May 2010

Feb. 2013 – much of the detail of this post has been dealt with by the UK government’s new web site but many government web sites still need to be improved.

Not for the first time UK government web sites have thwarted me.  I needed to check the contact details of the local DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) office for a client .  Here’s the saga…

…find the DWP web site

…first wee irritation – the Contact Us page as it appears on my PC has what is clearly meant to be a footer for the government’s all-singing all-dancing access site Directgov splattered across the text at the top of the page.  If you need the first line of the address for Attendance Allowance enquiries – unlucky (on past experience if anyone ever comes back to me about this I’ll be told it’s my fault due to the settings on my PC)…

…more to the point with my query the Local Office (non-)Search Facility takes you to another page which in turn directs you to the dreaded Directgov site, wherein all sane men and women finally lose the plot…

…the Directgov web site

…a page appears that invites you to “Contact Jobcentre Plus” through a “local office” search by writing in your postcode (not sure that’s what my client needs but nevertheless it’s the only option given) …

…which on attempt 1 returns “No locations found” and on attempt 2 says (I quote word for word)

1 office found

If you do not want to contact Jobcentre Plus then you can use the Close button to close this window.

Your message will be sent to a central team in Jobcentre Plus, not to your local Jobcentre or Jobcentre Plus office.

Please note that this is not a secure facility and you should not send confidential information.

Aberdeen Benefit Delivery Centre

(This office is not open to the public)
Jobcentre Plus
Wellington Circle
United Kingdom
AB99 8AA
Telephone: Mail opening only
Employment and Support Allowance
Benefit Delivery Centre

…and an invitation to click on a button that says “Contact” and opens my e-mail browser with the e-mail address <> and the subject line “JCP Contact Us Local Office – Aberdeen Benefit Delivery Centre”.

So if I were to try and contact the local office I can now only do so by e-mail to a central team who may pass on my details to an office with no public access who may contact me.

In more than one post I’ve made the point that all work processes should add value for the customer and eliminate NVA (non-value added work).  I think I know how this one stacks up.

I might just stroll up the road to see if there’s a human being who’s willing to speak to me.

I had cause to phone a certain airline today that has some current industrial relations issues.

The flight I’d booked was cancelled.  The web site advice varied according to where you were on it but there was only one option and all routes led to two 0800 numbers with the same loop…cue soothing guitar music, the usual guff about press 3 for this, 1 for that, no option ever answered, more soothing guitar music then “Sorry for the heavy volumes of calls we’re experiencing…you may wish to try later”.  Wish?  There was no choice unless you wanted to hear the whole darned rigmarole again.

My travel needs being somewhat urgent I called more than 50 times over 4+ hours.  Every time the same – same soothing guitar music, same ultimate dead end of the recorded message.

After a break for a quick lunch the web site had sprouted an option to try and re-book online and hey presto, it worked.  Well done B****** A******* for that at least.

After my two earlier lies of contact centres, my first two rules for them

Abhor “press x for this, press y for that”

At least answer the phone!

I love lean/systems thinking, call it what you will (that sort of sloppiness usually gets a protagonist or two protesting they’re different).

It’s a great way, I’d say the way, to organise work.  I’ve alluded to some of its characteristics in other posts – meeting the needs of the customer, work flowing through a system, the idea of processes, how you improve work…and a lot more I’ve not touched on.

Like lots of things it’s bedevilled by jargon, sometimes helpful as shorthand between those who know, but putting other people off when they’re confronted by it (usually from some “expert” explaining they’ll be using it at work).

A plea from someone on a forum I belong to (IDeA’s lean thinking community of practice) to decode some jargon had me thinking of how we could do this for some of the more common systems thinking phrases that bemuse.  Here was the list I came up with:

  • process = how we do our work
  • process improvement = making our work better
  • methodology = this is how we’ll do it
  • value stream = everything we do from beginning to end to deliver a service
  • a large proportion of the activities in any service are non-value added =  a large part of what we do does not add value
  • designing a new value stream so that those actions that create value, flow = improving the way we work so that every step adds value and flows smoothly
  • customer demand should pull work through the system = we should only do the work customers want and we should do it when they want

It may seem simple but the jargon really does dis-credit a lot of good stuff.  I’d love to copyright my plain language versions but ‘twould be a lost cause. Feel free to use (but let me know if you do…) and add a comment with your own jargon-free versions.

Yes a plug, for something I have no connection with – the FixMyStreet web site, part of, in turn part of UK Citizens Online Democracy (this gets complicated).  If you’ve not seen FixMyStreet it’s a simple way to report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

They seem to be running at 800+ reports a week across the UK. Congratulations Isles of Scilly – no complaints logged on the site.  Commiserations Surrey – 2543 complaints logged.  You’re both reaping the consequences of size (a smarter technowhizz than me would mash up the data with the population mid-year estimates to work out the “best” and “worst” councils).

My only moan might be people who post a complaint about the alleged behaviour of a neighbour (parking, recycling etc.) rather than do the decent thing and have a word with them first.

This is real innovation using the power of the web, and driven from entirely outside the public sector.

PS  – also like the Australian equivalent, It’s Buggered Mate , a site that comes with typical antipodean chutzpah.  Unfortunately, it’s still only a protoype but let’s hope it springs into life soon.

From alancleaver_2000's photostream on Flickr at

A while ago a new colleague told me with great satisfaction that in his previous office one day each year was designated for a “clear out”.  That day no meetings were scheduled, everyone dressed in their old jeans and the crud (he didn’t use that word) accumulated over the last 12 months was sorted for filing or disposal.

As it happens (we were in the same larger organisation) I had seen the results of this annual ritual – piles of papers, files, and broken office furniture on the landing awaiting the attention of the unfortunate caretakers who were charged with removing it.  I had wondered what was going on.

He thought this was so great he submitted a proposal to the staff suggestion scheme (that’s another rant in waiting) that every team should undertake the same therapeutic annual purge.  The suggestion was (correctly) rejected.

Around the same time I read the report of a local chamber of commerce study tour of Japanese industry.  The newsletter produced on their return had the incredulous account by one delegate of how everyone in one office they visited had the same number of pencils and pens facing the same way in the same position in the same drawer of their desks.  The sub-text was the racist “only regimented automatons living in rice paper houses could accept that degree of conformity”.  Yet another example in a long list of western misunderstandings of the Japanese approach to work.

I was thinking of these contrasting tales when I was rationalising some fascinating but historical business cards I had accumulated from a happy work exchange to Calgary in Canada many years ago. They were using space I needed for something else but somehow I’d never got round to recycling them.

The truth of course is that both the annual clear out and my own modest business card sort were completely wasted effort.  The Japanese were the ones who’d got it right.

The best Japanese companies eliminate NVA (work that does not add value for their customers – see my post of 5 May on Efficiency) ruthlessly.

Space occupied by un-needed material is NVA.  It costs.  Some readers will know and others won’t that “5S” can do it for you (and for the boy in the photo above):

  1. Sort: Separate needed from unneeded items—tools, parts, materials, paperwork—and discard the unneeded (Seiri)
  2. Straighten: Neatly arrange what is left—a place for everything and everything in its place (Seiton)
  3. Shine: Clean and wash (Seiso)
  4. Standardise: Cleanliness resulting from regular performance of the first three Ss (Seiketsu)
  5. Sustain: Discipline, to perform the first four Ss (Shitsuke).

My erstwhile colleague had cracked 1 – 3 but hadn’t grasped that 4 and 5 are essential too.

A few weeks into this blog and I’ve been amazed at the proportion of traffic it’s driving to the HelpGov Ltd web site – so thanks for clicking through folks.

 The virtuous circle of communication has driven me to issue my first Helpgov Newsletter. It’s virtual (fancy way of saying no paper copies) so as well as readable on screen it also avoids recycling.  You can find it here.

It’s a bit more formal than this blog and does six things. It: 

  • introduces HelpGov to anyone who hasn’t come across us yet
  • says how we can help our public sector clients
  • describes our approach to work
  • gives a flavour of what we’re up to
  • tells readers about this blog (as if you needed that…)
  • and gives them a tip about online business networking.

Read, enjoy and do let me know what you think.

My thanks to the civil servant who brought this letter about his annual leave to my attention…

I am pleased to be able to advise you that you will be paid for 19 hours 44 minutes in your May salary for additional annual leave credit.

For those with deficit hours at the end of April, this figure represents the 20 hours 17 minutes payable less those deficit hours credited to the system, which will show on your May end of month report as an MU input for 0 hours 33 minutes.

Payment for annual leave is related to the guaranteed hour’s [sic] element of pay and is evened out over the year regardless of when leave is taken.  Once you have worked all the guaranteed hours for the year, an additional credit for annual leave is made once the guaranteed hours worked for the year is known.

I’d love to be able to convert this gobbledygook into plain language as an adroit demonstration of one of the services HelpGov Ltd offers.

Unfortunately the lucky recipient hasn’t got a clue what it means.

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