Deliverology: The Good and the Bad

The Trudeau Government is embracing the concept of Deliverology to improve service delivery. Creating intense focus on delivery of value to citizens is a good thing.  That said, recent press such as this article in the Ottawa Citizen illustrate some potential downsides.

From a Lean point of view, here’s what you should know about Deliverology: good and bad.

Good: Deliverology promotes four very good things.

  1. Clear direction. The creation of specific performance measures creates focus and clarity of objectives. This can reduce false starts and eliminate time and effort spent guessing what the political side is looking for. Publicizing mandate letters was a great start in this direction.
  2. Focus. Using the approach of “what gets measured, gets done”; can force organizations to addresses the important stuff and align their resources to deliver on these items.
  3. Elimination of the “Telephone Game”. Deliverology, with its top-down measures should provide clarity at all levels about what is important, with less subjective interpretation by different levels of management as it cascades down to the front lines.
  4. Follow up. Setting a measure is not a guarantee that the measure will be achieved. Deliverology employs frequent, methodical reviews of progress against the target, possibly improving the odds of reaching it.

Bad: Lean thinking and experience from past Deliverology projects highlight five risks to watch out for.

  1. Low buy-in. With its top-down approach, Deliverology implementations frequently do not engage front-line staff sufficiently in the planning process. Without their input and their ownership of the strategy to meet the target, new initiatives often meet resistance and cannot be sustained. Changing the delivery strategy without fully engaging the front lines can be catastrophic.
  2. Too many priorities. Although the approach brings laser-like focus to assessing and managing the capacity of the organization to reach its Deliverology targets, a tendency is to simply add Deliverology activities to the existing workload without eliminating other priorities.  If Deliverology targets are seen as something “in addition to the regular work”, then people will become overwhelmed. If everything is important, then nothing is really important. The result? Poor execution, low morale and more effort spent managing multiple priorities than spent actually delivering them.  This chart of the impact of multitasking demonstrates this brilliantly.
  3. Incentives to meet the measure, not the intent. The frequent check-ins (or stocktakes) in Deliverology encourage urgent behaviours to take action to meet the measure, creating an incentive to do the wrong thing to get the right score instead of solving the underlying issues. This sad Deliverology example from the National Health Service in the UK is a case in point.
  4. The Carrot and the Stick. Deliverology’s implicit mindset is that frequently measuring and publicizing performance provides rewards (recognition when a measure improves) and punishments (fear, therefore action when a measure declines).  Using measurement and visibility for rewards/punishment instead of for experimentation-driven learning and improvement often leads to negative outcomes like cheating and unsustained performance instead of true improvement. Creating a safe environment to experiment and innovate without fear of repercussion for failing gets much better, sustained results. This study at Google demonstrates that by far and away the top determinant of high performance is psychological safety.
  5. Changing the target, but not the process to achieve it. Using traditional thinking, a Deliverology target to provide benefit cheques in less time might result in increased overtime, burnout, cutting corners, or cheating.  Using deeper thinking, engaging staff to fix the underlying process by eliminating rework and non-value work, smoothing incoming demand and opening bottlenecks allows the target to be met with less effort, and then naturally sustained.  Superficial solutions, created under pressure without the front lines understanding and fundamentally improving the process, make truly improved delivery less likely.

Join me on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 for “Making Deliverology & Strategic Planning Deliver: A Lean Government Approach”, a one-day workshop to learn how to build strategic plans that are focused, realistic and achievable.