Ohno said

Thanks to the many correspondents who commented on my disagreement with Womack, and Jones et al (the so-called ‘Toyota’ people). [I say disagreement, but their ‘rejection’ of my contribution was reported to me, they didn’t talk to me] Many correspondents gave examples of their own service experiences where standardisation was the cause of failure.

The central disagreement between us is with how to start for improvement. Their view is standardise in order to improve (as ‘Ohno said’), my view is begin with studying demand and design against demand, and the only thing that is standard in so many subsequent designs is that the service is good; it takes as various forms as there are customer demands.

The most interesting contributions came from correspondents who wanted to talk about what Ohno did, not what he said. For example, if you were a student of his, he would place you in the work and tell you to study it for two weeks, when he would return and ask you questions. He wanted to work on your thinking. He didn’t do it in a classroom.

Others who have contacts in Japan tell me the Japanese Toyota people have always had a problem with the codification (packaging as training) of their work. I can see why, it misses the point; people will start to ‘follow the recipe’; they will apply tools and methods and so on, but the real recipe is how to think, the application of tools can leave thinking unchallenged.

It reminds me of where I came in to this whole field. I studied TQM programmes – training in tools and techniques – that failed. You can’t change the system with training and tools interventions.

Ohno didn’t say

I lamented to Dan Jones and Jim Womack that they had called Taiichi Ohno’s work ‘lean’. I am guilty too – I called the Vanguard web site ‘lean-service’ following their use of the label as our work is the translation of the same ideas for service systems. But Ohno didn’t call it anything (other than the Toyota Production System). By giving things a label we entice managers to believe it will fit with their current theories about how to do change – tools, projects, training programmes and so on.

Ohno didn’t call it ‘lean’. Perhaps he knew why he didn’t.

The purpose of lean

I received this from a delegate who had attended the Lean Summit:

“I really enjoyed your morning plenary session at the Lean Summit. I hope it reminded a few people about what Lean is really about: value to the customer. It worried me that a lot of examples in other sessions still mentioned things like arbitrary targets or that the aim seemed to be cost cutting. I feel some at that conference have taken their eye off the ball a little, when it comes to Lean’s principal values.”

I share the same concern. There were too many presentations that put ‘lean’ in the ‘cost reduction’ box. It is true that you get cost reductions but the reason for ‘going lean’ is to increase capacity. It is the same as Deming taught: better quality means lower costs which means lower prices, better market share and more jobs. Selling lean as cost reduction is not only to miss the point, it will create a negative back-lash. And it will relegate lean to being a fad.

Watch out for the tool heads

Since the Amsterdam Summit the Vanguard people (consultants and clients) have been buzzing with the issues raised. We have decided to devote the next Vanguard Network day to everything you should know about the manufacturing ‘tools’ (where they came from, how they work etc); why service is different to manufacturing, and the implications (risks) of using inappropriate tools; the Vanguard methods for changing service systems. Thus the attendees can work it all out for themselves.

Vanguard Network days are for members only. For information about membership and/or the next Network day (October 7th) e-mail Karen at the office: office@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Have the tool heads done it to you?

During the Network day we will give examples of the inappropriate use of manufacturing ‘lean tools’ in service organisations. For example: Poke Yoke (mistake proofing), which can be taken to mean ‘forced data entry’, i.e. the worker has to complete a screen before the work can move on. It puts the control with the machine, not the worker. Workers learn to put anything in that will move the work on (for the information required is of no value to them).

We are interested in more examples. Have the lean tool heads been in your service organisation? If so please get in touch. We want to find out about what they did and we will discuss with you what they should have done if they had known how to take a systems perspective.

I’m glad I didn’t go to the NHS

I was asked to meet a client’s board and so had to withdraw at short notice from an NHS event; I sent Wilma Paxton-Doherty instead; in truth a better person to attend, as she has both Vanguard and NHS knowledge. But I am so glad I didn’t go.

The audience was made up of those who had been deemed to have ‘failed’ by government’s current assessments. Those in power, who had wrought damage throughout the public sector via terrible prescriptions and methods, spent the day telling those who had ‘failed’ what they needed to do. Questions about the validity of their prescriptions were simply closed down. I would have blown my top. The current regime holds the wrong people accountable. Election time is coming; it is our opportunity to show who we think is accountable.

Wilma was so devastated by what she experienced she wrote notes about it. If you’d like to read her notes, e-mail Julie: julie@vanguardconsult.co.uk and ask for Wilma’s notes.

Audit Commission people are just like managers

Last month I met with the panel that is going to evaluate Vanguard’s work (funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) in housing services. Two members of the panel are from the Audit Commission. During the meeting I explained how ‘check’ (understanding the ‘what and why’ of current performance as a system) would expose examples of government specifications (‘system conditions’ in Vanguard language) that make performance worse. When I illustrated the point with housing benefits as an example, they could see the argument; when I broached the same for housing they disagreed. Just like managers; systems thinking is easy to get intellectually when discussing another system, but managers respond emotionally when it is their own system. For many years we have had a ‘rule’ in Vanguard, don’t talk about their system with managers when you first meet. I forgot my own rule!

One of the points of dispute was the target to have 70% housing repairs as ‘planned’ and 30% as ‘reactive’. I described how this causes waste. My examples were put down to ‘bad management’, just as managers do. I asked where the target came from. Apparently it started in the Eighties when local authorities had all the housing stock and it was in a bad state of repair. The ‘rule’ may have made sense in those circumstances. But now it is enshrined as a mandatory target. The target-setters are debating should it be 70-30 or 60-40? Another member of the panel, a chief executive of a housing association, pointed out that new housing estates should have no planned repairs; obvious really. The fact is designing all repair against demand would ensure the most cost-effective solution for all circumstances.

Doing the wrong thing righter

I was clearing my desk and came across some notes I had taken from Ackoff. He said:

“Most systems pursue objectives other than those they proclaim. They try to do the wrong thing righter and this makes what they do wronger. It is much better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right because when errors are corrected it makes doing the wrong things wronger, but the right things righter.”

This ought to be on the wall of every government specifier; if only they thought for a moment about what they do to public sector performance.