12 April 2007

A consultant's tools and techniques

A stray thought at work (these things happen!) has prompted this post on business modelling, knowledge management and systems thinking.

One of the side effects of working as a consultant for many years is that I have come across many modelling techniques and approaches to problem solving, and I think that one of my strengths is being able to pull the right tool or technique out of the hat when required. The problem is that much of the stuff that is in the hat is pants and should be left in there. Process Modelling is a case in point; I have yet to see a process model that was useful.

Over the years there have been a few things that I have come across that have immediately struck me as being "right" and in every case this opinion has been reinforced over the years. Three approaches that I have used again and again over the years are Data Modelling, Mass Customisation (Joseph Pine II's HBR paper), Knowledge Management and Systems Thinking.

The diagram here shows how I used the Mass Customisation to explain approaches to Knowledge Management at Lambeth Council. A key features of these different tools is that, just like in mathematics (my degree subject), it does not matter which of these approaches to a problem you use you will get the same solution. They provide a consistent description of the same domain.

Systems Thinking (a.k.a. Lean Service) is a more recent addition to my repertoire, boosted by a conference that I managed to wangle my way onto just before leaving Lambeth. The conference was given by Vanguard who are leaders in this area in the UK. Below is an extract from Vanguard's most recent newsletter which sums up why public service cannot get better under the current regime:

"Dear Mrs Kelly, I am moved to write to you today because I have just attended a presentation by [client name not reproduced here]. They have taken the systems approach to re-designing housing repairs and, like others, now achieve levels of performance beyond what might have been considered achievable if set as targets. In doing this work they have learned, as others have before them, that the statutory BVPIs are actually making performance worse. Attendees at the presentation - board members, senior managers and contractors - were concerned that, in the face of the evidence, your agents have failed to act. Like others in housing who have taken this route, these people now find themselves in the ridiculous position of having to measure and report things that they know are making their performance worse."

One of the nice things about learning about Systems Thinking was the realisation that this is the approach our school had been taking for years (e.g. designing for outputs and dealing with variations in inputs, i.e. children) which, for me, helped to prove the case for both Systems Thinking and our school.

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