Command and control lean

A reader, whose organisation is ‘doing lean’ writes:

“My company is obsessed with ‘lean’ from two angles: One from the point of reducing manpower to the bare minimum and the other from the point of changing the layout of each process without any input from the employee. If this approach is done correctly – as in the case of Toyota, which draws on the support and input from each employee, then any problem that does arise is discussed openly with management and employees who perform those processes. It is a ‘win-win’ situation.

However, when this ‘lean’ obsession does NOT involve the employees input -problems with unworkable processes result. The ability to perform a process Right First Time will fail because the personnel who have changed the processes do not understand the ‘workability’ of that process. It is the operator of those processes that have to ‘pick up the pieces’ and try to work with it. This is a ‘win-lose’ situation. No wonder there is such a high turnover of staff!”

It is a classic example of ‘doing lean’ from the management factory; the focus is cost reduction, the command-and-control thinker’s perennial obsession. It is the result of following the tool heads; the big opportunities are missed. The Toyota System is a system thing, not a ‘tools’ thing. The purpose is to improve the system and grow, not cut costs, and people are central to that endeavour, not pawns on the scrap-heap of costs.

The frustration of being told to do the wrong thing

As systems thinking grows, it is not unusual to find people who have ‘got it’ having to work for managers who have no clue. A reader writes:

“I moved to a part of the organisation that was into systems thinking. I really started to enjoy it as it fitted in my way of thinking and thought what a difference, concentrating on what matters to customers, identifying demands etc, looking at what really needs to change.

Now after seeing the light, it’s all change and we have been taken over by the control freaks, back to the dark ages. I feel like a pit pony returning to the depths of a coal mine after a short time in the sunlight. Pointless objectives, measure this, measure that, evidence of this, and the best of all: customer satisfaction is linked to how little time you spend with the customer. Good idea: cut them off after five seconds and they will be extremely satisfied. HELP!”

Someone who has learned about managing value is rightly frustrated at his managers’ pre-occupation with managing cost. Sadly, if he speaks up, he will be branded a ‘nutter’.

The paradigm determines the problem

Like many others, 3M went the tools route. Vice president Larry Wendling has been reported as saying 3M “got a little tool happy”. Wendling is 3M’s research chief. He said researchers, engineers and scientists “chafed” under the strictures of Six Sigma: “Excessive metrics, steps, measurements and Six Sigma’s intense focus on reducing variability water down the discovery process. Under Six Sigma, the free-wheeling nature of brainstorming and the serendipitous side of discovery is stifled. Proponents contend such methodologies’ rules keep researchers on track and accountable for producing.”

It illustrates how tools are used to reinforce the wrong thinking: the ‘proponents’ sought standardisation and measurement of activity rather than understanding achievement of purpose. It is the wrong thing to focus on; but the tool heads wouldn’t tell managers that, for they don’t know it themselves. They blindly apply their tools to the wrong (command-and-control) problems; in this case treating research and innovation as something that can be reduced to ‘production’ activities. Sadly, as was the case with 3M, it takes time for anyone to realise this is a big mistake.

Progress of the ‘Vanguard’ target

Regular readers will be familiar with the new ‘Vanguard target’ being foisted on local authorities: Called NI (National Indicator) 14, it is a classic example of command-and-control thinkers picking up a good systems idea (failure demand) and then destroying its potential value. Many systems thinkers are doing as asked, commenting on the new indicators. One writes:

“We’ve actively been trying to influence NI14 over the last few weeks. We’ve been told that there is no way that ‘Avoidable Contact’ will be dropped, but have also been told that NI14 is driven by the desire to make councils more aware of failure demand and what its affect is on both customers and services (and that it is not meant to be a ‘target’). On this basis, we have concentrated on pushing the definition to be clearer and more focused on reality – it was to say the least a little confused before, not to mention almost impossible to actually measure! Everyone is a little sceptical re the ‘it’s not a target’ position.”

I’m not surprised. The reason failure demand is attractive to the regime is that its removal leads to cost-reduction. But the paradox is you can’t remove it without understanding two things: managing value (not cost) and managing the system (not functions). Moreover, to a systems thinker, failure demand is a temporary measure. All things not understood by the regime.

Notice also that the regime seeks feedback but won’t change its mind.

A powerful little book

I have been given a copy of “Life without timesheets” by High Williams, St Edward’s Press, 2006. It is a brilliant exposition of something everyone knows: the use of time-sheets and thence billing customers for time is something that upsets customers of accountants and lawyers. The author shows how managing value is better for both parties and makes more money! You can get the book from: www.stedwardspress.co.uk

Service factory failure

A reader writes:

“A great example of utterly abysmal design of government online services:

I tried to use the online service at DVLA to change the address on my drivers licence. A simple enough, but important job, you might think. It asks you to enter your NEW address but then treats it as your PRESENT address and asks you how long you have lived there and it won’t let you proceed any further. Being the simple soul that I am I assumed this was a typo so I went back and entered my present address which it accepted. I then had to go through a torturous process of registering, entering lots of information including my passport number, several ‘security’ questions etc etc. After clearing these hurdles I was then presented with the message that the address I had entered was the same as my present address and rather patronisingly informed me that I hadn’t moved so there was no need to change the address on my driving licence!!!

So I went back to the old technology, the telephone, and having negotiated my way through the ‘if you want this press that etc’ I was informed that I should write to them via the post using the official form with my new address, and was also told that if I had managed to change it online I would still have to post the paper form to them anyway. Just how much is this nonsense costing the licence fee payer? Hours of fun (not).”

I have no doubt DVLA wins accolades from the regime for its online service. Just a shame it doesn’t work for customers. It is the same with Consumer Direct and Legal Services, two other factories created by the regime. Shocking wastes of investment (which I expose in my next book).

System thinker looking for work in the North West

A practicing systems thinker working for a Local Authority in the North West is looking for a move. If you are looking for someone with experience of the Vanguard Method and you are in the North West, I would be happy to put you in touch.

The two Johnnies

This event was mentioned in the last newsletter. Because of an administrative problem the date has changed to 19th February. I shall be speaking alongside John Darlington in what is called a “Lean Soapbox Event” at Cardiff University.

As the blurb says: ‘John Darlington and John Seddon both have reputations for being ‘anti’ a lot of things. In this unique conversation you will find out what they are most anti and find out not only what they don’t like, but also what they like. Expect strong views! Never mind what you think about me, John Darlington is a manufacturing expert who is worth listening to.

For info and bookings contact Claire Gardner: Gardnerca@cf.ac.uk

‘Lean’ Universities

On January 21st there is a gathering of Universities working with ‘lean thinking’. Cardiff, St Andrews and Brunel will be presenting their approaches. It will be an interesting opportunity to explore differences in method. For information go to the LERC web site: http://www.leanenterprise.org.uk/ or contact Sarah Lethbridge: lethbridgesl@cf.ac.uk

Can I come to your place?

As regular readers will know, I have written a book on the failure of the public-sector reform regime and how systems thinking provides a much better alternative. The book provides plenty of evidence of the ways in which the regime has created massive amounts of waste (poor service, high costs and low morale) and argues that the regime will have to change if we are to improve public services in a sustainable way.

The book will be published in April. I want to do a little tour, to speak to public-sector audiences about the book. To that end we are looking for venues. Can we come to your place? All we need is a space for a couple of hours, to which we can invite public sector people from your area. If you’d like to host an event please let me know.