Vanguard Network Day September 17th Part 1

First off, WOW!  This was my first Network day and boy was it worth it.

Below are the key takeaways that I took from the sessions that I attended.

An irrational belief in targets – John Seddon

First off John reported that we are winning when it comes to applying Systems Thinking in the public sector and changing conventional thinking. He will be writing a column in the LGC every 6 weeks. John sees the next election as a watershed, he is now regularly briefing the Tories – although in his opinion only half of them have understood Systems Thinking so far. He is also talking to the Lib Dems. He jokingly asked if anyone had signed the petition for him to become the Tsar for Public Services, said he did it to draw attention. If he was offered the role he would only do it on his terms and his starting point would be to get rid of the bullies with no knowledge of the work currently in place. He would change the focus of inspectors to ask only one question, what do you measure and how do you do it?

Those working in Wales can now drop arbitrary targets and those in Scotland have begun to cease micro managing. He also reported that proportionally there is more Systems Thinking going on in England than anywhere else. He mentioned the comprehensive area assessment (CAA) process and how it has been termed a “weapon of mass distraction” by Gareth Daniel.

John thinks that Systems Thinking will get there in part. In this current climate of cost cutting he is advising the Tory Fringe Party to spend less on the right thing, than less on the wrong thing; the things they spend money on now. The total place initiative came in for a battering, Vanguard have created an alternative proposal. People tell him that efficiencies cant be achieved, he responds that cost is in flow and not in activity, we havent achieved efficiencies because we have been focused on activity. Finally he reported that Vanguard have been doing their first pieces of work in healthcare recently and that Vanguard have found that improving service has had an unanticipated effect; people take more pride, for example those in housing estates starting taking pride in the estate they live in.

John has asked that anyone getting showered with dumb instructions, please send them to him.

He advised you reject anything and anyone who offers you “best practice”. It should be “better practice” as anything can be improved. Best practice = copying and trying to copy something to your system wont work as your system will be different.

Moving onto targets John commented that command and control targets often relate directly to plans and budgets, as there is a commonly held belief in current management thinking that this is the only way to run an organisation. He commented on the important distinction between targets and milestones. He has a big problem with traditional project management, not with planning and milestones, but with managing by things that are arbitrary such as milestones with dates (people become fixated on the dates, therefore quality goes down, costs go up). Change is emergent, therefore traditional project management is flawed.

There then followed a brainstorm where each table called out why we are so set on targets. He then took each one in turn and talked about his experiences.

We think targets improve performance

They dont! 95% of performance is down to the system and not the worker. A highly motivated, qualified, experienced worker is constrained by the system that they work in. How do we change this? Show the people who set the targets the effects, ask them to stand in the place of work and study what is going on, they will soon see the constraints and the effects targets have had on the worker. Ohno never explained, he told his managers to go and see the work (this is often termed as learning to see). Standardising work also reduces performance, variety and innovation, resulting in costs going up.

Someone from the audience told how their office cleaners have been targeted to clean each meeting room in 2 minutes, you cant clean a phone box in 2 mins! Another talked how a colleague has 50 years experience in VAT queries, despite this, the VAT queries are separated at the front end between easy and hard, he often receives easy ones instead of the hard, he is told what to do, which items to investigate and to do them within a certain time. His expertise has become lost. John also cited several similar examples of front and back office splits that are resulting in us disconnecting knowledge from service.

Within target based regimes they have found that its easy for poor performers to hide, in organisations designed using Systems Thinking those poor performers are easy to spot.

John advised designing roles back from the customer valued work. If you design complementary roles you will get an improvement in performance – cultural change is free.

Appraisals are a waste of time as performance is constrained by the system. This doesnt mean you dont have to stop doing appraisals, but change them

  • How are you doing?
  • What do you understand?
  • How is your work designed?
  • Are you trained against customer demand?
  • How do you pull help?

More can be found here.

We think targets motivate people

People have learnt to game (cheat!) the targets, especially when they are related to pay increases. John told a sad story where GPs are now paid for every referral they make to a cancer specialist. Therefore far more people are being referred than before, the specialists are targeted to see them within 2 weeks but have become overwhelmed. The real cases are getting lost in the pile of referrals. Targets make costs go up and purpose go down.

If you cant measure it then you cant manage it

Deming realised that the most important things are unknown and unknowable. Why unknown? Because all systems contains variation, no matter how sophisticated the system is, sources of variation will always exist and that prevent us from producing an outcome that is exactly identical with the last outcome. Why unknowable? The optimum system is a goal by which we gear all our effort to achieve. We do not know how to get there nor do we know it when we get there. All we essentially know, is that we need to constantly improve our system if we want to become closer to this goal.

Targets allow for comparibility

We assume the target is a reliable measure, but it isnt. What do you learn from comparison? Each team being compared may have different demand and different variation. Ohno said there is no point in comparing, what you need to improve is in your system to find, go and look, its a signal to look. If you *do* have 2 teams that have the same demand and are performing differently then go and see what the other team is doing, but remember its not best practice, its better practice. This reminded me of a friend who reported that his team was out performing another, he visited the manager of the other team to suggest he look at what the better performing team were doing, he declined, stating that if his team radically improved then it would draw attention and make him look bad that the performance of his team had been poor up to that point.

Targets make good PR

Good PR follows compliance.

Targets make people accountable

Targets drive in massive costs and poor service. People learn to game the targets as described above.

Whats the alternative?

When you talk about removing targets people hear “no measures”. This isnt correct. John stated that we arent suggesting to remove measures, but to create new measures derived from a customers point of view. The next reaction is that doing this will cost a fortune. People tell him that this is a different world, that customers have become more demanding. He thinks this isnt true, people are getting fed up with bad service and their attitudes towards service have changed.

You can still hold people to account by measures that are derived from the purpose of the system. Measures derived this way create method. Inappropriate methods are easier to spot and change in a Systems Thinking designed organisation.

In closing, John asked how many of us are building cars to demand? The answer none. So why the insistence of trying to apply manufacturing examples to Lean implementations? He has become preturbed by the Lean Toolheads and is unhappy at Womack and Jones interpretation of TPS in their Lean writings.

John mentioned that Tescos are forming a banking venture, they have some Systems Thinkers in Tescos who are part of this venture, so it will be interesting to see what the outcome of this new service will be.

Finally he mentioned that people in the work once freed, become motivated, they spot problems and fix them, well before they come to the attention of auditors.

Part 2 – Aviva Experience – Shona Murray and Coastal Housing Experience – Tim Blanch

Part 3 – Making Measurement work for you workshop – Jeremy Cox


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