Evidence to Select Committee

On Thursday 23rd January I finally got in front of the Public Administration Select Committee to give my evidence to their review of targets and public sector improvement.

People have asked me if it will make any difference; my response has been the first step in getting listened to, is to turn up. I am happy that I made a cogent case that targets always sub-optimise systems and capability measures provide a much better alternative. One of the Labour members said he doubted this government would ever give up targets. My rejoinder was: ‘Maybe the government should change its slogan from ‘what matters is what works’ to ‘what matters is you do as you are told, regardless of the consequences’. I know, Seddon just can’t pass up the opportunity.

If you want to read my evidence to the Select Committee, go to: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=950. Please pass it around.

With me on the panel was a chief of police. Like other top leaders before him he maintained ‘cheating’ was minimal. He told the Committee his force audited the reported statistics – he acknowledged this was waste. By chance I met one of this officers the next day. I said I’d been with his chief, he asked why, I explained what the Committee was about and he said: ‘So I guess the chief was there to talk about the scams.’ And out they all tumbled. The one I liked the most was: Report a domestic as two assaults – each on the other – and record them as detected with no further proceedings. Does wonders for the detection rate.

[Note to the chief: I know you get passed this newsletter from time to time, if you get this don’t do the wrong thing.]

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Government web sites quiet

Consultants have put out a report saying Government web sites don’t get much traffic. Despite a massive investment in electronic information provision, it seems few people want it. Will this lead Ministers to review their target for having all government services available via the phone or Internet by 2005? Don’t bet on it.

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Planning tools tamper!

In all call centres mangers use resource-planning tools to plan bums on seats. One of our clients has been making use of capability charts as an alternative to resource planning software and has discovered, quite by accident, that the tool they used to use actually tampered with the system.

Now there is something they don’t tell you when you buy these tools.

Essentially the problem is these tools treat special causes as common causes, thus making mistakes in their predictions. Working with capability data ensures the use of actual data, avoiding the tampering problem, and, moreover, encourages questioning about the causes of variation; something the planning tools obfuscate. Regular readers of this column will know I recommend the ‘Signals from Noise’ product as a superior planning and resource management tool to anything else the market uses.

More about this and other startling revelations in the book – yes it is coming, just as soon as I can find the time to finish it. This is a great illustration of developing knowledge through doing; when you learn new things from your clients you know you have been successful.

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Confusion marketing

A reader sent me this (I have had to cut it as it was so long, but it will make you smile):

I was fed up and decided that I deserved a break, so a trip by train for a few days at the seaside with my wife sounded just right. Sadly, I made the mistake of phoning the railway company. After half an hour talking in circles to a machine and wearing out my fingers on the buttons of my phone, I finally got through to a human. The following took place.

Human : You’re through to ticket sales. How can I help?
Me : I’d like two returns to Aberdeen, please.
H : Uh Huh! Do you want a cheap-day return, an economy return, an away-day special return, a half-day special return, a midweek tourist all-inclusive winter-week special return, an out-and-about all-inclusive special weekday cheap rate exclusive to weekend-travellers-arriving-at-6.30a.m.-and-leaving-at-9.30 p.m.-on-a-Tuesday-only-return?
M : Eh? I’m not quite sure. I wonder, could you tell me?
H : I only sell tickets. Passenger enquiries are at 0131-
M : Wait a minute, don’t go. I’ve been on the line for half an hour, I don’t want to lose my place. Just an ordinary return will do.
H : An ordinary return? Are you trying to be funny?
M : Of course not.
H : We only do specials that attract more customers, therefore making it cheaper and so passing on the benefits to ill-informed people like you sir.
M : Oh I see, thanks.
H : No problem. We’re trained to handle the intellectually challenged. Or to use your official title ‘passengers.’ Thank you for calling, caller_..
M : Wait. Don’t go. I’ll have the er! – er!
H : Yes.
M : The third one.
H : The midweek tourist all-inclusive winter-week special?
M : Yes.
H : You can’t have that.

And so it went on and on, finishing with:

M : Eh, I wonder if I could speak to the machine again?

It made me think how often we come across the problem of specifications dreamt up in marketing failing to ease the flow of selling customers things they want. It is a classic example of design separated from process. The solution is to learn how to use the call centre to fill the trains. Wasn’t that the purpose?