Something must have been more important

I was asked to meet with an organisation seeking help with implementing a new organisation design that was based, according to the request, on lean principles. They had a plan, and initially I was told the meeting would be limited to how Vanguard might help them implement their plan. On that basis I refused, for in my mind the plan was seriously flawed and represented a command-and-control thinker’s view of ‘lean’. But I was asked to go; I was told in my case they would make an exception.

The plan was expected to deliver hundreds of millions in savings, a very serious affair. So imagine my surprise when I got to the meeting to find the eight representatives of the company were all ‘business improvement’ and ‘change management’ specialists.

Something must have been more important to the to man (it would be a man) at the top. I can’t imagine what. A change of this order would mean him too; but obviously he didn’t know that.

I simply cannot get over the fact that this was something he saw fit to delegate. Incredible.

A classic tool-head problem

One of the features of the plan had been designed by a Six Sigma Master Black Belt (draw breath, be reverential, prepare to be stunned). Various places in the work flow from the front end, where the customer demand came in, through to the place where the work would be done would have ‘quality gates’; work packages would not be able to pass these gates if they were not fit for the next step in the process.

It is an idea developed, with powerful effect, in manufacturing. Where you have physical things you can specify ‘go / no go’ characteristics. It is the basis of ‘autonomation’, making the machine ‘think’.

But to do this in a service design, where demand exhibits much more variety, is to court certain disaster. The ‘quality gates’ would throw up rejections, the management factory would engage in work to change the rules and change the procedures up stream, the management factory would grow; the place where the energy is needed, where the work is done, would be bludgeoned by the subsequent bureaucracy.

Just as you put design in process in a systems design, you put problem solving in process. The way to solve this problem is to have the demand flow straight through to the place where the value work is going to be done (solving the customers’ problems), because only from there can you determine what ‘clean’ looks like. The role of first-level management would be to work on the predictable causes of ‘not clean’ (amongst other things) across the system. It is a role that can only be prosecuted in a systems design.

The Master Black Belt is a tool head. Watch out for them.

Praise for a Vanguard client

A reader writes:

“As an ex Construction Best Practice Programme Consultant, I was very impressed by Velux who did some work for me on a project. I had no idea that Vanguard had been assisting them. All the hallmarks were there to see: Clarity over price/fair price; excellent communications throughout; an approach to payment that treated the customer with respect and trust; useful suggestions, excellent quality of product and overall an exemplary quality of service. And perhaps most important it was done with a smile and good humour throughout.

Congratulations for this inroad you have made into construction and if only everybody operated like this we would not have the current lamentable performance within the industry and already be worried over whether we can be ready for the Olympics!

Best wishes from an ex-tool head!”

Glad I helped him out of being a tool head. But it is a shame that the construction industry, like so many others, has treated ‘best practice’ as a tools thing. Maybe some will learn that it’s a change the system thing, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Laurence Barrett of Velux is presenting at our October event. Compelling stuff.

Fraud and benefits processing

An ex-policeman writes:

“I was recently doing some work on fraud awareness with a London local authority. The key to stopping fraud is knowledge about claimants. I found the first point of contact was a one-stop shop run by staff with insufficient training, who were timed, and if they took too long to deal with a customer there was an intervention from a manager. The second part of the process, scanning, had been sub-contracted to a company way outside London. I expressed my disquiet during the first three sessions. I was then told, in the nicest possible way, that I was not required to complete the further five sessions. I had ruffled management’s feathers. To use your words, waste is now built into that system.”

The same has happened with so many ‘reformed’ public services. If you take people out of the process you open the process to fraud. Electronic decision systems only require the fraudster to know how to send data that will make the system pay. Scary thought isn’t it? It is time ministers got out of management.

On being a ‘customer’

While ministers design systems that become open to fraud, those who need the services suffer. I received the following from a reader, you can’t feel proud to live in a place where this is happening to people (parenthesises added to explain the Latin):

“I’m currently undergoing the stressful experience of having to deal with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in relation to an appeal against a rather illogical and somewhat terse decision they have made.

To add to the tremendous indignity of this ‘process’ that seems to have been designed to reduce Gordon Brown’s overheads and boost his chances of ‘Le roi est mort, vive le roi’ (the king is dead long live the king) although l’tat, c’est moi’ (I am the state) is also very apt. Rather than fulfil any such thing as a duty of care or whatnot, I have to endure being referred to and thought of as a ‘customer’.

The DWP is now also, since the DSS merged with the Jobcentres side of things, one big happy family, and so when you telephone them with an out-of-the-ordinary query or visit their website you are asked ‘which one of our businesses’ does your query pertain to.

Now, anyone with half a brain knows that the word ‘customer’ refers to one who buys, and the word business refers to commercial and/or industrial activity. Anyone without the luxury of functioning grey matter can refer to a dictionary to easily verify this fact. Neither of these applies to paying benefits to citizens who claim them.

On our records in the DWP – and we of course all have records with the DWP through our National Insurance number – we are referred to as ‘customers’. >From the Data Protection Act point of view this is misleading and inaccurate data being stored and processed. It is therefore something we should be able to stop. But the DWP doesn’t give a for Data Protection, except on confidentiality issues.

So, dear customer, would you like to take your business elsewhere? Tough. There is one DWP. There is no escape from this hellish and brutal mangling of the citizen-State relationship. Cui bono? (Who benefits?) Not the citizens, that’s for certain.

The words ‘institution’ and ‘organisation’ are defunct where the State is concerned. The word ‘citizen’ is not used; I have asked the DWP to refer to me as a citizen but they have continued to refer to me as a ‘customer’. It is all buying and selling. Anyone want to place a bet on how long it is before the DWP is privatised?”

I have written before about the shocking new design of job benefits processing. It is an out-and-out command-and-control fiasco. The waste being generated is alarming, and the taxpayer has to foot the bill, but the total disrespect for those who need the service is hardly the marque of a civilised society.

Auditors drive the wrong behaviour

A systems thinker working in housing quotes from his recent Audit Inspection report:

‘There is a high level of emergency and urgent repair work … with around 50% of all repairs being in emergency and urgent categories. Audit Commission guidance is that no more than 30% of all response repairs should be emergencies or urgent of which only 10% should be emergencies’

He says:

“Of course this misses the point entirely, in that by adopting a systems approach these targets become redundant as concentration is given to meeting the demands of our tenants whatever the repair category. If only the Audit Commission did not control how a Housing Association is regulated, monitored. funded and ultimately managed to meet these targets! At least it all keeps the management factories of the Audit Commission and Housing Corporation busy!”

And worse than that housing organisations who do what their customers want often look ‘bad’ on these measures, even though their service is much better. What sage or idiot in the Audit Commission ‘knows’ that 10% should be urgent and so on? My bet is this is just an idiot following what was there before he arrived on seat. A related example will illustrate:

I always thought the requirement to have no more than 30% repairs as responsive (as opposed to planned) was an odd idea; it just doesn’t make any sense. When we did our housing work under the scrutiny of the minister’s ‘evaluation panel’ I pointed out to Roy Irwin (head of housing at the Audit Commission) that this ‘rule’ was arbitrary and, like all arbitrary measures, it drove distortions into the system. For example tenants would be told to wait for their repair until it was in the ‘planned schedule’ or tenants would have a bathroom or kitchen removed when it didn’t need to be (because they were doing the whole street in a planned schedule).

In response Roy said this was just bad management. I disagreed, pointing out this is a bad rule and like any rule it would stop the system absorbing variety, so costs would rise. Another member of the evaluation panel was a housing chief executive, he pointed out to Roy that as his housing stock was all new, hence he had no planned repairs at all. I asked Roy where the rule came from. After a while it came to him. Apparently in the early Eighties, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, all housing was with local authorities, the stock was not in good shape and most authorities were behind on repairs. So what may have been a good idea in the early Eighties has now become a statutory reporting requirement. Nuts.

Tony gets his blaming in first

Tony Blair, the UK’s prime minister, said that the public sector would survive only if it responded to the investments his government have made by reforming. If it did not, he said, the sector would lose the confidence of the public.

But Tony has invested in a massive management factory – people specifying how the public sector should work and other people inspecting for compliance. Worse, these specifications are wrong – they make the work worse. Even worse, being forced to meet their inspectors’ (dumb) requirements demoralises people. The public sector is not improving and it is down to Tony and Co.

But I guess it in a politician’s nature. If you are going to fail make sure someone else takes the blame.

Mystery shopping doctors

Many people will remember when Tony Blair was visibly embarrassed by an encounter on TV in the run up to the last election. He had claimed people could be seen by their doctor within 48 hours, only to be told by his audience that this target was causing doctors to refuse to book appointments beyond 48 hours. He said he’d look into it.

Well I guess he has, and his answer? Mystery shopping. People pretending to be patients will call for appointments and the results of what transpires will be used to reward or punish the doctors.

Mystery shopping is one of the most horrid and wasteful command-and-control techniques. Not only does it demoralise people (they can spot a mystery shopper, for mystery shoppers ask questions most customers don’t ask) but it produces unreliable data. It tells manager if service workers have behaved in accordance with the manager’s specification (which becomes the mystery shoppers checklist). You learn nothing about what matters to customers. But I guess that doesn’t matter to Tony.

Vanguard gets around the world

Having learned how to set up Vanguard operations in Scotland and Ireland we are spreading around the world. We now have a Vanguard operation in South Africa and will soon have one in Denmark. We are also considering how to respond to demand in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. If you want news of Vanguard coming to a place near you let me know.

Watch out for the pretenders

This month I have been told of three occasions on which private sector companies bidding for work in the public sector have claimed to be familiar with Vanguard’s work and able to offer the same service.

Of course imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I am concerned that the buyers are being duped. Our work is so successful it is no surprise that people seek to copy it. Copying the language is easy but these people won’t know how to do it and are more likely to ‘do’ command and control things with our ideas. Watch out for them. If they do not have accreditation to Vanguard do not expect Vanguard’s methods.

If you get such an approach let me know.