Best Value: bureaucracy as waste

In the last issue of this newsletter I wrote about ‘Best Value’ – a programme that aims to improve public sector organisations. I received this mail soon after:

‘The immediate impact upon this authority, as far as Best Value, is concerned was the creation of a ‘Best Value Inspection Unit’. The unit continues to grow to such an extent that office accommodation has had to be totally re-organised in the town hall.

This BV Unit is pre-occupied with ensuring that all in-house service providers prepare an annual Business Plan (with a target date) which sets objectives, Performance Indicators; shows a commitment to Investors In People, the Excellence Model etc (they call these the ‘drivers for change’!). The plans are brought together at great expense to produce a ‘Best Value Performance Plan’ which is sent down to a Government department somewhere who then decide whether or not they are going to increase the SSA (Standard Spending Assessment) to the local authority.

Most of the politicians and council employee’s seem to think this is the best way to increase the amount of money they have to spend on improving services to the public.

Nothing about ‘by what method’? But then ‘Best Value’ has no method. Imagine the costs of this bureaucracy across our land. It is Government-inspired waste. Local Authority managers are focused on feeding the hierarchy, their ambition is to get more money. At the recent Civil Service Conference on Public Sector Excellence, a delegate asked the Minister ‘Now we have got all the gongs, badges and accreditations, when will we get the money?’

Note: If you have not read ‘The Better Way to Best Value’, which describes the weaknesses of the approach and proposes a systems alternative, you can download it from the Vanguard web site:

We have just started work with a local authority, taking two core processes through ‘check-plan-do’. We expect to have improved performance in less than two months. The Best Value reviews for these processes took over six months and their consequent plans have no predictions for improvement, only managerial opinions. But, I guess, what else should we expect? The managers cannot be blamed.

Minimal IT for maximum profit

In the last issue I cited the research that shows how most IT projects fail – they either fail to work or they fail to deliver the promised benefits. We have developed a better way to work with IT.

In simple terms it goes like this: Understand, improve, ask if IT can further improve.

Understand – work first to understand the ‘what and why’ of performance as a system. You can do this for single processes or complex systems. Greater complexity means it just takes longer.

Improve – if you have done a good job in understanding you should be able to improve performance by cutting out waste, re-designing to do the value work or whatever.

Ask ‘can IT further improve this?’ – now and only now should you ask about IT. To ask if IT can improve the way the work works from a position of knowledge about the work leads to PREDICTION about what benefits IT solutions will bring to the way the work works.

The result is less spend on IT and much more from it. We shouldn’t expect the IT companies to get excited about it!

Performance without appraisal

On March 11th, ‘Performance without Appraisal’ was published by The Observer. It is an article that argues we would get more from people if we stopped appraising them; we would also be able to devote more time to doing work..

The basic distinction in the article is between appraisal, which is ‘judgement through the hierarchy’ and, as such, is psychologically unsafe and feedback, which is derived from the way work works and gives both manager and subordinate signals about the system. This, by contrast, is psychologically safe and hence leads to learning and improvement.

The article has been posted to the web site here.


ISO 9000: 2000 help from Japan

Following the publication of my book ‘The Case Against ISO 9000’ in Japanese, Takaji Nishizawa is publishing commentaries on how to take a systems approach to ISO 9000: 2000 on his web site in Japanese and English.

The Japanese, like others, are doing ISO 9000 because they have been coerced. Takaji Nishizawa is one of a group of leading consultants that is trying to stop ISO 9000 undermining world class thinking.

In his first commentary he argues, as I do, that managers will be misled by ISO 9000 into treating activities as processes – this will be a major cause of waste.


‘The Case Against ISO 9000’ reviewed in Japan

Takaji Nishizawa also told me about the first review of the book in Japan. I quote him without editing it (forgive his English).

‘He says that referring to your book, the mission of his journal is to inform their readers various information, even some of them is against the tide of the times. He writes if a company install ISO9000 not by coercion, it may give some merits to the company, but recently Japanese construction companies tend to register ISO9000 by coercion like England. He adds finally that there are some consultants in Japan who advice clients just to take registrations, not for improvement of performance of clients and
warned that investigation of harmful status of ISO9000 registration should be done.’

Isn’t it sad that the promulgation of ISO 9000 is accepted as the ‘tide of the times’? Despite the fact that the Japanese delegation at the ISO 9000 table was frequently opposed to its acceptance, when it hits, as it does through the corporate buyers, the business community demurs. Happens everywhere.

But there is hope. He suggests investigation. I know that the Japanese have suffered and are suffering from the same problems as all others. Moreover the criticism of this evidence is more likely to be voiced in a country that has a lot of world class (systems) thinkers. It is ironic that the ideas I learned from the Japanese are being exported back to kill off a British disease.

I have been disappointed with the slow sales of the book as I believe it contains some of the best written-work I have done on systems thinking in practice. I think people ‘know’ that ISO 9000 is problematic and don’t want to read about it. [But you tell me – why do you think people don’t buy this book? – answers by e-mail]

The value of the argument against ISO 9000 is that it opens the reader’s mind to the value of systems thinking. I hope that the Japanese will fan the flames of these arguments, for they will put a brake on the madness.

And I might sell a few books in Japan 😉

Stop the Call Centre standard

Who will gain from the proposed call centre standard? The assessing organisations and consultants and training organisations. Who will lose? Customers, for service will continue to be poor; and organisations for their costs will be high and their ability to improve hampered by what is proposed.

If you have not yet read my open letter to the Call Centre Association, please please do so and please add your voice to stop this crazy (bad theory) proposal.