118 – Improving service operations. Why it doesn’t happen in local government.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

 walking the plank

I have read Lancing Farrell and Colin Weatherby’s posts on characteristics of demands, redesigning operations and improving service operations through action plans and service redesign, with some interest. It is all good stuff and not too difficult to understand or do. The question I ask myself is why I don’t see it happening everywhere across the sector. The ‘special and different’ posts partially explain it but I think there is more to it.

To begin with, the motivation to make improvements doesn’t really exist. People say they want to improve the quality of services to their community, and in response to threats like rate capping they say they want to be more efficient. But they don’t really want to do either.

Most councils have the potential to improve productivity by 10-15% (more in some councils). Continue reading


100 – ‘We’ll get the managers to sign off’. The second most common local government phrase.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

sign here

I guess this is the second most common phrase and it links to Colin Weatherby’s post about managers spending their time scraping burnt toast. One of the dysfunctions common in local government is the assignment of responsibility to managers for authorising everything by everyone changing a system or process, usually to eliminate their own risk.

I suppose some examples are in order. Advertising for a vacant job. An authorisation will already have been obtained to fill the position but the manager must sign to authorise the placement of the advertisement. Why? I guess that one day someone must have put in an advertisement for a position that wasn’t approved. But is this an effective or necessary control? Has the exception made the rule?

What about putting a new supplier onto the council’s system? Continue reading

76 – Creative ways to make your capital expenditure target. Some ideas.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          570 words

capital expenditure graph

Yes, it is that time of the year when our engineers and accountants become highly creative.   By June 30 they will need to explain whether or not the targeted amount of capital works has been completed. Often the target is expressed as simply as ‘90% capital program completed’. Usually it is a KPI for the CEO and senior managers. That makes it an important target.

So, why the need for such high levels of creativity? Continue reading

48 – Emergency management is a hidden talent. Why wait for a disaster?

Posted by Parkinson                                                                                       540 words

emergency flooding

In Victoria, all local governments have a statutory role in responding to municipal emergencies. They must have a committee including local emergency response organisations, and a plan that is maintained and audited. Dozens of staff are inducted and trained in emergency management and, along with their organisational leaders, are a virtual team that can be activated immediately when required. They hold exercises under various scenarios to test their ability. Emergency management is a capability that each council must create and maintain. And they do. Often very well.

It has been said that the public service is at its best in an emergency because tribal conflicts are set aside, the purpose is clear and agreed for once, and the rules become ‘flexible’ in order to be able to react to whatever the emergency brings. Under these circumstances, the public service becomes a responsive, powerful and focussed force. Why do we wait for an emergency to perform at our best? Continue reading

37 – Risk delegation. Who has it at your council?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         480 words

Have you ever wondered who has the formal delegation to accept risk on behalf of the organisation? I know that you probably spend most of your time dealing with systems that seek to reduce or eliminate risk, but what happens when risks must be taken? How do you assess and accept those risks?

My bet is that there is no system to accept risk and that your organisation has little understanding of the risks that are being taken by managers each day. I think that the absence of a system to formally assess and accept risks is the reason there are endless systems to get rid of it. I am not talking about the Risk Register and the big strategic or operational risks that are obvious to everyone. I am talking about the daily risks that arise when something hasn’t worked out the way you would like it to but work must go on. Continue reading

29 – Local government shared services. Is it the silver bullet for rate capping? – Part 2

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         950 words

In the previous post, I discussed economies of scale and the cost savings possible through shared services. This post continues the discussion, starting with the implications of front and back office separation.

The history of ‘back office’ and ‘front office’ separation is worth some discussion. According to Seddon, it began with an article by Richard Chase in the Harvard Business Review in 1978. In the article, Chase recommends separating the ‘high customer contact’ and ‘low customer contact’ elements of the service system because of the different operations involved. Low customer contact operations are more efficient and, as a result, have lower costs and it makes sense to isolate them from the disruptive effects of customer interactions if it can be done without sacrificing service effectiveness. However, service effectiveness is exactly what Seddon believes has been lost in many of the cases he cites. Continue reading

27 – Risk farming or good governance? How some executives avoid accountability.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          400 words

What do I mean by ‘risk farming’? It is the practice of spreading risk around so that your responsibilities become so diffused amongst various individuals and groups that you can’t be held accountable for them. There will always be someone else sharing accountability. So, how is it done?

You start by taking every matter before the Executive. Continue reading