Freedom from command and control… the show?

I am putting together a ‘show’ for want of a better word. It is a show that will explain how we developed the Vanguard method – what we learned from Deming and Ohno, how service differs from manufacturing and, hence, the rationale behind the Vanguard method.

The show will illustrate how command and control is an organisational prison, it actually represents an illusion of control while, in truth, sub-optimising performance. To illustrate the method in use I will feature clients, leading practitioners, from financial services, telecommunications, housing, local authorities, social care and the police who will talk about how, when they learn how to ‘see’, they discover for themselves how and why command and control undermines performance and become motivated to engage with the better systems alternative.

And they will show that, because service organisations don’t make things, change is fast, better service at lower costs. And massive improvements in morale to boot.

It has to be the most important event Vanguard has put on to date and it is my hope it will encourage others to break out of command and control. Or at least talk about it!


October 6th International Conference Centre, Edinburgh
October 11th QE 2 Conference Centre, London

Want this show in your country?

For some time I have been corresponding with people from all over the world who are interested in the work we are doing. If you have access to an audience (associations and the like) and are prepared to do some organising work, we would be pleased to bring this show to your country. In the first instant contact Angela:

What went wrong in Rover?

Rover was the last of the British auto mass-producers. Like others it studied the Japanese ‘miracle’ but didn’t ‘get it’. When the last owners bought it for a song, car parks full of made cars waiting for customers came free. I remember in the Eighties hearing that they had targets for cost-reduction through ‘just-in-time’, a fundamental misunderstanding of Ohno’s work. In the Nineties they did lots of ‘process improvement’ work with extensive training and projects, but they didn’t change the system.

GM is doing the same today, employing people who provide the ‘tools’ from the Toyota system. It won’t change the system. When you see a senior GM manager present on the current initiative you are struck by the quality of the suit, and notice not a hair out of place, and certainly I wonder whether such people even know where the production line is. I read that GM lost £800m in the first quarter this year.

And meanwhile Toyota continues ever upward. What went wrong in Rover was management. We should take it as a lesson.

Ministers interfere with scanning

To deal with the long waiting lists for diagnostic scanning the health minister struck a deal with a private-sector provider. The result has been a catastrophe. We now read in the newspapers that some patients are waiting longer, there are delays in reporting scans, the Royal College ofRadiologists has advised radiologists to check scans carried out by the private contractor as there have been errors, patients are travelling long distances to be scanned, often being told to go home as paperwork is missing and NHS scanning equipment stands idle.

It is a lesson in tampering, to use Deming’s description. By focusing on transaction cost and scale, they sub-optimised the system. If they had known instead how to focus on demand, value and flow, they could have first optimised the NHS scanning system and would have had genuine knowledge about what further requirements would need to be designed and where.

It is time ministers got out of management. They tell us they were dealing with ‘blockages in the system’ but what they did was make the system worse, driving up costs and worsening service provision, just as they have with every service I have studied in the public sector.

And, by the way, the ex minister of health, Alan Milburn, is reported as being a £30,000-a-year consultant for the parent company of the scanning provider.

Camden Council goes barmy

The magazine Housing Today reports that Camden Council (a local council in London) has set its estate officers annual targets for obtaining antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs). An ASBO is a government invention for dealing with delinquent people, they become subject to curfews, tagging and the like. Apparently the estate officers, who manage about 600 properties each, have a target of one ASBO a year.

A spokeswoman for Camden council said: “These targets show a balanced approach between service provision, complemented by enforcement where necessary”.

Oh no they don’t, they show that the officers in Camden have gone mad.

The cops go barmy too

Readers write:

“Police in Thames Valley are being awarded points in accordance with their performance. Certain offences have been given a points value and officers are to aim at 200 points per month. My understanding is that ‘top prize’ of 50 points is awarded for ‘taking the lead in a fatal accident’. Should we be worried about being around Thames Valley towards the end of the month in case targets have not been met?”


“I have recently had a meeting with our local police Area Commander. I thought that you may be interested in a key initiative he is keen to implement in order to reduce crime. This is the Dust Cap and Number Plate Replacement Service (DCNPRS). Not immediately obvious how this will reduce crime, but bear with me.

Under new (‘more rigorous’?) Home Office crime recording guidelines, any missing hubcaps or number plates that cannot be found have to be recorded – as a theft. His theory is that if he can get his officers to simply provide a replacement hubcap, or pop on a new number plate, he can reduce crime at a stroke.

In the same way one incidence of criminal behaviour, when a drunken man smashed up a fence and snapped seven car aerials on his way home after a heavy night out, gets recorded as an incidence of criminal damage and seven thefts – because the officers couldn’t find the aerials!”

What do you imagine to be the impact of this madness on policemen?

Tony Blair speaks the truth!!

Speaking on BBC’s Question Time last week, Tony Blair said:

“The purpose of targets is to ensure you get minimum quality and standards.”

Mr Blair had been subjected to a barrage of audience complaints that GPs only give appointments in 48 hours because of government targets, if people want an appointment further out they are told they cannot book as it looks bad for the GP. He was visibly shocked at the unintended consequences of this target and promised to look into it.

Mr Blair will, if he bothers to look, find the same with every other government target. Targets are arbitrary measures and it is in their nature to distort systems. In every public service I have studied targets are making performance worse rather than better. Mr Blair behaves like an out-of-touch executive, believing that nothing he does can possibly be counter-productive while in fact he is the architect of a catastrophically failing regime. By ‘minimum’ I expect Mr Blair meant ‘basic’; but in truth targets ensure the least quality and standards.

We now have a ridiculous situation. People who have improved their services by significant amounts are unable to satisfy their inspectors, for the inspectors cannot ‘tick’ their boxes, and so the people who have done what the government wants (better service at lower costs) are punished. Those who comply with government dictats – and often they do because otherwise they would not receive funding – have made their services worse.

It is time ministers got out of management.

Watch out for pretenders

Because of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s sponsorship of pilot programmes of the Vanguard method in housing, we have had a lot of coverage in the housing press. Perhaps inevitably a number of providers are now claiming they can offer ‘systems thinking’ too. Be wary of pretenders. The easiest way to spot them is to ask them about their method. If they are offering systems thinking as training you can be sure it won’t be effective, even though it might sound appealing.

I am always saddened by the small minority of people who have no integrity; there is even one who claims he invented our work.

Vanguard’s housing solutions

It might not surprise you to know the issues you work through in applying the Vanguard method to housing are essentially the same for all housing clients and they reach similar conclusions (and results) in re-design. As the method has now been developed and varies little, it is our intention to offer the method to groups of housing clients in order to achieve some economies. I shall write to housing organisations when we are ready to offer this service. If you want to be sure you receive this announcement, please email Anna: and ask to be put on the housing email list.

Vanguard creeping through ‘official’ channels

A reader, who I assume is a senior civil servant, writes:

“I have recently been working with one of the national projects looking at ‘return on investment’. The report, which will be available soon, acknowledges the Vanguard methodology. What some may find surprising and I believe will attract the most attention is the efficiency the Vanguard approach brings.”

Quite so. So should Vanguard be the new specification? Absolutely not, any specification will run into the trouble we have seen over the last few years of ministerial interference.