Friday, August 31, 2012

Jesse Robredo and the Street Strategist

Strange it may seem but there's a connection between DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo and the Street Strategist.
1. A friend of the Street Strategist, Rene Sanapo, in 2002, ordered a few copies of "Strategy Myopia," the first book compilation of the Street Strategist's columns. One of those autographed copies was made out to "Dear Jesse."
2. Under the helm of Jesse Robredo, Naga City is the first local government unit to fully implement the performance pledge proposal embedded in the January 10, 2002 column of the Street Strategist titled "Metrics Wizard."

Quoted from "Metrics Wizard"
In conclusion, the mandate for the metrification of bureaucratic performance should come from no less than the President of the Republic; demanded by no less than the Street Strategist.
If the President so resolves, we would have performance pledges from all agencies that serve the public directly within a month or two.
I am strongly suggesting to the President of the Republic to issue an Executive Order requiring all government agencies to develop and publish performance pledges.
The performance pledge will be composed of identifiable major activities of the concerned agency and their corresponding performance metrics. At the end of the year, all agencies must submit performance evaluations against these metrics.

I wrote the Metrics Wizard in 2002, it is now 2012, why does it take 10 years for my ideas to become en vogue?

Anyway, here is the full version of the column.


In which the Street Strategist demands the metrification of
 bureaucratic performance

 am the metrics wizard. Specifically for today, I am an expert on performance metrics.
After all, perhaps nobody had been subjected to more performance metrics than myself. School and work authorities have subjected me to a continuous onslaught of performance metrics longer and more frequently than the normal guy.
And perhaps the most important thing is that I failed most of these metrics. With failures come horrendous memories that repeat forever – all the agonies of defeat in eternal slow motion.

The memory-failure equation
Indeed, nothing is etched deeper in your mind and memory than the agony of a failure, therefore the more failures you have, the better your memory is.
Since I am an expert on metrics, I hereby immediately state a mathematical proposition: The intensity of your memory (m) is directly proportional to the intensity of your failure (f). Or, m=kf, where k is the constant of proportionality.
Not bad as a mathematician, huh? Don’t worry, proportionality equations are taught in high school physics, and if you forgot them, then probably you didn’t have a tough time. You probably learned it in one go, passed the exams, and forgot about it the next year.
See what I mean? Your memory of high school physics is not as intense as mine because you did not suffer the ignominious, excruciating and catastrophic failures I had.
Anyway, I was just saying I failed most performance metrics, and it is time for others to be subjected to the same system and to suffer the same fate.

“Oh my God!”
I seldom get the chance to attend conferences primarily because my station in life is not dignified enough to qualify for these events.
In a particular exception though, I found myself in an international conference likewise attended by our country’s experts.
During one of the coffee breaks, an acquaintance whom I haven’t seen in a decade approached me. After exchanging pleasantries, he related to me an amusing anecdote that happened in one of the highly technical sessions regarding electric power quality delivered by an expert of more than 15 years in experience.
During the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation, the usual technical gibberish ensued. The monotony was shattered when upon seeing a conference participant approach the microphone in the middle of the room – within earshot of my friend who was sitting in front – the presenter softly exclaimed: “Oh, my God!”
Intrigued that the mere presence of a participant could elicit such a reaction from a power systems expert with a master’s degree, my friend was forced to turn his head.
After identifying himself, the person said: “I have only one question: Where are the metrics?”
The presenter did not appear to understand the question. He looked at the participant, obviously appealing for a clarification. “Would the gentleman care to clarify his question?”
It’s bad enough if you can’t answer the question, it’s even worse if you can’t understand the question.
“I mean, where are the metrics, the parameters, the benchmarks?” the participant said. “How could we determine quality? Is there some kind of a six-sigma parameter, for example? “
“Ah, the benchmarks,” the presenter said, relieved.
Now there’s the flash of recognition. It was now apparent that the presenter misheard the question to be about a mathematical “matrix” while the questioner was referring to “metrics.” Little did the presenter know that the querying participant was deliberately toying with these homonyms to throw the him off-guard.  The questioner actually deliberately mispronounced “metrics” as “matrix.”
The entire session hall probably did not realize that the participant was a master wordsmith who intentionally kept the question vague by keeping it short and deliberately misleading.
At any rate, the query turned out to be on the mark because the presenter admitted they have not yet gathered statistical data useful enough for benchmarks due to the extremely high cost of obtaining the same from the company’s power grid.
The Q&A proceeded in a lively manner with conference participants from Europe and South Africa offering their own metrics from their own grids.
Overall, it was an excellent presentation and, hopefully, the firm could gather enough data to support properly defined metrics.

All vision, all mission
What is the relevance of the above anecdote? The recent government-sponsored economic summit reminded me of the above incident because while economists and government bureaucrats forever talk of plans and visions in their summits, the engineers and scientists talk of action and metrics.
I expected nothing of those economic summits but platitudes, visions, and missions. I strongly abhor motherhood statements on how to make our country great because it’s simply a waste of energy. I’d rather tell you how big a failure I am, rather than pontificate that our country depends on good law abiding citizens – of course, it does.
Yes, we are the best in the world in terms of developing visions and missions.

Planners and sycophants
All government agencies have medium term and long term plans, after all, they have casual workers, technical assistants, and corporate planning divisions who do nothing but update their old plans.
The government agencies are also wizards at sycophantic acronyms for economic projects carrying the initials of the country’s current Chief Executive. These acronym wizards ought to be executed.
Furthermore, we know what ails our society. We can identify what is wrong, and we all say stop corruption, start changing ourselves, follow traffic rules, and so on, yet why is it that after decades of exhortations we are still in the same abyss of corruption and inefficiency?
We are expert in making memos, rules and regulations that even acquiring a copy of the birth certificate is a task that requires hundreds of thousands of people applying for authenticated copies to take half a day off from work.
Wow, there’s even a new rule requiring drug tests on all applicants for driving license. I hope somebody stands up to take credit for inventing this inane rule.
Why are we all suffering from government corruption and inefficiency?

Practical, actionable
Oh, yes, you are complaining that while I’m out here pontificating I’m not actually helping the country either, by writing about George Harrison or about quaternions. I’m sorry but I’m just a mere armchair analyst.
Wait, I think I have one contribution. I’m very serious about this and I hope the Chief Executive of the country takes me seriously as well.
There are two major issues haunting the government: corruption and inefficiency. I’ll tackle corruption some other time.
How do we tackle inefficiency? I hereby identify major issues:
First: We love to create ad-hoc committees or task forces that endeavor to perform functions that are supposed to be done by an existing government agency. Perpetually, there’s a police task force doing what the regular police are supposed to be doing anyway.
We create committees and agencies that duplicate existing functions and somehow all these committees evolve into permanent fixtures because the members don’t want to go back to what they were doing before. The committees eventually become agencies and grow even bigger.
In fact, when I heard about the plans to have an inter-agency anti-corruption superbody, I immediately commented to a friend who has been attending the organizational meetings that such will not work. Each nominee to this committee will be beholden to his original agency and therefore will protect his buddies in case they are the ones being investigated. It’s called presumption of innocence.
If you want to have an anti-corruption agency it has to be a single independent institution of idealists. Or clone Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) lock, stock and barrel.
By the way, in an eerie case of serendipity, the ICAC was created when the Crown Colony’s Governor had testimonies, tapes and films showing that the highest ranking police official was actually involved in drugs, crime, and corruption.
Going back, stop this propensity for ad-hoc committees and let the regular civil service perform their assigned tasks.
In fact, I’m watching with seriousness certain movements in Congress calling for the abolition of the Bureau of Customs. And what does the National Computer Center actually do?
Second: We love to make rules some of which are inane and useless. This contributes to red tape, and each additional requirement, by the way, is a source of corruption because people pay to skip the requirement that is useless in the first place. How many documents do you need to apply for an environmental clearance certificate?
Third: Despite demurrers that there are only a few rotten eggs in the basket, being in government service has become the license by civil servants to work slower in shorter actual hours, with poor delivery of the service. Come to think of it, good manners and efficient service are exceptions to the rule that we are surprised if a civil servant grants us these blessings. Does mail get across the metro area in half a day?
Fourth: There are no performance metrics. Yes, there are visions, missions, medium term plans, long term plans, and policy statements, but how many agencies have published their own performance metrics?

Performance metrics
Given my pseudo-expertise on performance metrics and my absolute freedom to think, now comes my contribution to improving the bureaucracy: I am strongly suggesting to the President of the Republic to issue an Executive Order requiring all government agencies to develop and publish performance pledges.
The performance pledge will be composed of identifiable major activities of the concerned agency and their corresponding performance metrics. At the end of the year, all agencies must submit performance evaluations against these metrics.
Obviously, not all activities can be measured by a performance pledge but if we really look closely there are some activities that somehow deal directly with the public or with another agency that can be easily measured.
The best way to illustrate these is to lift performance pledges from other countries who have implemented them such as our close neighbor Hong Kong.
Here are some performance pledges and metrics adopted in Hong Kong swiping one each from a few agencies to show how widely pledges are implemented:
Printing Department: “Produce and deliver identity cards within 3 working days.”
Intellectual Property Department: “Time taken to process or record 80% of applications for change of records of registered trade mark: 1.5 months”
Transport Department: “First issue and renewal of full driving licence: 40-75 mins.”
Land Registration Dept: “Registration of land documents: 20 working days”
Leisure Services: “Applications for enrolment in recreation and sports activities: within 20 minutes queueing time except peak period.”
Companies Registry: Incorporation/Registration of New Companies: 6 days.
Libraries: “Applying for a new library card: 10 mins.”
Urban Services Department: ““Toilets cleansed at least twice a day between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., and those with a high usage rate provided with attendants for the same hours. Minor defects in public toilets will normally be rectified within 24 hours.
As for performance review, here is an example from Hong Kong Post: “We met and exceeded 20 of the 22 service pledges. In particular we were able to achieve a success rate of 98.5% for next-day delivery of local letters.”
What’s keeping the entire government bureaucracy to embark on performance metrification?

One step up
Will the performance metric solve corruption? Not directly, but it is a step in the right direction. And I have to point out that this is not a motherhood statement; we have a practical and quantifiable proposal.
The main advantage of adopting performance metrics is that we can evaluate performance on major tasks with transparency. There is no need to adopt metrics to all activities but it can be done step by step for major ones. For the first year, maybe five to ten activities can be measured.
Another flow-on effect of this process is that it will encourage meritocracy because the promotion can be handed over to the executive who can deliver better performance pledges. One postmaster may say, “If you promote me, I can deliver mail within the metro cities within the day if the mail is posted before 9 a.m.
There is the temptation to understate the metric thereby making it easily attainable. But this anomaly would be rectified when some competing colleague will then propose to improve the performance if he is given the chance. This competition is one truth-inducing scheme. Somewhere along the process, we can introduce other truth-inducing schemes to prevent understatement of performance goals or fudging of data.
Most of all, this will change what people expect of government service and change the mindset of the civil servants.
If the President so resolves, we would have performance pledges from all agencies that serve the public directly within a month or two.
This is a non-tariff measure, meaning that it does not cost much to implement. All that is needed is a simple executive order. The order will grant the agencies a few weeks to identify the initial set of activities to be measured. These activities are typically those that deal directly with the public such as post offices, licensing, passports, and retirement and benefits processing.
Note that I emphasize an initial set of activities rather than all the agency activities being measured all at once.
Does this plan sound too easy? Yes, it does sound simple which could have been implemented decades ago, but some people don’t see things the way we do. Now, let’s hope they find some value in implementing the performance pledge.
All I can say is, we use metrics all the time in school to exact the best performance.
Ironically, the government whose biggest department in terms of budget is the Department of Education doesn’t adopt metrics for its own performance.
Visit the websites of the agencies and you can read their vision, mission, policy statements and all about their history but there is never a word on their performance pledge with specific performance metrics.
Hey, business executives, don’t think I forgot about you. You are also guilty – you don’t have a performance pledges either; they’re not in your websites or annual reports.
Ruminate on this one of the many performance pledges by a private telecom company in Hong Kong: “We will install your residential telephone line within seven days of the order. If we fail to install your telephone line as promised, you can claim one month’s free line rental for every day we are late.”
Note that the one-month rebate is for every single day of delay. The company backs up its performance pledge with real monetary value. Can you top that?

Presidential mandate
Lord Kelvin, the physicist who handed us the laws of thermodynamics and entropy was a believer of metrics: “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.”
Ever since I read it in college, this quote has become one of my favorites because it encouraged me to understand the equations behind concepts and to abhor motherhood political statements. And this quote should be memorized by the government bureaucrats.
In conclusion, the mandate for the metrification of bureaucratic performance should come from no less than the President of the Republic; demanded by no less than the Street Strategist.
I have to go now. By the way, remember that conference and the coffee break with my friend? He revealed that he had not bothered to look who asked questions but he made an exception by turning around when the expert said, “Oh, my God!”
That the presenter was thinking of the word “matrix” when the participant used “metrics” was logical because – as it turned out – the two of them had fought mind games before as teacher and student, respectively, in mostly mathematical topics which included matrix analysis. Therefore, when the participant used the word “metrics,” the presenter thought it was “matrix.”  The former student deliberately tried to confuse his former teacher by leading the latter to think of matrix, not metrics.
Not that it was an important detail, but it showed the frames of mind of the two protagonists, who have met again after so many years.
And when my friend, who was sitting in front, turned to look at this mysterious guy standing before the microphone, that was the time he knew I also attended the conference. He said, “It was you.”
By the way, certainly not everything can be quantified, although we should strive to quantify as much as possible, otherwise how do you quantify the haphazard train of thought and the aimless analysis of the Street Strategist?
(Thads Bentulan, January 10, 2002)
* * * * * t * * * * *