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Looking forward

As we begin the New Year, I thought I’d devote this newsletter to looking forward. What will 2011 bring for systems thinking and systems thinkers?

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More, for sure

One thing we can be sure about, there will be more systems thinking going on. If for no other reason than you can’t ignore the results. If you didn’t attend the Leaders Summit last November, you can get Simon Caulkin’s review of the day from: https://www.vanguard-method.com/media/553

Aside from the jaw-dropping results achieved through following the Vanguard Method, what’s fascinating about Simon’s review of the Summit is the commonality of issues across very different services. No matter whether private-, public- or third-sector, the leaders found the same (management) truths. It shows how systems thinking is getting to a tipping point, universal phenomena building a consensus which is changing management thinking. I am sure in 2011 we will see the broadening of this consensus.

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Simon Caulkin is back!

Regular readers will recall the row that ensued when the numpties at the Observer sacked Simon Caulkin, award-winning management journalist, the only journalist to ‘get’ systems thinking and place it right at the forefront in analysing current issues. Sacked as an efficiency saving!

I am delighted to say he is back – back in the sense that he is going to publish as he did when he was at the Observer. Every week Caulkin on issues of the week.

I recommend that you sign up to his new web site: www.simoncaulkin.com

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Health, at last!

At last we have made a start in health-care services. Regular readers will know that up until now any studying of health services got stuck when the inevitability of challenging the Department of Health became apparent; the targets and other mandates from the centre being directly responsible for performance problems, and the NHS had a culture of compliance and fear. But now the mood is changing.

The final presentation at the Leaders Summit showed how the Vanguard Method resulted in stroke services being improved and the costs halved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results from other services, and as ministers keep to their promises to rein-back interference from the centre I hope the work in health will grow quickly.

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Ministers stick to their promise

The freeing-up of central control in health might not go as fast as we have seen in local authorities and housing, with wholesale dumping of targets, but it is worth saying how consistent ministers have been with regard to closing down central control in the latter two. Even where regulators are still at large we have found the same shift of attitude. So, for example, in the re-design of Food Safety (making sure restaurants don’t poison people) in a local authority, the regulator has given the local authority carte-blanche to ignore the centrally-promulgated regulations. Why? Because the regulator could see that the re-design was based on knowledge gained from studying the system and will lead to better achievement of purpose – exactly what the regulator wants. Exactly what we all want, better, cheaper services. Innovation follows from freedom.

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Speeding up change in the public sector

But innovation also requires taking responsibility. We now know just about every service provided by local authorities. By that I mean we know what you typically learn when you study them as systems and how that leads to better service designs. We are working to make that knowledge more freely available to local authority people, to respond to the growing demand and speed up the rate of adoption of the Vanguard Method. Many local authorities are making the method central to their response to the cash crisis. If we can help speed up the process it can only be good news.

To the same end we launched the DIY Fundamentals programme at the end of last year. Available only to local authorities, it does what we would do to get people started without the need for an expert in the room.

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Helping you avoid the pretenders

We have created a market called systems thinking. Regular readers know how much it pains me to see Vanguard-speak in advertisements put out by people I dub pretenders, to capture some of the market. The latest I read turned out, when I visited their web site, also to be a purveyor of project management – you couldn’t make it up! [For anyone who doesn’t get the joke, systems thinkers reject project management as change is emergent]

I have also seen some of the shockingly bad work being done by pretenders in the name of systems thinking, it is tragic.

It takes us up to two years to train a Vanguard expert, the systems thinking that works is having workers and managers study and then re-design their system, you have to be very competent to be able to help people do that as a consultant. Much of what the pretenders offer is simply rebadged process improvement ideas, coupled with what they have gleaned from our published work and they flog it as training and projects. It is everything you wouldn’t get from Vanguard.

To tackle this problem and to help us respond to the growth in this market, for our constraint is teaching our consultants, we are going to set up an accreditation scheme for other consultants. It will give them access to our ‘core curriculum’ (the stuff we teach Vanguard experts) and our body of knowledge and experience. For the customer, it will enable you to know whether the provider is registered or accredited – the former saying that they will come with our support and the latter being our signal that they are capable of leading a change using the Vanguard Method.

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Normal service will be resumed

And less you think I have ceased behaving as an iconoclastic heckler of management thinking and ministerial follies, there is still plenty to rant about! The lean tool-heads are still abundant yet failing in health, scale ideas still dominate Whitehall thinking and the voluntary sector is being ripped apart by big dollops of command-and-control change while the prime minster talks of the Big Society. It drives me bonkers; normal service will be resumed next month!

But to end my looking-forward missive, some other things to look forward to: The Munro review of children’s services, which is strongly systems orientated, the impact of the Berry review in policing, which advocates systems thinking directly and the current parliamentary select committee reviews on the future of public-sector audit and the failures at HMRC. I was invited to submit my views to the latter. Yes, they asked!

It’s going to be an interesting year. I’m kicking it off in the north east, if you can get to Newcastle on Wednesday morning (12th January), its free! More info here:
http://www.ncl.ac.uk/nubs/about/events/item/freedom-from-command-and-control-a-better-way-to-make-the-work-work
For those in the South West, I am speaking at Bristol University on the evening of the 27th January. For info: office@vanguardconsult.co.uk
And my favourite housing case (yes, the one that delivers a service at the time and on the day the tenants want, at half the cost) is on show in Scotland on 17th February (the blurb says ‘John Little’ of Vanguard, but Ian Gilson (Comserv) and Owen Buckwell (Portsmouth City) will be speaking too). More here:
http://www.apse.org.uk/flyers/2011/02/APSE%20Building%20%20Housing%20Seminar%202011.pdf