Where does ‘lean’ go next?

In his opening address at the UK/US manufacturing summit, Dan Jones said the future of ‘lean’ is in re-thinking management. While ‘lean’ had achieved a lot at the process level, he said, the focus needed to move to the larger system.

Dan included Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in his examples of ‘lean’ spreading into non-manufacturing applications. As regular readers will know, this is not ‘lean’ it is ‘command and control lean’, or ‘battery hen lean’. The workers are working to rule and their union is fighting management on issues like activity management, arbitrary targets and hourly appraisals (beatings).

It is indicative of the failure to start at the system level. It is a tool head intervention, assuming service is like manufacturing, and has amplified current system conditions, making the organisation even more ‘command and control’. Starting at the system level teaches managers that their thinking about the design and management of work is central to the performance problem.

That’s where Vanguard started. What we saw in the Toyota System was a set of principles, behind which were a set of assumptions and these contrast with management’s current assumptions.

It’s a good job no one told us otherwise.

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Errors are a system problem

Coincidentally a local authority systems thinker writes to tell me that their Payroll Department is inundated with phone calls from staff worried about a letter from HMRC telling them they owe £371.80 in tax. As she points out people worry: “After all if you get a bill from HMRC you normally pay quickly, don’t you, for fear of it increasing.”

Apparently this is not the first time this has happened. People are being told to ignore the letter and expect another letter in a few months time that will tell them they owe nothing. I can’t imagine that will decrease the anxiety.

The design of the HMRC system is creating waste, failure demand in local authorities, to say nothing of the failure demand they will have for themselves.

I’m with the unions. It is in the public interest to help HMRC managers learn they have not bought lean.

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A letter from the front line

I received the following from an employee of HMRC (abbreviated):

“I read “When lean is mean” [an article based on my work published in Assessment, the HMRC staff journal]. “I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I felt. At last, I thought, here is someone who completely understands how demoralising the HMRC form of lean has become; someone who has voiced what myself and my colleagues, by experience, know to be true.

I now know we are not going “mad”; I now know that we are intelligent. Their system of lean promotes a feeling of worthlessness; your observations have given me back some self-esteem and a little more confidence in myself.”

The sad thing is that should be management’s job.

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Call centre in trouble

HMRC managers bought the idea of economies of scale (a command and control concept). All across the public sector we have seen the creation of call centres, as ministers seem to assume that ‘access’ is equivalent to ‘service ’. As you would expect they have been built on command and control principles.

Southwark council’s call centre has been reported (by Private Eye) as receiving high levels of complaints. According to the Eye the contractor blames the staff, who apparently work in battery-hen conditions.

The staff will, I expect, be measured on calls taken, average handling time, ‘not ready’ time and inspected for compliance with rules and procedures. It is the reason call centres became sweat shops; and the reason they don’t provide customers with the things customers want.

If it is like so many that I have visited, including so-called ‘beacon’s’, it will be stuffed with failure demand. It will have a ‘CRM’ system (which cost £3-5m) that only serves to institutionalise the waste.

Apparently the Southwark call centre has been out-sourced to a private sector provider in a ten-year contract. If they are paying on the basis of cost per call it is in the interest of the provider to do nothing. They will be making money from eating the public sector’s muda. But at least Southwark gets a tick for compliance.

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Inspection is unreliable – official

A correspondent and statistician writes:

“My favourite illustration of the bizarre world of inspectors is found in CSCI’s publication ‘The state of social care in England 2004 – 05’ Para 12.33 page 173:

‘There is no statistically significant correlation between a council’s star rating and the performance of local services’.

This is undoubtedly true but nowhere is this thought followed up. This fact doesn’t stop star ratings being used explicitly and implicitly as relative quality measures. There is nowhere an attempt to justify why – if they don’t really tell us anything – CSCI continue to collect and publish these measures. There is no indication given of what they think would be useful data or any indication that they desire to collect more useful data.”

I guess they’re just doing their job. Their bosses want assessments because they believe the process will be of value – it kicks some; it praises others. These things, they believe, will move things forward.

To turn their attention to the problem of the reliability of assessments would hurt their heads. And it wouldn’t win them friends in high places. If they turned their attention to the validity problem – do the measures help in understanding and improving performance? – they would have a bit of a nightmare.

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Regulation drives feeding frenzy

As the regulations for electronic social care records have been changed this year (and not for the first time), the IT industry feeds voraciously on the managers need to comply. Expect ‘solutions’ that add to cost and worsen service provision for those most in need. Someone ought to be paying attention to how much revenue this creates for the IT industry and how much waste the ‘solutions’ add to the care organisations.

Any information gratefully received.

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The case against sharing benefits processing

In October I spoke against a motion promoting the sharing of benefits processing. As I continue to be amazed at how this has become the favourite service to ‘share’ and feel compelled to do everything I can to stop the madness, I wrote my speech down. If it matters to you, please read it and pass it to those who ought to care. It is at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=929

By the way, the motion was defeated by a large majority.

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Shared services event

The response to our shared services event has been astonishing. The first sold out so we ran a second and that sold out. The audience is interested in method, they don’t need telling they haven’t had any useful method from government, nor how badly many government ‘solutions’ have delivered.

We are going to take the event around the country.

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Victimising young people

The government has set a target for ‘offenders brought to justice’. It requires police forces to bring specified numbers of offenders to court, or issue them with fixed-penalty notices or other pre-court disposals. People who work with teenagers are concerned it will lead police to target people who represent the easiest way for them to make their numbers.

The government management factory mandates monitoring to ensure compliance with policy. But if we inspect for deviance we can only expect more deviance. Work we were involved in with local policing in Scotland showed that designing policing (with other agencies) against demand meant the prevention of deviance and improved relations with the community. That would have looked bad on the new targets.

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Vanguard in South Africa

On March 7th next year I shall be speaking at “Customer Management World 2007” In Johannesburg.

Forgive my blushes, but this is what people said the last time I spoke in South Africa:

“Fantastic! Well presented. Great Ideas” – Customer Service Manager, Real People, SA

“Dynamic, challenges the status quo” – Managing Director, Omega Performance SA

“Great – good insight, too short time” – Call Centre Manager, Safaricom Ltd, Kenya

“We need more change agents like John, will be finding out more!” – Operations & Services Executive, Old Mutual Health, SA

“Controversial, good delivery” – Business Development Director, Volkswagen, SA

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Vanguard accreditation

We are getting more and more interest from people seeking accreditation to the Vanguard Method. In response we are planning to set up a meeting of interested parties early in the New Year.

If this interests you please be aware that the only way to learn the method is to do it. This is not a training courses and manuals thing. As Vanguard has grown we have learned a lot about how best to develop people to consult in the Vanguard way. They have to be experts.

Vanguard will charge fees for developing you through to accreditation and subsequent licensing to use the Vanguard Method.

If you would like to apply to join an exploratory meeting, please e-mail
Barry Wrighton: barry@vanguardconsult.co.uk