Becoming a Deliverologist
Part 1 of What is Delivery? How did you build Delivery Associates? What does it mean to be a ‘deliverologist’?
Sometimes the seemingly inconsequential decisions have a massive impact on your life. Twelve years ago, I started to work on a project with the Government of Pakistan to reform its education system. McKinsey’s San Francisco Office was not particularly pleased, my parents were not jumping for joy, and most of my peers did not think this was a great career move.
I spoke no Urdu
I had never been to Pakistan before. I wasn’t an education or a government expert. But I did have a few things going for me. I had previously worked on a project in Nigeria reforming the retail operations of a pan-African bank, which is a lot like what is required for fixing schools. I had been advising a Lahore-based founder working on an insulation company. And, perhaps most consequentially, I had made a friend in the New York Office who had happened to write his senior thesis on the need for private schools as a solution to education system reform in his home country of Pakistan and had just been staffed to the project.
The senior partner heading up the endeavor wasn’t an average consulting partner who had worked up the ranks but rather a lateral hire from the British government who had the crazy idea that you could take the method that he developed under Tony Blair and go global.
Crucially, the Chief Minister of Punjab was Shahbaz Shariff, a unique figure in Pakistani politics - a leader who relished working hard, holding people accountable, and driving for results. My role, an initial eight weeks, was to help the provincial education department of Punjab prepare for their first stock-take with the Chief Minister and see what could be done about building data systems for setting targets, building trajectories, and measuring progress.
The government had already signed up for the strategy and the delivery plan, called The Punjab Reform Roadmap. (Yes, I still have the PowerPoint. It’s still a masterclass in what you should do to reform a poor-performing education system, even down to the details of best practices for training officials and using prescripted lessons - something The Economist published about just this week as if it were a new insight).
Now we had to get it done.
That’s the delivery part. The premise of Deliverology (a well-documented approach of best-in-class performance management applied to the public sector) is that getting results in government requires 10% of the effort toward the policy/strategy and 90% toward implementation.
Two months turned into eight, and I was still working in Lahore as the government was making unprecedented progress in fixing the education system. The stars lined up in our favor. There was leadership commitment at the top, we could get the data systems to work, there were talented people across the civil service who adopted the approach, and our team, led by Michael, was world-class.
When effectively applied, Deliverology will always work. The reality is that it is rarely applied effectively.
The results have been published in many places.
However, the best account is from Sir Michael Barber, who writes eloquently and persuasively in The Good News From Pakistan.
This early professional experience of working with Michael, mastering Deliverology, and experiencing how you could produce exceptional results with a small team in the most hopeless circumstances changed me and my career forever.
But, these lessons of how Delivery Associates came to be and the lessons learned along the way are for another time. For now, I remember fondly the many months and later regular visits I would make to lovely Pakistan.
Wow! I guess this kind of courage comes only from a place of service. Would that be an accurate assumption?
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