Forget Design Thinking and Agile you need to start with fix the process #FixThePlumbing

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Forget Design Thinking and Agile you need to start with fix the process #FixThePlumbing

Its been a really busy summer with new customers and lots of work on supporting collaboration across Local Government.

We have been out an about at various events and its great to see so much engagement going on in the Public Sector. I am immensely pleased that we have been able to start to work with an old colleague Dave Witts at these events to look at more holistic solutions to help our customers deliver. Dave has over 35 years experience in the Public Sector including leading Cornwall through joining up its ICT functions when the single unitary came about. Dave has been working as a consultant in the private sector for a number of years where I worked with him and its a great benefit to now have him working independently and to start collaborating on projects together. The private sectors loss could be your gain (definitely mine anyway as I get to work projects with him!) and it was great to have him on board for the various events. There is no finer person to drive senior management engagement and other elements in digital programmes and really get your projects accelerated have a look at his website here 

Dave recently cycled from London to Paris during our exceptional heatwave doing 80 miles a day in the saddle, he achieved it and managed to get to Paris the day before the Tour de France. As a massive coincidence whilst travelling to the Agile Business Conference I got on a train in Swindon heavily loaded with stuff for the event. As usual the seat reservations weren’t working and I sat (amazing I know) at a table. At the next table over was the one and only Geraint Thomas winner of the Tour. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get something signed for Dave being on a train it was a case of the best thing I could muster. I happened to have a copy of Black Box Thinking which actually does contain references to Team Sky’s approach. As is normal with me I can easily put my foot in it and although not my worst it was impressive. I apologised as I sidled up to Geraint for bothering him and explained ‘my friend also rode to Paris, it was a massive achievement and he got there the day before you would you sign this as a memento’ I quickly qualified it with ‘obviously your achievement was slightly more important’. Geraint was fantastic and signed the book as I apologised again for it not being his book! I actually got to give this to Dave in a meeting in a Café in Ivybridge and behind him was a picture of the Eiffel Tower!

As well as many individual customer visits we have been lucky to have attended a number of events across the summer. Its been great to work with Dave and to be able to look at what sort of events we believe are needed to support wider collaboration in the public sector. Its been great to actually run a couple of events ourselves with User Meet Ups in Scotland and Wales to help users get more out of the software and also to start to create the networks for sharing and collaboration pieces.

Across the summer hope fully we have been able to catch up with lots of you at these events

  • Engage User Meet Up – Wales in Cardiff
  • Engage User Meet Up – Scotland – kindly hosted by City of Edinburgh
  • Benefits realisation conference – Scotland – invited by our customers Perth and Kinross and kindly sponsored by Firmstep
  • LocalGovCamp 18 – Birmingham
  • Agile Business Conference
  • Service Transformation Development Day – Llandrindod Wells – kindly hosted by WLGA

So a really busy summer so far and too much content to cover in a single blog post so I will focus on our LocalGovCamp presentation. Its fantastic to see the great work going on in Wales and Scotland around collaboration and its been a real shame that Welsh and Scottish LA’s have not been able to lead bids to the MHCLG fund (hopefully that will be resolved for round 2) as I know there are some great ideas for further collaboration opportunities based on the work and learning done so far.

LocalGovCamp 18

It was our third year at LocalGovCamp. Coming from a LA background we truly support this movement and it was really exciting to have the announcement of the opening of the MHCLG fund for bids at the start of this event. There is great energy and sessions at these events and as a supplier it is always a shame I cannot make more of the sessions due to helping customers. My only criticism of the event is I do not like the Saturday element I think it does not work for suppliers or attendees and is a lot to expect people to give up a weekend to attend though many do. I hope this year both days will be in the working week.

We had a great evening on the Friday in a gin club which generated the usual single twitter idiot (the same happened last year with a different Twidiot) to pick holes in why public servants were spending public money boozing. Obviously the sponsors paid for the evening and individuals paid for the rest following the initial gin club, so as usual facts don’t get in the way of having a go at people giving their own time to attend events to improve public services!

Forget Agile and Design thinking you need to start with #FixTheProcess

Our workshop at LocalGovCamp 18 had this title. I think its important we say early on in no way are we saying that Agile, Design Thinking (and any other ways digital improvement is being delivered in similar methodologies) has no place in Local Government quite the opposite. As can be seen in the Gartner diagram Lean, Agile and Design Thinking all fit together in a modern service improvement model. Agile is derived directly from lean thinking and operate to the same shared values. With the limited resources of Local Government and the continuous changes being delivered in our services I do not believe Local Government has the resources available to undertake full GDS style reviews on all of our services. This is where I believe lean thinking is an essential skillset that should be deployed across Local Government to understand and improve our services from a customer value perspective. Empowered teams with a lean mindset can deliver significant savings in our services right now.

Lean thinking applied in your organisations can really be a strategic approach to delivering modern services.

  • The 8 wastes of lean (Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over Processing, Over Production, Defects and Skills or TIM WOODS as some remember it by)  – I have almost 20 years experience working in Local Government primarily in improvement and productivity work. I have spent many years studying systems and processes in place to deliver public services. LG processes are riddled with elements of waste in these areas caused by my different factors. Studying and understanding your processes with the people doing the work and removing these wastes is an excellent way of identifying quick improvements and also identifying more strategic issues requiring solutions. By empowering the teams to identify solutions and implementing them you can quickly start to change the culture and engage the organisation in improvement. This type of activity must be part of any wider design thinking work but it does enable with little effort improvements to be found and change to happen better.
  • For changes to happen it does require investment in people to address the 8th waste of lean Skills. My experience of transformation projects is almost always under resourcing of people. We need to ensure we have people to work on improvement and given time to do this in their schedules. Teams need to be empowered to work on the work and equipped with the resources, tools and space to deliver. Process actors who work on the services understand where waste is in the system and can identify how to remove them.
  • Many projects neglect the benefits of change. Either business cases are at an extremely high level or they don’t exist at all. If we are to ensure we use our scant resources correctly to deliver the most benefits to the users we must understand the benefits of change within our improvement projects. One of the major benefits of agile iterative delivery is the ability to get a minimum viable product out much faster and therefore to start realising benefits earlier. Understanding the so what of those releases helps to prioritise the workload to deliver the most benefits for the least effort.
Central Gov vs Local Gov

As already alluded to the major difference between Local and Central government is scale and breadth of services delivered. Crucially also the resources at play are significantly different. Government can bring the services of GDS to assist in designing services along with users and service experts. Local Government has no such service to call on. Even the smallest Local Authority is looking at delivering hundreds of services with very limited resources meaning the approach must be different.

I get concerned with the thought that Local Government can just follow the Central Government and GDS approach to service design and improvement. Given the differences highlighted above surely it would be strange to think that one approach will suit all. There are a number of common components like Notify and Pay that seem to offer great options for Local Government to leverage however I still believe further investigation is needed of these capabilities to ensure they deliver the functionality required to deliver efficient and effective services for LG. Verify to me is a user experience nightmare at the moment, it is very hard to navigate for users and significant drop offs have been noticed where this has been delivered as part of online services.

What do we need in place for a successful project?

I am getting more disenchanted with Digital as they way of describing transformation in our services. For me the more important focus is designing and improving end to end services to deliver better customer value and user needs in an efficient and effective way for the organisation. Digital is a massive part of the way modern services need to be delivered but it does exclude non digital pathways by default of the terminology. Digital also can be a negative term when looking at what is involved in designing and delivering modern, internet enabled, human centred services as it allows the purists to talk about elements of service delivery being not ‘digital’. Our processes contain Digital and non Digital elements and will continue to do so for ever (or at least a very long time) there is waste in all elements of these processes.

To deliver service improvement and continuous improvement there are some common elements you should ensure are in place to get the best conditions for success in place these are pretty common to all projects and programmes.

  • Leadership – Leadership is essential to delivery of improvement work. Senior management sponsorship and ideally the Chief Executive. This really is about being visibly leadership of the programmes talking about them regularly and promoting the vision. As is always the case at LocalGovCamp leadership and senior management buy in was cited as a common challenge we need to overcome. I look at this slightly differently, I do not think there is a senior leadership team in Local Government that does not understand the potential Digital has for helping transform services, I personally think that the challenge is that maybe they do not understand enough of how they can take that support and use it effectively to facilitate change and savings in the organisation. We as transformation teams and maybe MHCLG also need to help make this happen. There are plenty of Digital Leaders out there to show the way and follow their approach like Theo Blackwell maybe a Theo masterclass for LG leaders @MHCLG! Leadership comes at all levels of the organisation and work should be done to ensure all levels are following the same visible leadership in delivering change.
  • Vision/Purpose – the primary weapon for our leaders should be our vision and purpose. What are we doing? Where are we going? How will we get there? What will it mean to me? What will we not be doing? All of these need to be articulated in a clear vision and purpose for the organisation. Digital isn’t really an outcome nor is service design or agile. Humans want to understand the approach in a human way. I once presented lean to a governmental team. I was really concerned I may get ripped apart by the hugely agile aware people when talking about lean actually it was quite the opposite. I talked about where lean fitted with agile but also talked about where I believe lean is a strategic solution. Lean is human centred and focussed on primarily customer value and secondly business value. It is a strategy for improvement and says that you should ensure you understand and articulate purpose, process and people elements of the change programme to get the best results. Long story short this department were really keen to talk about purpose as although they had numerous GDS agile projects underway for them there was no coherent purpose or at least not that was understood by them. That shocked me a little but does back up the thinking around the ways of delivering change.
  • People – Service transformation takes time. It cannot be achieved without people to deliver changes and most importantly bought in people to help make the change a success. People need to be invested in with skills and tools to help them deliver their tasks. People will make or break change and every effort must be made to empower teams to work on improvement. Don’t underestimate the amount of work you need to do to move an organisation and its people from a traditional waterfall mindset to agile delivery. This will slow your delivery when services inevitably hold out for 100% solutions from you new platforms. Gartner symposium recently talked about procurement teams needing to gain digital skills and an understanding of digital delivery methods I take that thought a step further I believe we need our entire organisation to understand digital, continuous improvement and the art of the possible as a core skill in the internet age.
  • Tools – obviously as we sell the best lean process improvement software we would clearly advocate this as a great tool in your armoury for improving processes and identifying benefits. But tools to enable service improvements are vital. You need to review your software components and capabilities and have a good look at whether they are fit for the future. Are there components/capabilities missing? What do you identify as challenges in processes that have no current solution? There are lots of legacy software tools used in current processes that do not fit an efficient human centred process. Local Authority off the shelf software has traditionally been very cumbersome and waste causing in our processes for quite some time but there are exceptions delivered under modern standards and ways of working. A Digital (Service Improvement) programme requires modern capabilities to effectively deliver. There are many things they need to be but a select priority few include open(capable of receiving and giving information to other systems without requiring the royal mint to fund APIs), standards based, agile(allowing rapid development), accessible(allowing non/semi technical staff to be able to rapidly deliver solutions and prototypes) and extensible(allowing technical staff to enhance functionality with code or more skills to deliver customer value).

What do we need to avoid?

One of the most common things I am asked about in terms of problems with work and priorities is the Councillor based priorities (as I make no excuse for mentioning time and time again we have limited resources in LG). How do we avoid having to do these? My normal answer is we can’t, reality is that Councillors are our bosses and can prioritise what they like. There is obviously mitigating actions you can put in place like engaging and explaining to your Councillors or having strong Councillor leads if you are lucky enough (I have also experienced negatives with hugely engaged Councillors wanting to become involved at a micro management level) but fundamentally you may have to do things based on Councillor priorities that do not offer the same customer value or organisational benefits as other projects. This makes it all the more important that for the work you do have control over you make sure they are prioritised for the right tangible reasons for your organisation.

  • There has been lots about this online recently and I believe the creators of the phrase was actually Google HiPPOs – Highest Paid Persons Opinions, we need to avoid these at all costs. Decisions on what to do and most importantly what not to do need to be based on data. Number 3 on the list is Design with Data, I would rephrase this as decide with data. Decisions on the way forward need to be based on sound research and reasoning backed by an understanding of the costs/benefits of changes. I have been commissioned to deliver many HiPPO projects or actions and strangely they tend to be the things you do before doing something better. Why don’t we just cut out that step. The other element of this HiPPO image is another method of deciding normally related to priorities this is the WhiSTLe priorities. Who Shouts The Loudest is a really poor reason for prioritising any element of service design/improvement.
  • Services that have no business cased based reason to deliver. I talk all the time about a business case based methodology and way of thinking. Most of our processes/services and their improvement will be delivered to primarily deliver an outcome that can be articulated in a traditional cost vs benefits way. With the challenges of austerity and before that even we must deliver more services with less resources. Obviously the budget was announced as the end of austerity but I have yet to see any meaningful change in the budget for LG services. Obviously some services will have less tangible savings, be risk driven or have legislative drivers but we should still be able to articulate these in a way to make them quantifiable. For me in a transformation programme I would like every project in my pipeline to have understood what we do now and the benefits of change, to allow for the most effective prioritisation.
  • Another element to be avoided is disengaged services – Disengaged services are a real resource sucker. They will take more of your time and delay changes because of their lack of engagement/buy in. It is better in my experience to demonstrate improvements delivered with engaged stakeholders and wait for disengaged services to engage. Leadership helps here but truly disengaged services will require significant ‘leadership’ to change a mindset.
  • Urgent work – often in all services and sectors we suffer from our limited resources. Known problems or near misses are ignored due to other priorities. Sometimes it is only when the serious problem surfaces (that we knew was a significant risk for a reasonable period of time) that we are told to act and act now. All of a sudden there is a mass of resources and activities focussed on avoiding the problem again. Often these changes must be made immediately to put out a fire and strangely regularly these ‘solutions’ are less than optimal. To use a health analogy here these solutions I see are acting on the symptoms not the cause. We need to ensure again that we resource. It is not enough to resource the forward plan of work but the iterations, changes and fixes as well (BAU).
  • Doing the wrong things better – related to all of these this type of work is where user needs and customer value are not being taken into account. Proper analysis and study of the current method of working has not been done. Solutions identified are based on feelings not data. They may be HiPPOs or they may just be middle manager solutions like ‘I need an online form’. Understanding the problem(from a customer perspective), the current delivery method, the proposed changes and the likely benefits is essential to ensuring we move towards better solutions.

Why are we still doing improvement the same way?

The final point and the one I don’t truly understand is the question why are we still mapping, understanding and improving services the same way. This is going to be the next blog but for now an introduction. I started looking at services and process improvement back in 1999. Initially through natural leaning as a process geek and subsequently through my roles. Back then I was capturing processes with sticky notes and other exercises via the same sticky notes. I spent a huge amount of time creating recommendations and reports of the outputs. Transferring processes into Visio maps and calculating benefits with excel. All of this transfer of data was manual and time consuming but ultimately valuable in terms of making change happen.

So before Facebook was invented we were mapping processes and improvements in fundamentally the same way as we do right now. There is lots to get right about your approach to mapping and the most effective ways to get results, but an easy way to improve the way this is done is to look at technology to help us do this better. There are now over 20 Local Authorities applying different approaches to improvement underpinned by using our software to deliver significant value adding elements of this process.

These Councils (and other organisations) are utilising the Engage Process Suite to deliver more for less. There are many benefits to utilising the product and it supports all methodologies including lean, agile and design thinking processes. The benefits are as follows:

  • Time save for business analysts by removing the need to rekey data between the multiple unlinked outputs of process improvement workshops
  • Build maps digitally live in the workshop meaning users are familiar with the outputs not a sticky note map vs Visio output
  • Run sticky note sessions live in workshops or remotely via browser based application or mobile phone applications
  • Share maps digitally and gather feedback further reducing admin work for analysts
  • Create process models not map meaning outputs are fully costed process models
  • Identify bottlenecks in your processes and design them out
  • Compare your options and get an output detailing the business case for change
  • Powerful export options to output Excel, Visio, BPMN and other file types
  • Digital process handbook functionality to allow for you to deploy your processes on the intranet and have a single source of process truth for training, reference or audit purposes
  • Allow feedback direct on the digital processes to support the continuous improvement culture
  • And finally for those of you buying in resource to do some of this work we advocate a knowledge transfer approach. Don’t pay us or others to run workshops let us train even a novice in a day and they can deliver continuous improvements in your organisation.

Believe it or not for the benefits we deliver I guarantee this will deliver you the best ROI and organisational capabilities of any software you procure and will cost you the least. You can even buy if on Digital Marketplace where the pricing is 100% transparent and there is even a free trial.

There are many benefits to the software on top of these and the product has been around and enhanced for 15 years (although based on modern architecture Azure/HTML5) and developed with user requirements identified by the Dutch user base broken down as 50/50 public/private sector users, 33%+ of Local Authorities and blue chip companies like Schiphol Airport, Bavaria Beer and Ikea and over 50 consultant firms. What do they know that you don’t?

Recently Edinburgh City Council have adopted a continuous improvement, marginal gains approach underpinned by an enterprise implementation of our software with between 100-200 trained users they have deployed the improvement culture deep into their organisation and very fast read more of their journey here

For more information a demo or even a free trial please contact us

Govcamp Cymru
Andy Sandford
Andy SandfordDirector
Agile and Lean Evangelist and Guru

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