My missive to Dave

Thanks to the many newsletter readers who passed my last to their MPs in the hope that they will talk to Dave about how he can change the system. No one is holding their breath. More on what Dave and Co is doing to the system later, but let’s start with some good news – examples of transformation in spite of the system.

Wolverhampton transforms planning

The leader of the planning service in Wolverhampton sent one of the Vanguard people a thank-you note:

‘I just wanted to drop you a quick email to thank you for working with us to transform our planning service. You were very patient, professional and a credit to Vanguard. The ‘new’ system is fully rolled out and working really well (who’d of thought that trusting professional staff to get on with their job would’ve worked so well!).

Our customers are providing us with extremely positive feedback, which we are, of course, making very visible. I have attached a copy of some of the comments we have received from local businesses.’

And he included many comments from customers, three will suffice:

‘I have been impressed with the efficient way you have dealt with planning issues’ Paul McCann – Group Planning Director, Banner Homes Group.
‘Thanks for dealing with this application in such a prompt and efficient manner’ Peter Leaver – Director, Jones Lang Lasalle, Birmingham.
‘The Planning Officer was very helpful and worked very hard on a very difficult case with incredibly tight time pressures’ Jonathon Masters – Commercial Director, Bridgemere.

He continued: ‘We are significantly less stressed and morale is the best it’s been for a very long time. Planners are re-remembering the art of serving the customer and have been doing some really great work. EVERYONE is focussing on the needs of the customer (and not having to hit arbitrary targets), consistently improving how we deal with demand and reducing failure demand/waste. Good times.

I’ve been speaking to planners from other authorities about what we learned in our intervention – the similarities in their systems are staggering. It has given them food for thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all worked this way… maybe one day!’

So: less stress, better service, planners engaged in a professional way, and, as he says, good times. And it is noteworthy that prior to this intervention Wolverhampton was regularly receiving brick-bats in the local press for their planning service. Of course one day all planning departments could work this way and, hopefully, they will.

Looking in the right place

I hesitated to include the item about Wolverhampton as it could lead to a bout of industrial tourism. But anyone who goes there to take a look at what they are doing will be looking in the wrong place.

Let me illustrate this by way of a story from one of our newest consultants who is an expert in housing services. He was working with a housing manager whose organisation was frustrated with their business improvement team. So our man asked the housing manager to do the following:

Print off ten e-mails selected randomly from his Choice Based Lettings inbox and study them.
Count up how many e-mails this service receives.

What the housing manager discovered was that 100% of the e-mails were failure demands with, as he describes, some real shockers: a family whose son was being harassed, a family who didn’t want to move but no-one was dealing with the landlord and a homeless person sleeping on the streets who had been in seven times and had only been given advice about logging into the online system. He also learned that his service receives 85 e-mails of these types every week and he went on to find that these led to 250 phone calls.

To quote our man: ‘The service manager, to his credit, was very curious and fired up.’

And that was because he looked in the right place.

If the housing manager had popped off to a housing organisation that had redesigned lettings – during the course of which they would have dumped ‘choice-based-lettings’ as it is a primary cause of costs and poor service – he wouldn’t have seen what he needed to see and he would have tried to relate the new design to his current world view. By studying his own system he began to see that he needed to change his view, he got curious.

Another way to get curious

We often present case examples at conferences in order to get people curious about what can be achieved through studying and redesigning services. We always stress that delegates should not copy the ‘solution’ but should follow the path of discovery – getting knowledge – through studying, otherwise they make the mistake Deming talked about: copying without knowledge.

On 7th March Lesley Kragt, Vanguard’s leader on voluntary services, will explain how studying care services leads to effective change that is adaptive – responding to peoples’ needs – and works with the grain instead of against it. She will be joined by Rick Wilson, CEO at Community Lives Consortium, who will illustrate how he and his organisation applied the Vanguard Method and the impact it had on his service. Rick will show that working in a more person-centred way is also more efficient – as the official blurb says: at a time of fiscal famine and arbitrary cuts the application of the method has enabled Rick and his organisation to truly ‘do more for less’.

For more information: http://www.sayervincent.co.uk/render.aspx?siteID=1&navIDs=1,6,626

Improving our universities

John Dunnion, Vanguard’s lead on improving higher education, has written an academic paper summarising his work. If ground-breaking work in universities interests you, please send a mail to Brendan O’Donovan, our head of research, for a copy of the paper: brendan@vanguardconsult.co.uk

IT development the Vanguard way

Thanks to all those readers who offered ideas for how to label our approach to IT development (December newsletter). As the approach is ‘study, improve, pull’ it is no surprise that ideas like SIMPLIT, SiMPL, SIMPuL, SIP, SIPIT were the most popular.
But as we thought about it we came to the view that it is too early to think about a market for this approach. The only places where we are doing this kind of work are with clients who have already changed their service operations and then turn their attention to the way they do IT. We have had lots of interest from IT development providers, but their customers aren’t looking for ‘study-improve-pull’, so that won’t fly. When we suggest to these developers that they should firstly employ the methodology in-house, in order to learn about the method and get it under their skin, we find that top management doesn’t want to question the usual practices for IT development, in particular ‘productivity’ measures, which destroy their own productivity. But they don’t find that out because they have no appetite to look.

So, no name for our IT work, for now. And thanks to those who reminded me of the risks associated with labelling.

Implementation trumps delivery

Back to Dave and Co: Professor Colin Talbot notes that the new word in Whitehall is ‘implementation’, apparently ‘delivery’ and ‘deliverology’ failed, so maybe ‘implementation’ will do it. Apparently they may set up an ‘implementation unit’. That’ll do it Dave.

Read Talbot here:

Government and IT – ‘a recipe for rip-offs’

The Public Administration Committee has published a report with this stinging title, pointing out, amongst other things that there is an oligopoly of suppliers. But, I have to say, the conclusions of the report amount to doing the wrong thing righter.

You can read their report here:

Maybe the committee should read this item in Computer Weekly, which pulls no punches on the terrible track record of those from the oligarchy who have infiltrated government: http://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/public-sector/2012/01/cosy-cloud-coterie-snuggles-in.html

It should worry us all, but it clearly can’t be worrying Dave and Co.

Little on mediocrity

It isn’t just Dave and Co who drive systems to do the wrong things. John Little, Vanguard’s leader on housing services, wrote a blog on how the Chartered Institute for Housing has teamed up with a private-sector supplier to create a spurious ‘best practice’ initiative, describing as ‘best’ things John and all those who have applied the Vanguard Method know to be very bad ideas. Read John’s blog here:

‘Charter of Mediocrity’ planned by CiH

Lean leader lost

John Shook, the new leader of the lean movement, admits in his recent newsletter that lean ‘started out with an unbalanced focus on tools and techniques’ and he thinks that ‘learning’ will be the antidote to the tools folly. To further this salvation he recommends some classical American pop psychological nonsense and a bunch of tools stuff. Poor Mr Shook, he is lost. It’s unlearning that he needs to get to grips with.

Read his newsletter (only if you have nothing better to do) here: http://www.lean.org/shook/DisplayObject.cfm?o=1975

Radnor on failure demand

Meanwhile, Ms Radnor, the public-sector poster-child for lean, illustrates the point clearly. A reader tells me she has got hold of the idea of failure demand – easy for anyone to get, and easy to miss the point. The reader tells me she thinks failure demand is caused by people having messy desks! Another cause, she thinks, is treating ‘strangers’ (meaning high-variety, low-frequency problems) as ‘runners’ (things you get a lot of); wrong on both counts. The separation (specialisation) of work is, actually, a primary cause of failure demand. If only she knew.

When we help clients redesign service operations we ensure the design absorbs variety, no ‘sort step’ required. No value work is done in sorting and sorting leads to errors.

Further, Radnor advocates standardised work and activity management, both causes of failure demand; and she thinks making all of this ‘visible’ will motivate people. Oh dear.

My correspondent also tells me that Radnor’s report for the Association of Business Schools (based on her usual research methodology of surveying and interviewing people) said ‘Very little evidence was found regarding the costs and savings of implementing the Lean approach’. But in a presentation she gave last week in Portsmouth she reported that ‘Some of the early adopters are showing real signs of engagement and embedment’.

Does ‘engagement and embedment’ mean ‘improvement’? Radnor needs to realise the fundamental weaknesses with the survey approach to ‘research’ and study what’s going wrong in operations with those who do lean. In research terms it is to focus on the dependent variable: does it work?

Six Sigma sold without ‘special sauce’

Before we leave the tool-head phenomenon this month, a reader alerted me to a story claiming that the tools sold in the massive Six Sigma tool box are not the tools that were actually used by Motorola. Apparently winning the Baldrige award obliged Motorola to tell others what they did and the authors allege that Motorola stuffed a load of TQM tools into the box instead of the ones that made a difference. You can read the story here:

Click to access BestKeptSecret.pdf

I know many people will be tempted to get hold of the ‘real tools’ Motorola used – the Shainin methods – but a word of caution: tools are solutions to problems, we must always start by understanding what our real problems are.

Tell us lots

The DWP, who have been doing Radnor-style lean, have for some time been working on something called ‘tell us once’. If, for example, someone in your family has died, this ‘one call’ will be all you need to do. You may have noticed that ministers have often crowed about it as an example of better public services. Well, a reader sent me this, an account of one man’s experience of ‘tell us once’:


In his blog he asks what I might think of it. A classical example of money wasted on industrial (lean) design.

The obsession with ‘channels’

Dave and Co think that the internet is a ‘cheaper’ channel; hence we have seen a series of initiatives to put services on-line. However, a report by the National Audit Office says the £90m a year being spent on on-line services (like business.gov.uk and government gateway) fails to demonstrate any clear benefits. Amyas Morse (head of the NAO) says: ‘It is a good thing that people visited the two main government web sites some 200 million times last year. However, it’s still unclear what benefits have been achieved and at what cost. We cannot conclude, therefore, that the taxpayer is securing value for money.’

Well, it might be a good thing and it may be these were lots of frustrated people not getting what they needed or it may also be civil servants accessing their own web sites (as happened with the Audit Commission’s web site) to see what was on there. We know nothing about ‘value’ from ‘clicks’.

See the report here: http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2131442/government-chastised-wasting-gbp90m-web-sites

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, speaking alongside Martha Lane Fox, the government’s ‘digital champion’, at the launch of the latest internet initiative, said: ‘Moving services online should be used to automate bad processes rather than simply transferring clunky systems.’ As the reader who sent this to me wrote: ‘I’m sure it must be a misprint, or could this be a case of unintentional honesty?’ The report is here:

With leaders like this

The man who is to head up inspections of our schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is reported as saying: ‘If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you will know you are doing something right’. Read it here: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6149485

Meanwhile, plenty of evidence that morale is already rock-bottom because of the regime Sir Michael presides over. Here is just one example:

Click to access Response-to-Ofsted-Inspection-Report-2011.pdf

Advocates of inspection fail to appreciate that it is the philosophy of inspection that is the problem. You can’t inspect quality in and inspection drives quality out. Sir Michael ought to take lessons from Niall McKinnon, a head teacher in Scotland who has clearly articulated the flaws in the inspection regime and has much better ideas about how to improve the system.

Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Wales wrote a blog on inspection, you can read it here:

More on Finnish schools

Further to my item on Finnish schools in the last newsletter, a Finnish reader sent me this link to a trailer for the video ‘The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System’ (at the bottom of the article):

Maybe Sir Michael should be obliged to watch it.

South African cops caught cheating

A reader from South Africa writes:

‘In 2009 12 officials of the Mountain Rise police station in KwaZulu-Natal were charged with tampering with crime statistics. The station had received a R500 000 bonus for being the top station in the reduction of crime. The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) found 170 unregistered dockets hidden in a room at the station. In the Western Cape the ICD investigated 1 000 dockets after receiving complaints that police were registering complaints as inquiries rather than criminal cases on the police database to keep down crime figures.’

Is this ‘making the numbers’?

I frequently get emails asking me to join someone’s ‘Linked-in’ ‘group’, whatever that means. I always ignore them as I already spend too much time on my computer. I mentioned that I was sorry to have failed to ‘join’ to a friend and he replied:

‘Ref. the pesky ‘Linked-In’ thing, please don’t be offended, but I didn’t intend to ‘invite’ you anyway. A couple of weeks ago I clicked on the wrong tab (reckon I was conned) and it went out, totally without my knowledge, to my whole flippin’ mailing list. So, no problem to you ‘saying no’. Sorry you were troubled.’

Is this how they ‘make the numbers’? I recall hearing reports that the number of Facebook users was down and how this damages the value of the enterprise. Are these ‘web 2’ folk driving up ‘value’ by dirty tricks to make themselves more attractive to the market, as we saw phone companies doing in the early days of mobile phones? The mobile phone service providers were simply conning the market, but if this is a common tactic, these web 2 companies are also upsetting their ‘customers’, not a clever move.

And I say ‘customers’ because everything I read about web 2 companies suggests they see users as data sources and markets. As I’m not a player I have no idea. But what’s been your experience?

RSA event

Last November I spoke at an RSA event on a better way to efficiency. The video highlights have been posted here: http://vimeo.com/33795420

A new book

Stuart Corrigan, Vanguard Scotland, has written a fine little book with a big message, I recommend it. It is available from the Amazon Kindle store: