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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2008
John Seddon does not like "management fads" like IiP, Charter Marks, CRM, TQM, BPR, EFQM or Six Sigma, and he especially does not like ISO 9000. He is not particularly keen on the "toolheads" who promote stand-alone techniques derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS), aka "lean" manufacturing. He is damning about the government's application of target-based systems on the public services, and devotes an appendix to that aspect. Applying tools without really thinking through the problem, he says, is almost invariably counterproductive.

Seddon has built a career applying the philosophy of the TPS to service organisations. He venerates Taiichi Ohno, the man who, above all, created and developed TPS, and the storey is littered with references to what Ohno said and did. Much of the manufacturing detail of car manufacture is not applicable to service organisations, however, so Seddon has attempted to think things through from first principles. I came across reference to Seddon's work in his distinguishing of "failure demand" from "value demand". Failure demand is demand that only exists because initial demand was not satisfied properly. It includes, e.g., the 40% of calls that some call centres receive chasing up enquiries made earlier and any work to correct earlier work that was not done properly. As one of the key aims of "lean" is to eliminate waste, failure demand represents a first and obvious type of waste in service organisations. Seddon demonstrates, however, that by treating failure and value demand alike in statistical analysis, failure demand can help give a quite false impression of greater productivity. This merely reinforces the need to look in, from the customer's perspective, and ask what he or she might think of the service.

Seddon argues that the key to Ohno's innovation was to move manufacturing from a "command and control" environment to a "systems "approach. Systems thinking is about looking at the quality and speed of output from the customer's perspective, looking at the "end to end" process and not just small parts of it, looking at the flow of work through the system and the generation of waste within it. Seddon believes that targets and incentives, based on measures of just small parts of an overall system (and sometimes, he suggests, on rather artificial and wasteful parts of a system) are counterproductive. He certainly comes up with many examples where managers devise and apply targets and their organisations duly meet them, but the experience of the customer, and of those attempting to do the work, is poor. He argues that the role of managers is to "work on the work" (i.e. to take a share of doing the actual work, and thus to understand it) and then to "work on the system" so that it improves and the front-line workers get all the assistance they require carrying out the roles for which they have been given full responsibility. Consistent with these views, Seddon dismisses appraisal, incentivisation and even absence management as unnecessary and counterproductive.

If I had any disappointments, they were all the service sectors on which he based case studies, representing the clients with which Seddon and his Vanguard organisation has worked, were at the "mass services" end of the spectrum: call centres, IT help-desks, utilities maintenance. As my interest is primarily in professional services, I did not find much of direct relevance, although I am trying to think through the principles. Some of the diagrams seemed unhelpful - for example I really failed to understand "the Vanguard Model for `check' " - and even after re-reading some sections I was not sure that I had quite grasped what Seddon was getting at. I was, lastly, slightly surprised at the adopting of US English spelling conventions by a British author, but Productivity is an American publisher.

Seddon is modest about what he has achieved, and his outlook seemed slightly pessimistic. He has changed the approach in a few divisions in a few organisations, but he has noted that when new managers are appointed they tend, because they don't understand his systems approach and they think in command and control ways, to revert to previous ways of working and those subordinates who adopted the systems approach move on. As the product, no doubt he would say, of a "command and control" training myself, I am not sure that I accept all of his critique. I do not, for example, quite see that a systems approach is incompatible with command and control approach, which may be appropriate in some circumstances. I do not see, in fact, that "command and control" and "systems" are at opposite end of the same spectrum. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting book and I would recommend it to anyone trying to question the way that their current service operations are running. Not having done so myself, I wonder whether it would be better to read a book of lean manufacturing and the TPS beforehand, like Womack, Jones and Roos' "The Machine that Changed the World" or Taiichi Ohno's own book. This is very much a book, however, for those looking to formulate new questions rather than finding new answers to the current ones.
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on 5 March 2010
The book was ok, a little repetative at times but I guess that helps embed what you are learning.
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on 2 March 2013
John Seddon explains why we should all look at how our current management thinking designs work in very inefficient ways.

It is a real lightbulb read and once you get it you will never want to work in the old ways again.
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on 9 January 2013
Anyone who has worked in an operational role will understand the evolving nature of management fads; each contains a fascinating truth but is fundamentally flawed. So the fad evolves and a new truth evolves until it is critiqued and fades in turn.
So after work study, BPR, JIT, TQM, Lean we arrive at systems thinking. This is essentially based on Ohno's and Deming's research but adapted for Service.
The system will dictate outcome and therefore we should focus on the system. The system should be designed from a customer perspective and absorb the variety of different CUSTOMER demand. Finally management should focus on improving the system and this can only occur if they reconnect with the work rather than sit in offices remote from the opearations.
Manufacturing is about uniformity, Service is about variety Seddon argues and in this argument lies the distinction. In my opinion this is a seminal piece of work and will be regarded as highly as Deming or Ohno in time.
There will be a shift and through dialectics management will arrive at the same conclusion as Deming, Ohno and Seddon.
I would also recommend Peter Senges' work on The fifth discipline.
If Seddon's approach helps pinpoint the focus of improvement Senge helps to provide the method to solve the problems.
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on 3 July 2009
I did not find this book a satisfying explanation of the application of the Toyota System to Service Organisations. The author makes too many sweeping generalisations supported by little or no evidence to convince an interested sceptic like myself.

The book felt like a digest (rehash?) of themes developed in other books and articles. It contains some nuggets of wisdom, but these can be found between pages 188 and 189. The author spends much of the rest of the book trashing competing improvement methodolgies (including Lean, which is ironic given the book's subtitle) and U.K. government policies, before making a sales pitch for the activities of his own consultancy.
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on 15 December 2010
Rather than try to summarise Seddon's book, here is one of the lessons that I learnt from this book.

Service businesses have increasingly moved towards fragmenting their processes into individual tasks so that they can be done very efficiently by people with low skills who are doing only a small number of tasks. This reduces cost, but de-skills the process. Each task fragment can be measured and targets set. However, Seddon gives a number of examples of where fragmented tasks and their associated targets give rise to problems. For example, one fragmented task might be to answer incoming telephone calls. This is a simple task, so might be given a target that all calls are picked up within, say, 5 seconds. In order to meet the target, he has found examples of calls being dumped - picked up and then put down again - to ensure that the target is met. The caller has to call again, leading to 'failure demand' - where the task has to be done again because it was not done properly the first time. He emphasises the importance of measuring processes end-to-end, because that is what the customer is actually interested in.

This book is most applicable to larger service companies who might have a call centre, or to public service organisations who deliver services on a fairly large scale. I think that this book is definitely worth reading if you are involved in management of such businesses.
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on 6 February 2010
I first learned about John Seddon through a presentation he gave at an InfoQ software development conference. He has a very strong belief that people often misapply the techniques from methodologies like the Toyota Production System when they go about trying to make their companies or operations "lean". This particular book seems primarily aimed at the call center market (although it has applicability beyond) and explains how many of the standard metrics used in call center management today are apt to lead us badly astray. In addition, it shows how blind implementation of many of the recent management fads (six sigma, ISO 9001, TPS, etc.) make little to no sense in call centers (or, in the case of some of the fads examined, anywhere). Instead, a pattern for improving quality/performance/efficiency is presented that starts at understanding the work that must be done and eliminating failure demand from the system (demand created by failings in your own processes and systems to meet customer needs). Overall, the book is thought provoking and I'm looking forward to testing some of the ideas in it.
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on 8 January 2014
If you work in a business and are frustrated with all the reporting that goes on, KPIs and figures etc..., read this and be prepared to think differently forever....
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on 16 October 2015
Very competative, delivered as promised.
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on 5 October 2015
Perfect thanks
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