Joining the Revolution

I’m delighted to share that I’ll imminently be joining the Government Digital Service as the manager for their most excellent Delivery Team. I’m hugely excited about working with this astonishingly talented group of people, some of whom I already know and others I am keen to meet, as they work on transforming the UK government’s digital presence & offerings. After Martha Lane Fox called for “revolution not evolution” in government’s digital services, this new department has been growing quickly and delivering in spades, with an approach more akin to a start-up than the traditional image of government IT.

It was not an easy decision to leave Procter & Gamble, where I have been an Information Decision Solutions manager for the last 10 years. It’s a brilliant company (recently named #1 for leadership development by Chief Executive magazine) that afforded me wonderful opportunities to develop as a professional and an individual, as well as granting many lasting friendships with colleagues I both like and respect.

I started at P&G whilst I was still at university and worked up through a variety of roles, from Systems Analyst to Product Manager, then Project & Programme Manager and more recently Engineering Manager type roles in various business domains. I also had the privilege to get involved in a number of organisational development activities, founding the company’s LGBT employee network in the UK which was recognised as a Star Performer Network Group by Stonewall in recent years, leading recruitment in the South West and redesigning our internal management “colleges” to be exciting experiences rather than “death by PowerPoint”.

For a long time I managed to maintain both my corporate and geek/web interests and activities in parallel, participating in BarCamps, Refreshes & SxSWi when I could and even writing a book on geek project management for SitePoint. In recent years my travel schedule at P&G has meant this became harder & harder and frankly I missed the digital side of things.

The prospect of being able to marry both worlds together in the same job really is geek manager heaven. I can’t wait to start!

Avoiding the Watermelon Phenomenon

“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” – Lord Kelvin

My recent experience using The Eatery got me thinking about how much having the right measures helps you track and influence performance. Data is awesome and measures are great — nothing focuses the mind more than a graphical representation of how broken something is.

Unfortunately mistakes are often made:

  • Picking what CAN be measured, rather than what SHOULD be measured. For example, airlines are reputed to determine an “on time” departure based on whether the plane left the stand on time — not when it actually took off. As a customer who has spent a lot of time sitting on the runway, this is pretty annoying!
  • Focusing exclusively on the measure, rather than what it tells you about performance. We’ve all seen a team get obsessed about getting a particular measure to “green” or “100%”, often not really thinking about what the impact will be of doing so. Sometimes it’s fine to have 87% — and the incremental work to get to 100% is time & effort better spent on something else.
  • Losing track of the bigger picture. My personal peeve here is measuring whether everyone in the organisation has an annual review (because that’s something easy to measure) rather than whether they actually make a difference — the folks over at Sonar 6 have covered this in one of their colour papers on performance management very effectively.

All this can lead to what one of my colleagues refers to as the Watermelon Phenomenonwhen something is green on the outside, but bright red on the inside. Effectively, your measures are telling you everything is fantastic, but your users/customers/employees are telling you it is B R O K E N.

So, what to do?

  1. Think about what REALLY tells you whether your business/process/organisation is healthy. Is it sales? Is it customer service? Retention rates? Happiness? How on earth do you measure HAPPINESS? Don’t worry about that right now. Just think about what you think are your key indicators of success/health, in an ideal world.
  2. Now, what could show you AFTER the fact how you are doing? These are called “outcome measures” or “blackbox measures” and are typically hard numbers — sales, profit, retention, etc. The disadvantage is they are often broad and reported after the fact — but they are still important.
  3. Then, think about what your early warning measures might be. In people management, how many people you are attracting (recruitment) and keeping happy & engaged (retaining) are your outcome measures … but how do you tell BEFORE someone goes as far as leaving that you have a problem? Is it an employee health survey, the team’s feelings about their manager, how much your competitors are paying? Working this out and then finding a way to measure it without losing track of the end result, is probably the hardest challenge.

What’s the worst measure you’ve ever seen, in terms of the behaviour it drove?