Feb 15

Rethinking the Execution of Government Strategy

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article on strategy execution that had me rethinking how strategies are executed. In many ways, the article reminded me of my findings in my dissertation research on the merger of city archives and a county archives. I was mystified about why the archives merger succeeded despite the change process going against the conventional wisdom of change management theory.

According to the research by the authors (Donald Sull, Rebbeca Homkes, and Charles Sull), the success of strategy execution depends on agility. Agility is defined as how well different parts of the organization coordinate while seizing opportunities that are aligned with the organization’s strategy. They explain why this is so by dispelling five commonly-held beliefs about strategy execution:

Myth 1 – Execution means alignment
Myth 2 – Execution means sticking to the plan
Myth 3 – Communication equals understanding
Myth 4 – A performance culture drives execution
Myth 5 – Execution should be driven from the top

What most interested me about the article was the importance of organizational agility in executing on the strategy. That is why it is necessary for organizational units need good cross-collaboration abilities with each other. This way, the units can work together in spotting emerging opportunities and work together to take advantage of the opportunities. This reminds me of Colonel Boyd’s OODA Loop and his thinking on strategy.

Now, why the article reminded me of my dissertation research is how the real change in the archives merger was driven by the employees and not the top management. The communicated change vision from the top was general and not enough to develop a detailed plan for the merger. This corresponds to Sull, Homkes, and Sull’s research finding that strategic execution should not be solely driven from the top.

I also feel confident in reading the HBR article that my decision to combine organizational health with organizational agility is the right way to approach building a new theory of public administration.

Feb 15

Combining Organizational Health, Organizational Agility, and the Visual Organization into the New Theory of Government

I have been studying three concepts in depth as I continue to work on my new public administration theory. All three are related to organizational structure and, I think, complement each other well.

Organizational Health: The particular version I use is from McKinsey’s Beyond Performance. I especially like this model because it organizes nine systems of organizational health around three main topics:
1) What is the mission of the organization?
2) Can the organization execute on the mission?
3) Does the organization have the capacity renewal?

Organizational Agility: OA is vital for organizations because this determines how well government agencies can adapt to change. The more agile organizations even develop the ability to forecast change and prepare for anticipated events. Another good book on the subject is The Agility Factor.

The Visual Organization: Both organizational health and organizational agility depend on metrics and feedback. There are good feedback systems in the books, but I believe a better way to use analytics is through the process Phil Simon describes in The Visual Organization.

All three concepts on their own are great for building organizations. However, I believe combining the three concepts makes for an even more powerful organizational development model.

Jan 15

Changing Government Through the Change Vanguard

More on the Paul Glastris’ editorial about reforming government as a progressive strategy: Nancy LeTourneau wrote a concurring opinion that argues organizational change will be driven by incentives. I believe that is part of the solution, but there has to be more. That is unleashing the change vanguard.

When I was researching my dissertation, I discovered Steve Kelman’s work on changing government organizations. According to Kelman, it is a myth that all employees are opposed to change. In fact, there is “change vanguard” that wants change, but don’t feel that they have the power to affect change. Kelman argues that all that is needed is for the leadership to signal support for change, and the change vanguard will power the organizational change.

As I restart my research into PolicyOps, I am looking at how to energize and connect change vanguards as a way to create sustainable governmental organizational change. Change has to come from the top, the bottom and meet in the middle. The middle is the change vanguard.

Jan 15

The Washington Monthly Focuses on Fixing Government

The January/February 2015 issue of The Washington Monthly has three excellent articles on the importance of government reform. Well worth going out and getting a copy.

In the first article, editor Paul Glastris argues that reforming government is the key to the success of the second progressive era. He pledges that future issues will further explore reforming government.

Then, in the second article, Dr. Donald Kettl explains the ten secret truths. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by this article because I have always been unimpressed with Dr. Kettl’s “vending machine government” model. To me, the vending machine government model furthered the split between citizens and their government.

But, Dr. Kettl seems to set vending machine government aside to make great points in his article. He starts the ten truths explaining how government works better than most people think and that much of government’s work is not done by government. That is why hiring more government workers will make government work better while realizing that government cannot operate with the private sector because government has to meet higher standards. Congress also has to share the blame for why government does not work along with Presidents who make management mistakes. Overall, Dr. Kettl’s ten truths are a great overview of the major impediments to good government.

The third article is a fascinating case of how a dedicated public servant finally decided to leave the Congressional Research Service (CRS). I especially found the article ironic because of the current emphasis on a data-driven government and evidence-based policy making. The author describes how the CRS declined from a well-respected and essential information source to Congress to another casualty of the bitter partisanship of Congress.

I like the direction that The Washington Monthly is taking on reforming government.

Jan 15

Relaunching the blog

Hello everyone:

It has been a long time since I last posted. I have had a whirlwind of activity in the last five months of 2014 with a new job change, successful conference presentations, and new ideas for rethinking government. In fact, I have been too busy and that is why 2015 will be a different year for me.

After my last presentation in November at NECoPA, I realized that I had many unanswered questions about the new public administration theory. Also, my work in design thinking, lean startup, agile project management, and other associated topics compelled me to revisit some of of my former ideas. So, 2015 will be a year of reflection and writing as I digest new concepts.

So, expect to see more blog postings as I think out loud in 2015. I look forward to an enriching year and I hope you will be there to comment. Thank you.

Apr 14

Reforming the Civil Service

Great presentation today at the Partnership for Public Service. Read their report on "A New Civil Service Framework."

Mar 14

PolicyOps – A Better Way to Create and Implement Government Policies and Programs?

Nearly 45 years ago, the United States landed two men on the Moon. It was not only an amazing technological achievement but also showed that the American government could achieve the big goals. All through the 20th Century, America’s government accomplished landmark mega-projects: the Hoover Dam, winning World War II, atomic power, the agricultural revolution, the polio vaccine, the space program, and the Internet.

Now, in the first 13 years of the 21st Century, the American government doesn’t seem as capable as it once was. According to a 2008 survey of 165 National Academy of Public Administration fellows, 68% agreed that the Federal government is “less likely to successfully execute projects today than at any time in the past” (Eggers and O’Leary, If We Can Put Man on the Moon, 2009, p. 234). Just in the last two decades there are many examples proving that the American government needs a new way to meet the big goals of this new century.

PolicyOps is one suggestion. PolicyOps (Policy Operations) is inspired both by Eggers and O’Leary’s study and the DevOps movement in information technology (IT) management. Turning first to the study, Eggers and O’Leary researched dozens of major government projects to develop the “Universal Journey to Success” and to unearth the traps hidden in the six stages of the Journey. According to Eggers and O’Leary, all successful public projects follow the same six steps:

  • The undertaking must start with a good idea.
  • The idea must be given specifics, often in the form of legislation, that become an implementable design.
  • The design must win approval, as when the bill becomes a law, signaling a moment of democratic commitment [“Stargate’ in the diagram].
  • There must be competent implementation.
  • The initiative must generate desired results.
  • Over time, both what is being done and how it is being done must be subjected to reevaluation. (emphasis in the original, p. 25)

Journey to Success

The Universal Journey to Success steps can also describe the steps in DevOps. DevOps (Development Operations) arose from the need of IT companies such as Flickr and Facebook to quickly make new software applications and fixes to their operations without causing service interruptions. Even though DevOps sounds technical it is actually a cultural innovation.

In many IT companies, there are essentially two divisions: development and operations. Development consists of developers who create the new applications that keep IT companies competitive and attract customers. Operations are the people who keep the current IT infrastructure working so that the applications are served out to the customers. The problem was that the divisions rarely collaborated with each other. Rather, new applications were “tossed” to operations to figure out how to integrate the applications into the existing infrastructure. Both sides would make unilateral changes which broke the new applications and/or the infrastructure. Much blamestorming, lost opportunities, and poor customer service would occur in cultures before DevOps.

DevOps prevented these problems by having development and operations learn to communicate and collaborate when creating applications and integrating applications into the infrastructure. The real power of DevOps is creating a “single view of reality.”  Essentially, developers create their applications on a current replica of the infrastructure so that operators can easily integrate the new applications. This is accomplished by software solutions such as “Puppet” or “Chef” and test-driven programming practices.  Communication and collaboration is much more effective when all participants are working from the same view of the current reality.

PolicyOps also strives to create a single view of the current environment that programs must run in. This requires policy designers have a current and realistic view of the implementation infrastructure along with the needs of the policy implementers who will integrate the new policy into the existing policy infrastructure. The FuturICT Project is an example of creating a single view of policy reality.

There is much more work to be done but I think that policy makers and policy implementers can effectively leverage the tools and techniques of DevOps to greatly increase the ability for accomplishing the big government projects that the American people need and want.

 Suggested Readings:

Ball, P. (2012). Why society is a complex matter: Meeting twenty-first century challenges with a new kind of science. Springer.

Cartwright, N., & Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-based policy: A practical guide to doing it better. Oxford University Press.

Eggers, W.D., & O’Leary, J. (2009). If we can put a man on the Moon: Getting big things done in government. Harvard Business Review.

Loukides, M. (2012). What is DevOps? O’Reilly Media.

Manski, C.F. (2013). Public policy in an uncertain world: Analysis and decisions. Harvard University Press.

McGinnis, J.O. (2013). Accelerating democracy: Transforming governance through technology. Princeton University Press.

Walls, M. (2013). Building a DevOps culture. O’Reilly Media.

Jan 14

Estonia's Experiment in Government Data Sharing

Estonia uses a national identity card system to collect and share citizens' information. Essentially, citizens have a personal profile stored in government servers that is shared throughout all of the government e-services. It's like websites that use your Facebook login to access services on that website. It provides convenience and saves time and money by eliminating applicative data-gathering methods.

Of course, the first concern is security and with the recent NSA revelations, there may be a flaw in the Estonian ID card's security model.  The relevance of the Estonian example is that in creating new agency structures where information flows freely, there has to be control over where the information flows and to whom.


Jan 14

Why Networks Will Outperform Hierarchies

Excellent article in Globoforce's blog on the value of organizational networks:

"Networks are safer because they have built in redundancies. They increase the flow of information. They speed communication. They connect larger groups that otherwise might remain siloed. They homogenize culture. They increase diversity of perspective and experience. They encourage innovation. They provide resilience in the event of trauma. And most critically, they protect against the failure or loss of an important connection point, such as a poor manager or the departure of an influential colleague."

What especially interests me is reconciling Constructal Law and the hierarchical tendency of complex adaptive systems with the advantages of networks. I think a key here is the tension between the optimum flow of information through the system versus the ability for agile reconfiguration to create new information flows.

Dec 13


Just completed Changing Behaviours: On the Rise of the Psychological State which is detailed history of how the UK and the US used behavioral economics to fashion public policy. As the authors explain neuroliberalism as "a shorthand for the ways in which neoliberal society attempts to sustain itself through neurological means" (p, 50).  Fascinating case studies on how "nudges" and "choice architecture" are used to influence citizens.

A large part of the New Theory of Government (NToG) depends on allowing information to flow more effectively so that better policy decisions can be made. Nudges and choice architecture will be a part of the NToG but I believe that, for ethical reasons, there should be full disclosure to citizens on how exactly they are being nudged.