207 – Mills, mines, refineries and networks – what do they have to do with local government asset management?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                          1000 words

disruption

I was talking to a colleague who recently attended a well organised and highly informative national conference on asset management. It was a pity that only three people of the three hundred attending came from local government. The rest were from sugar refineries, steel mills, manufacturing, energy supply, defence, food production, mining, ports, railways, airlines, telephony and numerous other organisations from across Australia. Apparently there was a lot to be learned. So why was local government absent?

Part of the explanation lies in the competing asset management conference run annually by the sector in Victoria. It is well attended by staff from many councils as part of their professional development and to support a sector initiative. I suppose councils don’t see any value in sending staff to a conference that doesn’t focus specifically on local government assets or the way councils have chosen to manage their assets.

A conference theme was disruption. Often it is outsiders who create disruption because they see things differently.  Sometimes it happens when insiders are frustrated by the status quo and they venture outside the organisation’s comfort zone.  Unfortunately, many organisations and industries are incapable of disrupting themselves.  Attending conferences run by your industry is much more comfortable.

It was interesting to hear from my colleague about how other industries view their assets and what they expect from them in the way they are managed. One key difference is that private sector has productive assets that are owned and managed to create shareholder value (i.e. make profits). The value created by those assets is captured by the organisation that owns them. It is different for most public sector assets. Continue reading

205 – ‘We don’t need to be clever – just less stupid’, The Age 23 February 2016.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         700 words

Dont need to be clever just less stupid image

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I read this article and though it was fortunate that the writer, author and polymath Satyajit Das, hadn’t been dealing with his council. No doubt a greater attempt would have been made to feign ‘one stop’ service but if it was anything but a simple matter, he would have come across the same dysfunction. His acuity is evident in his analysis.

Das’s dealings with his bank highlighted how the quest for efficiency and lower costs has achieved the opposite result. This is a recurring theme in the writings of John Seddon about the public sector. Das lists six sources of ‘unproductive and inefficient’ failures that he believes are now common in many organisations.

  1. Tasks have been fragmented across different locations and the simplest activity is now complicated.
  2. There is no continuity. ‘One person is not accountable for the complete activity. Workers lack any idea of how what they are doing, or not doing, affects the whole process overall’.
  3. Staff lack the skills and knowledge required.
  4. Performance measurement has lowered, rather than improved, performance. Staff actions detract from results instead of helping achieve them.
  5. Leadership is lacking in ‘domain knowledge’ (i.e. valid knowledge in a particular area).
  6. There is a tendency to see history as old and irrelevant. The latest technological wizardry is the best solution to any problem. Valuable lessons from the past are routinely ignored.

There have been a number of posts on these very topics. Continue reading

196 – Making local government organisations simpler to manage – why is it necessary?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1700 word

complexity knotted rope

I was at a meeting recently where the team charged with conducting an organisational self assessment (OSA) and preparing an organisational improvement plan (OIP) using the Australian Business Excellence Framework were evaluating progress. It was an interesting meeting of a diverse group of people. By the end of the meeting we had reached a common conclusion – a council organisation is complex and systems need to be disentangled and simplified so that it can be managed effectively.

The OIP actions were developed independently from the outcomes of the OSA. It was only after 12 months of effort to implement the actions that the high level of congruence between them became apparent. Very few actions relating to core organisational systems could be implemented without impacting on each other – they overlapped. Attempting to deal with them one by one wasn’t going to work but joining them all together would create a large and very complicated action.

There is an earlier post on complexity which describes some of the sources of complexity in local government. It helps to know what you are dealing with but that doesn’t make it any easier. This was reinforced by reading former Victorian Premier John Brumby’s excellent memoir ‘The Long Haul – Lessons from Public Life’. In reflecting on the last four years in which he has viewed politics as an outsider, Brumby comments on the lack of trust that ‘permeates almost everything we see and hear about politics today’.

He believes that part of restoring trust and credibility in politics is to give the public a better understanding of the complexity of the issues.

“When I first sat in the federal parliament, an older and wiser member told me: ‘For every complex problem there is a simple solution … and it’s always wrong’. We live in a world where the questions are becoming more complex, while the public appetite is for ever simpler answers: the kind that can be summed up in 140 characters or less”

My question is, do you think that people want to be bothered by the complexity involved in getting what they want through political processes? Continue reading

194 – Essay No. 4 – Local government and customer service.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              4500 words

basil fawlty

Customer service is, and should be, a major concern for local government. After all, councils are service organisations. Sometimes there is confusion about exactly what customer service means, how it relates to public service delivery, and what aspects of service are most important to get right in local government.

This essay focuses on three hypotheses:

  1. That ‘customers’ in local government are different to the customers described in most customer service literature and encountered by most service organisations.
  2. There are six main opportunities for local government to improve service to customers.
  3. There are simple tools available that can assist councils in getting service delivery and customer service right.

Continue reading

176 – In-vehicle GPS – Part 2: How every council can have it.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              550 words

hurdles

In part one I discussed the features and benefits of in-vehicle GPS. Because councils deliver services at locations dispersed across a large geographic area and vehicle ownership is expensive and utilization is often low, in-vehicle GPS has the potential to provide significant benefits. It links the planning undertaken in asset maintenance systems to in-field work planning and delivery to ensure that resources are used efficiently to complete the planned work. The key barrier has been how to get in-vehicle GPS installed in all vehicles.

I think the trick to implementing in-vehicle GPS is the strategy and policy sitting behind it. Here are some tips. Continue reading

160 – Making a local government service catalogue. Part 2: What to do with it?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                      630 words

service category

In the first post I described a service catalogue and looked at where (and how) to start making one. This post discusses what to do next to refine the service catalogue and use it to improve organisational performance. I have no doubt that a service catalogue is essential to starting a discussion with the community about services required in a rate capped operating environment, however it should also drive continuous improvement by providing a focus for service reviews.

The ‘first cut’ service catalogue that defines services from the customer viewpoint and links that view to organisational structure, is really just the start.

Further analysis is required to determine the link between the service catalogue and organisational strategic plans (especially the council plan). This can be achieved by coding the spreadsheet of cost centres with the themes or key objectives or themes in the plans. This will allow further analysis by pivoting on different criteria. What is the link between council plan objectives, customer defined services and cost centres? Continue reading

159 – Making a local government service catalogue. Part 1: Where do you start?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         740 words

service catalogue food images

Across local government in Victoria councils are starting to discuss core and non-core services and the need to make a service catalogue – in other words, list of all the services they provide. In part this interest has been sparked by rate capping and the need to better understand where revenue is going. Any council attempting to increase rates above the Essential Services Commission cap will need an argument that is supported by their community. So what is a service catalogue?

In its simplest form it is a list of all the services a council offers, and by default, anything not on the list is not offered. It doesn’t mean that other services can’t be offered but there will need to be consideration of the costs and benefits before committing to do so. The list will need to be controlled once it has been made.  Deciding what services you will and won’t offer (and who will and won’t receive them) is at the heart of strategy. Continue reading