Measuring matters

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When I was little I made a lot of important decisions based on color. Choosing between a red shirt and a blue? I chose blue every time. Blue was a better color. Between Icee pops? Same thing. What can I say I liked blue.

 

Over time I learned that for somethings color wasn’t a great indicator of performance. Choosing a grocery line? It almost never pays to choose based on the shirt color of the last person in line. Typically I like to choose these lines on the basis of current line length and estimated shopping cart items. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t but as far as informal decision support metrics it does ok.

 

Most of us leverage these types of learned strategies everyday. We make choices about what lane to drive in, who to ask for help and where to go next based on models we have developed over time. These models become more fixed over time, although most of us have adjusted our models here and there to account for things like the “excessively talkative checkout clerk.”

 

The decisions we make in the office should be no different. They should be based on models that we build up over time and are updated regularly to take into account for new inputs. I think one of the biggest gaps many organizations have is that by failing to develop formal decision models over time, they fail to understand what led to success and what led to failure and of course because it is informal nobody can learn from either.

 

I’m certainly not advocating for turning every decision into an overly formal exercise in data gathering and evaluation that leads to analysis paralysis. I do however think that identifying key decisions that your organization makes repeatedly and then developing set criteria for evaluation can lead to improved decision making over time. It certainly does hurt to have this information available to others within the organization as well.

 

When we go started with ExAM (ExAM4Enterprise.com) our focus was on data collection and analysis with the belief that by making it easier to collect information about their organization and then helping them to develop decision models based on that information we could be part of changing the way organizations did their business and help them achieve a higher level of performance.

 

What we didn’t know then was that it would lead to so much work in the inspections and compliance space. Looking back at it now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Most inspections are exercises in data gathering that are supposed to support decision making (No working refrigeration, No Food Service permit).

 

In the end I’m happy that we’ve managed to help so many organizations support these types of decisions. Unfortunately, outside of compliance I think that this type of ongoing evaluation and decision support that is talked about more than implemented. Getting better results requires identifying key decisions, the information required to support the decision and ideally a method for weighing (scoring) that information to support decision making.

 

Of course if all else fails, you can always fall back on choosing blue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Eliminating waste from the bottom up

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One of the things that gets lost in the complexity of getting a job done or doing the next task, is a focus on group work.  You need to be able to take a step back from the pieces of the system that you’re involved in and:

  • understand what’s supposed to come out the other end of the organization

  • what’s the value of what you are doing

  • understand your role in the organization

  • understand how the process within your organization help support that value

Over time, whether you’re management or somebody that is working as a component of that system, it’s important to be able to understand when what you’re doing needs to change. Things you should be asking yourself are:

  • How do I get rid of extraneous actions

  • How do I slim down what we’re doing as an organization so there’s less waste

  • How do we more effectively meet our goals

One of the things that people often don’t think about but it’s of critical importance, is that the things that you do in your day to day job that don’t drive value are things that are making the organization less competitive.  They are the things that are taking you farther away from the goals of your organization.  Waste to the organization aren’t just the big 100, 000 million dollar line items they are the time wasters such as the forms that have no point and the meetings that bring no value. Those things add up and if they are pervasive enough in an organization they can significantly change the competitive landscape. The world is moving towards a higher performing environment  and these time wasters will breed bad consequences for the organizations that don’t eliminate them.

People don’t think of that at Monday morning status meetings that go nowhere as the thing that is going to put the company out of business. While that may not be the one thing that ends an organization; it’s emblematic of things that are happening within the organization on a grander scale that could put you on the brink of going out of business. So I can’t stress how critical it is to focus on the big picture but sweat the details a little bit too. If there are things that you’re doing that don’t add to the bottom line then you really need to question whether you should continue doing them. Those things are by definition luxuries and if you’ve got time wasting meetings that add no value, maybe you’d get more value just by giving people that hour off. Maybe you could get some sort of benefit for being a kinder gentler organization, but certainly  no value status meetings are something to be avoided.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Leveraging performance metrics for your community

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I’ve recently been talking to the group, ACT for Alexandria, based in Alexandria, Virginia about a project they’ve been working on called the Community Indicators Project.  This concept is essentially the idea that community stakeholders should have a set of performance metrics, indicators, and dashboards that help the community have a conversation about itself. Covering topics such as:

  • what it means to be a member of the community
  • fostering fact based discussion about how to improve the quality of life across the community
  • how to better leverage services
  • generally how to improve Alexandria community citizens’ quality of life

I think it pretty closely parallels a lot of the work that we do in large organizations where we also have complex stakeholder organizations, groups, and people. One of the things that’s so interesting about the Community Indicators Project is that it really shows just how interconnected organizational, or in the case community, indicators can be. You’ve got citizens, charitable organizations, politicians, government, official businesses, and there’s a whole broad swath of organizations that need to be able to access and feed information into the Community Indicators Project for it to work.

In this first release of the project, they’ve identified 120 different indicators that they believe drive the health or performance of Alexandria at large. Now 120 is probably way too many for any one person to focus on the performance of any one indicator so they have taken some time to group them into 11 themes. The themes are topics like health, the community, and other things that are a little bit easier to understand. From there, those indicators are split roughly half and half between information that comes from existing systems like Alexandria government systems and outputs from things that they’re doing within the community right now and community oriented indicators.  The community indicators are actually manually input by people out in the community. They are either harvested off the web or in some other way from that broader community. At the end of it, the idea is that this is going to be the central place for people to have a conversation about the performance of the community at large. I’m really interested to see how it turns out. I’m curious if other folks have been involved in efforts like this, what their experiences have been, and if you have any advice. I’d love to learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

A fresh perspective on performance metrics

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I’ve been reading a pretty good book called Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success and there’s a ton of great ideas in it. I think anyone who is involved in performance management or measuring the success of specific activities in an organization should read this. It has a lot of great tidbits in it but I think one of the really powerful themes touched on in the book is the discussion of the context of the measuring system. In this case, the context is: What are the things that we’re going to use these measurements for?
How successful your performance management or measurement system is going to be has a lot to do with how the people that are being measured by it see the system itself. If they see it as a means of finding problems, punishing non-performance, or generally as a way for management to seek out underachievers and carve them out of the organization; you’re inviting people to undermine the system to the largest degree possible and quite possibly render your performance management system ineffective. The author gives some great examples around this and then talks about what makes a good context for a measurement system.
The key takeaway essentially is that the people involved in it have to see it as a force for change. They have to see it as a mechanism for really understanding the organization and building in higher performance as a stakeholder community. By this I mean they are responsible for bolstering performance, they have a say in it, and the measurements are not being used so much as a mechanism for punishment but as a jumping off point for further investigation. The question then becomes how can we as team or an organization perform better? It’s a really powerful and persuasive argument. You hear all the time to be careful what you measure because that’s what’s going to get done, about the dangers inherent in laying down a measurement system that incentivizes the wrong behavior, or measures for measurements sake; but this was a little bit different spin on things. I thought it was a powerful concept and it’s at the core of whether or not you’re going to be successful because it speaks to the human engagement of all the members of the team that are involved in organizational performance. So I think it’s a great read and if you have a chance, pick it up. I’m always on the lookout for great books like this so if you have a recommendation I’d love to hear it.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

De-cluttering, de-stressing, and de-bugging the data call process

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One of the things that gets under-counted in most organizations is the time and effort spent responding to data calls. I think there’s probably a great piece research work that could be done just in looking at data calls that fall outside of normal business process flows within large organizations whether they are public sector or private sector. In my experience this is something that consumes an inordinate amount of time in many organizations. That’s not to say that data calls are necessarily a bad thing. Oftentimes the reason that this special information is being requested to support a change initiative that’s going to have a positive impact on the organization or to supplement the informational gathering apparatus that is already in place.

Since this additional information is required for decision making, there are a lot of legitimate reasons these data calls are so prevalent but the part that strikes me is that there’s no significant infrastructure dedicated in most cases to managing these data calls systematically. There’s no recognition of that fact that enough time is being spent on these data calls to do something about managing them for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole. I think that is short sighted on the part of these organizations.

Take the public sector for example. If you look at the things that have come out for organizations to respond to in the last few years, whether it be Portfoliostat, Techstat, 21st Century Digital Strategy, Cloudfirst, or Shared-first, all these different directives to these organizations include heavy data collection components but if you look across them, there are a lot of commonalities.  A really good understanding of the application portfolio is prevalent in quite a few of the ones that have gone out for IT organizations. So not only could a systematic approach to managing those data calls have served to lower the cost to complete each one, raise the quality, and deliver more enterprise value but beyond that; the collection of those informational resources all together could give you extraordinary decision making abilities.

I think some of the things organizations should be looking to do is formalize the processes around:

  • how they support resourcing and tasking around data calls
  • how they look at solutions that will help them technically manage that information for the organization as a whole
  • how will they support that value chain that takes you from this is the data I want to collect, this is how I’m going to collect it, all the way through to the analysis and reporting that I need to do

That is the value chain that we’ve attempted to build out and support for education, public sector, and business with Exam4schools, Exam4government, and Exam4business. I’m curious what people are using right now. I’m sure there are organizations that are looking at these data calls from a systemic standpoint and I’d love to hear what tools and processes you are using to support these efforts.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Understanding the value of your everyday organizational decisions

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One of the things that I believe most organizations could do a better job of is explicitly understanding what decisions they need to make.  Now most organizations certainly understand that they need to make decisions. They may also understand what information goes into those decisions fairly well. They may even have some standard reports available to support them but what I don’t see very often is a decision register or an explicit listing of all the decisions that a specific organization or a specific role is responsible for.

I think that’s a big weakness because it’s very hard to do decisions support, develop meaningful business analytics, or generate a return on investment on a decisions support or business intelligence system when you’re not sure what decisions need to be made in anything other than a general sense.  You don’t understand what the value of those decisions is to the organization. By value I mean if you’re going to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a decisions support system, you should understand what the real value of making those decisions is to your organization; otherwise it’s going to be hard to sustain that program over time.

I think it’s worth taking a few minutes and looking at it because if you’ve been in an organization a long time you probably know in your head what those decisions are. You just need to take the time to run down that list, vet it with a couple other folks, and already you are much farther along than you otherwise would be in terms of understanding how your organization works. You can work forward from there to develop the informational inputs that support those decisions to develop business intelligence, or analytics to support those decisions but it all starts with knowing what they are and what they are worth to the organization. So this was just something that is simple that I was thinking about that we could all do a better job of and will have a large impact on an organization.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Getting the most out of your performance management system

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I think that performance management and performance management systems should be leveraged by organizations to spur higher performing actions and activities as opposed to just using them as sort of a rear view mirror to understand how you did. I think there are probably many ways to do it but I want to talk a little bit about our approach and kind of what I believe works best for us. When you look at anything you’re trying to improve you have to understand the factors of:

  • What factors drive performance
  • What pieces of information do I need in order to understand how its performing now
  • How it may perform in the future

You need a mechanism to get that information in. You need some type of assessment of those things; a way to surface the information about what’s the state of that information at a given moment in time. So I think I use the term assessment because it signifies what you’re really trying to get at here. You can spend a lot of time talking about metrics, measures, key performance indicators (KPIs), and things like that but I’m just going to use the blanket term assessments. I’m trying to say that what we’re trying to do is understand a specific thing that we’re trying to improve. There may be a lot of informational elements that go into understanding it but that is what that assessment is supposed to help us tease out.  What that should do is give us at a specific point in time a really good understanding of the factors that contribute to success or failure at that given point in time.

Oftentimes you need more than just the state of that particular thing to really understand performance or particularly, if you’re looking at lots of those types of things. If you’re looking at a portfolio I use investments all the time because it’s a pretty easy concept to grasp. A lot of people have 401ks, mutual funds, and things like that and they understand that those things are comprised of lots of smaller investments. It’s performance across all those things that contributes to their eventual financial performance.

If you were to assess your portfolio at a specific point in time, it might be as simple as a statement that you get from the company that manages your portfolio. It’s probably going to tell you a little bit about the individual components of the portfolio that makes up your retirement account and that’s a slice in time view that you get. That is of course dependent on what company you go thru and what level of detail you’ve requested. You may get things all the way down into very detailed financial reporting that’s supposed to be indicative of specific companies that are part of your portfolio and that is great for the day that you receive that information. Unfortunately we all know that a day, a week, a month later, the market is completely different.  Things can change immensely in a very short period of time as we’ve seen several times in the last ten years. Instances where we’ve gone from incredible market performance to extraordinarily disappointing market performance in what seems like the blink of an eye and you know the same is true for any organization. So one of the things you need to keep in mind is context.

For many of the companies that were a part of that portfolio, not a lot of things changed inside some of those companies when the market went south but it certainly affected their performance in the market. This despite the fact that maybe they weren’t a part of the industry segment or market segment that was bringing down the market as a whole. Their performance was affected by it so hopefully that is a way to look at context.

There’s a lot of information that you might need to help you make good decisions that’s maybe not directly related to the status of the particular things that you are trying to measure. If you miss that part of it you’re going to miss a lot of the things that inform your understanding of the assessment and make it so that you can make good decisions.  So I think context is enormously important and often overlooked. You need be looking for the pools of information that help make the information that you’re gathering more meaningful.

The last of the things that I think is really important is real time situational awareness.  It’s great to have that assessment, that in depth understanding of the item, and it’s great to understand the context around it but a lot times being able to translate that into things that improve performance means being able to communicate and collaborate across organizational boundaries; both inside the organization and outside the organization. It means being able to collaborate to use that information to make better decisions in a group or team environment. It means being able to understand that information because you see the changes as they occur. You’ve identified the factors that are important to you and you have a mechanism for ensuring that you become aware when certain thresholds change or when there’s activity on a particular item.  I think that situational awareness piece is also often overlooked and incredibly important.

Now oftentimes the most stressed component of all of the things that I’m talking about is the assessment piece.  You’ll have organizations that will invest enormous amounts of money in a point in time assessment. I’m not saying that those are necessarily a bad thing to do but I think that if you want to drive real long term performance you need to be able to have both. You have to combine that with context and with some type of communication and collaboration capability that allows you to take advantage of all of it. Then I think the final things is the business intelligence component; the piece that rolls all of that together so that you can use all of it in a way that is seamless to your organization.

  • Do you have a way to pull context together, the actual assessment information, and then manipulate, share, and leverage that information across your organization so you can really foster change?

I’m curious how other people manage this. I know it’s a big space with lot of layers in it but I think the value chain that runs from the assessment, to the context, to the communication and collaboration workflow component that enables it are incredibly important as a whole. You really have to think about it as not those individual pieces because that’s how traditionally the vendor community addresses it. They have a piece that addresses how you do assessments. There’s a piece that does communication and collaboration and there’s a piece that helps manage data and does business intelligence across various elements of it. I think it’s really important to figure out how you’re going to work with those as a cohesive whole or to choose things that allow you to work as a cohesive whole across that entire value chain.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.