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  • Matt Turner

Local Government: Sooner Safer Happier for Stockport mbc (II)

Chapter 2

How would I know whether it’s working or not?

I can’t tell you how lovely it is to be with an organisation that shares your own views on what learning looks like. Stockport MBC through have always encouraged colleagues from all over the organisation to share experiences on their blog.

Blogging helps us reflect on what happened over the last period of time, in this case a week; and the act of writing this up cements in our minds what was noteworthy, different, novel…. What did we learn?

This week we learned something we imagine will be very impactful, and yet, like all of the best discoveries it feels like a very simple and subtle change in what we do and why…

…A cross-functional team I encountered has collaborated on a long list of organisational improvement ideas. Whilst showing these ideas to a wider group, including me, something was noticed that had passed under the radar. (That’s the point of sharing and third-party scrutiny after all!)

The information the group had gathered about the proposed initiatives was very reasonable, and well…informative! The data gathering template had some very recognisable and useful headings and fields:

  • Who is responsible?

  • Who wants it?

  • What would be the estimated effort to achieve it?

  • What would be the estimated return on that effort investment?

  • How long will it take?

The missing question? How would we know, as early as possible, whether we were right about our decision to go ahead and expend this effort?

If we could see the future, we would have no need for estimates. The questions above would answer themselves. Unfortunately, no one is gifted with such clairvoyance, due to an extensive set of cognitive biases, we often allow our assumptions to reassure us that we own that innate crystal ball.

Our conversation, as a group, turned towards discussing “Leading Indicators”.

Let’s say we selected an initiative from the list and we estimated that it would take 9 months to deliver its full impact… we don’t want to wait the full 9 months to see whether the time, effort, and money we had invested would deliver the expected return. We now understand that we should be describing what effects we should see prior to that full impact being experienced.

For example, if in 9 months we want to see an increased quality of results with residents transitioning from child to adult social care we might implement configuration changes to a casework system. We don’t just assume that rolling out the changes will allow us to see the outcomes we need, but in our approach, we seem to have assumed everyone implicitly understands what will happen in the intervening time, and that it will all go to plan… simply because we planned it.

Our inclusion of leading indicators allows us to explicitly call out what we might want to see at early stages in the process…. for example:

  • 100% Configuration changes made by month 1

  • 30% of targeted social care workers (system users) signed up for training by month 3

  • 60% of system users accessing additional functionality by month 6

  • 50% of service users (residents transitioning from child to adult social care) being offered enhance service by month 7

  • 90% of service users (residents transitioning from child to adult social care) being offered enhance service by month 9

This “chunking” down of observable behaviours not only serves to have us properly consider what we are trying to achieve in a more methodical manner, but also making it explicit, conspicuous, and time-bound, allows us the opportunity to make deliberate decisions and review options. Should we be doubling down and trying harder, should we pivot and try something else to get us to the outcome… or is it time to make the call that we were not being realistic in the first place.

The earlier, and the more frequent, we can reflect on what we have learned by trying to deliver something, and make decisions, the better. We will waste less and achieve more. Since this first instance, “leading indicators”, as a topic, has been cropping up in many other forums. The idea of asking ourselves “how would we know <x> is happening?” is becoming a very useful prompt and is inspiring colleagues to have richer conversations about how we deliver.

Leading indicators is just one aspect of the Sooner Safer Happier Business Outcome Canvas; to see what other conversations it encourages us to have, take a look at our first in a series of Quick Learns and download the canvas for your own use.

by Matt Turner, 11/10/22


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