
  • React appropriately to variation

Cos that’s all you need if you want to look at simple run charts and find out if there’s been any change in a process.

And that’s all you need do to make a control chart to find out how a process is likely to behave now and in the future.

I bet loads of people could do the above, given half a chance.

No need for coloured tat.  All that’s needed is the ability to count up to 8.


NB you REALLY should google Davis Balestracci stuff, he’s got lots online, he’s funny and simple and useful.  I’ll be trying very hard not to outright steal his stuff and reference it properly, but if I forget, remember to google Davis Balestracci cos he knows what he’s talking about and I rarely do.

Posted in data, deming, statistics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

I am totally positive


I am relentlessly positive about all of the following…

-Going to where work is and finding out what happens to customer’s problems

-Getting raw data about customers or how we do work that has never been collected before

-Sifting signal from noise

-Listening to a customer without saying anything back to them except to find out more

-Tracking work through our systems

-data informing decisions

-Asking why

-Asking why again

-Experimenting with method, knowing the only failed experiment is one where you don’t learn

-Learning something that matters about customers or work

-Value work and waste activity being understood as two entirely different things and treated accordingly

-Focusing on the problem that we are really trying to solve

-Support work helping core work helping customers

-Constancy of purpose

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear positive as I am positive about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace the more positive I will appear to be, because these things work.
They work because they are based on a model of work and people that works

Pursuing any of these things is a good use of the money of whoever is paying me and helps people who are supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always positive about that, which is why I am always positive about doing all these things.

Posted in systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged | 1 Comment

I am totally negative


I am relentlessly negative about all of the following



-Best practice


-Strategic awaydays

-Strategic plans

-Strategic anythings

-Performance appraisals

-Service Standards

-Scrums (outside of a rugby game)


-Assessments for access to services


-Target operating models


-IT solutions

-Rapid Improvement Events

-Customer satisfaction surveys


-Culture change theme boards

-Mapping activities to priorities

-Transformation Boards

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear negative as I am negative about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace, the more negative I will appear to be, because these things don’t work
They don’t work because they are based on a flawed model of work and people.
Pursuing any of these things wastes the money of whoever is paying me and lets down whoever is supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always negative about that, which is why I am always negative about doing all these things.

Posted in all wrong, command and control | Tagged | 1 Comment

Thor describes my purpose


I sit next to the photocopier at work.

About 3 times a day somebody printing some papers off will ask me if I have a stapler they can borrow, to staple their papers together.

This is a question I am asked predictably. It is my single most common type of demand. Is this a value demand though? Well, it is caused by a failure to do something, the failure of the photocopier to staple things automatically as people want, so it is probably a failure demand. But at least it is a predictable demand.

However I do not own a stapler.
So my capability at meeting demand, whether it is value or failure, is zero.

Regardless, I think that my purpose, if derived from my surroundings, would be to offer paper stapling services. I could do this! This isn’t beyond my ability to change and move with the times.

However what is beyond my ability is to change work and make it go all systemsy.  Which is entirely fine, cos the people who are in charge of the design and management of work are actually the managers here, that’s their job, and if everybody else was also changing the design and management of the work then it would be total chaos.

So I just stick to carrying out my duties in as avuncular and self deprecating manner as seems fit. I describe myself as a copy-and-paster, and enjoy acting out my role of “corporate harlot“, not being bothered about the authenticity or actual worth of the work as long as blocks of text or tables of numbers are passed to me by some arbitrary deadline for me to spiff up and make it look nice and apply a spell check, if this happens, then all is good.

The metaphor I use is pipes and plumbing.


Imagine a sequence of pipes connecting people. People all over the council send me things, it is my job to ensure that there are pipes there connecting me and them so this stuff can flow between me and them.

It ISN’T my job to be concerned about the stuff that flows through the pipes. If it is sewage or clean fresh water is immaterial, what matters is that it flows. So I’m a plumber, which is a fine and noble profession.

Talk like this tends to alarm people. I’ve noticed they act like I’ve just started talking about my hemorrhoids or something, lean back in their seat and try and pretend I’m not saying these awful words. Like it is dangerous talk. Now I’m being polite really, cos I think the same about most corporate work, in a normal ordinary command and control organisation this type of work is mainly waste with little chance of being good for the end client/customer/resident. But strutting around pointing out the pointlessness of others work isn’t polite, so I stick to my own.


NOT cool. Possibly incorrect too.

This is not the ideal way to pass the time, but time is going to pass anyway. I boldly claimed at the top of this post that in some way “My Purpose” is to be revealed by Thor within the post, and all I’ve talked about is staple providing services and a metaphor about plumbing. Locating and articulating purpose in an entertaining or educational way, why you might expect something, especially given the name of this blog but it might not be possible at an individual level, especially when I don’t have a self-defined purpose. All systems have a purpose, but not necessarily a node within it.

Handily I found a thing about a phrase or word that the man who invented Lean the Toyota Production System used to describe anything that wasn’t work….moving around. Here it is…

He taught people to call all motion that adds value to products “truly working.” Motion that is not adding value is simply called “moving around.”

By clearly separating the use of these symbols, he taught trainees how to tell the difference between non-value-added work and value-added work by creating awareness of that difference with his creative use of spelling.

In this way, he shows us that the most effective approach is to eliminate unnecessary “moving around () ” and create “true work ()” with the full participation of the shop floor as the first step.

I love this. Moving around, if you’re not doing value work than may as well be flapping your arms about a bit. Now if you’re a typist like me, value work and waste work isn’t moving around, it’s typing.

Or as Thor describes it here “Hitting the machine with the words that come out of it“. See, I got to the point in the end. My purpose is to hit the machine with the words that come out of it. Like I’m doing right now.

 So if I hit the machine in the right way, then the words that come out of it please people, and it contributes to the gaiety of the organisation in some way. I’m under no illusion that this can possibly change or improve because the thinking of top management cannot change. Well it could, obviously, but it won’t.

Performance management/reporting/ analysis/whatever is a system condition, a symptom of management thinking, so we’re lumped with it. Whilst decision making is separate from the work, then the decision makers will need reports to make these decisions, and I’ll continue to hit the machine to make the words come out.

Posted in command and control, public sector, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

I openly mock Myers Briggs, but an INTP would do

Remember the ThinkPurpose team role quiz?

Well, turns out I was a racoon.

Sadly not a COOL RACOON. Just a racoon.

But ignoring all the distastefulness of categorising people into 16 types in a Buzzfeed style quiz based on bleeding JUNGIAN ARCHETYPES, let’s… Oh, hang on…I CAN’T ignore this idiocy.
If you’ve worked in a large organisation for several years you’ll have done either one or both of Belbin or Myers Briggs “what type of corporate drone are YOU?” quizzes.

They both ask you to rate yourself on questions like…

Do you prefer quietly reading book OR GOING TO A LOUD PARTY WITH LOADS OF PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW?

(Can you guess what bit of your personality this is attempting to decide?). Then based on such answers, you’re allotted some type of personality/stereotype that purports to tell you what you’re like at work, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

My weakness is for crappy personality quizzes like this, so I love them. Or rather, love to hate them, cos Myers Briggs says I’m an INTP which means in all into theoretical cohesion, so if it turns out that it’s GOT NO ACTUAL SCIENTIFIC THEORY BEHIND IT AT ALL, then I’m right up in its face, snarling and that.

Luckily Myers Briggs comes from a rigourous peer reviewed approach to psychology, tested thoroughly in double blind experiments, leading to a robust methodology for analysing and predicting people’s behaviours….No, no, course I’m lying.

It was actually invented by a woman who… read a load of biographies of famous people and divided them into types. Yup. She READ ABOUT PEOPLE, and came up with four different “temperaments”, these form the basis of Myers Briggs. Some woman’s musings on the autobiographical musings of the 1917 version of Kim Kardashion now result in office drones like yourself being categorised a whole century later. During that century the field of psychology has undergone numerous revolutions, all of which had been totally ignored by the Myers Briggs lot.

They found their theory, and they’re sticking with it. This theory of personality types has two main weaknesses, it doesn’t measure what it purports to measure (validity), and it gives different results for the same person on different occasions (reliability). These are pretty much killers for any theory of measurement

There’s lots of references to studies ripping into Myers Briggs, I don’t just stick to Wikipedia, you can have a nice browse in this article on the Smithsonian website which had loads of interesting links.

Ultimately though I dislike it because it’s stupid. It’s stupid, because it’s easy and it fits, despite being wrong. And easy and fitting ALWAYS trump rightness and usefulness in a normal ordinary command and control organisation. It’s a diverting Buzzfeed style “What Hogwarts house are you?” quiz that annoyingly takes in millions from gullible organisations because it diverts attention from the system back yet again onto the people working in it.

One annoying thing with quizzes of this type though is the lingering Barnum effect .

This is the cognitive bias where general or vague descriptions that are seemingly tailored to you are perceived as stunningly accurate. As a fellow human being I too suck at avoiding this, especially when I read this thing that describes what Hell would be like for an INTP like myself. From what you have gleaned of me and my job, Dear Reader, I let you be the judge…

INTP – You are eternally condemned to researching an extremely vapid topic using wildly inaccurate methods, mostly involving interviewing people who have no idea what they’re talking about. [Link]

Posted in all wrong, command and control, human brains are weird, psychology, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 30 Comments