Regulation, regulation, regulation

Our Prime Minister promised us his focus would be on ‘education, education, education’, whereas the evidence suggests he has given us regulation, regulation, regulation. The following examples I included in my evidence to the Select Committee (you can download this at:

The requirement to have all local authority services ‘e-enabled’ by 2005 has provided a field day for technology suppliers, resulting in worse service and higher costs.

The requirement to implement the Department of Work and Pensions directives for Benefits Processing results in poor service and high cost.

The requirement to manage with Best Value Performance Indicators in housing repairs results in poor service and high costs.

There are many more examples (and dif you want to send me your examples lease do, I am collecting them). But the point is we have seen the growth of a massive specifications and inspection regime that only serves to push up costs and worsen public services. It is no wonder the people in our public services are demoralised. In my evidence to the Select Committee I showed how a systems solution to each of the examples provided exactly what ministers and the public want. The only problem is it doesn’t fit the specification.

What has intrigued me as I have learned about more and more examples of this disturbing phenomenon is the way in which those ‘up top’ behave. Their regulations (specifications) represent no more than their personal view of what should be done – they behave like children in a sweet shop. Then they avoid accountability by blaming anyone other than themselves for the palpable failure to improve (and they cannot ‘see’ the deleterious effects of their interventions). But worst of all they compound their errors by doing more of the same, never questioning the implicit theory (or lack of it) in what they do.

Whole industries and sectors are now burdened by irrelevant and damaging bureaucracy; regulation is like quick sand, it is pulling our economy under. I think its time we held our ministers to account.

A lament on measurement

I came across this poem in the Middle East last month; I liked it so much I reproduce it here:

My good measure has gone bad
She was the best little measure I ever had
I lost my line of sight today
Lost my measure, lost my way
She helped me see performance fluctuate
Track the ups and downs year-to-date
She made it fun in the morning to go
Through the front gate saying hello
My good measure has gone dry
The scorecard averaged her, made me cry
My boss didn’t understand
Said it didn’t fit the operating plan
What am I supposed to do?
My operating plan is long overdue
If I have to go in that room and lie
I know that I am going to die

With acknowledgement to the authors: Jim Davidson and Dan Walters. How many ‘scorecards’ actually result in darkness descending on the enterprise?

When establishing measures with clients we ask one question (the test of a good measure): Will this help us understand and improve performance? So many ‘scorecard’ measures fail this test – as do all ministerial measures imposed on our public services.

Customer service?

A reader writes: “Did you know that xxx (a health insurance company) routinely keep customers waiting for 10 minutes before answering the phone. How have they reacted to this? Their interactive voice response system (IVR) gives you a choice of what music you want to listen to while you are waiting!”

So that’s all right then. As it happens I know the organisation he writes about. When I went to have a look at them I found very high levels of failure demand – demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer. Managers must believe their job is choosing the music to offer customers while they wait (and pay for the privilege) rather than turning off the causes of failure demand – all of which are in their control.

BSI and snakes

In the last two issues we have considered the British Standard Institute’s response to finding snakes in an organisation.

Many readers sent me their ideas about how BSI would respond to snakes; here are the two that made me laugh the most:

Regarding how BSI would react to snakes I am reminded of the story of a BSI auditor on assignment in Texas. As he was walking through some long grass at the back of a plant, a rattlesnake bit him. The snake died!

We at the BSI (Beastly Serpents Incorporated) have to protest in the strongest terms about your tacit endorsement of stamping on snakes, as promulgated by Mr. R Perot. At BSI we have developed an international standard for the removal of snakes from the work place, I have included a summary below which I would be most grateful for you sharing with your readers and would recognise as a small compensation for your unprovoked attacks.

Results from each step should be recorded on the special forms BSI 1951, BSI 1748, BSI 1656 and BSI 1799/A4QST

Step 1 – It is necessary to ascertain the exact size of the snake, tolerances of between 2.8 – 3.6mm are acceptable

Step 2 – The colour and markings of the snake should be recorded, digital photographic evidence is preferable but analogue is acceptable in extreme circumstances

Step 3 – A sample of the snake’s venom should be obtained. Vial BSI 1256962932 is the only acceptable and internationally recognised repository for the gathering and storage of snake venom

Should the snake be uncooperative and refuse to volunteer a sample then it is acceptable to obtain the sample from a recycled source – for instance an arm, leg or other body part

Step 4 – Once the data has been captured it should be cross-referenced with the international snake and slug categorisation database. (This initiative is the result of a major investment by BSI, replaces the 4 volumes of snake details that previously needed to be referenced and has only been made possible through funding from the National Lottery, the World Bank and a substantial EU grant).

Step 5 – you should now be able to categorise the snake (field testing has shown that categorisation is 99.999967% accurate) into one of the following 8 categories (each category is then broken down into a further 12 sub-categories but for the purposes of dealing with snakes in the work place field testing has shown that an action plan based on the broad brush 8 categories is sufficient). The categories and the recommended course of action from each category is shown below:

Category 1 – completely and utterly harmless – action: leave the snake alone

Category 2 – will bite only when severely provoked, bite leaves victim sore but otherwise unharmed – action: leave the snake alone

Category 3 – will bite only when provoked, bite leaves victim sore but otherwise unharmed – action: leave the snake alone

Category 4 – will bite on the slightest provocation, bite leaves victim sore but otherwise unharmed – action: leave the snake alone

Category 5 – will bite only when severely provoked, bite leaves victim paralysed and death will follow if antidote is not administered within a short period of time – action: leave the snake alone

Category 6 – will bite only when provoked, bite leaves victim paralysed and death will follow if antidote is not administered within a short period of time – action: leave the snake alone

Category 7 – will bite on the slightest provocation, bite leaves victim paralysed and death will follow if antidote is not administered within a short period of time – action: leave the snake alone

Category 8 – this snake falls into the category of ‘constrictor’, it is highly unlikely that it is in your work place. Action: you must have got the categorisation wrong, try again

I hope this helps you and your readers in the future
Yours sincerely Steve Basilisk VP BSI London

BSI’s search for new markets

The snake saga started with BSI’s agents looking for someone to do ‘business development’. A reader writes: “John, you say: ‘I guess BSI needs to develop more markets as the enthusiasm for their product wanes in the old markets’. Quite so – BSI now offers an ISO 9004 certificate!

Oh, they call it a BSI Business Performance Improvement Review Certificate, puffed as follows:

‘On successful completion of the review, we will reward you with a BSI Certificate. This provides recognition that your organisation is working beyond the requirements of ISO 9001:2000 and is performing in line with the principles of ISO 9004:2000. It also serves to reinforce your organisation¹s status as a progressive enterprise’

So that’s OK, then.

By the way, so many of my clients, who have to stay registered to ISO 9000 because of market-place coercion, show their auditors how they implemented the systems solution only to find their auditors are enormously enthusiastic about what they see and they often want to bring their friends along so all can learn from it. So now the clients are paying for the privilege of teaching these people how to manage an organisation for improvement. Makes me want to….

The Case Against ISO 9000 – in Spanish

I was delighted to learn today – as this newsletter was being prepared for sending – that the Spanish translation of my book is complete. I will announce here when it is published. You may recall it was translated in to Japanese two years ago. Both translators found my work through the Internet; it does make the world a smaller place. In case it interests you, I give the translators full rights to their books for they like me just want to tell the world what an incredible crock of shit we promulgate throughout the world economy by coercion.

ISO 9000 must be the most successful British export. Its only value is that it f***s up the competition. Any takers for a translation to Chinese… Italian… Arabic… Urdu?