Leveraging performance metrics for your community

Alexandria_Assessment_Performance_ExAM (1)

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.

Wanted: Correct Solutions delivered compellingly

Wanted Blog

I think that one of the most common mistakes made when delivering a product or deliverable is how easy it is to get so wrapped up in the correctness of the content and meeting the letter of the requirement, that we forget to make things interesting. We forget to take a little bit of time to make our content compelling. As a management consultancy organization, this is a rule that we break all the time. When you break it, you run the risk of not giving your client all the value that they could have had. Now some people will say, “Well you’re just getting paid to provide the answer.” While I think that’s a hundred percent correct, there’s more to it than that.

A lot of times you’re called in to deal with a complex question or an organization is trying to achieve a particular goal. They ask you to come in and look at things so you evaluate a lot of different factors to come up with a result. In theory, it shouldn’t have to be compelling it should just have to be right. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. It doesn’t just have to be the right idea. In a lot of cases, particularly in very large organizations, it has to win in the marketplace of ideas because a lot of times you’re not the only group that’s working on the problem. Now you may be the only group working on the problem from any particular angle but large organizations pain points oftentimes get addressed not just by one group, but multiple groups. Multiple groups will recognize the pain points and they’re all attempting solutions to address it from their particular angle. Oftentimes with the assumption that if they’re the ones that address it, they’ll be able to avoid a certain amount of organizational pain. This by virtue of being able to have crafted the solution. So I think it’s really important to look at things and go, “I need this to not only give the right answers, but I need it to be something that people will read the entire report through.”

You need to put things into the reports that will make it interesting to people that are notonly cutting fat, cut and dry, just the facts man type of people, but also to people that need to be pulled through a document. Those people need some visual cues. Maybe they need some facts and statistics that make it more relevant to them. Things that make it personal. In order to do this you need to know enough about whose going to being reading or seeing your report or presentation to make it compelling to them. Those are questions that need to get answered just as much as whatever the evaluation, assessment or particular problem is that you’re trying to address.  One of the things we’ve done more and more is utilize things like info graphics. I’ve included an example here.

This info graphic was developed to help us with a report we’ve been working on with a bunch of schools to address school safety issues. This was meant to spur action. There’s a lot of data that gets collected through the ExAM for schools process and we want people to go through and really take a hard look at those things. So we set up this info graphic with that goal in mind. Obviously we’ve got other things that we do throughout a full report but it’s meant to drive people to work through it by setting up the idea that it’s very important that they do so.

I’m actually very interested in feedback on the info graphic itself as well as the idea that you need to cater to people that might not go through an entire report that you deliver just because it’s not interesting. I know that a lot of people come from sort of the old school belief that people should do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s their job, etc. but that isn’t the case across the board. While those people are going to do it whether I make it interesting or not, it’s also really important you make the people that might otherwise only be casually interested to make it through it as well.  So if it was important enough for someone to engage you to do something, then it’s probably worth it on your side to make it as compelling as possible.

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.

MB&A: Changing the world

I’ve had a few different people ask me about the types of work we do at MB&A so I thought I would put together a few posts that highlight what we are working on as a company. Of course we do many of the things that I consider to be the bread and butter such as management consulting activities like providing advisory services, enterprise architecture, business process reengineering, and business intelligence & analysis. What I think people may find more interesting, and one of the reasons I’m excited to get to the office most days is the innovative projects we have been able to take on where we are deeply involved in creating something new for the customer. Whether it is something that is completely custom or a unique implementation or integration that meets specific client requirements, we have been able to solve some pretty complex problems for clients based on our ability to bring together the best parts of the engineering, software development and management consulting disciplines. In this post I’ll be focused on a few of our most recent projects and also provide some insight into how we leverage our strategic partners to bring unique benefit to the end customer. For today’s post I’ll focus on solutions we have developed in coordination with Troux, Salesforce.com, and the SAAB Group.

SAAB Group – Mobile Situation Awareness for Enhanced Security (MSAFE)

MB&A has developed a mobile situational awareness capability that enables organizations to bring advanced command, control, and security capabilities with them into the field to events, as well as to buildings where advanced security capabilities are needed on short notice. At the core of this system is the open architecture SAFE (Situation Awareness for Enhanced Security) software. SAAB is a leader in the Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) space and its SAFE software is a flexible, scalable and robust Security Management system designed to provide enhanced situation awareness capabilities for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Response. Based on a Command & Control system and a highly advanced Integration Platform, SAFE provides advanced capabilities managing security and efficiency needs in daily operations.

MB&A has used this software as the brain behind its mobile units and combined it other hardware and software to develop a platform from which sensors, alarms, devices, access control, radar, CCTV, network devices, etc can be controlled from a single or multiple operator stations.

SAAB

Salesforce.com – Security Assessment and Management

Our Saleforce.com app, Fedblueprint: Security Assessment and Management (SAM), was created specifically to meet the unique security needs facing our school systems today. Our app was developed for school physical security inspectors so they can conduct physical security assessments on measures such as effective use of architecture, landscaping, perimeter, parking, facility access control/interior, physical barriers, access control, and lighting to achieve improved security by deterring, disrupting, or mitigating potential threats. This assessment is built to meet federal requirements for facilities safety and the first version of Fedblueprint: SAM was used to assess 189 schools and reduced the total cost to perform security assessments by more than $25,000 on a per facility basis. This cost savings was possible because the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management did not require an investment into hardware, software and complex systems. They simply bought the assessment service the same way people use gmail, itunes, social media or iphone apps. This complex requirement can be met by SAM because Salesforce.com, one of the world’s fastest growing fortune 500 companies, is also one of the most secure, built to handle federal security requirements.

The app facilitates the assessment of security requirements. The following briefly highlights SAM’s major capabilities:

  • Includes relevant data regarding physical security standards and governance.
  • Tailored to provide an easy to use interface that is comfortable to the user community.
  • Mobile ready
  • Includes an extensible library enabling the development of comprehensive information relevant to the security.
  • Fully developed manual which can be accessed via print or online and includes coverage of every question asked on the survey as well as all of the tool’s survey related features.
  • Standard set of dashboards and analysis that enables management to understand survey progress and to ensure compliance with requirements.
  • Core set of dashboards to facilitate understanding and analysis of the data that is being gathered.
  • Core set of reports to facilitate understanding and analysis of the data that is being gathered.

The cost is incredibly low for an application that can be accessed by you and your personnel securely on a mobile device or via a web browser. With more than 100 out of the box security questions covering everything from key personnel contacts to CCTV, SAM is able to help you immediately begin to better understand the physical security posture of your organization. Since it sits on top of the Salesforce platform you also get access to the power of Salesforce.com’s inherent capabilities around document management, messaging, task management, and other capabilities that have made Salesforce.com a staple of Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Wells Fargo, and Comcast as well as the number one CRM tool in the world.

Salesforce

FedBlueprint: Investment Portfolio Manager (IPM)

Our team developed a custom report and data collector on top of the Troux transformation platform to help federal customers ingest IT investment data and understand their portfolio in the context of risk, cost, and capability. One of the hardest things to do when thinking about developing analytic components is to develop the statement encapsulating the purpose of the analytic component. Our first analytic component for Federal investment portfolio managers (IPMs) is focused on helping guide the IPM’s eye to the investments that most require attention. One of the hardest things I find in developing high-level dashboards is to resist the temptation to overcomplicate or try to service a broader audience than is really intended. Our dashboard is intended for the person in charge of managing the entire IT investment portfolio.

As such, some detail that is available from more analyst-oriented dashboards is abstracted or otherwise wrapped into the presentation layer. The design tension here – between giving enough detail to support decision making and presenting a very complex information set in a manner that is accessible – was difficult. Throughout the development we focused on identifying measures and views that were very relevant to other stakeholders. In the case of this example, we are going to find a great deal of information and views that will resonate with individual investment managers, project portfolio managers, project managers, and analysts. Keeping laser-focused on the objective of our high-level stakeholder was critical to ensuring the eventual success of the dashboard. In fact, we ended up building many of the lower level analytics required by other stakeholders in order to understand the various components of the high level analytic well enough to understand the interplay and relationships of the various components.

FedBlueprint

This work was an outgrowth of the work we did to develop our whitepaper “From Compliance to Transformation,” where we looked at specific federal requirements including Shared First, Cloud First, PortfolioStat among others and attempted to pull together a comprehensive approach to managing these various mandates in a manner that fosters transformation and organizational improvement.

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.

Meaningful Reporting: A minimilist approach

Organizations often talk about driving performance with the context being individuals, teams, units, and itself as a whole. The focus of this discussion is often on the measurement side. Managers and leaders discuss KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, which are intended to allow them to see the ‘wood for the trees’ with the understanding that “what gets measured gets done.” This is certainly a part of the performance equation and choosing the right areas of focus for examination, measurement, and management can be a significant driver of organizational performance.  However, if ensuring that records are kept and measurements taken is one half of the equation, the other is most certainly ensuring that this drive for measurement does not become an all consuming innovation killer. The temptation to record everything in today’s data driven society can create paralysis as managers overwhelmed by a level of detail never before available. This overwhelming deluge of data can drown an organization if it isn’t careful.  It is critical for the organization to understand that its performance management system is in part intended to shield it from being overwhelmed by all of this complexity.



By understanding the push-pull of the various factors that make an organization go and measuring them, managers can focus on the right columns in the report instead of on adding columns to the chart.  It is tempting for anyone who has ever developed a report for senior management to continue adding components to reports and presentations in order to expose the complexity that went into making them.  You want to be recognized for all the hard work that went into developing the analysis or report that underpins an executive decision-making activity. However, particularly for reports that support daily or regular decision making activities, exposing this complexity should only happen when the report is designed or when executives change. Reports should be well documented in the sense that they should clearly underpin decisions, and each field and column should be scrutinized to ensure that it is not extraneous. I like to capture a visual of the report using a tool called Balsamiq.  It enables the participants in the report or dashboard design workshop to stay focused on content and away from specifics like colors, etc. as shown below.



The questions answered by the report should be clearly be identified and preserved in order to ensure that the purpose behind the reporting is clearly understood. If an executive has questions or decisions that are not defined somewhere, it is very hard for support staff to ensure that the information necessary to support that activity occurs and is available. 

I think that developing a performance management system that is open and clearly documented in this fashion enables each executive and manager to borrow from others in the organization.  At the same it also exposes the system as a whole to analysis up and down the command structure in order to enable a review of the system in its entirety. Understanding how to develop and maintain these performance management systems is worth the time and effort, and it can be an enormous driver of organizational performance.


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.