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Showing posts from 2009

Henry Mintzberg Misses the Mark on Performance Measurement Data

We’ve all been in situations where we get agitated because someone we admire, and with whom we generally agree, goes too far in pushing his or her agenda. This situation occurred to me as I read Henry Mintzberg’s new book, Managing (Berrett-Koehler, 2009), which updates his thinking in his first book, The Nature of Management(Harper & Row; reprinted by Prentice-Hall, 1973) based on his doctoral dissertation more than 35 years ago.

Mintzberg all but dismisses the value of using performance outcome data in favor of an “information diet” of gossip, hearsay, and speculation.” Such “informal information” he writes, “can be much richer, even if less reliable.”

I could not believe what I was reading. It goes counter to what I’ve been advocating to court managers for years, i.e., effective performance measurement and management can transform your court; it shows you where you are and gets you to where you want to be. Performance monitoring, analysis and management are no longer an option fo…

Court Executives (Should) Have Their Heads in the Clouds

The launch this month of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, marks the end of one era of information technology and the start of another, says the Economist (“Briefing Cloud Computing,” October 17, 2009). Windows is not going to disappear but it will be much less important in the future.

Cloud Computing

Much of the computing we do today on our computers in our homes and offices will soon be – so to speak - in the “clouds,” and not on our personal computers, where Windows resides today. Instead, desktop computing on personal computers – featuring full-featured database and spreadsheet capabilities – is being replaced by IT architectures that call for the heavy lifting to be performed by external data centers accessible to us over the Internet.

Cloud computing is attracting an enormous amount of attention. The term “cloud computing” is a metaphor that originated with IT architects who routinely used cloud shapes to depict the flow of data from unknown external sources instea…

Rankings Based on Outcomes

Today's Wall Street Journal printed my letter to the Editor on the value of rankings focused on outcomes, a topic that has occupied this space often:

Most “number guys” can criticize performance measures, especially rankings, in their sleep because most measures are imperfect. Carl Bialik (“Ill-Conceived Ranking Makes for Unhealthy Debate,” The Numbers Guy, Oct. 21) takes the easy route for a cheap shot at the dated and flawed World Health Care low 37th ranking of the U.S. in the world in health care. He suggests that the “unhealthy debate” caused by the U.S. ranking would be cured by more methodological rigor and that, in any event, we shouldn’t rank everything, especially health care. I wonder if Mr. Bialik thinks that our debate about health care would be healthier if the U.S. ranked let’s say 12th in the world using methods that pass muster with the scientific community. I suspect that most of us would like to see the U.S. in first place and that even 12th place would not chan…

Decentralized Innovation and Improvement

Court systems have concentrated too much authority for continuous improvement at the top where there are good intentions, but relatively few resources and little capacity. Court performance data are delivered too little and too late, if at all.

When performance is presented to staff, it is often done so in endless documents stuffed with indecipherable figures and statistics, to make much of a difference. Performance data is a virtual temple secret that only the priests (designated top-management and analysts) can read and interpret.

Courts should seek to give all court employees all the performance measurement information they need to make improvements themselves. Courts should tap into the capacities of all court employees to track and analyze performance data and to devise solutions to problems.

A similar strategy, referred to as “radical transparency,” was advocated as a road map for economic recovery in a “manifesto” written by Daniel Roth in Wired March 2009: “Instead of assigning o…

Annals of Backlog and Congestion: New Delhi, India

State court leaders and managers take heart! Things could be worse. Much worse!

In a widely circulated story last week, Sam Dolnick of the Associated Press (AP) reported that, according to Chief Justice A.P.Shah, the High Court in New Delhi is so behind that it could take up to 466 years (not days or even months, years) to clear its backlog of cases. In a vast understatement, retired Supreme Court Justice J.S. Verma, who is critic of the system, is quoted as saying “I don’t think you would have to wait four centuries to have a case decided.”

Reasons cited for the backlog in India include the usual suspects: lack of accountability for results, corruption, inefficiency, and an uneven application of the rule of law favoring the wealthy and well-connected. Another is that India does not have enough sitting judges. "It’s a completely collapsed system,” Prashant Brushan, a well known lawyer in New Delhi, is quoted as saying. “This country only lives under the illusion that there is a j…

Measuring What Really Matters in Hard Times

State courts are facing severe budget cuts in the current economic crisis. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 44 states are facing shortfalls in their FY 2009 and/or FY 2010 budgets. By most accounts, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Some of my more optimistic colleagues (who -- I might add -- are fortunate enough to have solid jobs) subscribe to the “necessity is the mother of invention” school of thought on the deepening recession. They have a point.

While they do not wish ill toward their court friends on the receiving end of drastic budget cuts, they see a bright spot in the months and years ahead. They welcome the sense of urgency. They're hoping it will give birth to clarity of focus and innovation.

They see courts and state court systems today forced to confront issues and questions that they believe should be asked all the time, not just now: What are our fundamental obligations? What is expected of us? Which prog…