Author Archives: John Fry

What’s Wrong with Efficiency?

Efficiency Ahead

In Performance Management, efficiency should not be our sole priority and, I would venture to say, should not even be one of our top priorities.  The problem (which dawned on me as I was reading the Civic Accelerator “Guide for Embedding Innovation in Local Government”) is that a focus on efficiency directs us away from outcomes (the results or impact of what we do) by concentrating on outputs.  That is, it tends to affirm the existing process and its activities, because outputs measure what is done by a department or program, and, thus, outputs are defined in terms of the existing process. Think of the classic definition of efficiency – output per unit of input, or, formulaically, output/input.  ­­It’s missing the thing we should concentrate on – outcomes.  It is also missing something that helps us think out of the box – workload.  Workload, which is unfortunately skipped in some models of performance management, or thought of as nothing more than outputs (e.g., the lane miles swept are the same…

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Know your KPIs: Part 7 – Sustainability in Energy Use

sustainability pic

Every major service should have a few measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 – Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview). Sustainability, while it is a worthwhile goal, is not a service in the classic sense.  However, it can be monitored, and, as a government, you can monitor the impact of your initiatives on sustainability.  We limit the discussion in this blog to energy use and, in particular, energy use in public buildings.  We discuss measures that can be used to track consumption, to track the impact of that consumption on the environment, and to track the cost of the consumption, in order to balance the use of tax dollars with a reduced footprint provided by alternative energy sources. An increasing number of local governments are taking forward steps in sustainability by adopting new policies and practices.  For the most part, non-governmental organizations have played an important role in introducing these better practices.  As a performance…

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What is the Value of Benchmarking?


            This question is seldom asked, but my experience over the last five years suggests not everyone would answer it in the same way.  That was most recently pointed out, and very definitively, when I asked a New Jersey municipal performance consortium whether benchmarking was essential to their performance management program.  The room split evenly. In the past, I found at least three different definitions of benchmarking, but the one we use is the most common in local government – the comparison to peer municipalities.  Revelstone has a sophisticated benchmarking capability built into its software, allowing the user to find peers dynamically based on demographic characteristics and service delivery descriptions stored with the metrics of a local government.  We recognized the pitfalls and controversies of benchmarking in the design stage and provided a capability to optimize the apples-to-apples nature of the comparisons. As we have worked with local governments, benchmarking is increasingly perceived as a component of the performance improvement toolset, rather than a goal…

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Asking Why? Saving $188,000 in One Year!

Dollar sign

When you are looking at data and something does not make sense, it should make you ask “Why?”  And that’s just what it did when Pequannock’s performance management project manager saw something he did not expect. When Pequannock Township changed to VOIP phone service, they noticed their monthly performance management reports did not show the level of savings anticipated in the appropriate service cost category.  Asking “Why?” led to discovering that the previous phone service provider continued to bill for the disconnected phone lines.  This led the Township to audit the billing service for prior years, leading to discovery of errant billing over the years, and a $140,000 refund request.  In addition to the refund, they reduced the current invoicing by $4,000 a month. Their Revelstone performance management reviews also include tracking their utility usage such as gas and electric.  The gas service had rolled over into monthly billing after the completion of an original two-year contract.  Initially, no one noticed the increasing costs of the new monthly billing, but…

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ROI Examples from Performance Management

Return on Investment Picture

When reviewing some old research information and articles, I came across one of my favorite examples demonstrating clear proof of the strong ROI (Return On Investment) from performance management and benchmarking in local governments.   Putting a performance management system in place is clearly an investment of time, so it is not worth doing, if there is no evidence of value returned for that investment.  The 2005 article summarizes actual results from The North Carolina Benchmarking Project, a consortium comprised at the time of 15 member municipalities collaborating since 1995. The NCBP has been a source for a lot of good information about performance management, but this paper is a gem  – and not all that lengthy, even for a practitioner to take precious time to read.  In fact, the six page introduction is sufficient and exciting to read.  The remainder of the report contains actual case studies to back up the improvements reported in the introduction. Here are some of the findings for individual municipalities, presented as concisely as possible…

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How Monitoring Trends in Services Can Drive Cost Savings

cost savings street sign

What’s the ROI?  How much can performance management save my town? Aside from the fact that it depends on what opportunities there are for cost savings and the willingness of the governing body to look at and, perhaps, reconsider service levels, the question is inherently difficult to answer definitively.  But every town that puts a performance management system in place has had cost savings or cost avoidance.  Better yet, they have been able to adjust their service levels to needs, sometimes redirecting resources to other programs that have greater needs. Whether it’s the lack of bottom line, the political nature of decision-making, or the lack of effective technology, local governments have been slow to match their activities and outputs to changing service needs.  Recently, several articles have suggested this is one approach, as part of a focus on outcomes, that deserves more attention, even going as far as to suggest that the needs of our publics vary within some of the sub-groups, and this, too, can be a source of…

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Making a Performance Management Program Work

LouieStat icon

Our experience working with local governments as they implement performance management systems has taught us that  one size does not fit all.  However, we have also learned that some things will help assure a productive program – one that leads to changes in the performance levels of your local government.  A recent article by the Harvard Ash Center about the successes to date of the still young Louisville, KY “LouieStat” program describes performance improvement initiatives in two service areas.  Their improvements are inspiring, but what I find most compelling is four important points that are underlying the entire performance management system in Louisville. 1.  Management Focus – There is a central management focus in Louisville that has sent the message to everyone in the city: Better performance can be achieved by using data for oversight — oversight for which they do not have enough supervisors to be at all places at all times. The Mayor defined “the job” as daily work, continuous improvement, and breakthroughs. 2.  Empower Department Managers –…

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Know Your KPI’s: Part 5 – Global Measures

Global Data image

Every major service should have a few measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 – Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).  However, there are some measures that are universal and important in many service areas.  At Revelstone, we call these global measures and designed them so you can easily activate them in a number of departments in which they are appropriate.  Further, the global measures can be consolidated across your entire local government, which will automatically sum up for all departments in which they are activated.  It’s then easy to compare global measures across departments on the same charts to identify trends or problems. What kinds of questions do some of these global measures address:  Leave time per FTE and Training time per FTE both tell you about “lost time” but with very different implications.  Leave time is the total of all time for which the employee does not report to work when otherwise scheduled.  Training…

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Dormont, PA Uses Data to Spur Actions & Achieve Strategic Goals

Trend Chart Picture

I’m always talking to our customers about what they are seeing in their data and what actions or further review their findings have caused.  What I often hear, and is true of my own experiences as a business administrator, is that the findings are not totally unexpected, but it makes a difference to see it concretely and visually (a picture is worth a thousand words). Proactive Code Enforcement is one of the 2014 strategic goals for Dormont PA. The Borough has been tracking code enforcement activity since last September when they started a new performance management initiative and began visualizing their data.   The first thing they realized was something they already knew – there is a lag between the receipt of the code enforcement complaint and the closure of it.  Although this was not unexpected, with the data now staring them in the face, they have decided to quantify concretely how long the lag is and review if there are actions they should take to reduce the lag.  In…

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Know Your KPI’s: Part 4 – Potholes, Potholes Everywhere

Pothole picture

With this winter’s major snow storms mostly in the past, the public and your Roads Department are now dealing with potholes.  And they are the bone-jarring, axle-bending, settlement inviting kind this year.  How did you do last year?  What should you know that will help you plan and be able to set expectations of the public? How many potholes did you repair last year and how many is that per lane mile (what is your estimate of the number of potholes you will fill this year)? What percentage did you repair in two days from report (what would you estimate will happen to repair time based on the estimated number of potholes this year, as well as any changes to your resources)? What was the cost per pothole (what impact will there be on the budget from the volume this year and how much patch will you use)? Some say performance management only looks behind us, but if you believe the old saying that those who ignore history are bound…

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Know your KPI’s: Part 3 – Fire Suppression

Fire suppresion

Every major service should have a few measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 – Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).  Fire is comprised of two main functions: Fire Prevention and Fire Suppression.  In this blog, we will focus on some of the key performance indicators for Fire Suppression.   % of fires confined to room of origin % of structures having fires Emergency response time Number of fire related calls There are a vast number of measures for Fire Suppression and these are just a few of the Key Performance Indicators.   What’s “Key” is often in the eye of the beholder.  What’s important to one jurisdiction may not be to the other.  Only you can identify what is truly key.  When measuring Fire Suppression, we think it’s important to know the overall outcome, as indicated by “Number of structures having fires” and “Fires Contained to the Room of Origin.”   When the fire is contained to the…

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Know your KPI’s: Part 2 – What’s Hot in Snow Removal?

snow removal 1

Every major service should have a few key measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 –  Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).   Some of the key metrics for snow removal include: Cost of snow removal/lane mile Hours for snow removal/lane mile Average time for first snow removal Snow Accumulation #  of Snow Removal Incidents   Since snow removal is dependent on the event of a snowstorm, which has a short duration and is not routine, it is one of the few measures that are best to record daily.  In fact, the chart below, which reports the daily events on a weekly basis, shows there were five discrete snow events in the season. Of course, snow removal is a classic case in which not all workloads are the same.  The snow accumulation is the single best way to measure the workload.  You, the expert, may also want to measure the temperature, duration of the event, or…

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The Importance of Data in Shared Services


At the recent 2013 NECoPA (NorthEast Conference on Public Administration), I was a panelist in a session about shared services. The panel included speakers knowledgeable about collaboration in the federal judiciary and in local governments.  My comments focused on using data to increase efficiency and effectiveness through collaboration of local governments.  In particular, I discussed how performance data helps in two main ways:   Identifying potential opportunities for collaboration. Supporting and tweaking the shared service operations and administration to address unanticipated issues.   Toward those ends, I discussed a group of three municipalities who have begun using Revelstone in order to identify:   Comparative weaknesses of an individual municipality in a particular service area. A performance leader who might share a best practice or be interested in delivering the service in other municipalities. Differences in service levels related to the impact on comparative costs.   In addition, a second example includes a recently consolidated municipality as well as two other municipalities that are sharing a lot of different services have…

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Where is the Public Services Tipping Point?

Tipping Point

In a recent article, The Public Safety Tipping Point: When Saving Money Loses, Mark Funkhouser raises the topic of the Public Safety Tipping Point.  His article revolves around a successful lifeguard rescue, despite a cutback in funds for lifeguards.  How will we know when we have gone too far cutting the public services provided by local governments? Most local governments have made some cuts to their services.  I mean cuts to the services offered, not just cuts to the cost of providing those service.  A survey conducted by Revelstone in 2012 indicated that only 10% of local municipalities had not cut services over the preceding five years.  The full survey report is available online here. While it is clear that there is a public outcry for government to be more affordable, it is not clear that the public realizes that this is achieved by reducing public services. Yet we do not seem to be faced with an uprising on the part of the public because of inadequate services.  Let’s consider several possible…

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“How’m I doing?”

Thank you, Mayor Ed Koch. 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 government.  The original metrics and ratings of street cleanliness still live on in the…

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Can Shared Services Help the NJ Rebuilding Effort?

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 at government offices, any cuts in services impact the citizenry. Shared services offer…

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What about the services?

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…

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Targets: The Key in Getting from Measuring to Managing Performance

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 resources…

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8 Steps to Establishing a Performance Culture

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 focus. Encourage…

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Is service efficiency in the “eye of the beholder”?

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…

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Is there a perfect measure?

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,, 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 size municipalities, and to define…

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Do your meetings include data-driven discussions?

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 address them Determining objectives, following up…

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Big or Little—How do Municipalities Find Success with Performance Management?

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 sources.  This is not…

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