Command-and-control ‘lean’

A new client showed us what their previous (big name) consultants had been doing in the name of ‘lean’. Teams had to meet every day to discuss their productivity, the number of ‘folders’ done in a day. Teams were encouraged to brainstorm improvements to their processes. The best result was a reduction in the time it took to process new ‘folders’; from 8 to 3 days. Sounds good doesn’t it? Until you look a little deeper.

The productivity measures are themselves a cause of waste (a ‘system condition’ in Vanguard-speak). Teams were to problem-solve variations (from targets) instead of understanding the extent to which variation was inherent in the work – something they knew nothing about for their measures kept them blind. There were no measures of capability – how well the service worked from the customer’s point of view; hence teams could be ‘improving’ time to process ‘folders’ but the service could be (and was) dire. The reason, as ever, is managers treating all demand as though it is ‘work to be done’, not appreciating that much of the demand was failure, attributable to the service design. Cutting processing time is not the same as cutting end-to-end time; the thing that matters to the customer.

So this ‘lean’ intervention amounted (as so many of them do) to ‘command-and-control’. More of the same, labelled as ‘lean’.

It is disappointing to see how easily managers can be duped. What tickles me is that this is just one of a number of new clients for Vanguard, where the big name boys had been in. They save me from having a marketing department!

Lean bananas

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) keep getting bad press about their new ‘lean’ programme (see newsletters passim). This month one of the howlers has been getting staff to mark everything on their desks with black tape. It is a classic ‘tool head’ intervention, something you might do in manufacturing (‘everything in its place’) to create standardised and tidy operations. It is irrelevant to service design and hugely irritating to staff.

But the big ‘banana skin’ was, as it happens, what you do with the banana you have brought to your desk for lunch. Apparently one has to ask the question: ‘Is this banana active?’ Meaning: are you going to eat it? If it is not, the banana should be removed.

You couldn’t make it up. As a reader writes: ‘Daft and demeaning and naturally doomed to failure. What has occurred – the line is quite easy to follow – is that some group of benighted managers have allowed themselves to be seduced by some equally befuddled group of management consultants, who have swallowed one aspect of Toyota’s great Way and System, mistaken it for the whole thing, taken it out of context, half-digested some partial insights and brought forth pure waste, which is now to be spread on the workforce like so much dung. Totally bananas. Lean bananas at that!’

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Lean in the NHS

The recent ‘In Business’ programme (radio 4) on the NHS ‘lean’ programme provided another illustration of the problem with treating ‘lean’ as process improvement through tools. The main method employed was the Rapid Improvement Event. Whenever I hear that phrase I am reminded of what Deming (sort of) said: If you can do this in a week, why didn’t you do it last week?

Of course what gets done in a week is superficial process improvement. As the programme showed, many people don’t ‘get it’ and some become actively resistant. The managers said we should expect resistance (but it is a product of badly designed change) and they decided to stop calling the change ‘lean’ and instead call it ‘process re-design’. At least that is honest (as well as foolish).

An NHS reader writes: ‘I come across services where there is no management methodology and I have yet to come across a management team with any understanding of the capability of their service processes.’

Very disturbing, and something the tool heads won’t help with. The answer to Deming’s question is: because of the system and it is that that has to change.

Rapid Improvement Events: tools from fools

Rapid Improvement Events appeal to command-and-control managers, they think change is a ‘get them to do it’ thing and ‘tools’ are the means. Of course so many organisations, like the health service, are so broken that any intervention can make a difference. But the achievements are pathetic when compared to what could be achieved by changing the system.

Rapid Improvement Events are often called ‘Kaizen Blitz’. I am reminded of something David Hutchins said to me long ago: if you want to make money, think of something simple and give it a Japanese name. Kaizen Blitz is now a ‘preferred improvement methodology’ in Scottish local authorities. When this policy began in 2005 Stuart Corrigan (our man in Scotland) wrote a lament, explaining why Kaizen Blitz would fail. You can read this at: https://www.01handshake01.com/v1_lib.php?current=924

Recently I watched a presentation on Kaizen Blitz applied to planning; amazingly this work won a prize. The work contains all of the errors outlined by Stuart: ‘within process’ improvement (ignoring end-to-end; which can meanno improvement); problems defined by management (thus based on the currentcommand-and-control view); no appreciation of measures being central to the problem. As with the NHS examples, the ‘improvement’ looked good to people who knew no better.

Planning is something we know a lot about. Our local authority clients achieve massive improvements by changing the system; they put the Kaizen Blitz ‘improvements’ in the shade. I am going to write up a comparison of the two approaches and their results. Watch this space.

A dumb vision

A public-sector reader writes:

‘I attended a seminar on ‘transformation’. A presenter announced that the vision for their customer service initiative was: ‘To significantly improve the customer experience when contacting the Council and to reduce, over time, the cost per customer contact’.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that unless you looked across end-to-end services and worked with a Lean approach on these then you were not going to achieve these two aims. Just concentrating on one area, in this case front-facing customer services, and using naïve costing yardsticks is, in the words of Buddha, a trap for fools and a thicket of deception.

If failure demand goes up, customer satisfaction will fall but the good (?) news is the number of calls to the Council goes up and because of the very high fixed costs, the unit cost per call will fall.

Similarly, a reduction in calls that would result from better first time service delivery would lead to more satisfied customers but could actually increase the unit cost because of the smaller number of resultant calls bearing the high fixed costs.

These points were made to various service representatives at the meeting but not really grasped.’

Obviously a systems thinker; many of the claims for improvement of customer services in local authorities are based on reductions in transaction costs. It is completely misleading; just plain wrong.

Solving the wrong problem

The Home Office has been running what it describes as a ‘flagship scheme’ to divert non-emergency calls from what it describes as the ‘inundated’ 999 number. In December the Daily Telegraph reported that in four pilot areas the volume of 999 calls had not changed since they advertised the new ‘single non-emergency’ number (SNEN).

The idea was to reduce ‘unnecessary’ 999 calls, apparently it is estimated that no more than a third of 999 calls are emergencies. Actually we know the true number is less than that, why don’t the Home Office know what we know?

The Home Office says the SNEN will act as a focal point for reports of anti-social behaviour. But what actually happens is that people manning the new number create logs of the calls and pass them on to the police. In one example these logs are batched up for overnight processing. What do you suppose the citizens do during this time? Yes they call again, and they call the police. So the brilliant new idea drives up failure demand which in turn means increasedpublic dissatisfaction with the police.

Those readers who have seen the DVD of our show in October ’05 will know that Norman Dixon, a policeman in Scotland, solved this problem the right way. He designed his policing system against demand. Most of the demand was to do with youth disorder. By designing against demand he drove demand down, solving youth disorder problems and increasing public satisfaction. Working this way obviated the need for another number.

The Home Office believes the public’s habit of ringing 999 is ‘an intractable problem’. It is, and we know from many similar experiences in all sectors it will never be solved.

Knowing the SNEN is failing what does the Home Office do? Push ahead with introducing the number throughout the country by 2008. It is, they say, a manifesto commitment. What could be dumber than that?

Citizen-centred services: my second response to the White Paper

My second response to the Local Government White Paper (Citizen-centred services: a discussion of aims and methods) can be downloaded from the web site. Go to https://www.01handshake01.com/media/1143 for the link.

Many people ask me if the minister has responded to my papers. I haven’t even had an acknowledgement. So much for service standards, let alone courtesy.

Deming Forum

I am pleased to announce that Vanguard has become a corporate sponsor of The Deming Forum. Deming had an enormous influence on Vanguard in our early days; he started us on the journey. Deming reminded us that our present way of managing was our invention; it could and should be reinvented. He was incredibly clear on what was wrong with what we call ‘command and control’ and insisted we should understand and manage our organisations as systems.

At Deming events you meet people who have varying levels of knowledge of Deming bound together by a desire to do something useful. A few people focus a little too much on arguments concerning what the man said, perhaps an inevitable consequence of the man being dead. One of the things that drove me mad was being told ‘this Deming thing takes a lifetime to even begin to understand’. So at my inaugural sponsor’s address I am taking as my theme: Does Deming take a lifetime? Should be fun.

David McQuade of Flagship Housing has also agreed to speak to this year’s Forum. Those who attended our event last October will know David is a passionate systems thinker. To give you a flavour, his out-of-office-auto-reply says he’s out acting on the system, working on purpose measures and method. Deming would have been knocked out.