Thursday, 12 January 2012

Are existing housing system suppliers holding back Systems Thinking?

There’s been lots of discussion and comment on John Seddon and his ‘Systems thinking’ approach to the way public sector service delivery can be improved. I am a big fan of that idea of looking at the whole process as a single ‘system’ and the primary focus on the customer, putting their needs first at all times.

The TPS (Toyota Production System) is a thing of beauty and having travelled extensively in Japan ( こんにちは日本のすべての私の読者に。 歓迎! ), that focus on continual improvement is evident wherever you travel. In fact in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, the equivalent of Curry’s sell product designs that will not appear in the UK or elsewhere outside Japan, until they have been sufficiently refined and improved.That reminds me, I never did take that rice cooker back!

In the UK and particularly within housing, successive regimes have expanded the range of returns and statistics required of organisations. This has created abstract yardsticks that management and staff are working to, quite remote in some cases to the residents and customers the whole organisation is delivering to.  The amount of inspections, surveys, returns etc, all add waste to the system. IT modules tend to support all these areas and so can perpetuate the regime.

I think John Seddon regards HMS suppliers as helping perpetuate the regime, as they supply to the provided specification. Unfortunately that does include all the bloat, the top down command and control regime expects to be there. I have experience of private sector IT suppliers and our focus is the customer. It can only be like that, as without that concept in the spotlight we would not be in business.  Without the baggage described above, marks would be lost in tender sections and chances of reaching the demo stages are very slim. So I think suppliers are doomed to be branded with the regime at large. In England at least, it does appear that with the demise of the TSA, regulation at least there looks to as if it may be further watered down. Maybe not so for the rest of the UK.

That is not to say that suppliers Housing Management Systems are generally as rigid as the regime. They often wrongfully are. I have worked with at least some of the RSL’s that have taken on the recommendations of Vanguard and John Seddon’s System Thinking for housing repairs and managed it with the existing HMS.

It needs an alternative mindset when thinking about configuring the HMS and may well need some assistance from your IT team or suppliers helpdesk. You may need some small tweaks (one or more requests for change). For example, to the standard repair priorities of emergency, urgent and routine can usually be added a fourth ‘Agreed With Resident’.  This can be used in any trial in order to prove that appreciable improvements are being made. Possibly, too the original ‘prescribed’ priority can be determined, in order to show improvements.

Schedule of rates can also usually be watered down to the scope needed by use of a separate table. Possibly by reducing 2000+ NHF SORs to a few dozen general starting categories, that can then be the basis for empowered tradespersons to carry out the work to the customers satisfaction.

CRM and Workflow are two other areas that can be designed, configured and implemented by rote. As John describes, this can multiply waste, drive up transaction volume, customer frustration and dissatisfaction. CRM and workflow can be generally be configured to focus on outcomes fairly easily, where teams have been formed for the purpose.

I would welcome your comments and experiences on Systems Thinking in your organisation.

Read on to :Microsoft and other licensing, how dependent we are on these costs

Luckily Systems thinking didn't affect us too much in the 1980's.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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