On tour

Not yet half-way through the book tour, but very glad I decided to do it. I have been knocked out by the number of people I meet who are working with systems thinking who turn up to support the events.

People from government agencies turn up too. They, it seems, are being coerced to do ‘lean tools’ and similarly dumb ‘factory;’ designs – and when they hear what is going on in local authorities they are astonished. And not just at the results, but because they are not being forced, like the agencies, to do the wrong things. The reason is local authorities have their own politicians and are not be so easily bullied by the centre.

My thanks to the people who have hosted the tour events.

Son of Chartermark

A reader wrote to tell me he had attended a workshop on the new Customer Service Excellence Standard, as he noted, it is known as the ‘son’ of Chartermark. He said:

‘All through the presentation the presenter spoke about the customer as if they were a single entity and that we needed to identify our customer, find out what he or she wants and then put those things into action. I pointed out to the presenter that in Council services we have many customers some of whom may be service users and some not and even the service users may have differing views amongst themselves. In other words, variety.

How I asked, do you take on board all these differing views and aspirations and encapsulate them, as he was suggesting, into a single way as to how the service should be actually be delivered? His reply was that you don’t have to do what people ask you to do! The important part of the new standard is, he said, is that you can show you have asked everybody (and by everybody that means every race,creed, colour, religion and gender makeup together with any associated combinations).

So what CSE comes down to is us having to search out every possible viewpoint from just about every sector of society to then ignore what they ask and do what we normally do. I think that there should be a new criterion for waste – wasting resources on achieving meaningless Standards.’

And, of course the paradox is when you learn to design your service against demand you deliver against the variety of demands; each customer gets what he or she wants. No surveys required.

And I still don’t know why Chartermark needed a son. It should have been prevented from procreation.

The man with tools for everything

A systems thinker in the armed services writes:

‘We had the tool heads in for a week. I could not believe it; the tool heads had a tool for everything. A tool for kicking off the event to a tool for ending the event. At the end of the week the tool head asked if [our service] had a use for his methodology, the group politely replied ‘if we were automotive factory we would welcome you’. Persistent, the tool head approached me and said ‘I have advanced tools that I can deliver’, to which I said thank you and escorted him to the front gate.’

As they walked to the gate he asked:

‘Have you had heard of Vanguard’s ‘Systems Thinking?’ The tool head replied ‘a little’ and asked him questions. He writes: ‘I showed him the model and said you start at ‘check’ to which he had a fit and said no you don’t, you start at plan.’

Just one of the problems with the tool heads.

Why don’t the numbers come through?

In the last month I have had a number of conversations with large service organisations in which they all expressed concern that while their ‘lean tools’ or ‘six sigma’ programmes were showing lots of local improvements, the improvements were not coming through on the enterprise-wide numbers; the bottom line.

It is because the ‘improvements’ reported by the tool heads are all concerned with activity costs. Typically they spend months analysing activity then apply their tools to reduce some activities and they assume that less activity = less cost, and report the same in the form of extrapolated data.

But the true costs of service are in flow. And often these tools interventions increase the flow costs. If only they knew. One is spending in excess of £1m a month on this nonsense. The tools are employed to solve the problems managers think they have – so the work starts at ‘plan’, just as the tool head above believes is right. Systems thinkers start at ‘check’ – the only ‘plan’ is to get knowledge. And then you start to see what a waste of investment the tool heads are and, moreover, how much waste their interventions create.

John Darlington (a man I teach with at Cardiff) told me he added up the projected ‘savings’ from all of the projects in a ‘lean-six-sigma’ intervention and they added up to more than the revenue of the firm!

Lean as mean

A number of readers alerted me to Jim Womack’s recent newsletter, where he says as the recession bites we must avoid ‘lean’ becoming ‘mean’, that is, the vehicle for getting rid of people. The readers all point out this is somewhat disingenuous as the vast majority of ‘lean’ programmes have been exactly about that. It is the case that command-and-control thinkers know all about managing costs (and don’t know that managing costs causes costs). The ‘lean’ programmes appeal to these managers for that very reason. And they fail for that very reason.

Regular readers will know Vanguard has dropped the word ‘lean’. We took the ‘lean-service’ url a few years ago to try to head off the tool heads who were claiming what they had done for manufacturing (well, actually, they didn’t change any systems there either) would work just fine for service.

‘Lean’ has become such a bad brand; it is the label applied to awful cost-cutting process-improvement interventions, driven out of the management factory. I recall going to Jim Womack’s big event in Holland a few years ago. The man in an expensive suit from General Motors (who looked like he had never been anywhere near the factory floor) was quite clear about their ambitions to use ‘lean’ to achieve cost-reductions. Same for HMRC and same for the NHS and all other regime-inspired ‘lean’ interventions.

Lean is mean. It is also just plain wrong.

How many miles does a nurse walk?

The chief executive of an NHS Trust proudly told me he had the tool heads in. One of their key projects was to study how many miles a nurse walks. Is that the purpose of the system? You couldn’t make it up.

NHS Direct compounds mistake

NHS Direct is not getting the calls it expects to achieve its corporate plan. So what do top management do? Brainstorm ideas for how to get more calls or make more calls; the problem they want to solve is how to use the resource to meet the plan. One idea is to ring people who are long-term ill to see how they are doing. How dumb is that? From the patient’s point of view it will disturb their current service and is bound to create more demand.

People in the NHS call it NHS Direct NHS ‘Re-Direct’, because they have noticed that it doesn’t solve many problems and most often people are sent to other services: GP, pharmacy, A & E etc. Thus the number of transactions goes up and hence the costs of health services go up. Having made the mistake of creating something that doesn’t work, these managers compound the problem by trying to find it more stupid things to do.

I expect they are tied into an agreement with the Treasury that drives them to behave this way.

Incapacity to do the right thing

The regime has employed contractors to visit people who are receiving incapacity benefit to see if their claims are genuine. In the contract there are penalties which will be incurred if they get complaints. Does it take anything more than a dim mind to work out what will happen?

In case anyone from the regime is reading, the answer is they will be less likely to say ‘no’.

You see what you want to see

A reader writes to tell me of his experience in a meeting with Sir David Varney, the man who advises the prime minister on the need for more public service factories. Varney always justifies his philosophy by reference to the administration involved in reporting a death. He says if this service was joined up it would work better. As the reader says:

‘When I read it, it seemed to me that the issue was appalling service: not doing what was requested.’

Varney, like so many command-and-control thinkers jumps to the solution before understanding the problem. As I am fond of saying on the book tour, this man has so much to learn he warrants his own chapter!

A novice ‘gets it’ with NI 14

A local authority manager, responsible for complying with NI 14, wrote to me a little confused by the regime’s guidance and my guidance. I did my best to help. Shortly after she wrote again:

‘I have re-read the guidance and I think the penny has dropped.

Failure demand is not sensible to compare.

Trying to make the stats look good causes effort to be diverted into behaviours that make the stats look good rather than improve a service.

The measures do not take account of ‘predictable’ failures which can be changed, it is a blanket measure which may or may not have relevance to your council. Need to first do the analysis of value demand it identify predictable failure demand for your organisation.

There is waste of effort in setting up systems to constantly measure and report failure demand which should be a temporary measure.’

I gave her ten out of ten.

And on the book tour I met people who were involved in the ‘consultation’ exercise on NI 14. They told me the consultation was railroaded by the classics scholar (see last newsletter). Only doing her job! Her job, along with all the others is, de-facto, to make public services worse. They all have to go.

Systems Thinking in the public sector – case studies

To follow the book tour we are presenting two events featuring case studies of the Systems approach in local authorities and housing:

Local authorities: 12 June
Housing: 26 June

For information and bookings: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk