If you are interested in effective approaches to services improvement, transformation and change then this book is a must read. Originally published in 2003, it outlines the Vanguard Method, a structured normative method designed for services. The method has three main parts: Check (study), Redesign (plan) and Roll-in (do). It is a sophisticated blend of psychology, systems theories and the philosophy that propelled Toyota to the world stage (adapted for services). On the surface the Vanguard Method looks like a process approach, but it is actually a powerful heuristic, underpinned by an unlearn and then relearn dynamic for achieving effective transformation. The author John Seddon, is Managing Director of Vanguard Consulting and visiting professor at Buckingham University.
The book argues that the current paradigm of organisational design and management, described as command and control, is failing. To show us why Seddon tells the story of how a different management theory and practice developed over time by Taiichi Ohno (and others), drove the rise of Toyota after the second world war. Each chapter after this introduction takes us on a journey as it challenges the main pillars of command and control management, using convincing (and at times funny) arguments and examples.
Systems not people
Seddon articulates that the majority of improvement activity in command and control organisations is focused upon workers instead of the organisation designs, processes, IT systems, governing rules and others forms of control. Focusing upon changing these and how they work together he argues, will give a much greater return. If you work in a call centre, the example of targets meant to motivate workers that actually lead to worse service and increased costs will resonate.
Seddon writes that all effective change starts by studying services from the customer point of view. This gives you an understanding of value and therefore actual performance in providing that value. In services organisations the place to begin this study is often (it differs as to the type of service) at the part of the organisation where customers demand something often a call centre, although increasingly online. When leaders spend time ‘in the work’ listening to these calls, they can obtain a rapid sense of how effective their service is through the levels of failure demand. Failure demand is described as ‘demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer’. This gives one clear indication of actual performance. [author note: From my experience this can be as high as 80% of all demand coming in through the front door. I Interviewed Rob Brown, a leader from Aviva who used the Vanguard Method to study and redesign who realised £100m savings in 5 years whilst increasing their satisfaction scores. This forms the basis of their competitive advantage].
Key ideas and themes
There is so much in this book that is important and it is worth reading the book in-depth. Here is a short list of key concepts covered.
- Systemic relationships – Two core interconnected ways of understanding services effectiveness
- Human motivation – extrinsic v intrinsic motivation
- Purpose – how deeply understanding purpose is a powerful focus
- Targets – how they make performance worse and drive-up costs
- Change starts with study – and why starting elsewhere leads to failure
- Standardisation – how it can increase costs and worsen service
- The use of tools – the thinking behind them and damage caused (particularly manufacturing tools in services)
- The use of IT – the common mistakes and tips about how to do IT better
- Front-office and back-office designs – how and why they can lead to worse service and increased costs
- Outsourcing – The risks of outsourcing failure demand and locking-in costs
Where is the Vanguard Method in use?
The Vanguard Method is widely (in some instances solely) in use* in Aviva, Lloyds banking group, Barclaycard, Portsmouth City Council, Stoke City Council and Coastal Housing Association to name a few. It is becoming more common that job advertisements require some knowledge of this approach.
*Or has been.