Discipline makes Daring possible.

Performance – costs and revenues

Performance – costs and revenues

As we all know, profit is what’s left of revenue after you’ve taken out all the cost.

Revenue is easy to measure.  Cost is a little harder.

Ideally, you would directly attribute every cost incurred by a business (including what would normally be called ‘overhead’) to the end-to-end process of acquiring and serving a single client with their chosen product or service.

This is a time-consuming thing to do, which is why many small businesses work on a rule of thumb of some kind, such as the ‘one third wages, one third overhead, one third profits’ approximation used by many accountants.

It turns out though*, that ‘time spent’ is a pretty accurate proxy for all costs, so a relatively easy way to get an accurate picture of how much a process is costing to run, is to measure how much time is spent on running it.

This means that the efficiency of a business as a system can be measured in a straightforward way – by simple observation.

I like simple and straightforward systems, so this makes me extremely happy.

*”Duration-Based Costing: Utilizing Time in Assigning Costs” Anne-Marie Lelkes, Ph.D., CPA, Management Accounting Quarterly, Summer 2017.

Good feedback

Good feedback

Good feedback is:

  • Objective.   ‘You’re crap at this’  doesn’t help.   “You tend to pull to the left” does.
  • Specific.  “Try harder” doesn’t help.   “Try aiming to the right of where you want to land” does.
  • Enabling.  “Like this” doesn’t help.  “Let me put your arm in the right place so you can feel how it should be” does.
  • Timely.  “A week ago you threw short” doesn’t help.   “That last throw was only out by an inch” does.

Feedback is good when it tells the recipient something about the process, because the process is what you have to change to improve the result.

Feedback is even better if it can come from the process itself, because then the person running the process has autonomy as well as responsibility.

A cattle-prod, physical or emotional, isn’t feedback.  It’s just bullying.



I saw a great demonstration years ago, which is quite fun to try for yourself.

One of your team sits in a chair, facing away from the rest of the team.    Somewhere behind the chair, between it and the rest of the team, place a waste-paper bin.

The aim of the exercise is for the person in the chair to get a ball into the waste-paper bin without looking at the bin.   They try first on their own.  Then they try again.

This time, the team gives them feedback on how they did.  First of all, the feedback is just “You missed”.

But after a couple of goes, the team get the hang of it and start giving more helpful feedback – “Too far right”,  “About a foot short” etc.   This gives the person in the chair information they can actually use to adjust the only thing they can control – how the ball leaves their hand.

The next thing you know, the ball lands in the waste paper bin.

Effort, with feedback, is what actually gets results.

So if you want to improve results, it makes sense to improve the effort that goes into them.  And to do that you need to know where you can make adjustments, and get the right kind of feedback on any adjustments you make.

“You missed.” doesn’t cut it.

Thanks to Graham Williams for the memorable demonstration.

Parasparopagraho Jīvānām

Parasparopagraho Jīvānām

I’ve just ordered “Jainism and Ethical Finance”, by Atul K. Shah and Aidan Rankin, so I thought I’d find out a bit more about Jainism before it arrives (to supplement the tiny bit I know from reading ‘Kim’).

Two phrases really stood out for me in the Wikipedia entry on Jainism – ‘Parasparopagraho Jīvānām‘, the Jain motto,  which means something like  “the function of souls is to help one another”; and ‘Anekāntavāda’, the doctrine of ‘many-sidedness’.

To quote the Wikipedia entry fully,

Anekāntavāda ‘states that truth and reality is complex and always has multiple aspects. Reality can be experienced, but it is not possible to totally express it with language. Human attempts to communicate is Naya, explained as “partial expression of the truth”.’ 

Parasparopagraho Jīvānām and Anekāntavāda seem like useful things to bear in mind as we try to communicate with each other.  At least to me.



The suit may be a one-off, tailored to fit you perfectly, but the techniques used to make it are not unique.   They’ve been around for centuries.  If you need to adjust the fit later, another tailor can do it for you easily.

Similarly, you can have a house built entirely to your own specification that any competent builder can re-configure for you later.

Bespoke is sometimes seen as a risky option, especially for software.   But it depends where the ‘bespokeness’ is.

If it’s in the techniques or materials used then you need to worry, because only a few people (perhaps only one person) can adjust it for you later.

If however, your developer uses common, easily available, open source libraries, in a common, open-source language, on a common, open-source platform that thousands of software developers use, then the only thing to insist on is that if need be, you get the code.  That way, any competent developer can adjust it for you.

Off-the-peg can seem like a safer option, until you discover that it doesn’t quite fit your needs.   So you either customise it (which may invalidate the support from the provider, and/or put you in hock to the customiser), or worse, you change your business processes to work around it.

When I first started in computing, almost everything was bespoke from the ground up.   Now its much more like tailoring or building.

Much better to invest in bespoke and adaptable, than off-the-peg and unwearable.

One year later.

One year later.

Aged 11, late on a Tuesday night, and into the morning, I watched my dad run the payroll for the civil engineering firm he worked for.

I learned two things on that ‘take your daughter to work’ evening.

First, that computing wasn’t scary or even difficult, and the interesting bits were the bits the men did.   Second, how fairness trumped everything for my dad.

My dad did this weekly overnight run for years, on his own.   Not because it was scheduled that way, but because his peers always gave him the information late.

But no matter how late the inputs came in, the output was the men’s pay packets, and they needed them on Thursday morning, come what may.  And as data processing manager, my dad saw at as his responsibility to make sure that happened, come what may.

Now of course, I question some of this.   What did he do to try and improve the schedule?   Did the company see him as a mug?   But still I think of his favourite question – “What would be fair?”

What lessons did your dad teach you?

What are you teaching your daughters?

10 years old

10 years old

When my dad was 10, he was evacuated to a small Durham village, to be safer than in Newcastle upon Tyne.

When I was 10, men walked on the moon.

We live through enormous changes, often not realising how enormous they are at the time.

What happened when you were 10?

What makes the best process? Everyone.

What makes the best process? Everyone.

The best process is one that everyone will use and improve of their own accord, because it helps them to achieve what they want:

  • Agency – to make their own ‘me-shaped’ dent in the universe.
  • Mastery – to learn and master new skills.
  • Autonomy – to be free to choose how they make their dent.
  • Purpose – to do this for something bigger than themselves, that has meaning beyond the sale.
  • Community – to do all this with ‘people like us’.

The easiest way to achieve that is to involve them in its design, right from the start.

What makes a good Process? Let the person be the judge

What makes a good Process? Let the person be the judge

A good process is a prompt, not a prescription.   Like a musical score, or a set of building drawings, it tells people what to produce, not how to do it – they already know that, that’s why you hired them.

That means you can leave the details of execution and judgement to the person running the process.  You don’t need to spell out every decision, or identify every possible scenario, or include every last detail of the ‘how to’.

You’re not programming a robot, you’re supporting an intelligent human being to take responsibility and use their own skill, experience, empathy, creativity and judgement to deliver what they, as a part of the business, have promised to the people the business serves.

So to recap, a good process is:

  • clear about the outcome it is designed to achieve
  • the responsibility of a single role, ensuring all required resources are available when and where they are needed
  • both map and compass, helping the person running it to get to the right destination in all circumstances – even those you couldn’t predict
  • a prompt, not a prescription

These things make for a process that people will actually use; that doesn’t need to be changed with every new piece of software or equipment; that is easy for new people to learn and even internalise, that allows the person responsible to ‘just get on with it’.

A process that is as simple as possible, but no simpler.

What makes a good Process? A Map and a Compass

What makes a good Process? A Map and a Compass

A good process is a map, guiding the person running the process to the desired destination, allowing some flexibility of route to get there.

A good process also has a compass built in.

It regularly reminds the person running it of the Promise of Value they are delivering on, so that when they find themselves lost and in the dark, they know the kind of action that will get them back on track and heading in the right direction.