Are You Doing Good Work?

“tantum quantum”

Each Monday morning I write a new saying, metaphor, or a few inspirational words on the marker board in my office.  These reminders serve as guidance for me and promote interesting conversations with visitors.  For the week of Monday, November 30th, I wrote, “tantum quantum.”  This is Latin for ‘as much as’ or ‘only so much as.’  I first heard this phrase a few years ago, from the instructor of a personal professional development class I attended.  The context was about anything we do, any action we take, being useful only as much as it does good.  Hmmm…

How is this supposed to inspire me, or anyone else, who reads this at my office?

Knowing That Good Work

I serve Minnesotans through my work in continuous improvement.  You may know continuous improvement as Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), or a variety of other names.  These methodologies all fall under the category of ‘continuous improvement.’  With so many approaches, how does one choose?  By focusing on the outcomes you want to achieve.  The inspirational and aspirational tagline I use for our team is, “solving problems that change lives.”  This is an important distinction, as the words imply that we will not try to solve problems that do not change lives.

Whenever we take on a new project, the first two questions we ask are:

  • who is this project for?
  • if we successfully achieve the intended project goals, how will the results change the recipient’s life?

We take the time to discuss the answers to these two questions before we begin to draft a project charter, choose a continuous improvement methodology, or assign any resources.  The better the definition and agreement we have with the outcome(s) of the project, the more impactful and useful the project scope and work plan.  This view helps us align our plans to the outcomes, the scope, and the continuous improvement methodology that best fits the intended project outcomes.

Measuring That Good Work

There are as many ways to measure the success of a project as there are project managers!  For the state of Minnesota, whenever possible we use Results-Based Accountability (RBA), developed by the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute.  The main questions this outcome-based performance measures methodology asks are:

  • how much did we do?
  • how well did we do it?
  • is anyone better off?

Sounds pretty simple!  And it is.  We use a straightforward, plain language approach to performance measurement so everyone can understand what is going on, how well we’re doing, and if we are on the right path to solving a problem that will change lives.

Doing That Good Work

Now back to that Latin phrase, ‘tantum quantum.’  When we use this guidance, it isn’t as hard to motivate teams, get through some challenging change management concerns, and continue the evolution of government services for Minnesotans to be more efficient and effective.  The next time you are asked to participate in a change effort, lead a continuous improvement project, or change the way you do things at work, ask yourself:

The approach, the tools, the outcomes and goals:  is the effort as much as the good that comes from it?  That’s ‘tantum quantum’!

Do Good Work!

Joe Raasch is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.


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Mehroz Baig

Thanks for this post, Joe! At the health department in San Francisco, our focus is very much driven by quality improvement and RBA and I love this approach precisely because it puts the emphasis on impact. Let me know if you ever want to compare notes!