AUTHOR ARCHIVES

Robert D. Behn

Robert D. Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, chairs the executive education program “Driving Government Performance: Leadership Strategies that Produce Results.” His book The PerformanceStat Potential will be published by Brookings in 2014.
Results 1-10 of 22

Real Lean Is Not Just About Cutting Costs

January 8, 2016 Lean is huge—and growing. In the U.S., it is impossible to get an accurate count of how many cities, counties, states, and U.S. government agencies are using Lean. Nevertheless, many report they are doing so. What, however, is “Lean”? Each jurisdiction and agency has its own variant on the concept....

Public Officials Need to Accept That There Is No Silver Bullet

December 21, 2015 No matter what purpose a human seeks to achieve, he or she would prefer a “silver bullet.” It would make everything much easier. Without it, unfortunately, we humans have to do the hard work of (1) developing a strategy for achieving this purpose, and (2) actually motivating other humans to...

Why Failure Has to Be an Option

December 4, 2015 Even though you remember it, he never said it. Even if you never saw the film, you still remember it. But that doesn’t mean he said it. Oh yes, Gene Kranz said it in the film Apollo 13. Actually, it was the actor playing Gene Kranz who said it. Yet,...

Public Officials, Just Remember the Airlines Are Always Worse

October 9, 2015 “The machine did it,” said the woman at the airline’s boarding desk. In response, I noted that “a human programmed the machine.” This obviously factual statement had no impact. The machine had done it. No human was responsible for causing the problem. Consequently no human was responsible for fixing the...

Planning Is Valuable; The Plan Much Less So

September 16, 2015 In The Art of War, the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu observed: “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” Over a millennia later, the Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth...

Rule #1: Policy Design Starts With Operational Capacity

June 11, 2015 Sir Jonathan Ive, the head of design for Apple, obviously thinks seriously and analytically about design. In February, in a long profile of Ive in The New Yorker, Ian Parker observed that Ive thought “bad industrial design often starts in ignorance of what a material can and cannot do.” Clearly...

Data Wonks vs. Performance Leaders

April 30, 2015 I’m a data wonk. I like to look at data, analyze data, use long division to compare data. I can probably get more information out of the morning’s box score than most of the 37,400 people who were at Fenway Park. I do not, however, claim to know more than...

Why Every Manager Should Use the Great Sewerage Equation

April 6, 2015 In 1858, the House of Commons of Great Britain charged Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the odious and odorous task of eliminating London’s “Great Stink.” The smell came from the city’s open sewers, which also spread cholera. To fix these problems, Bazalgette created...

Snow Days: When Government Resorts to Naming and Shaming

March 6, 2015 The winter of 2015 has set records in Massachusetts. Snow records. Over eight and a half feet have already fallen in Boston. In February alone, over five feet. With snow come all sorts of inconveniences. From a two-foot storm in January and another two-foot storm in February came big inconveniences....

Why Every Agency Needs a Chief Management Officer

January 8, 2015 Forty years ago, Henry Mintzberg, of McGill University, asked the simple question: “What do managers do?” To Mintzberg managers were not just corporate CEOs but also “vice presidents, bishops, foremen, hockey coaches and prime ministers”—people with “formal authority” for some kind of “organizational unit.” Mintzberg was looking for what these...