Since 1987, John Seddon developed both systems thinking and intervention theory, combining the two to create the Vanguard Method. Uniquely, this method’s sole purpose is to transform organisations by changing management thinking and helping this translate into a better system and improved performance.

1970s | Where it all began

John Seddon worked in the prison service as a prison psychologist. This work and meeting the academic, Nick Georgiades, introduced John to the idea that working on the system would have greater impact than focusing on the people. John went on to study – under Georgiades – for an MSc in Occupational Psychology and became fascinated with Intervention Theory and Method. This informed a lot of what eventually followed.

John Seddon

Inventor of the Vanguard Method

1980s | A shock to the system


John was teaching performance management to managers in Africa. They (kindly) told him what he was teaching didn’t fit with their culture so John began wondering whether management is grounded in knowledge or merely convention. John became preoccupied with how organisations really work.

John then got involved with the ground-breaking British Airways culture change programme. The British Airways experience taught him the experience of focussing on the customer but raised questions in his mind about ‘culture change’.

John learned the critical importance of studying demand in transactional services – the greatest lever. It was where he first discovered the idea of ‘failure demand’.

1987
Vanguard founded by John and a group of friends

1989
John discovered ‘failure demand’ by studying failed TQM programmes – initially labeled as ‘demand we don’t want’



1990s | Developing the Vanguard Method

Vanguard expanded rapidly in the 90s working with Honeywell Bull, IBM, and Digital Equipment Corporation. The early work was based on delivering training but the team soon realised that this was not effective at changing management thinking. Instead, we decided to help leaders get into the work and study it as a system. This is now known as the Vanguard Model for ‘Check’.

Throughout the 90s, the Vanguard Method was honed using trial and error working with a variety of service organisations. It became clear that the principles for study and redesign worked with all transactional services. 

1992

John wrote his first book, I want you to cheat!: The Unreasonable Guide to Service and Quality in Organisations

1997
John wrote his second book, The Case against ISO 9000. John described how specifications and inspections actually impede quality in service organisations

2003

John Seddon published his best seller, Freedom from Command and Control

2008
John published his first book on Vanguard’s work in the public sector, Systems Thinking in the Public Sector

2000s | Going international

In 2003, Vanguard started working with the UK public sector and expanded into new territories. Over the following years, we opened in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and South Africa.
2010 – 2015 Serving the public

During this period, Vanguard became increasingly involved in the public sector, with John publishing four books, including The Whitehall Effect – an analysis on why public reform failed and how a systems approach was a profoundly better way. John also lobbied for the closure of the Audit Commission in 2010 as an egregious form of specification and ‘best practice’. This was shown by our work to be a bad idea.

2010

John Seddon and Owen Buckwell were awarded the first Management Innovation prize for Reinventing Leadership.

The first book of public-sector case studies, Delivering Public Services that Work – Volume 1, was published.

2012
The second book of public-sector case studies, Delivering Public Service that Work – Volume 2, was published.

2013
John was awarded his fourth visiting professorship by Buckingham University.

2014
The Whitehall Effect was published, a book about public-sector reform failed and why systems thinking is a profoundly better way.

2015
Vanguard was invited to be the UK representative of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table.

2016 – present

Vanguard has continued to grow and now has a presence across 12 countries. In recent years, we have turned our attention to the ‘management factory’ – all the activity sitting above operations, which has grown in numbers and impact over John’s lifetime. John’s newest book, Beyond Command and Control, describes everything Vanguard knows today.

2016
Vanguard’s work in social care systems led to ‘what matters to citizens’ being enshrined in Welsh law (the Social Care and Wellbeing (Wales) act).

2017
Vanguard set up the Beyond Command and Control Network.

2019
John Seddon publishes Beyond Command and Control, describing everything Vanguard knows today.