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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for those interested in Service Process Improvement, 16 Dec 2014
Mr. Ross Maynard (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Delivering Public Services That Work: v. 2: The Vanguard Method in the Public Sector: Case Studies (Paperback)
Ostensibly, “Delivering Public Services that Work” is a book of case studies about the use of the “Vanguard Method” in various public services. In actuality, it is a book about how we think about service processes.

Personally I am not keen on the use of the word “method” in “Vanguard Method”. It suggests a prescribed checklist of steps – the very thing that John Seddon criticises other consultancies for. This book makes it clear that the “Vanguard Method” is actually more a set of principles to guide service process improvement.

Those principles are actually rather straightforward, it is just that we get locked into a certain way of thinking and forget to wonder what the process is actually for!. This book is an excellent way of resetting the brain and thinking about service processes afresh.

The principles for service process set out in the book focus on understanding what service-users actually want or need from the process, and aiming to do what matters to the user at the first point of contact. This is contrasted with much current management thinking which is that professionals are expensive and should, therefore, be “protected” from contact with the user as much as possible by a screen of call handlers or assessment forms – which creates frustration and costs of multiple hand-offs and assessments.

To quote from one of the case studies: “The more we standardise and functionalise services the less we understand what matters to people and the less able we are to help them”

These two approaches are contrasted very well in the case studies which are well written (by the people working in the process not by consultants). John Seddon’s input to the book is limited to one chapter which is probably no bad thing as it allows the voices of those in the processes to speak without being overpowered by John’s often strident views. However, I finish with a quote from his chapter which nicely summarises the flavour of the book:

[The key to improving services is] “placing the (human) expertise required to solve people’s problems at the place where they meet the service provider, usually locally. Instead of being processed by demoralised and disengaged workers in remote computer-controlled factories, citizen needs are understood and acted on by enthusiastic, helpful people who are motivated by providing a service that both matters and works. Overall costs tumble because citizens need fewer transactions to get a service, irrespective of channel”.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested, or involved, in service process improvement. It will give you a fresh perspective on the service improvement journey.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How government ruins local services, 28 May 2012
A. Owen "anthonymowen" (Orpington, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Delivering Public Services That Work: v. 2: The Vanguard Method in the Public Sector: Case Studies (Paperback)
This is the second book in what one hopes becomes a series of case studies of improvement in the public sector. The author of each of the studies is different and was a member of the improvement team. The common thread is that each team used John Seddon's Vanguard method as the basis for improvement. He gets a great big plug for his consultancy - written by others. Neat!

Whereas the first volume was mainly filled with housing studies, this volme is much more broadly based and includes the fire and police services as well as a number of local government intiatives. John has wtitten a section on the dangers and potential pitfalls of shared services.

John is known in quality circles to be on a one man mission to expose the folly and wooliness of thinking in the public sector. The book does mention that the private sector usually manages to keep its similar mistakes hidden.

The message that comes through most clearly from the studies is that so much of what goes wrong comes from muddled government diktat (whatever the political shade or indeed whatever the country). The studies show that, with determination and a proper study of the purpose of services, it is possible to run efficiently despite arbitrary targets and red tape.

This book is strongly recommended to anyone wishing to improve their business and/or service. It gives a clear illustration of what goes wrong and the thinking needed to put it right. It is a worthy successor to John's previous books and case studies. Changing the mind set of managers, civil servants and politicians is a massive task.

This book might just be the one to start them thinking - if they read it! Buy them a copy!!
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