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on 19 May 2008
Currently, the UK Government is wasting Billions on public services with no improvements discernable to the population. John Seddon says this is caused by the Government (he uses the term "regime") managment method of target setting and process auditing. By putting targets aside and and designing the system to meet the demand made of it by the customers - us, improvements made in customer satisfaction and efficincy are enormous. Real examples in housing, police, benefits show reductions in service times of 90%. Britain needs to read ths book - and act on it.
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on 27 July 2015
Short, clear and a useful introduction to the subject
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on 5 April 2012
This new book by John Seddon continues his theme from his previous one which dealt with the application of "systems" thinking to organisations. In this new book he turns his attention toward recent UK public sector reforms, which have seen some of the biggest failures in service delivery in the last few years.

One of the things I like is that Seddon puts these proposed reforms in the economic context of the emergence of the monetarist ideas of Milton Friedman in the Seventies. In the UK, these supplanted the Keynesian policies that had held sway for sixty years beforehand. Seddon argues that the extension of Friedman's ideas to create quasi-markets (for example in the UK's National Health Service and rail system), with their focus on achieving targets, is the root-cause of the service delivery failure.

Seddon describes "systems thinking" as an approach that considers the organisation as a whole and taking the customer view from the outside looking into the organisation. With this view in mind, the organisation is designed to respond to the customer "pulling" demand from the organisation. This contrasts with a "command-and-control" approach where the organisation "pushes" those services that it thinks that it's customers want.

Practitioners will recognise this "pulling" of demand as an approach based on Lean thinking; however, the author is critical of blindly following a particular idea without careful examination of the organisation under study. Failing to do so results in poor change implementations and these go a long way to explain why Lean has a rather poor reputation in the public sector organisations.

The author considers that the organisation being studied contains the all information required to make improvements - so why go looking elsewhere for "best practice"? He goes further and suggests that the term "best practice" be disparaged, as this implies a limit to improvements that can be made.

The key difference between Lean theory in manufacturing organisations compared to public sector is that manufacturing consists of reducing waste activities in repetitive, predicable tasks. In contrast, the service sector consists of more complex, human, knowledge-centred tasks involving a high degree of person-to-person interaction. Indeed, it is the end-customer that pulls value from the system. Hence, public sector organisations have to be designed so that the complexity is handled at the customer-facing part of the organisation - in Seddon's words they can "absorb variety".

The aouthor has something interesting to say about measures. In many organisations, these are set as targets for the organisation to report on. The problem with this is that the achievement of these targets dominates all other activity. As most of these measures are focused on internal activities, this usually means that the end-customer suffers from sub-optimal service. Seddon recommends that the measures *only* be used to analyse the organisation to ensure that changes are having a benefit.

He summarises the top five public-sector waste activities to remove - these may well apply to any large service corporation:

- the cost of writing specifications for standards and targets;
- the cost of the organisation preparing for the inspection to see if the organisation meets the standards and targets;
- the cost of performing inspections;
- the cost of specifications being wrong, ie attempting to comply standards and targets that were incorrect in the first place.

This last point is interesting from a systems development viewpoint, although the terminology is a little different. In systems development, the attempt to derive a complete specification up-front in one attempt is called a plan-driven or waterfall approach whereas an approach that targets improvement iteratively is known as agile.

I highly recommend this thought-provoking book with its plentiful at-the-coalface anecdote, sprinkled with gems of information that practitioners can put to immediate effect - not just in public sector organisations - but in all service industries. In fact, the author tantalisingly leaves the reader wanting more, for example in the area of supplier co-operation.
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on 18 May 2009
I agree with a previous reviewer that this book and John Seddon's clear and logical explanation of systems thinking will instantly devalue the middle manager's sense of self meaning and reason for existence. The NHS is periodically mentioned in the book, but everything in the book is generically applicable, including to the NHS. The style is clear, enagaging and refreshing. I am inspired to take the systems approach further and at the same time deeply frustrated as I face the blank looks of middle managers.
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on 7 January 2011
This book gave me a solid clear insight in the world of (public) services and the type of organisational design that causes a service to fail / get worse / can't adapt or improve. At the same time a clear alternative is provided, based on designing the service for demand / from the customer perspective. The link to the origin of this approach (toyota production system) and the differences (because it is applied to a service) are also quite clear.
The book has made me think of changing my career into this direction (service design/improvement based on the vanguard method). It looks to me the UK would move into a much better space by adopting the work of John Seddon for all their public services. I would vote for that!
The book describes several public services and because they all suffer (near) identical problems, the book ends up being repetitive (you got the message) however it is amazing how widespread the problems are, so to my mind the repetition is worth it.
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on 2 December 2008
This should be standard-issue to everyone with management responsibilities in the public sector right now, because it hammers home the message that targets are not only wasteful but directly counterproductive to service delivery in the public sector.

It would have been nice to see some sort of rigorous method to get from "my targets are killing my organization" to "my measures of success are working correctly", and I think the book would also benefit from a much stronger differentiation between the current "targets" and Seddon's new measures of success, which do sound a bit like targets but aren't.
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on 12 July 2014
A cracking good read.
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on 17 April 2012
Was on my reading list for my MBA course, started reading it on the train into work and could barely hold the laughs in. Is so recognisable to me working in the NHS where it is all about targets for no good reason and gaming to hit irrelevant targets. A fresh view and very accessible, a must for all public sector workers to read - I would love to send a copy to all my colleagues and every government minister. Easy to follow guide to systems thinking, with good examples and diagrams where needed. Highly recommended
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on 13 October 2013
This book really does spell out the way in which the GERM agenda is unfolding and why it won't reap the rewards that politicians think it will. Compulsory reading for all headteachers and ministers
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on 2 March 2010
After writing "Systems Thinking in the Public Sector", John Seddon unsettled the Audit Commission by suggesting publicly (in the "Local Government Chronicle") that the Commission made things worse and should be abolished. While hundreds of readers agreed with John, one man didn't: David Walker at the Audit Commission. In a white-eyed response, Walker said John Seddon was a management consultant with an idea to sell (implication: you can't trust him, even if more than 100 public sector organisations do) and that there was no evidence that his ideas 'nostrums' work.

"Systems Thinking in the Public Sector" (the book on this page) sets out Seddon's big idea. Now a new book "Delivering Public Services That Work" presents 6 detailed Case Studies from the UK and New Zealand, each showing Seddon's approach in action and detailing the extraordinary results.Find "Delivering Public Services that Work" here on Amazon.
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