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Author Archives: John Fry
He served three terms from 1978 to 1989. I was fortunate early in my career to work on a seminal project, New York City’s Project Scorecard, that later became one component of the Mayor’s Management Report. The work was developed as a system for rating the cleanliness of New York City’s streets and sidewalks by the Fund for the City of New York and was later adopted by the Mayor’s Office of Operations.
Our metrics were outcome-based and measured cleanliness, not the amount of curb miles swept (that’s an output measure). With increased attention from the Koch administration, the efficient delivery of municipal services during one of the greatest periods of fiscal stress was addressed. Project Scorecard was expanded in the 80’s to measure the services of the parks department, the division of school building maintenance, and the Midtown Enforcement Project.
Scorecard operationalized Koch’s iconic greeting within the halls of local…
Shared services amongst and between municipalities is a growing trend with meaningful impact on citizens. It all comes down to increasing the effectiveness and efficiencies in local governments. As the government of New Jersey looks for ways to best rebuild the devastated parts of our state, it’s advocating a move to shared services.
The New Jersey Senate recently passed a bill on the issue. Senate President Steve Sweeney commented, “The bottom line is that the taxpayers of this state need a break and shared services is one way to give it to them.”
There are pros and cons to the NJ bill, but the value of shared services is unquestionable. Large cities can afford their own departments for every aspect of government services. Smaller municipalities may not be able to afford everything. And when that happens, the most common reaction is to cut services. Whether it’s reducing the number of trash pickups per week, or reducing staffing…
With concerns surfacing in the last few years about fiscal stress in local governments and the focus on reducing tax costs, attention to the delivery of public services seems to have taken a back seat. We are beginning to see early signs of the opposite reaction on the part of the public–concern over the adequacy of the services that remain after budget cuts.
In the era of “Cut! Cut! Cut!”, sometimes little attention is given to the implications of the cuts, until an ambulance does not arrive quickly enough because of cuts in EMS. Municipalities, often with little data other than prior costs at their fingertips and feeling the pressure to act quickly to adopt a budget, use across-the-board or best-guess tactics to determine what they could cut.
What if the phrase “could cut” was further understood with data about the level of services that were being delivered, presented in a context for those levels, such as a comparison to the target set by management. Decisions would have taken the…
If you are using a performance management system and you are not setting targets, are you really managing or are you just measuring? Setting targets is an essential part of the management process that allows you to be proactive and take action based on the results of what you measure.
To really be proactive, targets need to be set according to changing conditions. When doing this, it is important to remember that you are managing in the real world, not in a sterile, academic setting. There are several questions that you should ask yourself in regards to each measure:
- What can I expect the measure to be if nothing is different? Normally, a measure from an appropriate prior time period (same month last year, for example) is your best guess at what to expect.
- Does the recent trending of the measure (maybe the last several months) change my expectations based on last year? Recent trending may indicate changing conditions of which you were not aware.
- Is the amount of…
As performance measurement systems evolved into performance management systems in municipal governments, many early adopters realized something pervasive had happened. Dialogues were now about results, not activities. The entire organization became focused on how to improve results instead of just reading what the results were. Even departments that had only partial control over a result saw their responsibility not only in doing their part, but also in collaborating and coordinating with other departments and with stakeholders outside the municipality to achieve the desired goals. Setting targets became an important part of the process that led to knowing where you were and giving a direction to where you wanted to be.
The evolution from measuring to managing performance can only be attained by establishing a performance culture and this is not always easy. The following 8 steps provide a critical framework for establishing this type of culture:
- Determine what results you are trying to achieve.
- Communicate the goals you want to achieve – clearly and often.
- Make learning your…
Efficiency is a major component of municipal performance management, but deciding exactly what to measure isn’t always so straightforward. A good example of this challenge is with recurring maintenance, such as mowing of parks and fields. You have to deal with factors such as frequency and level of quality desired for things like manicured fields or golf courses. Balancing efficiency versus desired outcomes is not the only challenge. Let’s explore this issue further.
Many performance management systems use the cost per acre to be mowed as the measure of efficiency. Town A spends $50,000 a year mowing five acres of fields and they mow them about 40 times. Town B, which just cut its recreation budget, now spends only $20,000 on its five acres, but they did that by letting the fields get a bit shaggy before mowing (which resulted in only 10 mowings a year).
Using the example above, Town A spends $10,000 per acre and Towns B spends only $4,000 per acre to be mowed. When this comes…
Bob Behn, a cut-to-the-chase guy, whose work I have followed because of his longstanding efforts (and pithy comments) in promoting performance leadership, cautions not to get wrapped up in perfecting your measures. Behn is known for promoting the Citi-Stat review model as a mechanism to improve performance in government.
But as important as managing with data is, I believe the most important thing is to start measuring. In the closing of Behn’s recent management report, focused on distortions that may be created by measures, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/thebehnreport/All%20Issues/August2011.pdf, Behn writes that there are no perfect measures. He argues the best approach is to start with a few good measures, not perfect ones. Be aware of their flaws. Expect your indicators to be criticized and improved while your organization learns about improving performance.
I spend a great deal of my time thinking, developing and researching measures for inclusion in the Revelstone Compass system. I’m trying to identify and develop measures that would be most relevant for small to moderate…
Whether you are an inspirational leader, an experienced administrator or a newbie figuring out how to have a positive impact on your local government, you can complement your “natural” abilities with data-driven management techniques. The IBM Center for the Business of Government thinks so too, and recently published A Guide to Data-Driven Performance Reviews written by the Urban Institute’s Harry Hatry, a long-time leader in measuring performance. In this article Hatry focuses on managing with data, not just on the measurement, which I have long believed is the key to why we measure.
Warning: This article might be discouraging because it addresses the management of performance in large federal agencies. However, the insights in this paper are useful for small to moderate size municipalities if we use a lean performance management perspective. Those key concepts are:
- Ongoing and regular meetings
- Involvement of the chief executive or chief administrator in the meetings
- A data-driven meeting agenda based on reviewing key measures and determining actions to…
The success of Performance Management has been achieved in some of the largest municipalities and some well-managed counties in the United States, but the transfer of this management technology to small and moderate-sized municipalities has been slow, at best. Revelstone has resolved the technology issue by providing a practical solution that doesn’t demand a large multi-year project or significant IT costs with Compass—a web-based platform that contains a catalog of precisely defined measures. Municipalities need only to choose a few of these measures to get started, and can add to them as their sophistication and needs grow. From our experience talking to town managers and elected officials, the remaining stumbling block is the establishment and acceptance of the value proposition for Performance Management itself.
While glowing statements of the general success of Performance Management projects, as well as promotion of the success of a particular model or process by consultants offering that solution, do exist, concrete examples that are undeniable are hard to find in published…