What happened at Toyota?

Over the last couple of months many people have asked me for my views on what is going on in Toyota. Two of the articles I have written on the subject (for the CQI and Customer Engagement Club) are available on our website. One is titled ‘Has Toyota lost its way?’ (see https://www.01handshake01.com/v1_lib.php?current=922) and the other is ‘How lean became mean’ (see https://www.01handshake01.com/v1_lib.php?current=450)

Lean is falling off the rails

As I mention in the above articles, Toyota is not immune from the ‘lean tools’ problem – assuming tools are universal and failing to first of all understand what problem you have. A reader tells me she watched a presentation by Job Centre plus people on their ‘lean’ programme. Apparently they have been doing lean for two years, had some ‘small wins’, but are now struggling to achieve more.

Two years! If you can’t change a service organisation in less than six months you are doing something wrong (as indeed they are).

Lean is mean for wheelchair users

A reader sent me an example of the customers’ experience of the recently ‘leaned’ Wheelchair & Seating Service operated by NHS Scotland:

1. User: I can’t make the appointment you sent out. Can we make a different one over the phone?

2. Appointments secretary: That’s OK, we’ll send you out another one.

3. User: But what if I can’t make that one? Can’t we agree one now?

4. Appointments secretary: Sorry the technician keeps the appointments book.

5. User: Can I speak to the technician then?

6. Appointments secretary: No you need to go through the appointments secretary. The technician doesn’t make the appointments we send them out.

7. Repeat from 1.

He tells me management were following lean management principles. You couldn’t make it up.

Sack people, earn belts

Astonished but not surprised to learn that Lean Six-Sigma ‘change’ consultants (I write change in inverted commas as they don’t make useful change), working in a financial services firm, are given targets for getting rid of people; they have to meet the targets to earn their next colour belt.

Sacking people means, in practice, reducing FTE (full-time equivalents), the key cost measure used in industrialised service designs. In executing their dastardly deeds, the Lean Six-Sigma goons assume that all activity equals cost and that reductions in activities will translate to reductions in workers (FTEs). They couldn’t be more wrong. More than 95% of the variation in performance is due to the system. The goons report their ‘savings’ but no one knows what impact their interventions had on the system. Often the system is made worse, but neither the goons nor management can see it, for their obsession with activity data keeps them blind.

If you don’t know why these goons are goons, read ‘Re-thinking lean service’, download it from: https://www.01handshake01.com/v1_lib.php?key=rethinking&id=668

Can we do it faster?

I was approached by a prospective client, who thought the results we are achieving with other organisations were ‘great’, but he wanted to know, can it be done faster? I couldn’t believe it. Has anyone experienced a change on the scale that Systems Thinking achieves in less time? Most services can be changed in about three months, if leaders take the fast-track route, two months. How can anyone believe that’s not fast? Is anything faster?

Stroud’s benefits service in the press

One of the stories featured in the new public-sector case studies book is Stroud’s Housing Benefits service. Stroud is among many who now deliver a service that makes central targets look un-ambitious and does so without any ‘back-office’. Stroud’s story was picked up by the housing press; getting benefits processed matters to landlords. The article starts out with the startling revelation that most of the calls hitting the service were failure demand. You can access the article at: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/story.aspxstorycode=6508871

NI 14 label is ‘political’

The people at Stroud know that only the predictable failure demand is preventable. Things will always go wrong, you have to learn what is going wrong predictably; you shouldn’t treat the unpredictable as predictable, that would get you into worse trouble. Unaware of this, the children at the Cabinet Office think all failure demand is ‘avoidable’ contact, and they think that forcing councils to report it will motivate them to do something about it.

Regular readers will know that avoidable contact (National Indicator 14, a centrally-determined target) started life as ‘failure demand’ and, remarkably, changed its name to ‘avoidable contact’. Correspondence between a systems thinker in local government and one of the children in the Cabinet Office reveals why. It was a ‘political’ choice, the children wanted to avoid any connection with my work.

We wouldn’t want people doing something useful would we? Instead we see failure demand massively under-reported (through fear) and not capable of being understood and used for improvement, because people have to comply with the children’s ideas about what to count and how to act. And what do they know? It is a terrifying reality; our public services are run on lines dictated by children in Whitehall. Should it be a surprise that they get it wrong?

But the good news – today (April 1st!) – NI 14 has been dropped. When we drop the children we will be permanently better off.

Advice UK Campaign

One organisation that has understood how to work with failure demand is Advice UK. Advice UK represents voluntary agencies that have to service the failure demand created by HMRC and DWP both failing to provide services that work. They have mounted a campaign to give the problem(s) and their solutions greater visibility.

Please support their campaign. You can do so at: http://www.adviceuk.org.uk/SmartAdvice

Tools from fools

A reader writes to tell me that an outfit called ‘Electronic Service Delivery’ promulgates a ‘tool-kit’ encouraging standards, targets, activity-based costing and standard work throughout the public sector. As he points out, everything we teach managers to avoid. The ESD web site restricts users to public-sector personnel; I guess it is a way of preventing debate about their ideas, so I am unable to give you more details of their wrong-headed schemes. Just to say avoid them; or if you have no choice and it is your job to do their bidding, please let me know more about the details of the rubbish they peddle, it should be used to educate others.

As the reader says: Come the revolution….

Shared services myopia

I was sent an article that could have been written by one of the children in Whitehall. The first line reads: ‘You bring in great shared services operational results, but instead of congratulations you end up heaped with a new round of complaints’.

Instead of reflecting on why there is a disconnection between the ‘great’ operational results (SLAs, KPIs etc) and the customers’ experience, the author goes on to argue for doing more of the wrong thing. She is, like the children in Whitehall, stuck. If only she (and they) knew.

If you want to look inside the head of a blocked mind read the article at: http://www.ssonetwork.com/topic_detail.aspx?id=7196&ekfrm=6 But be warned, you may lose the will to live.

Making life difficult

[Be warned – this is a long item!]

In the December 2009 newsletter I told the story of a man who had been taken off incapacity benefit (‘Regime bears down on benefit claimants’) – in short, the government strategy seemed to be: remove the benefit and see who squeals. Thanks to those of you who sent him advice via me. He wrote again last month to up-date his story. It is long but important:

‘Hope you don’t mind me writing to you again but I thought I would let you know I have won my case and that I am back on the deserving poor list (incapacity). Having gone through the loop of ‘customer care’ at our job centre I feel I need to fill you in on the diary of events from my last instalment.

Having contacted the ‘warfare rights’ department of our local council and given a written submission of the story so far, they agreed to help. We submitted a document, stating the same argument I had submitted in my original appeal, and my doctor gave a written statement confirming I was unfit to work. The letter was duly acknowledged, and then I received confirmation that I had been turned down and any appeal was refused on the grounds (now you have to bear with me here as I could not believe it) that they could not take into account my existing medical condition as the Doctor who carried out my medical chose to discount it!!

I got confirmation for a tribunal. Because it was due to go to tribunal all papers relating to the case had to be submitted and copied to me. I now realise how it all started. Someone in the back office got my case file out because it was due for review, passed it on to another back office, who then passed it on to a medical assessment officer who then made a decision; not on the details on my file but on the target set by government: to get as many people off incapacity as possible. I then had the medical and got one point out of a possible 17!!!

My reconsideration went in, but due to a mix up went straight to appeal. The appeal documentation went like this: a different medical officer asked the medical doctor if he would like to reconsider, as I had a medical condition. He stamped the document and said no, so the medical assessment officer refused the appeal on the ground I did not have a medical condition that would prevent me from working!!

When I received a letter from the job centre asking me to go in for a ‘getting me back to work’ interview I went, pointing out I was on a sick note and my appeal was going through. I was invited to go for an NHS-supported programme for long term sick claimants. I went, spoke to a very nice person, who gave me a lot of options, support group, pain management training, living-with my condition type stuff. I pointed out I had worked for over 30 years, had had two heart attacks and suffered with angina etc etc. I would love to work in fact I do in a sense, with all the community volunteering I do. If they could find an employer who would take me on knowing I may not turn up for days at a time, am unable to do stairs, lift often, walk far, and oh, may require medical assistance, then I would go for it.

Back to appeal. On seeing the documentation the welfare support unit asked me to write a new submission, stating what happened at the so-called medical, and my doctor was prepared to go with me to the tribunal and confirm my condition. This I did with supporting points to the DWP’s own rules regarding method in such cases.

I received a letter in January of this year saying they had found in my favour (no explanation as to why). I rang the front office in February to say I had not heard, they said I was on employment and support allowance, and no, I could not speak to the back office, and could I fax them the letter!!

I rang again at the end of February to find a note had been put on the screen to say I had received a letter. No, I could not speak to incapacity as I was on employment and support allowance. Rang beginning of March, got clever and asked for supervisor, they said someone would ring me , they did and said they were sorry but the wrong form had been sent out (at this I took a deep breath) but not to worry I was still on employment and support allowance until it was sorted. It turned out they had sent the wrong form to the department that deals with forms to tell them to pay me my arrears.


I pointed out I was now back on incapacity allowance so why was I still dealing with employment and support allowance? ‘It’s because we cannot take you off, but you are still getting incapacity benefit’. I said now can I be employable and incapable at the same time. Now you may have lost your sense of reality John after all this, but remember it’s happening to me and it’s not funny.

Taking your housing repair model, it would make more sense to have the medical assessment officer the person for me to contact and vice-versa. If any queries about medical condition arose then they would give a call and ask directly. If deemed a medical is required, again the medical officer would take control, no back office. Another point would be not to take you off incapacity until your appeal had gone through. The service should work with the claimant and not against him or her. Think of the monies saved, and better outcomes achieved!! I am not against the move to get people back to work, I would welcome the opportunity; it is the methodology I am against.’

And so should we all be. Look at the costs of inefficiency and the human costs. And this is all down to the ministers and their children in Whitehall. As he points out, the better way to design a service is to get the right expertise to the point of transaction; but in his case he never should have been taken off benefit – that was driven by an arbitrary target. How many people were unable to squeal?

I was about to put this newsletter to bed when another missive came from this man. I know its long, but it is so real…

‘Got two letters this morning from the Job Centre. One for me informing me they had invited my partner (politically correct) to a ‘back to work’ interview. The wife’s letter confirmed that, with the words: ‘Worked-focused interview to help getting back to paid work’.

I rang the number on the letter (local number, I thought things are looking up) and the letter said if we had any questions we could ring Yvonne our personal adviser. We did, as my wife works part time. The phone number was no longer available, ring the o845 line!!

Rang, asked to speak to Yvonne. The front office call centre was taken aback by this and said ‘which Job centre and what function does Yvonne have?’Long silent wait, ‘Ash speaking can I help?’ Gave details and asked for Yvonne… ‘sorry she is not available can I help?’ He said the letter had been generated by the computer system because we had made a new claim in the past six months (don’t go there John). And although the wife was not claiming any benefit and she was working part time, the system says she has to come in, if she doesn’t then our claim may be affected (monies withheld).

Despite informing them she works part time because she has to look after me when I am unwell to the point I have to lie down and cannot look after myself and she is up some nights watching over me, did not alter the fact she had to come in. In fact the young man was very helpful because he informed me I could claim attendance allowance and he would send the forms out to me. I pointed out I knew I could claim but I chose not to as I did not feel I needed to because I was not unwell all of the time and the wife did not have to attend to me every day.

He said he would get someone to ring me back – he did and said Yvonne said the wife still had to come in…

I think all of the information I have given you reinforces your take on systems wasting monies that should be designed to save money. State Benefit is complicated because they made it so. Communication is hard because they don’t recognise they are dealing with people, just claimants who are on the system. The system is broke because it has been made to assist target driven attainment.’

Quite so. And it should make us all very cross. This is the result of ‘leaned’, industrialised factory management; high-cost, poor quality services. A waste of public money exacerbating the problems of the most vulnerable and needy; it is hardly the marque of a civilised society.

Another childish idea

An academic writes, sending me an article destined for the British Journal of Social Work. It is yet further evidence that children’s social workers are obliged to use a computer system that entails them spending up to 80% of their time in front of a screen rather than doing useful work. The article looks at the reasons behind this and places the blame on the Department for Children, Schools and families.

I was pleased to see yet further evidence, but I have little faith in Ed Balls (the minister) fessing up to the nightmare he created when he pushed the button on this. The basic idea behind the ‘Integrated Children’s System’ [sic] is to control the activity of social workers, probably the best way to sub-optimise any system. The minister should be held to account.

A factory approach to understanding demand

An amazing example of technology being used for the wrong thing: A council has bought an IT system that ‘listens’ to calls to work out failure demand. Words like ‘I have called before’ are ‘recognised’ by the computer and counted as failure demand. What an astonishing waste of money. The only way to understand demand is to listen to it and develop a customer typology. The goons using this software will play for years with decision rules but will never get it to truly know about demand from the customers’ point of view. A classic example of an IT feature not being a benefit.

Read the story at: http://www.guardianpublic.co.uk/public-sector-customer-services-adetunji

More factory junk

I was stunned to learn that some councils are using population profiling as a means to achieve ‘customer insight’. Population profiling has had a chequered history in the private sector. The idea is that you segment your customers and thus provide each segment with ‘tailored’ services. In the private sector, in truth, this usually means tailored offerings, profiling being a marketing (‘push’) idea.

You can picture the scene: Council managers meet to discuss the profile of their population while their call centre is ringing off the hook with failure demand – people making it quite clear where the managers’ attention ought to be. Profiling will give you about as much illumination as a dark night in a coal hole. The only people to gain are the IT-providers (all that data crunching). And managers will remain deaf to their citizens.

Factory junk feeds factory managers, we’d be better off without them.

Bort från styrning och kontroll – omvärdering av Lean service

As any Swede doth know, the above (at least the first bit) is ‘Freedom from Command and Control’ in Swedish. I shall be in Stockholm (Tuesday April 27th) and Gothenburg (Wednesday April 28th) speaking at the launch. To reserve your place: http://www.studentlitteratur.se/o.o.i.s?id=13123&nid=3455&csid=66&mp=4918

The observant reader will have noticed the word ‘lean’ in the second part of the title. The first title suggested to me was something like: ‘Lean for service organsiations’. I said no, call it that and I don’t come to the launch. I have grown to hate the word, I hate what I see lean doing, I hate the way in which it fools intelligent people and most of all I hate the way it prevents managers from seeing what they really need to see.

Otherwise its fine!

Some seminal moments

At a recent event I talked about some of the seminal moments that led to what we now know as the Vanguard Method. The video is available at:

Join me at the Deming Forum

I am pleased to be sponsoring the Deming Forum again this year. Always an enjoyable two days amongst old friends, challenging thinkers and a few others(!) I recommend it, come along and join me. It is May 12 and 13. For information and bookings: office@deming.org.uk

Vanguard events coming up

Process Mapping and Analysis for Performance Improvement
Tuesday 27th April, The Royal Station Hotel, Newcastle
Thursday 6th May, Bewleys Hotel, Manchester Airport
For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Vanguard Network South West Making It Happen – How to do Systems Thinking Change
Wednesday 5th May, Upton Country Park, near Poole
For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Counterintuitive Knowledge: A Systems View of Housing Management
Tuesday 13th April, Leeds United Conference Centre
Thursday 13th May, Novotel, Cardiff
Tuesday 22nd June, Hotel Du Vin, Brighton
For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk