A better name for Pace Setter

In the last newsletter I asked for ideas for a more appropriate name for PaceSetter, HMRC’s lean debacle, now paraded as a ‘brand’ (ugh). Thanks to the many readers who made suggestions. Here are some with commentary:

‘Perhaps they should try ‘Taxidermy’ – looks fine on the outside, but once you get on the inside it’s stuffed full of nothing and is totally inoperative!’

Yes, but what you get on the inside is actually making performance worse…

‘If PaceSetter is an example of doing the wrong thing righter (and I’m not sure it isn’t just the wrong thing wronger), it should be called ‘WasteBetter’.’

Quite good and it is the wrong thing wronger…

‘May I suggest RedSetter. This is because these dogs charge around making themselves very conspicuous without actually achieving very much.’

As do the promulgators of the new PaceSetter ‘brand’; but unfair to Red Setters.
We also had SnailMaker, Glue Gun and FailGetter, and one reader created two anagrams: ‘Erect a pest’ and ‘Cr*p Settee’. Oops!
Finally: ‘PaceMaker, as after a few years the organisation will need one.

It is certainly sclerotic.

But it is worse than that

HMRC’s programme could be called ‘StressMaker’, as a recent academic study found ‘compelling evidence’ that ‘lean working, which involved redesigned workflow, task fragmentation, standardization and individual targets’ is resulting in ‘widespread self-reported ill-health symptoms’ contributing to ’employees ill-health complaints’.

I recall Dan Jones (UK lean guru) speaking on Radio 4 during the early days of PaceSetter in response to the immediate criticisms to do with working in a standardised, target-driven world. He said ‘people would get used to it’. I knew they wouldn’t. You can’t. You live in a world where management’s attention to activity measures drives you to do things in the certain knowledge you are not doing what’s best for the customer. And if you put your hand up to say so, you get bludgeoned; if only management knew of the extent of their being misled.

You can read the research summary here:

Respect for people

PaceSetter, like many lean programmes, attempts to treat culture change as something that has to be tackled alongside the numpty ideas about standardisation and working to targets, which, ironically, create a lousy culture.

The apotheosis of this absurdity is the US lean gurus ranting on about ‘respect for people’. I have no doubt it is merely the latest fad offered in their need to reinvent lean (for it is failing everywhere) and make more money from junk.

I had a run in with lean guru Jeffrey Liker on this issue in a panel discussion in Iceland (the link is in a later item). Unable to understand my point, for like people do, he fitted what I was saying to his own mental model, Liker said I was saying people don’t matter. My point was simple: respect for people is not a point of intervention. As I have illustrated in this newsletter, ad infinitum, culture is a consequence of the system. These dreadful lean interventions create lousy cultures and consultants and managers react to that with ‘culture change’ programmes – and coming soon, no doubt, ‘respect for people’ events, communications, tee shirts, bumper-stickers and books, lots of empty-headed wow-inducing tripe, to feed the US market for gurus. You couldn’t make it up; money being made treating symptoms.

The US ‘respect for people’ brigade argue that HMRC’s lean programme has a deleterious effect on people because they aren’t doing lean right, whereas the truth is HMRC attempts to instil a ‘happy clappy’ culture by fizzing up workers to solve management’s wrong problems.

Tool heads and standardisation

At the core of HMRC’s problems is the standardisation of work, something that is a blindly-held axiomatic belief amongst the lean gurus. It was the other big issue debated on the panel in Iceland. If you watch the video, you’ll see how myopically wedded the lean brigade are to the concept – they behaved like I was a heretic! Me!

Following the panel, Liker came up to me and said OK, so let’s take something simple like a call centre where, in your terms, you have established a high-frequency value demand that is entirely predictable, surely then, he said, you would want to standardise the way it is handled? My response was: why does that bother you?

Because it is never a problem you have to solve.

You can watch the panel here: http://vimeo.com/42297077

NHS 111 failing fast

Consistent with the insane idea that services are merely transactions and can be made cheaper by moving ‘channels’, hiring low-cost workers, and making them work to scripts, the NHS set up ‘111’, health help over the phone. Human beings without expertise being controlled by computers filled with rules. The inevitable consequences, three deaths and many more serious incidents, and GPs are criticising 111 for being chaotic and fragmented followed. Meanwhile, NHS leaders claim that 111 operates to a gold standard!

I have no doubt that ‘gold standard’ means they pick up the phone in a few rings; it will have nothing to do with achievement of purpose.

Government and IT: doing the wrong things righter

In the face of successive failures with IT, government has produced a set of ‘design guidelines’. They make shocking reading. It shows how government has learned nothing about the reasons for failure and, exemplifying a state of madness, proposes doing the wrong thing righter:


I am currently editing some video of IT people describing how they have been using the Vanguard Method in IT development. It is compelling viewing. Better, faster, higher quality IT built by highly motivated people and at much lower costs. It’ll never catch on. The video will be posted on our new website soon.

I wrote a kind of state-of-the-nation article about IT for the Cutter IT journal. You can access the paper here. (But, be warned, they make you pay!)

Spin your way out of trouble

The Major Projects Authority, a watchdog set up by parliament to keep an eye on major change programmes expresses severe doubts about Universal Credit’s likelihood of success. So how do ministers at the DWP respond? They say the Major Projects peoples’ opinions are based on observations that are out of date. Easy isn’t it? Just deny. Just as 111 is in a mess, so leaders describe it as operating to a ‘gold standard.

How do these people sleep?

Teachers get it

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Union of Head Teachers, gave an outstanding speech at their recent conference, criticising the government’s daft ideas about education that are doing so much damage to teachers and students. You can read it here:


Bromsgrove and Redditch

The good people of Bromsgrove and Redditch have made a little video about their work with the Vanguard Method. You can view it here.

I am pleased to say that despite the austerity programme, our work in local authorities continues to grow; quite simply because it works, and the savings make the investment look paltry. As you’ll see in the above video, much of our work has changed focus from improving services to improving the way whole councils respond to citizens’ demands. We will be publishing a report on this work in conjunction with Locality later this summer.

And if you are a local authority with absolutely no money, you can use the Vanguard Method for free if you want to help us develop the new web site! Contact: emma.ashton@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Blowing our trumpet

David Boyle’s blog argues that Vanguard has an answer for policy-makers on public-sector reform: http://davidboyle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-great-paradox-concentrating-on.html

We have been saying the same since the public-sector book was published in 2008. I’m not expecting the phone to ring. Sparing my blushes: the arguments are coherent and evidence-based, hardly a fit with Whitehall policy-making.

Vanguard Practitioners available for work

We have some people, trained by Vanguard experts, who are looking for new opportunities in other organisations. If the idea of taking on someone with the skills to help you employ the Vanguard Method appeals, please email jeremy@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Can ‘Kittens’ come to your place?

People have been asking us to run the ‘Kittens are Evil’ event in the South. The event – everything you need to know about the perils of payment by results and outcomes-based performance management approaches (saying these things won’t work is like saying kittens are evil) – was so popular in Manchester it sold out. Tickets are selling fast for the Wales event on 10th July.

So we want to run an event in the South. Could your organisation host us in September? We need a room to hold up to 120 cabaret style; with 2 or 3 breakout rooms. If you can help, please contact charlotte.pell@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Simon Caulkin wrote a summary of the Kittens event: