VSJ – September 2009 – Work in Progress

Here’s Allen Woods’ update on his Performance Organiser software, referred to in ‘Members News’.

Back in May, much to my surprise, I received an email from the Institution’s Education Officer regarding some articles I wrote several years ago related to my work, with a request for a follow-up piece, the aim of which was to support the IAP’s tenth year of publishing in VSJ. What follows is a précis of several years of hard work, which is still ongoing, exploiting the principles described in the original articles. At this point, I would like to declare I am not trying to sell anything. One of the things I often look for is peer review and that is, for me, the whole point of this follow-up article.

The basic argument outlined in the three articles published from March to May 2002 was that, given that we are in an increasingly methodologically-based, standards-driven world and that a significant number of those standards and methods are designed, supported and sponsored by central Government, it should be possible to build and implement an information management infrastructure that could be applied pretty much anywhere in any kind of organization needing to demonstrate standards compliance. A secondary argument put forward was that many of the methods and standards used for general business analysis have a series of common threads running through them. These threads (for example, “Plan”, “Do”, “Study”, “Act” ) bring about an approach to general business analysis that could be used in such a way that they could be mapped, or in some other way joined up, to their cousins in information system design. For example, in my experience, one of the most common techniques to draw process flows in business is the engineer flow chart, another is the lean value chain diagramming technique. Neither of these is a world away from information and process flows used in IT design methods like SSADM. It was argued that the result of any successful mapping or alignment would go some way to reducing the (by now traditional) communication gap between the “suit” and the “geek”.

For five years before writing those articles, I had been developing a piece of software called “The Performance Organiser” (PO). Essentially, the PO is a form of CAD software, consisting of a series of drawing pads, underpinned with a database, that can be used to map organization structure, processes, performance indicators (at the information delivery “end” as a balanced scorecard and at the process end to plot data capture), resource and stakeholder profiles and objective definitions. The software is designed to provide the means to record and collate data collected in the course of a typical management consultancy exercise involving (say) the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management), the Baldrige Model or perhaps the design of Lean Value Chains. Effectively, the PO is a desktop-based, general purpose, business analysis tool kit. Its big shortcoming, in its then state, was that because it was a desktop tool kit, it inevitably became a piece of software whose use was restricted to specialists like myself.

It became apparent that keeping the PO as a purely desktop-bound tool was not going to see the concepts I was trying to exploit brought to their full potential. The obvious step was to try and extend the reach of a PO organization model so that it could be used in such a way that all organization members had access to it. Using it, they could identify where they fitted in and could contribute to a model’s completeness wherever possible. Step changes in the availability of Web-enabled technologies (broadband, faster processors etc.) meant that if a model could be hosted on a server, and have a Web wrapper, or chassis, put round it, then that would enhance the ability of the model to inform or provide decision support.

That realization led to further examination of the business analysis methods used for system specification purposes while developing the PO CAD software (in the UK at least). The aim of the review was to identify common generic processes or activities that together with extending the reach or visibility of a model would mean that a PO model would be capable of providing sophisticated decision-making and communication support in its own right. To round the whole chassis off, it was decided that an account-driven content editing and management mechanism was highly desirable with the aim of providing the means for non-programmers to write their own Web content with a minimum of technical skill or qualification. Since the original articles were published, the chassis was developed (and indeed is still being developed) and in conjunction with the desktop tool, provides, in my opinion, a powerful application framework. It has a content management system, but it also contains facilities to support concepts like risk management, enquiry handling and lessons learned logging. Significantly, it is a framework that can be, and is being, used by people who would have no hesitation in describing themselves as non-technical.

At this point it may be sensible to describe how the tool kit is being used. Currently, there are six models, with a seventh on the way, being operated by a UK central Government ministry. I am most proud of one which is being used to manage and deliver some 60 000 documents related to the safe handling of hazardous materials on a 24/7/365 basis, worldwide, to UK Armed Forces. The production of the system described has saved some ₤3m in whole-life costs for the sponsor branch who commissioned it. Outside of government, I am developing a crisis management and reporting system for a major UK management consultancy with a PO model and chassis providing a foundation for an application that can be used for training exercises and the management of live events.

That just about sums up what has been happening since those articles were published. If you’re interested in an on line demonstration of the PO and the chassis, have a look at the following URL: http://www.jit-software.com/demos/360appraisal/360appraisal.htm which points to a FLASH movie which was submitted to an on line debate, held in the UK Performance Management Association forum some 18 months ago. This discussed the alignment of staff appraisals with more general business performance reporting. The movie is designed to illustrate how staff appraisals could be connected to a balanced scorecard system in such a way that an individual’s contribution to corporate performance could be identified which, in an ideal world, would provide more objective evidence to support a staff appraisal process. The movie takes 5 or 6 minutes to run. I am happy to answer questions, if people have them, via my company contact address (info@jit-software.com).

[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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