Tool heads confess

The recent focus on Six Sigma (Newsletters passim) has brought some confessions from (ex) tool heads. Here are two. The first wrote:

“Your book “Freedom from Command and Control” comes with a money-back guarantee, I am not going to make a claim: the book was the best money I have spent for a long time. It was a difficult but ultimately, rewarding read. Difficult, because for the last twelve years I have been a management consultant trained in “Command and Control” methodologies. I saw “Lean approaches” as simply a means to smooth some of the rough edges of command and control: the instructions were still top-down with reporting and accountability still bottom-up, Lean was what management did to their staff. You challenged the received wisdoms in my head. Your book was ultimately rewarding because now I understand why I had nagging doubts during every project I undertook as to whether I was really doing the right thing for my client.”

More importantly, the right things for the system; the client might need to be prepared for a change in thinking.

Another, who was a Six Sigma ‘belt’ and is now learning the Vanguard Method wrote:

“I am fortunate to have experienced both sides (DMAIC and System Thinking) to this argument and can honestly say that as a greenbelt I changed nothing to benefit the customer in fact in one case made things much worse at a greater cost. However as a fledgling system thinker, I have already help to reduce end to end time of post to 1 to 2 days from 3 to 33 days.

I wonder; if Lean practitioners had a ranking system like Black Belts, would we be higher up the agenda?”

But that would send the wrong signal to top management, they’d buy bucket-loads of ‘Lean belts’ and wouldn’t realise the change starts with the way they think. The ‘belts’ ‘training’ and ‘project’ ideas appeal to the command and control thinker. These are not the interventions you need if you are going to change the system.

What is the cost/benefit? It’s the wrong question

A reader, experienced in traditional change management methodologies, who has just started learning the Vanguard Method wrote:

“… just reading about check, plan, do, and the key principles of system thinking did not change the way I perceived things. I had to go through a lot of pain and self-doubt about what I was being asked to do. A question I was continually asking the Vanguard people was ‘so what is the cost benefit of running this project?’

It is a command and control concept, and normal in its change management philosophy, something he now realises. Command and control managers love project milestones, deliverables, cost/benefit justifications and monthly reporting. It keeps them in their offices, in the management factory

When you do ‘check’ you get knowledge. When you move to ‘plan’ you can predict improvement against chosen measures, but you won’t know by how much, something that command and control thinkers have difficulty with. This problem often causes pain in organisations we are working with. Those who have ‘got it’ want to get on and do the things they can see need to be done, confident they will lead to improvement. Those who have not ‘got it’ and are stuck in the management factory hold the work up by pulling people into the factory for reports, meetings and other forms of justification. In fact, none is required. In such circumstances only strong leadership will get things moving.

Have you noticed the truth about analyses and plans?

When I find myself under attack from ardent command and control managers who have yet to learn systems thinking and are adamant nothing should go ahead without a cost/benefit analysis, I ask them to consider how many cost/benefit analyses are returned to, to find out if we were right? I ask them if they have ever seen a five-year plan that says we are going to get worse? I show them a system picture for their operations and ask them to predict the impact of the re-design on the budget. They always get it wrong and are always too conservative.

So why would you want to waste time planning? What you do need to work on is the relationship between the new (system) measures and the old (budget) measures; it’s the only way to develop a reliable view of what is going to happen as you improve; it also, ultimately, leads to less time being wasted on budgeting.

Is stopping the wrong thing doing the right thing?

Lloyds TSB announced that it has scrapped scripts in its call centres. According to the press reports, they did some research that told them 90 per cent of people who phone call centres find scripts annoying, 86 per cent of people would like to see scripts banned and a third of people working in call centres think getting rid of scripts would make their job easier. No surprise there then.

If management had spent a couple of hours in the call centres listening to customer demand and seeing how their system responded to it, they’d have come up with the same conclusion and saved themselves a fortune.

Taking this action from the management factory (do research, command changes) leads me to wonder whether Lloyds TSB is doing the right thing instead of simply stopping doing the wrong thing. Scripts are just one management idea that stops a service system absorbing variety; others include activity measurement, job design, inspection, information technology and so on. Managers need to learn what to do to enable their system to absorb variety, that’s the right thing to do, that’s how you improve service and reduce costs.

Some of the wrong things are really awful

Call centre managers love ‘tools’ for monitoring their agents, a complete waste of time and something that drives up cost (see above). The latest to come to my attention is something called “emotion detection”. Software that sends a signal to managers when it detects a loud voice or bad language.

If you didn’t laugh you’d cry. I worry about the people who buy this junk. They know nothing of the costs they bring to their operations.

The man with no policies develops a stupid one

Dave Cameron, the UK’s new leader of the opposition, a young, intelligent gent of outstanding pedigree has been something of a phenomenon. Despite having no policies he has captured peoples’ imaginations. The other day I heard what was for me his first real policy statement. He said the police should have performance-related pay. It won’t work. Such schemes focus people on getting the rewards, not doing the work.

I wrote to him to say so and told him the reality is that performance in policing, as with all public services, is governed by the system, the way the work is designed and managed.

I have offered to prove both assertions to his policy wonks. I wonder if they’ll take an interest.

The Audit Commission leads in the wrong direction

In November last year the Audit Commission put out a report claiming ‘partnership working’, which means local authorities sharing services or outsourcing them, is the best way to go with benefits processing in local authorities. I wrote to James Strachan (the then chairman) to tell him that the report was a shocker; it states clearly that the costs of benefits processing vary widely and says it is hard to account for the variation. Despite this, the report says shared back office working and outsourcing is the best way to go.

We (Vanguard consultants and clients) know this is the wrong thing to do. Moreover clients have proved it; they achieve levels of service and efficiency far above the norm. I got a reply from Frances Done, the Audit Commission’s managing director for local government. She told me she did not recognise my summary of the report’s conclusions.

You can read my reply to Frances Done at:

If you work in a local authority please get involved, talk about it with people who process benefits, we have to stop these people driving up the costs of service.

Vanguard available in Universities

Cardiff Lean Enterprise Research Centre, Hull Business School and Derby University now have Vanguard content on their curricula. Cardiff is looking for a course director. It might be of interest to a reader, so I reproduce their advert here:

Lean Service Course Director
(Research & Analogous Grade III)
Lean Enterprise Research Centre, Cardiff Business School

The main aim of the post is to ensure the effective development, operation and delivery of the new MSc in Lean Operations (Service) degree, which is being launched in May 2006. Duties will include lecturing in service operations related topics (and associated academic duties), recruiting students, organising lecturing staff, timetable management, syllabus coordination & development, course quality assurance and academic administration. There will also be an opportunity to develop and deliver short/executive courses, as well as conducting lean service research activity.

You will have a good first degree, an understanding of lean thinking and other business improvement techniques, knowledge and experience of service operations management, experience delivering courses to senior managers and may have a record in applied business research. A current driving licence is essential. You will be a self-starter able to operate on your own initiative.

The post is fixed-term for three years.
Salary range depending on experience: from £35,254
Contact: Simon Elias []

Will they ever learn?

Our minister for local authorities has announced that CPA – the current ‘improvement’ regime will be scrapped in a couple of years and replaced by something that puts the citizen at the heart of improvement. Quizzed on what he means in practice he said the details are to be worked out. Like every previous regime the idea is well ahead of any consideration of method. Thecminister would be in a better place to determine policy if he understood why the previous regimes failed.

I shall write to help him along.