Tuesday 15 August 2017

Lessons in strategy from Formula One

I read a fascinating book recently all about Ross Brawn’s achievement in F1, how he sees the whole team as a system, and the similarities with running any large organisation.

Ross Brawn has played a major part in many leading F1 teams, including the winning streaks at Ferrari, Brawn GP and Mercedes.  Having semi-retired a few years ago, he has recently been in an the news again as he takes a place in the leadership team of F1 after Bernie Ecclestone’s departure.

I found it a fascinating book, especially as a fan of F1, giving a wonderful insight into winning in Formula One over the last 30 years.  And this isn’t just about winning a race, it’s about how to take a team (of up to 1000 people), understand the environment they operate in, and lead them to excellence in everything they do - drawing many parallels with running large and complex organisations.

It certainly seems like Ross Brawn is a “System Thinker”, with one of Adam Parr’s main observations of Ross as being that he sees strategy as a system - a philosophy from which process flows, a philosophy of processes.

Ross’s “system” included:

  • disciplined, structured and formal rhythms and routines
  • looking for systemic root causes using rigorous analysis
  • being on top of the technical detail
  • working alongside technical staff
  • looking ahead to prospective regulatory changes, and
  • seeking out wholeness, integration, completeness in both the product and the process of designing, manufacturing and racing.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Ross Brawn brings his magic touch to the whole F1 circus.

Total Competition - lessons in strategy from Formula One
by, Ross Brawn and Adam Parr

Friday 7 July 2017

Where is the start of the queue?

My last two posts have been about queues - I promise, this will be last one about queues for a while….!

This one goes back a few years, but I see it time and again, in offices, contact centres, post offices, coffee shops…

I was helping a council with their Housing Benefits claims, and spending a lot of time in their contact centre.  A pattern was appearing, there was always a queue after lunch - at it’s worst at about 3pm.

The team had lots of ideas about why that was happening:
  • the bus arrives then
  • customers always come in at that time
  • it’s the weather

If you were in that queue, you might be thinking…
  • why am I in a queue?
  • they’re always busy after lunch
  • they don’t care about me.

So what’s happening?

For a start, the queue didn’t ‘arrive’ at 3pm.  The queue began the moment that demand was greater than the supply of staff to help.  For example, if there were 5 positions open, and 6 people walk through the door as it opens at 9am, then the queue started then.  If the same happens again at 10am (and for ease of maths, assume it takes an hour to deal with each person), then there will be 2 people waiting in a queue.  And so on…

Until lunch, when some staff have their lunch break (seems only fair) and the queue grows further more quickly.  You see what’s happening…

And it’s my belief that … drum roll … queues are entirely ‘man-made’ and can be eliminated if they are approached with a different mind-set.

So, back to the original scenario, although there were 5 people serving at 9am, there were more behind the scenes doing ‘other’ work.  (More about the ‘other’ work later…)  What if we pulled a member of the team into the front desk as soon as we needed to meet demand from the 6th customer.  Queue gone - at 9am.  And when it happens at 10am - the same again.

It’s simple, match the supply of staff to the demand of the customer.

Remember, all the customers get seen in the end anyway - now without a queue - better customer service.

So, what about the ‘other’ work?  Well, when the queue was long, some customers turn on their heals and disappear.  They may phone in, or write in at a later date.  This is the ‘other’ work that has to be dealt with later, but is now more difficult, because it’s harder, or impossible, to interact when not face-to-face.  So this way eliminates waste work.

I’ve helped my clients many times with problems of this type.  And it’s great to see those that have benefitted most still in the top 10 on national league tables.

Where are your queues? - because they’re not always people in reception.  A backlog of emails?  Uncompleted work?  A unusually large level of debt on the aged debt list?

You know where I am if you’d like to know more.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

So, how do you make a cup of coffee?

In my last blog, I discussed the queuing issue at low-cost supermarkets, and mentioned the difference between the way Starbucks and Caffe Nero make your coffee order.  Did you spot the difference the last time you were in?

As I mentioned before, if you wonder in without looking, you’ll come out a few minutes later with a coffee.  But if you study it, their working practices are very different.  Both work OK when under ‘low-load’, but during very busy times, one will fail, and the other continues to work smoothly.

Why am I writing about coffee shops on this blog? - because the same ‘queuing’ issues arises time and again in organisations of all shapes and sizes:
  • the passport office - does it really takes x weeks to process a passport?
  • the post office - why is there a queue at lunch time…?
  • service organisations - why are you really on hold? - again?

So, what’s the difference in the coffee shops?  And why is it important?

*** Spoiler Alert ***  You’ll never look at a coffee shop queue in the same way again ***

At Caffe Nero, a person takes you order, then also takes your payment, and they also make your drink - serving you food too if you’ve asked for it.  This is called “one piece flow” - take a customer’s order, and complete it.

At Starbucks, one person takes you order - writes it down, and passes it on.  Sometimes, another person takes your payment.  And a third person makes the drink.  Ever experienced a “lost” coffee when your’s doesn’t arrive? Or the conversation behind the counter when one person can’t remember the message?  Or the barista asks you what your order was again?  And then when it gets busy….  Hand-offs, waste work and re-work everywhere.

So, why does this matter?

If you’re in the coffee shop head office, you’ll never spot these issues, the profits roll in, and it all looks OK.  Not so, if you’re a customer.  It becomes a distinctly average experience.

And why I am writing about it here?

Well, it’s easy to spot the errors in a £3 cup of coffee, when you know where to look.
  • But what about when you’re asked to pay £130 for a new passport that takes weeks, and can be late?
  • Or on the phone to the bank / insurance co / mobile co / electricity company - again…!?
  • Or the paperwork for your new employee is taking a long time and they miss their first pay cheque?
  • Or when the £20,000 engineering work you’ve asked for is late or wrong?
Do you regard these as minor customer service issues? - or fundamentally missing the very purpose of your organisation?

These things matter.  Missed deadlines.  Poor customer service. We’ve all experienced it.

Do you know what’s happening at the sharp end of your business? Are customers of yours experiencing this, and you haven’t spotted it…?

Sunday 2 April 2017

Why the queues?

There was a interesting item in the news a few weeks ago regarding a plateauing of sales at the discount food stores, relating to the shopping experience, particularly the often poor queuing process.

Call me sad (!) but I regularly look at the different queuing systems businesses use.  The post office.  The benefits office.  Petrol stations.  Payroll.  Passport office.  Billing departments.  Coffee shops.

The difference between the Starbucks and Caffe Nero - that’s a great one to study.  If you wonder in without looking, you’ll come out a few minutes later with a coffee.  But if you study it, their working practices are very different.  During a training session a years back, I took a team of senior execs to both coffee outlets to take a look - it was a fun way to learn.  Both work OK when under ‘low-load’, but during very busy times, one will fail, and the other continues to work smoothly - can you tell which one?  More on that another time!

Back to the discount stores.  They offer great food, at great value, and seem to have taken the larger, more established businesses by surprise.

So why are the queues long, and the experience so bad?

I’ve seen reasons such as:
 - they need new technology, and
 - there aren’t enough staff on the tills.

I disagree.

So, what’s happening?

When I go through these tills, it feels like the items are flung at me - the bleeps of the till going mad.  My guess: that the local management measure the performance of the staff by the speed of the bleeps.  It’s easy to obtain this data, it’s easy to review this data, it’s easy to compare the team members.  But the customer is forgotten, because the need to get people through the tills has been replaced by the speed of the till bleeps.

And that’s the problem.  The beeps are quick, but then they have to wait for the customer to complete their packing.  A clear case of “hurry-up and wait”!

So, when you study a system, you start to see the world differently, and other possible solutions.

For a start, the objective at the checkout isn’t to bleep as quickly as possible.  Surely the objective is to get customer through the “unload basket, scan, pack, pay, leave” process as soon as possible.  

One simple improvement - when all the items have been scanned (quickly or not) why doesn’t the member of staff help bag-up the items?  A little extra work by the checkout operative, means the customer leaves the shop more quickly.  The point being, the purpose has changed - to helping the customer through the end-to-end process.  There are many other tweaks and changes that can be applied - drop me a line if you’d like to know more.

So, why doesn’t this happen by itself?

Because counting bleeps is easy, and measuring end-to-end throughput is often much harder.  The system is a service production line - it’s generally not viewed like that - and the right data isn’t often easily accessible to make the right decisions. 

So why is it important?  

In the immediate term - there may be no impact - shoppers will still come, buy, and go - getting a little frustrated each time.  It costs no more to help pack - and neither does it save the shop money, so there’s no obvious benefit to them - other than short queues and happy customers…

But longer term, it’s a better customer experience, and won’t impact on potential future sales.  And it’s happening to every customer, in every store, every day - and is being covered in the news.

It’s no different in other similar systems:

  • The benefits office - it usually takes less than 30 minutes to complete a claim, so why do many vulnerable adults have to wait over a month?
  • Passport office - it can only take 20 to 30 minutes to actually process a passport, why then are there occasional delays and backlogs during some summers?
  • Payroll - why do many new employees have delays in their first pay, or leavers get over-paid, or some payroll changes take forever?
  • Coffee shops - some seem to work smoothly, others are chaotic
  • Billing departments - some customers either being billed late, or not at all, with the knock-on effect on cash-flow and debt.

They are production lines, but in the service industry.  And as I’ve said to a number of my clients recently, if the production line was making washing machines, it would be easy to see which ones were broken or wonky - but it’s much harder when the process is ‘hidden’ in computers and paperwork.

Understanding the service production line is vital for great customer service.  It helps remove the re-work - speeding up the end-to-end process.  And re-work is expensive.

This quote seems fitting: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” (CS Lewis).

More queuing blogs to come…

Monday 20 February 2017

Housing Benefits - Long-term data and improvements in performance.

I’ve helped quite a number of Housing Benefit departments in the last 15 years, including helping Darlington move from 60th in the national league table to the top 10 - where they remain (based on customer end-to-end time).  I also helped Milton Keynes reduce their end-to-end time from 60 days to 20.  Likewise Middlesborough.  And quite a number of others.  And all during a time of cuts.

I’ve been undertaking some Housing Benefit research lately, analysing some of the government data that councils have to lodge - and it’s not been easy!

I trained as a Chartered Accountant, and was soon brought in to the fold of month-ends and year-ends.  Fine, the accountant needs to draw a line in the sand, but back in operations, it’s just another day.  Long term performance in operations requires an understanding of how operations have performed repeatedly over long periods of time.

The Benefits performance data that the government logs are quarterly, and split into geographic region, making it difficult to see performance over time, and difficult to compare similarly sized departments.

I’ve now pulled together all of the long term data into a database to make it easy to compare performance.  This covers:
  • 6 years of quarterly data, and
  • 379 councils.  

It makes for some interesting analysis - those that do well, and others that seem to struggle - and it enables the real questions to be asked:
  • how are some performing well? - what’s special about what they’re doing?
  • others are struggling, why is that? - what could they be doing differently?
  • why isn’t everyone sharing what they’ve learned to offer great service?

And it’s not because of budget cuts - good performance in systems of the this type is cheaper, because it eliminates the waste work:

I also have considerable experience of similar improvements in Finance, HR, Payroll, Council Tax, Planning, Housing Repairs, Streetscene and others.  And in the private sector, including IT help desks, billing performance, claims and banking.

Want to know more, drop me a line: matt595@me.com


Wednesday 8 February 2017

Learning by experience

I came across this little gem - a fantastic reminder of how people learn.

I've seen many people (and experienced consultants) tell people how and what to change - and they always seem surprised when things don't quite 'stick' in the weeks to come.

Combining a "whole system" approach, together with an active "working-together" ethos during the change process, will always increase the changes of success and lasting change.

It's a good reminder of the difference between Change Management and Work Design.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

The keys to a system of work

It was a busy 2016, with a really mixed set of clients, including, amongst others:
  • a London-based lightning-conductor design, engineer and install business
  • a large southwest-based firm of solicitors, and
  • preparing payroll systems for one of the world’s largest car rental business
It couldn’t have been more diverse  - so what do they have in common?

They were all having problems with their “system” (not IT system) and were all scratching their heads.  And all required changes to thinking to enable a different approach to the work.  

My belief is that different systems have a ‘key’ - a focal point if you like, that is at the heart of the issue, which then helps the rest of the business/process to fit into place.

For the teams of engineers who were spending a little too often parked-up outside the office rather than on site delivering and earning, we discovered:
  • they were often being sent to site with incorrect or old design drawings
  • the site said they were ready for the works, but actually were not, and
  • the project managers didn’t have time to be pro-active (because they were fixed stuff that had gone wring before)

For the legal firm:
  • encouraging more team work
  • a little more formal communication, and
  • ensuring the whole team, from top to bottom, understood a little more about how the whole business worked.

The car rental company:
  • considering the end-to-end data flow from the employees perspective
  • ensuring the various data flows are all collected right-first-time - collecting payroll data for hours worked, commission due, and
  • eliminating the failure demand at the end of the process by ensuring accuracy at the start.

Where I’ve studied the work in business systems, the ‘keys’ are often the same, and that’s because “the system” is same.  An insurance claim, looks like a benefit claim, looks like anti-money laundering event, looks like a planning application, looks like an engineering install.

A few of the most common 'keys':
  • ensure a common purpose for the whole team, from the customers' perspective
  • put the effort in upfront to make sure you start with clean data
  • only do the value work, and
  • do it right-first-time.

Want to know more?  Give me a buzz.


Thursday 5 January 2017

New Year’s Resolutions

A New Year's resolution is a tradition in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour.  We all know that - right?  So why do so many of our New Year's resolutions fail?

Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples' resolutions:
  • the first two weeks usually go along beautifully
  • but by February, people are slipping, and
  • by the following December, most people are back where they started, often even further behind.

Why do so many people not keep their resolutions?  Well, there are a number of reasons:
  • people aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad ones
  • they set themselves unrealistic goals and expectations, and
  • when it doesn't “change your life”, they get discouraged and revert back to old behaviours.

Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviours and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and "rewire" your brain. (It sounds a bit like Systems Thinking to me…)

So, if you're going to make New Year's resolutions, here's some tips to help you make them work:
  • Focus on one resolution - rather several
  • Set realistic specific goals - e.g. losing 10 pounds in 90 days
  • Don't wait till New Year's eve - make a difference everyday
  • Take small steps - one step at a time
  • Have an accountability buddy - someone close to you that you have to report to
  • Celebrate your success - including between milestones
  • Focus your thinking on new behaviours and thought patterns - it takes time to change habits
  • Focus on the present - what's the one thing you can do today

So, with that in mind, what I am going to do differently in2017?  Well, I’m going to post a little more frequently - once a month.  See you again in February.

Many thanks for the advice from Ray Williams via Psychology Today.

Web: http://raywilliams.ca
Twitter: @raybwilliams