The lumpy carpet syndrome

When Alan Mulally became boss of an ailing Ford Motor Company in 2006 one of the first things he did was demand that his executives own up to their failures. He asked managers to colour-code their progress reports—ranging from green for good to red for trouble. At one early meeting he expressed astonishment at being confronted by a sea of green, even though the company had lost several billion dollars in the previous year. Ford’s recovery began only when he got his managers to admit that things weren’t entirely green. (Fail often, fail well)

The sea of green is the lumpy carpet syndrome. It is common and particularly true when donors are the source of revenue.

Over $750 million has been spent on elections in Afghanistan, over the past 12 years. Not one has been credible. Almost two thirds of the money has been spent on building the voters register. There still is no voters register in the country.

This figure barely registers in the waste the Office of the Inspector General has exposed.

And yet the reports from the offices responsible for these projects read of glowing success. The difference is the lumpy carpet. Anything that looks bad is hidden. After all, no-one wants to spoil their prospects for promotion.

If someone tries to expose the waste, then it’s time to shoot the messenger.

More at:
Fail often, fail well
SIGAR Quarterly Reports to Congress
If it’s broken, IT can’t fix it