Picture and Cell Review

In this article:
Each picture must be fully defined. Each picture must describe the outcome, not something the on the way to the outcome. Each picture must describe the outcome, not an indicator of the outcome. A picture may refer to future prospects and the end of the planning period. Each picture must become true or false, regardless of point of view. Each picture should be instantly meaningful. Each picture is of the period outcome, not a specific incident during the period. Each picture must be at the right success or failure level. Cell review

Parent article: Risk in work unit business planning: Prove and consolidate the outcome pictures

This article was improved 1 September 2017.


Check the descriptive pictures in each cell on each of these criteria, and make changes until you are happy with the answer.

While doing that, it helps to look at the different pictures within a cell.

Each picture must be fully defined.

Does the picture define the outcome fully, so that in a year from now, no-one will be left wondering what you were thinking of? Clarify it as necessary.

Unit Objective: Maximise the timeliness and accuracy employee payments employees in line with proper management decisions and legal entitlements Unit Objective: Maximise the timeliness and accuracy employee payments employees in line with proper management decisions and legal entitlements
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Qualified Success There were a few minor exceptions to paying everyone on time. BECOMES Qualified Success There were a couple of avoidable events in which some employees were paid late, but within 48 hours of the usual time.

Each picture must describe the outcome, not something on the way to the outcome.

Does the picture describe the outcome that matters, or something that leads in that direction?

First thoughts often capture a step on the way to the outcome, something that you think is necessary to get there, perhaps rightly. For a negative outcome, it might be something that will lead to the unwanted outcome. If you’ve captured a step on the way, replace the description of the step with a description of the year-end outcome to which the step is leading.

Unit Objective: Stick to the approved unit budget Unit Objective: Stick to the approved unit budget
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Partial Success Carelessness with financial planning and spending BECOMES Partial Success Some surprise year-end variances that the boss or CFO would have wanted to avoid.

You can also approach this test by asking why the described outcome is important. There are two kinds of answer:
(a) Because if we don’t do that, there’s no way that …X… will be achieved.
(b) Because that’s why we exist. If we don’t do that, we will have had no reason to exist, or at least no reason for the organisation to have funded us to do that part of the plan.
These are both good reasons for the outcome to be important. However, if the answer is of the (a) kind, replace your existing outcome description with a description of the ‘…X…’, the ultimate purpose to which the original ‘outcome’ was clearly essential. You may want to keep a note of the original description for possible re-use as a strategy, measure, or indicator.

Each picture must describe the outcome, not an indicator of the outcome.

Does the picture describe the outcome that matters, or an indicator that predicts the outcome?

An indicator is something that is easily seen and measured now, that is supposed to correlate with (predict) a reality that will be known in the future. The reality is not yet known.

In risk management we are concerned with the unknown future reality. The indicators may be important, but they are not the reality itself.
The outcome picture must refer to the reality itself.

Outcome pictures may include measures. Measures are often confused with indicators. Measures are numbers that are supposed to represent the important attributes of something that has already happened. There is no prediction involved. Measures are not possible before the event has occurred, and may not be possible until well afterward. The numbers used as measures may be actual quantities, proportions, statistics, or ordered classifications (ordinal variables) such as high, medium, low. Measures hardly ever represent all the characteristics that matter, and may be misleading for evaluation. That is one reason why you are painting outcome pictures, and not measuring success as a number.

In this example, the initial ‘outcome’ is actually an indicator – a bad one, as it happens. The important outcome is (the absence of) actual fraud. Detection of fraud always comes later, or not at all. At best, not detecting any frauds might suggest (indicate) that no frauds have occurred. At worst, it could mean that fraud is going on all the time, and no-one even notices. Detection isn’t even a good indicator.

Unit Objective: Prevent fraud against the organisation by employees or by payroll unit members Unit Objective: Prevent fraud against the organisation by employees or by payroll unit members
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Success No frauds detected during the year. BECOMES Success Good evidence that there have been no undetected payroll-related frauds during the year, beyond minor unauthorised and unrecorded absences.

Any fraud attempts that occurred were promptly detected and referred to appropriate investigation.

Fraud prevention measures are convincing.

The new pictures are entirely different, as there is no simple trick to convert an indicator into a picture of the underlying outcome.

A picture may refer to future prospects and the end of the planning period.

You’re painting pictures of the world on the last day of the year being planned. The character of that picture is influenced by expectations for the future beyond that day. Expectations for the future are influenced by what has happened during the year, and by the position on the day, especially in the objectives relating to Capabilities.

Unit Objective: Maintain the organisation’s capability to pay employees correctly indefinitely, even if there are changes in the way payroll services are provided
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Success Recent experience demonstrates continuing capability. Changes been planned and implemented to protect rather than erode the ongoing capability. OK AS IS

Each picture must become true or false, regardless of point of view.

Is each outcome picture described so that it will be an agreed fact that the real outcome does or does not match the picture?

It is common to use subjective terms like ‘major’ or ‘minor’. Yet your idea of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ could be very different to those of (say) an executive in a different branch of your organisation, or those of an external auditor. Replace any pictures with subjective terms with factual statements about what will or will not have happened at the end of the year.

You may want to include some measures of success or failure that don’t depend on anyone’s emotions or point of view. You have some measures defined in your business plan already. There is no sense in becoming rigidly numerical, and even less sense in agonising about how the measurements might be made. You don’t need any of that for risk management purposes.

Here is an example of replacing a subjective outcome description with something more objective.

Unit Objective: Prevent and avoid violations of confidentiality expectations around payroll Unit Objective: Prevent and avoid violations of confidentiality expectations around payroll
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Partial Success There were some minor incidents around confidentiality. BECOMES Partial Success Several times during the year, something leaked from the payroll unit through carelessness with talk, email, or documents. The unit basically understands what is to be kept private and makes an effort.

And here’s another example. The trouble with the old outcome picture is that while it’s bad for the payroll unit manager (and possibly for the IT team), it would be invisible and unimportant to most of the organisation. It isn’t an agreed fact that this outcome would represent Qualified Success. If the benefits are delivered anyway, the project is an unqualified Success, even if there is continued bickering.

Unit Objective: Move to a new payroll system and service arrangements with long term benefits Unit Objective: Move to a new payroll system and service arrangements with long term benefits
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Qualified Success Payroll team members unacceptably hostile and resentful toward the IT team responsible for the project. BECOMES Qualified Success The change project is still expected to produce benefits. There has been some delay caused by payroll unit issues.

Each picture should be instantly meaningful.

Each outcome picture should be instantly meaningful to people working in your part of organisation. The language should be of the same kind used in corridor conversations—the kind of conversation that reports good and bad news in a few seconds. Subject to clarity and objectivity, it is best to avoid a complicated list of measures and criteria requiring analytical thought.

Here is an example of a change that makes the outcome description easier to understand, even at the expense of more words.

Unit Objective: Maximise the timeliness and accuracy employee payments employees in line with proper management decisions and legal entitlements – Timeliness of Response Unit Objective: Maximise the timeliness and accuracy employee payments employees in line with proper management decisions and legal entitlements – Timeliness of Response
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Success Timeliness and accuracy score of at least 87 using the index developed by the performance metrics people last year. BECOMES Success Almost all authorisations and requests reaching the unit by advertised cut-off times were processed for the next payday. On the few occasions that was not possible, processing was sensibly prioritised and notice was given to anyone affected.

Each picture is of the period outcome, not a specific incident during the period.

Can the ‘outcome’ happen more than once during the year?

If the outcome can happen multiple times, it isn’t really the outcome for the period. It may be a type of consequential event that can happen repeatedly. The description as it is does not capture the net outcome effect of the occurrence(s) of the event type.

In this situation, you may be able to identify period outcome in ways like this:

The pattern and level of …X-type… incidents was within normal expectations for this type of work (Success)

OR

The pattern and level of …X-type… incidents was far worse than would be tolerated by stakeholders, and threatened the organisation’s viability, even though some of those incidents are to be expected. (Failure or Worst imaginable outcome)

Each picture must be at the right success or failure level.

Does each of the outcome pictures in the cell have the right relationship with the designated success or failure level? The reference table gives definite boundaries for the types of outcome that belong at each success or failure level.

The position of a given outcome picture can be moved between levels, as in this example. Having made such a move, you will probably want to make some edits to the other pictures for the objective.

Unit Objective: Maximise the employee perception that this organisation is a good employer Unit Objective: Maximise the employee perception that this organisation is a good employer
Success/Failure level Outcome pictures Success/Failure level Outcome pictures
Far better than expected Far better than expected
Excellence

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Excellence

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Records have been checked thoroughly and are known to be in good order and to support all payroll transactions during the year.

Success Records have been checked thoroughly and are known to be in good order and to support all payroll transactions during the year. Success
Qualified Success Qualified Success

During all of this you may find there are other edits you want to make.

Cell review

If there are multiple pictures in the cell, consider now whether they are connected by ‘AND’ or by ‘OR’.

The normal result is that you have ‘AND’ in the Success column, and ‘OR’ for the other columns (see the table). If your cell seems to be outside that pattern, it may mean that something should be re-considered.

Next article:

Objective-level review of outcome pictures

Any outcome on the objective must match exactly one cell. Sometimes a picture is missing.

Parent article: Risk in work unit business planning: Prove and consolidate the outcome pictures

Index to the series

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