Systems thinking in the public sector

In May/June this year we will be running an event on systems thinking in the public sector where we will be showing basic templates (systems pictures)for a variety of common systems. To take just one example: If one localauthority can halve the time it takes to deal with planning applications, others can use the same basic framework for improving their own performance. For more information about the event just stay subscribed to this newsletter.


How to get the cops out?

On a recent flight I read a letter to the Daily Mail. Awoken at 2 am by burglars in his garden shed, a man called the police. He was told there were no available resources, but someone would attend ‘when they could’. Ten minutes later he called again and said ‘Don’t bother sending anyone, I just shot them’. Within minutes a plethora of cops arrived – an armed response unit, cars with sirens, a helicopter and a senior officer. They arrested the burglars red-handed. The senior police officer said: ‘I thought you said you ‘d shot them’. The man replied: ‘I thought you said you had no resources’.

It made me chuckle too. But this week one of the Vanguard team took me through the front end of the police response system. It is easy to see how the system sub-optimises the use of police resources. It is a system that has been built by successive additions of functions; it is full of waste – in particular re-work and duplication of effort – and it is of little surprise we don’t get the resources to where they are needed. Who drove the successive changes? Step forward Government ministers and civil servants.

See the article ‘A fair cop? Not for the Police’ at:


De Bono has right analysis but wrong answer

I was sent this excerpt from a De Bono newsletter:

‘There are two million people employed in call centres in the UK. . In my experience the service provided by these call centres is very poor. You go through complex routing, sometimes human and sometimes via buttons. In the end your need does not seem to fit neatly into the capability box of the person the other end of the line. There will soon need to be a new profession. This will be the profession of ‘intermediaries’, between ordinary folk and call centres. You call an intermediary who then takes up the matter on your behalf, and reports back to you with a final result.’ Of course if this does happen it will push the costs of service up even further. The right answer is to design against demand. In that way costs fall as service improves. This is way beyond the ability of most call centre managers. They have no idea about the nature of demand, being preoccupied instead with volume and resource equations (‘how many calls will we have and how many people will I need?’). When they learn to design against demand the impact on costs and service often embarrasses them. How could they have been so foolish?

Let’s be kind – they were led into this trap by the providers of their technology.


Australian AQC goes under (!)

A reader from the antipodes sent me this:

‘Interesting reading your newsletter re ISO9000. It would appear they are not the only ones in trouble. Here in Australia the AQC our business excellence body has gone broke. Maybe you can’t be excellent at everything after all!!!!’

I always admire the Aussies for not putting up with crap. The Excellence Model does not improve performance. End of story. For more on why read ‘The Business Excellence Model: will it deliver?’ at:

You read it here years ago.


Bad management starts at school

A good friend and systems thinker writes:

‘An article in today’s paper says schools are now suspected of persuading students to go for easier subjects to improve the school’s ranking in exam league tables. So, Maths and Physics are out – but here’s the irony – what easier subject are the students being persuaded to take instead? Business Studies! We’ve got a job for life, mate.’

I can imagine the wrong-headed junk on the curriculum. And it goes all the way up. It reminds me that Henry Mintzberg said ‘MBA’ should stand for ‘maybe best avoided’.


More on bad behaviour fostered by ISO 9000

A correspondent in Japan writes:

‘Last year in November JAB (Japan accreditation body) ordered the suspension of ISO assessment activities of two Japanese certification bodies. The two bodies are JET (for ISO9000) and ISC (for ISO14001). Reasons of the suspension were not publicly disclosed by JAB. But as for ISC some rumours said that ISC had did unfair assessments due to poor quality of assessors. The governor of Mie prefecture obliged suppliers to register to ISO14001. At the same time he set up a consulting firm to help the suppliers get the certifications and became its president. Naturally in Mie prefecture the demand to get ISO4001 rapidly increased and it resulted in increase of poor quality of assessors. But ISC made great profits. Then the suspension from JAB came in November. The governor apologized at the prefecture assembly. JAB’s positive attitudes to stop unfair assessment are said to be due to new appointment of Mr.Okuda, ex-president of Toyota as a member of committee of JAB.’

And a police correspondent writes:

‘You will be pleased to hear that we used to be the only IT dept within the police service accredited for ISO 9001. Then we gave up ISO, and feel a lot better for it. Not that you can quote me, of course!’

Of course!