Rethinking performance management

There’s so much I want to blog about at the moment, but pretty much no time to do it. However, here’s a nice little thing we’re working on that might be of interest.

Performance management is one of those things that strikes fear into the heart of any public sector worker. Somehow, we’ve end up building up processes, generating reports, all without much actual impact and little effect on the outcomes we want to be delivering.

Performance management is a part of the service I deliver, and Mark on my team who delivers this has been spending a ridiculous amount of time chasing colleagues across the organisation to get updates that he can copy and paste into reports, that then get printed for the senior leadership to not read, because they don’t have time.

There must be a better way!

One of the things that I love about the digital agenda is its realism. We deal with the reality of things, not what they would be like in an ideal world. In reality, nobody has time to read long performance reports, and nor do they have time to keep them updated. But it’s still really important to keep an eye on how various things are progressing.

So, what are we doing?

We started by shifting away from a document-centric approach. This is a recurring theme of a lot of my conversations at the moment and probably needs a post of its own to go into. It sounds obvious, but it’s the content of the documents that matter, not the documents themselves, and separating the two can have really transformative impact.

So, instead of a big document, we now have a Trello board. We have four main areas of performance measures to track, so each has a list on the board. Each commitment is a card on the board, and they are colour coded for easy identification: a simple traffic light style rating in terms of how they are progressing, plus a coloured label to identify which bits of the Councils they relate to.

Clicking on a card brings up a bit more detail – a list of the actions outstanding for that commitment, plus, if necessary, a little commentary on the latest that has been happening.

The purpose of this dashboard is to provide senior people (well, anyone really, but you know what I mean) with a quick overview of what is going on. Rather than dumping the detail on people by default, we give a high level perspective, which can then be dug down into greater detail if needed.

That detail is stored in Google Docs. Each commitment has its own Google Doc, with much more detailed implementation plans in them. They are linked to from inside the relevant Trello cards, allowing people to quickly access them.

Using Google Docs also means there is only one copy of these documents, and they don’t need to have someone copying and pasting information into them.

So, to summarise the benefits of this approach:

  1. No more big paper documents
  2. No more chasing of actions to be pasted into documents – it’s now up to individuals to update their Google Docs and Trello boards themselves
  3. More real time updates – no longer tied to a reporting cycle – if people have something to say, they add it when they have it, otherwise they don’t
  4. Much more manageable, in that we don’t have everything in a single document which is a pain to scroll through and find stuff
  5. Cross cutting issues which involve people in different directorates are now managed in a single place with no duplication

It’s also worth saying that this hasn’t cost us any money to do, and will help us to decommission a bit of software previously used for the purpose, which will save a few quid while providing a more useful service.

Importantly for me, it frees Mark up from a load of boring admin and means he can spend more time doing proper in-depth analysis of issues.

When we showed this to the folks at CLT (Council Leadership Team – the chief and four directors) they were delighted to move away from big document, paper based reporting and into something more real time. They now have the Trello board up on a big screen during a meeting, rather than looking down at bits of paper.

What’s also really pleasing is that this is a nice way of showing how simple, cheap digital technology can have quite a significant cultural impact within the organisation. Already many teams are using Trello to manage their work in a more visible, collaborative way.

Importantly though, when I was asked whether Trello was now the official way for people to manage work in the Councils, I answered no. It’s a way of doing it, but there are others out there that might be more appropriate depending on the work to be done. There isn’t a single solution.

We’re now working on the next stage of performance management and business intelligence in the Councils. It’s very early days, but we’re going to be trialling Tableau, which looks really cool. More on that soon.

The war against crap software

crapsoftware

The end of my second week at Adur and Worthing and it has been relentless. I’m loving it, but feeling the need to come up for air – you may perhaps have noticed I’ve been quiet on this blog and Twitter of late.

One of the big things that attracted me to this particular role was the opportunity to take on the legacy IT element of the digital picture, as well as making some pretty web front ends. So on top of working on fantastic customer-facing services, we’re also involved in projects replacing the ways we do financial management and performance, for instance.

In other words, we are fighting a war against crap software throughout the organisation.

Paul has blogged about the approach before, but it is a sensible one, making use of internet-age, cloud ready solutions wherever possible. We have the tools and are building the in house capability to create bespoke solutions where they are needed – but if there is a mature, commodity tool out there that we can repurpose, we go for that.

The first element of this begins in earnest on Tuesday, when the whole organisation switches to Google for Work to handle email and calendar. Some brave souls are already starting to use Google Drive and its associated apps to replace other parts of the productivity stack.

This will mean we can save thousands on Microsoft licences for productivity software. It will also mean – and this is more interesting – that people will start to rethink what a ‘document’ is, how they do their work, and perhaps what their work really is, at the end of the day.

This is what the war against crap software is all about. Somehow we’ve all ended up in a place where technology is seen as a blocker, as something that makes life harder. Our work has become defined by the tools we used to do it, leading us down some very dark paths. That’s not how things should ever have been – so we’re fixing it, bit by bit.

What’s been amazing is the response from my new colleagues. People are going way beyond the call of duty to make sure the Google rollout goes as smoothly as possible. I think everyone realises how important it is to the digital programme – it’s the first bit of the new way of doing things and we can’t have it viewed by others as being yet another IT project. It needs to add value and just work from the get go, and generate some momentum we can carry through to our other work.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. More soon on the wider strategy at Adur and Worthing, and some tactical pieces we’re also working on.

If your interested in what we’re doing and would like to know more, grab me on dave.briggs@adur-worthing.gov.uk.

Do you need a digital strategy? Yes, no, well…maybe

map

Interestingly, two related posts from two local government CIO types pop up in my feed reader within a few days of each other.

Firstly, Steve Halliday points to the Solihull digital strategy.

Then Rich Copley says we really shouldn’t be writing digital strategies.

Oh dear! Who’s right?

Both are.

Some organisations need a digital strategy. They are at the point in their evolution where having some of this stuff spelt out in a separate document and process is helpful.

Others though can take a different approach, with digital being embedded in individual service plans, or what have you.

It all depends. Depends on how things are structured in your organisation. What the personalities are. How these sorts of programmes and projects have gone in the past.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t think local government needs a single digital service. It needs several, with a plurality of approaches. If there is one thing that digital teaches us, it’s that one-size-fits-all approaches don’t work.

At Adur and Worthing, I will be writing a digital strategy. It will help focus on what I need to get done to support all the services areas in what they want to achieve.

More on that soon.

Update: Jason Caplin answers the question ‘why have a digital strategy?’

Coming home to #localgov: I’m joining Adur and Worthing

Worthing beach

I’m back, BACK, BAAAAAAAAAAACK!

Am super-pleased to be able to write that I’m joining Adur and Worthing Councils in April as Head of Digital and Design.

It’s a great time to be joining a great organisation, with fresh people in senior positions wanting to make change happen to improve things for the people, communities and businesses in the local area.

My job is to build a digital service within the Councils, building the team, designing the processes, putting the technology together and increasing capability across the organisations to deliver better, cheaper, services that people actually like using.

There’s also some interesting work to be done around innovation and creativity – enabling everyone to be involved in improving the systems and the processes within the Councils. The opportunity here is to be able to develop the Councils to be thoroughly modern, digital-age organisations.

There has been a lot of talk recently about digital in local government, which I haven’t been able to resist joining in. This is my opportunity to put my ideas into practice. What’s more, working out loud is the default for me and I will be bringing this into the Councils. Luckily I won’t have any trouble from the boss on this score, as he’s into that kind of thing himself.

For me, it’s a return to full time local government – I left in 2007 to briefly work in the further education sector, and then went freelance. Most of my freelance work has been with central government, but I have been fortunate to be able to keep my eye in with occasional work within the local sector and I’ve done my best to be helpful both online and offline, at events and so on.

It’s a full time role so means that I am going to be closing the freelancing chapter in my life. I’m more than happy to do so – it hasn’t worked for me, or my family, for a few years now, if I am honest.

Being able to focus on a single mission is going to help me deliver my best work, and also free up some attention for my wife and our two kids, and having a ‘proper’ job will hopefully lead to me living a more ‘proper’ life.

I’m moving down to Worthing during the week on my own to begin with whilst I get the lie of the land. Anyone who lives in the area who would like to invite me round for dinner, please do so. Our aim is to move the family down to the south coast in time – but it wouldn’t be wise to rush that.

I’ve been ruminating a fair bit on the last few years – the things that went well, those that went less than well – and will share some of that in future posts. There are also a lot of folk who need thanking, who’ve supported me in a number of ways in the last few years.

I’ll leave things here by saying that I am so excited about this opportunity, and cannot wait to get cracking.

Paul has blogged about this here.

Photo credit: Miles Davis

The Linx 7 tablet – so bad, it’s good

linx7So, as a bit of research and development, I bought a Linx 7 tablet the other day. It was pointed out to me by my pal Paul Webster, who thought it had some intruiging digital inclusion possibilities.

First up, the bad bits. The Linx is cheap, and nasty. It has a plastic case that feels less than sturdy, a tiny screen with a fairly terrible resolution, a pretty slow processor and a measly 1gb RAM.

It also runs Windows 8, which is just as weird as everyone has told you. The most bewildering part for me, still, is that you can have two copies of the same application installed and running on the same machine depending on whether you are in the mobile view or the traditional desktop view. The universal apps of Windows 10 will hopefully fix this.

So, a pretty damning review so far. However, here is the good news: The Linx 7 is £76 on Amazon right now, and that includes a year’s subscription to Office 365. That’s worth £79. Do the maths!

The Linx also features some rather neat connectivity options. There’s a mini-USB port which is used for charging, but can also be used with the included adapter to plug any USB peripheral into the tablet – such as a mouse, or a printer say. The mini-HDMI port means you can plug this thing into a standard monitor you have lying around, and it has bluetooth so a keyboard is no problem.

What all this means is that you can have a fully operational – if slightly underpowered – PC with the full and latest version of Office running on it, for significantly less than a hundred quid. That’s frankly amazing.

Anyone who makes heavy use of their computer is not going to be able to use the Linx 7 as a replacement for their laptop or whatever. Never mind an iPad, it makes a lot of the cheaper Android tablets look and feel well made. But what it does, thanks to the price point and the provided software, is put a proper computer in the hands of pretty much anyone who can spare 75 quid.

Given that the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, cost about $500 fully assembled in 1975 (which is over $2,250 in today’s money), and did little more than flash a few lights, I’d call that progress.

Making British Government easier to learn

My friend and colleague Jason Caplin pointed out today that the LSE have open up the lectures for their undergraduate course on British government and how it all works.

It’s a fantastic resource, and great that they have shared this openly, as it’s something that would be of use to anyone working in and around government.

However, the formatting isn’t all that great and it doesn’t work brilliantly on mobile. Plus, there’s no ability for learners to ask questions, leave comments or discuss the topics.

So, I very quickly threw together a WordPress site to rehouse the videos, using a nice simple responsive theme and layout. I also enabled comments, so there’s a bit of a social element there as well.

I’d be really interested to know from folk if this has been a worthwhile endeavour, and if you make use of the site. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement.

The site is at http://britgov.learninglabs.org.uk/

Happy learning!

Skills for digital transformation

gds-skills

The Government Digital Service has released a big list defining the skills needed for transformation.

It’s certainly comprehensive. It’s fair to say that it is more a list of skills that people need rather than the details of what goes into those skills, or how you start to equip a team with them.

However, for anyone putting together a team to tackle digital transformation, it’s a great guide for what people you’ll need on board.