3 signs that you don’t like your customers


Public sector organisations don’t really like customers.

They’d prefer you’d go away and stop making all your unreasonable demands that are quite frankly BANKRUPTING them.

You keep ringing them up,  walking through the door even, and worse… asking to speak to someone.
This is not on, and they’re going to do something about it.

Why? Command and control organisations find costs and cut them.
They think customers are a cost, not their purpose.
This means that they tolerate you at best, but would prefer if you just cleared off.

Here are 3 myths that organisations believe that lead to them disliking, and in the case of public sector organisations actively avoiding YOU, dear customer…

MYTH 1: “Customers want a gold plated service”


Expensive. Whatever it is

A commonly heard statement about users of a service is that they want a “gold plated service“.
I’m not exactly sure what this is but it sounds expensive.
It also sounds impractical, demanding and not a value for money proposition for a public sector organisation.

It is often used when talking about the difficulties faced in doing things for a customer. If we find it hard to do what the customer wants, then clearly what they want must be the problem. What else could it be?

THE TRUTH: Customers want a service that works


Just a customer

I’ve never encountered a Diva demanding a gold plated service.
What I have encountered is customer asking for something and being told “no” they can’t have it. This could be wanting to speak with someone, wanting something on a specific date because that date matters or even just inside a specific timeframe. However, if this ISN’T what we do, if we can only give them it according to our timescale then they are a Diva.
And what do we do with Diva’s and their crazy expectations?….

MYTH 2: “Customers need their expectations managed”


Tame those expectations! TAME THEM!

Due to them wanting a gold plated service, customers need re-educating in what is reasonsble.

In organisation-speak this is having their expectations managed.

Sounds reasonable eh?

This is presented as a sensible and rational approach, who could argue with managing something eh? After all what’s the alternative, that it is left UNmanaged? What are you, some kind of communist?

The Truth: Expectations are managed only when organisations are disfunctional

As ever, Urban Dictionary gives us the low-down.
What is reasonable is what an organisation thinks is reasonable.

Which is entirely unreasonable to any sane person.

A sign that your expectations are being managed is when a service is to be provided within some purely arbitary timescale eg within 2 to 4 weeks. As a customer you probably don’t think in these timescales, you may want it at a particular time, i.e when you are in the house to receive it, or when it otherwise fits in with your life. That life that actually caused you to be a customer in the first place.
Being told 2-4 weeks is YOU being forced to fit in with THEIR organisational disfunction.  It is entirely possible to deliver a service when the customer wants it. Doing otherwise is NOT managing expectations, it is MISmanaging a service.

I’ve left until until last the worst and most telling sign that an organisation does not like its customers. This one is a BIG HIT in Public Sector organisations, but elements of it are to be seen in private too….

MYTH 3: Customer demand has to be managed

With all this demand pouring in, what’s a manager to do except to manage it. Being a manager and all.
But what IS demand management?


Whatever it is it seems very diagrammy

Local authorities see the following equation…

Fewer Customers = Lower Costs

The idea is that is customers are dealt with as cheaply as possible, or even not at all, then they should be.  So if a service can be provided on a cheaper platform such as online or an app, it should be. If a customer is funneled towards self-service it is better than showering them with paid for staff.
Sounds robust eh? Macho even. Butch? Perhaps!

It leads to off shoring of call centres to somewhere cheap, to moving services online, to signposting rather than delivering services.

The Truth: Managing Demand shows that you don’t know h0w to manage demand

Managing demand is not as fussily professorial as “study demand“, it is straight to the managing of the stuff. Who could argue with it? It appeals because it is the same as what is currently happening, it fits. It is about activity and work. “How much work is coming in“, “how much work can we do?” and crucially, “what is the cheapest way to deal with a customer“. Note, cheapest, not best. [see "Gold Plated Service" above]

As with Lean it is best to look at what actually happens rather than the claims. POSIWID and all that.

What do you get if you aim for cutting costs? Increased costs.
Putting something online MIGHT be the best option for some people or some services but not for all, if it is the default choice it becomes the stupid choice. Aiming for lowest cost results in short term thinking, putting customers through the lowest cost transaction route does not tell you if this is the lowest cost in the long term.
An online form to claim a complex benefit like Universal Credit may appear a cheap option of managing demand. But the complexity of benefits and the variety of demand presented is too high to be adequately dealt with by an online form. It will increase costs because purpose will not be met.

Focussing on the cost of demand and how it is handled leads to more expensive service.
Focussing on what matters to the customer is the cheapest way to deliver a service.

This is because focussing on customer purpose delivers the finest-hitting-of-nominal-value known to mankind.

Hitting customer purpose is the cheapest option for the whole system.

The further away you get from nominal value, the greater the cost to the system.

Managing demand increases costs but it is worth it as it keeps pesky customers away.







Posted in command and control, customer, Demand, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , | 3 Comments

If You Haven’t Worked a Day in Your Life, You Probably Don’t Love Anything


Autonomy, mastery and purpose.

THEN you’ll love it, the whole thing, not just the thing that you’re doing RIGHT now that might not be enjoyable in itself. Like the author says, nobody enjoys changing “diapers” (nappies) but people still have children.

Originally posted on The Indisputable Dirt:

You’ve heard it before, the beloved aphorism from the ever-intriguing Confucius;

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


I’ve also heard it attributed to Albert Einstein, but the internet tells me that Confucius coined it, so we’ll go with that. Regardless, you’ve probably seen it in the form of a meme, pinned a thousand times on Pinterest, shared on Facebook, tweeted on twitter, etc…


 ^stuff like this^

I understand why the quote is so popular. There is something inspiring, something hopeful about it. It is just poetic enough to sound reasonable, just vague enough to withstand any serious scrutiny.

The only problem, of course, is that it is almost entirely false.

If the phrase was not so oft-quoted, if I did not think it influenced people’s decisions, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But from where I stand, this…

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List post


  1. This
  2. This
  3. This
  4. This
  5. This
  6. This
  7. This

Don’t do

  1. That
  2. That
  3. That


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Curry by default


Yes. I said it.

Yes, you heard, don’t act shocked.



Posted in all wrong, customer, public sector, systems thinking, systemz comix | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong


Inexplicably popular

Read this first. It was very popular and there’s marbles in it.

If you’re too lazy here’s a summary: I went to the executive leadership team, I talked to them about something that started with studying demand and eventually led to huge improvements, though I deliberately didn’t say how as people lose interest when you explain it.
3 people put their hand up and said “I’m interested!“.

There is NO history of Vanguard at my organisation. We’ve never hired them in, the only use of the method was done with Housing Benefits 2 years ago, who are now ran by a private company who very much don’t have anything to do with Vanguard. I’ve never had any training from them. All errors here are mine, remember The Idiot Clause. This is the whole point of this post.

Here is what happened next in the form of…

7 ways to do the Vanguard Method all wrong!

1: Let senior managers do it by remote control
What’s the purpose of the Vanguard Method? Change management thinking.

What isn’t the purpose? Change somebody else’s thinking.

After the handing-putting-up-ceremony we arranged meetings with the hand-putter-uppers. We met with them, and this was the last time we met with them. Instead there were another different bunch of people who were met with from then on. This is pants and does not work.
The current paradigm is that senior leaders spend their time in meetings being strategic.
This leaves no time for being an actual leader, so they delegated the work.
The old lie is that the art of management is delegation, when actually the point of management is acting on the system, but they don’t know this yet. Hence the delegation.

This is such a predictable feature of my organisation, the intense busyness with meetings, that it is very much a system condition not a personal characteristic. It is a feature that hinders leadership.  If they delegate, they won’t learn. Just as if you want to learn the violin you can’t send someone else to violin classes for you.

Instead of doing that…Show them this is all about them. If they don’t have time to do it due to meetings, tell them to cancel them. If they can’t, they’re not in enough pain yet to choose something different from what they are currently doing. Walk away, there’s no leverage here.

2: Don’t mention it.

CaptureThe people putting their hands up didn’t know what they were putting their hands up for except to find out more.

Nothing wrong with that, however the next bit really should be “finding out more“, and it wasn’t

The most important thing is to know what this thing is, but you can’t tell them, the first law of systems thinking being the first law.  “The way people change is normative learning!” so no lecturing, no preaching. I didn’t preach or lecture. Sadly I didn’t do much else either, I just avoided the subject calling it “the method” like Daniel Day-Lewis explaining his craft.

“I need to FEEL the pain for my craft”

This has to be pulled because it has to be wanted, otherwise it won’t work. To pull it, you have to know what it is. I didn’t give them the opportunity to find out what it was, other than “listen to demand then we’ll see what that tells us“. This isn’t going to help anyone, it ends up just sounding like some snazzy bit of customer research.

As a result, people didn’t know where it was heading.

Instead of doing that…Do a “light check”, spend a day in the work doing Check with the senior leader. Listen to a few demands, see how capable the system is at dealing with demand. Follow some old work that has already gone through the system, see where it goes and how long it takes getting there. Find out from the people who touch it “what is stopping you from doing what this customer wants?“. Ask the leader why they put those things in place, what did they expect to happen, how they decided to do it.

 3: Have meetings


It is SO easy to get sucked into meetings, they are what most organisations think work is.

It is not.

I found myself  sitting in a room around a table with the most important person in the room being the chair. All wrong. If you start like that, you will continue like that, and it did. Meetings, agenda, chairs.  No excitement, no curiosity, no introducing what the actual thing is. Imagine sitting in a room, being 3rd on the agenda and wondering how on earth the Washing Machine Exercise can be levered into it now.

It can’t. If you start normal and boring, normal and boring is what you are going to get.

Instead of doing that….WORKSHOP IT! Send an invite to people with the title “workshop” then when they arrive in the room you are standing at the front holding the big marker pen in front of a flipchart. You’ve wrested control, and it can be something different from now, and you can spend as short a time in the room as needed to introduce concepts to go out and learn with in the work.

4: Say it is systems thinking
It’s not, but it is easy to say that it is, as it used to be called that.

But ANYTHING these days is systems thinking. Or any day really, if it deals with understanding how things work as a whole. It doesn’t help calling Vanguard Method “systems thinking“, as people start arguing that it isn’t, or worse agreeing that it is.

The worse in this case was someone saying this…

Instead of doing that...Don’t call it systems thinking. The first rule is a rule for a reason. Call it Vanguard Method, at least then people can Google it afterwards.

5: Become part of the noise.

There is so much going on in the Council, most of it utter rot. The noisiest thing at the moment is this years transformation programme. It is everywhere and it is noisy with meetings, documents and project boards.


Or rather, the noise drowns out any signal, in this case MY signal.

Me hoving up with something else, in addition to all the other stuff happening, is just adding more noise to the noise.  In one of the introductory meetings I had, it was clear that I was starting my thing half way through someone else’s thing.
Signal+Noise<>Signal. Oh no, quite the opposite….


Becoming part of the noise is no help to anyone, I made a discrete exit.
Or rather I didn’t. This part of the blog post is me doing things wrong remember? Instead of my discrete exit there was a series of pointless meetings, agonising for all concerned, where nobody really knew why I was there.

Instead of doing that…As all points above, start it right. No meetings, senior leaders doing it, in the work, a choice informed by doing it at least for a day. Don’t be noise, stand above that and be signal.

I’m quite pleased with all these failures, as if you remember, I am on a quest to become The Man That Fails The Most



Why so keen on failing often and early….?

 NB Keen-eyed readers might have noticed that despite what the post title implies, I have only written 5 ways to do Vanguard Method all wrong. This is because I am planning on failing at least 2 more ways, and 7 is a much more marketable number than 5.
You’re welcome.

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Bikeshedding for fun and pleasure


This is a document from a real project that is actually happening in my organisation.

In the middle of an unprecedented budget crises that requires ingenuity, courage and, above all, a method, we have attention to spare to the notice board problem.

This is Parkinsons Law of Triviality in action.

Parkinson’s law of triviality, also known as bikeshedding or the bicycle-shed example, is C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1957 argument that organizations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson demonstrated this by contrasting the triviality of the cost of building a bike shed to an atomic reactor. [link]

He describes a meeting that has on the agenda building a nuclear reactor and also building a bike shed.

“The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.”
A reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it.
On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.[link]

This is similar to what I see happening in my organisation, a Local Authority that has to simultaneously cut budgets, sorry, slash budgets whilst also doing good, delivering essential services etc.

We know about having meetings and producing reports and plans, or in other words robust project management. This is something we are used to, so we continue with this as our solution to this crises. There is a complex network of interlinked documents and themed project groups all working tirelessly to produce more documents and project groups. Bikeshedding.
What people don’t know about is how to talk about work, just like they dont know how to talk about nuclear reactors, so instead they talk about that noticeboard problem that just won’t go away. Bikeshedding.

The only time I have spoken with people about work usefully was when I was speaking with fellow systemsy types. There is a grammar and vocabulary that allows people to talk. Without that there is just the inane empty wording of Key Priorities, Robust KPIs and the like. Signs without the signified.

To avoid Bikeshedding you need knowledge of what matters, but to get to that point you need to be able to speak about what matters.
What matters is purpose, measures, method.
What matters is thinking, system, performance.
What matters is demand, value , flow.

Until you can speak about it, you can’t speak about it.
Then all you’ve got is noticeboards.


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“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” Yoda


Sometimes the data you need isn’t on a spreadsheet.

Originally posted on teachanana:

I have shared this on twitter, but I thought I’d write the full conversation down as a blog to show the student honesty at it’s most wonderful.

Our school has advertised for an executive head teacher and 6 or so candidates were shortlisted. The following is an account of the beautiful event that unfolded that morning.

Candidate enters room

Candidate – Hello, my name is (let’s call them Dave). Do you mind if I come in and observe your lesson?

Teacher – Sure, please take a seat.

Candidate a few minutes later walks over to the teacher – How did you assess their baseline data?

Teacher – Usually teacher assessments, SATs paper, Goal tests, looking at work from the referring school etc. Many ways. Can we discuss this later as I need to help the kids.

Candidate – Yes of course.

Candidate 2 minutes later – So, do you have…

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