Visual management can take the most unlikely of forms. Done well, it should show you enough details at a glance so you can decide whether to look further into the situation.
Major bands get riders, often part of the contract stipulating what the venue will provide the band to make them comfortable on the road. This can be sofas, champagne, beer, food cooked to a certain standard or even a curry take-away flown in from a specific restaurant in Wales. Some of the items on the riders are tiny and we’d consider them petty, but major stars have lived up to their diva reputations by blowing full-scale tantrums at not having their riders met.
No Brown M&Ms
One of the most legendary of these was the American hard rock band Van Halen. As a rock band they had a reputation to uphold; raucous, fun-loving, tolerating no nonsense. They also through tantrums when their rider was met entirely even down to minuscule details. The most popular of these details was a requirement that they would be provided with a bowlful of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. If they walked into their changing room and saw a brown M&M in the bowl, then tantrums ensued.
The interesting thing for us is that the presence of brown M&Ms was a form of visual management. As mentioned by the band’s lead singer, Dave Lee Roth, they used a lot of equipment in their tour and they needed to know whether the requirements for the tour, e.g. a stage that could support the weight of the equipment would be available on the night, whether the electrical supply was to specification, etc. All of this was in the band’s contract with the venues. Buried amidst all these technical requirements was the brown M&M clause.
On walking into the dressing room, the band could immediately tell if the venue operators had read the details of the contract. That was visual management. If there was a brown M&M in the bowl, then there was a high probability that other more potentially dangerous omissions had been made in conforming to the contract. Those omissions could have risked the safety of the band, the crew, the audience and the venue itself. So a quick check of whether the venue’s organisers had read the contract and applied it was a useful point for the band’s management.
As for the rockstar tantrums in response, they were just keeping up appearances and it didn’t hurt their reputation. So having the band perform the check in a rockstar style was genius.
Snopes has a great overview of the rider and implications.
Yesterday, I presented at #Leanconf 2013 in Manchester. It was the first Lean Conference covering Lean Startup in Europe. There was a great energy to the 2-day event with a variety of planned and unplanned talks plus lots of opportunity to network without the usual tradeshow conference feeling of being stalked by sales managers.
I don’t think I’ve seen a community spirit like that in a long time; every attendees helped someone else no matter how far along their own ideas were.
In the spirit of the energy that I encountered at the conference, I’ve placed the slides on slideshare. If you download the presentation, you can read the notes which will help you make more sense of the slides. Hopefully the video will be online as well soon. When it is available, I’ll update and post a link to it. The slides are at bottom of this article.
Background to the Programme
The programme I discussed in the presentation was a 2+year programme with a large city council in England. The programme was internal to the portfolio that handled Adult Social Care. It had a £1m+ budget with a team ranging from programme manager, business analysts, data analysts and communications officer, plus a governance structure and other associated stakeholders.
The aim was to make Adult Social Care more efficient, by removing waste, focussing on flow and reorganising around the value to the customer. All typical lean concepts. We did this with a mixed method that I’d developed specifically for this client. The method merged elements of Lean with Lean Startup with DSDM and Theory of Constraints, all under a typical local authority governance framework using Prince 2.
The scale of change was to alter the way of working of 200-300 social workers/care managers, their team managers, their business support plus associated teams. Most were involved in the change and took the opportunity to steer the change in ways that would benefit their service users. Additionally partner teams (e.g. those responsible for 1000+ support workers within the council, NHS staff, payments and contact centre staff) were brought into the process and contributed to the changes where possible.
Customer Development in Social Care
Due to the time available for the talk, I didn’t discuss Customer Development. I’d like to address that here. Firstly, my customers and those of the programme, were the workers on the frontline of social care. However, we also had a duty to their customers, i.e. the service users of the city and, wider still, the overall population of the city.
We used common Lean and Six Sigma techniques (e.g. Kaizenblitz, Voice of the Customer, Gemba plus interviews, workshops, etc) for understanding the wishes and activities of the frontline workers. The default position was always to go and visit the workers where they worked including a visit out to service users where possible and where permitted. There was no “ivory tower” mentality and as little desk-based research as possible.
I did want to get to the wishes of the end user, i.e. getting the answers to what mattered to the service users. We were able to do this through a service user forum and similar activities. Just to clarify, the forum is actually a real meeting, not an online forum. However the typical customer-development approach of “get out of the building” isn’t necessarily a good idea in this case. The reason is that any change has to be ethically sound; it can’t introduce discrimination nor can experiments (or MVPs from Lean Startup) that make the situation worse for those on that trial path.
The ethical dilemma is exacerbated further when you consider the concept of equitability in that any change has to be able to be applied to the entire population of service users if appropriate to them. So if you make a change to services in October, you’d better think about how you’re retrospectively going to apply those changes to service users referred back in April onwards. That could be as simple as a rule stating that they’d change at the next review point or it could be a specific project to apply it now.
A good example of the fundamental ethical issue can be found in the simple concept of asking customers “what can we do to improve?”
I love that question; it encapsulates the whole point of speaking to customers about what they want without biasing them towards a particular solution. It usually turns any negatives about current experiences into positive actions for change.
However, frontline staff wouldn’t want to ask that question of their service users in all circumstances, e.g. those with a current likelihood of being violent, those recently bereaved or in any situation where the service user or social worker is likely to come to harm. That means that the results from a survey of such a basic question would already be biased.
Similar nuances were found in almost every typical method for achieving customer development, whether phone surveys, online questionnaires, paper-questionnaires, focus-groups, questions tagged onto the end of a visit, etc.
Now, as mentioned in the slides, greenfield opportunities such as those found in newly-commissioned projects whether within local authorities or within NHS CCGs (Client Commissioning Groups) are ripe for Lean Startup and may benefit from a more thorough application of Customer Development.
What Messages Can you Take Away from the Presentation?
That you can successfully apply Lean Startup in the public sector
That if you can do it in local authority (which is about the worst-case scenario for successful implementations), then it should be implementable in other large, existing organisations, whether private or public.
That you may not benefit from applying all of Lean Startup; the corollary is true in that you can benefit from using some elements of Lean Startup. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
That the behaviour of staff (inherited from the culture of the organisation) will likely be your biggest obstacle.
Are you designing a service or transforming an existing service?
For redesign, we help organisations to reform teams more logically and change the way that they work resulting in more efficient processes. This is more structured and more logical than older BPR (Business Process Redesign) concepts as we’re heavily influenced by Lean but in a service environment.
At the smaller end of the scale, there are service improvement engagements and delivering strategies and methods for continual improvement. We can’t implement the continual improvement for you; that has to come from within your own organisation, but we can be there with you on your journey.
For new services, we assist organisations in developing their new operating models. At this level, it’s not the strategic target operating model, it’s a more tactical design that has to be workable in a live situation with real customers. It should link to the target operating model and indeed should move your organisation closer to achieving that target.