Ten police officers and one man with a baseball bat: a Lean story

A few years back when we were working with a UK police force on a Lean transformation project, we put some staff from the IT department in police cruisers with officers for ride-alongs.

In one instance an IT person was able to witness first hand how a communications failure turned a minor neighborhood incident into a major tie-up of police resources.

First some basic info about the command and control system at headquarters. The system handled and recorded incoming information from 999 calls before assessing the situation and dispatching officers to the scene.

In this instance the IT person was in the car when a call come over the radio about 12 youths on a residential street squaring off against each other with sticks and bats. The officer, realizing he’s closest to the scene, asks for more information.

But the dispatcher comes back on and tells him that his system just died and no more information is available.

So the officer sizes up the situation based on the information he has. He’s in a car with some IT guy and he has to decide if he’s going to deal with 12 people swinging bats alone. Well of course he wasn’t go to go into that kind of a situation alone. He’s a police officer, not Batman.

So he calls for backup and goes to a location near the residential area where he will rendezvous with his back up and prepare to engage. In total there are five patrol cars, ten officers, a dog handler, two big dogs of course and a Land Rover.

They’re ready to go in like gangbusters.

And they do. But what they discover is a little different than what the initial report had indicated. Instead of a dozen youths ready to wreck the neighbourhood, they find one drunk guy with a baseball bat yelling at his neighbours from a window in his house.

It sounds like a funny anecdote. But it was really a disaster. Because of the system failure at headquarters, ten officers in five patrol cars were pulled away from other duties. Not to mention the police dogs and their handler.

I say it was a disaster because if those resources were needed anywhere else during that time frame, they would have been unavailable. And given the life and death nature of some police calls, it could have resulted in a very bad outcome at another crime scene.

In the end it was a simple matter of the system being down for five minutes. A quick call to IT and it was fixed. While a solution was eventually put in place to eliminate such outages, it brought home to the police force management just how important their IT department was to the organisation. And it showed the IT person in the car how important their contribution was to keeping the streets safe.

More specifically, the IT department staff saw the importance of ensuring what they do had a clear line of sight to customer outcomes.  The IT department changed their attitude towards their work and made them see their IT job as more than just fixing the force’s technology. In fact, they came to see it was about keeping police officers and the public safe.

They put in a system to link all IT work that included not a strong view as to why the smooth running of the system was key to customer outcomes.

If you would like to have Lloyd Parry work on a Lean solution with your organisation, please get in touch.


Stopping a Lean change program is a dangerous proposition

Putting a Lean change program in place in an organisation is a bit like a farmer planting seeds and tending to the fields over the summer in anticipation of a great fall harvest. There’s a starting point and an end point. But in between a lot of things have to happen.

And if halfway through the growing season the farmer suddenly decides they don’t want to grow the crop they planted and pull it all up, all the preparations are wasted and there will be nothing to harvest in the autumn.

Of course no farmer in his right mind would rip up his field halfway through the growing season. But unfortunately when it comes to change programs, organisations are notorious for plowing under programs before they’ve had a chance to bare fruit.

I recall working with an organisation during a Lean change transformation when seven out of eight senior managers were dismissed from the company.

That in itself shouldn’t necessarily spell the end of a change process but it usually does.

It generally comes down to egos. The men and women brought in to take over instinctively presumed that the projects championed by their predecessors was part of the reason they they were let go. And so the first order of business was to take things in the opposite direction. To be fair new hires are almost always expected to make changes.  Unfortunately in the haste to make an impact, they often set forth on a campaign of destruction to distance themselves from the previous regime.

It’s the modern equivalent of defacing the statues of the last pharaoh – and just about as thoughtful.

But halting a Lean transformation during implementation can be disastrous on two fronts.

Lean programs are about growing people and if a new management regime halts a program midway through, the achievements that have occurred simply wither on the vine.

It also breaks the social contract  organisations make with the employees during the change. That unwritten contract stipulates that management will look after staff and invest in their future in exchange for the employees investing their careers with management. And if that contract isn’t kept the employees will leave.

Some of them have almost no choice. Because once change agents in an organisation find themselves back in a command and control environment without a change agenda, they leave.

To talk to Lloyd Parry about change for your organisation, please get in touch.


Championing failures the best way to succeed

Someone told me recently about Pixar Studios cofounder Ed Catmull and how he said that you had to embrace failure to succeed. I hadn’t heard that particular story but I smiled in recognition. It’s no wonder that PIxar as a studio produces so many hit movies and collects numerous Oscar trophies.

Environments like those found at Pixar are very much like Lean / Agile workplaces. It’s a much more entrepreneurial model, filled with experimentation, lots of failure and rare successes. By my estimates a good ratio is about one in 20. But the results of the successes are  so beneficial they quickly make all the failures vanish down the “memory hole.”

Traditional organizations don’t tolerate failures and go to great lengths to lock everything down. The cruel irony is that for all their anti-failure measures, they’re not very successful.

It’s not just the work culture at fault. It’s also the the methods, the engagement, the collaboration and all those human attributes that typically enable people to work together effectively. The challenge is that traditional ways of designing, building and operating organizations come from an industrial model that doesn’t really work for people.

The great thing about failure is that sharing it with helps others avoid making the same mistakes. Someone once said that every time a bridge falls down anywhere in the world, it makes it better for every other bridge.

We learn from a failure, update the specs and then make certain we don’t make that same mistake.

But people don’t usually want to talk about their mistakes. And that’s a huge mistake.

I have a saying which says whatever hurts me makes my colleague stronger. I’m currently using Lean / Agile methods when working with companies to get their staff to talk about errors and mistakes. But I find myself pushing hard against the shame culture surrounding mistakes that is pervasive in most organisations.  It takes courage, and a collaborative and blame-free environment.

Collaboration isn’t about egocentric people looking better in front of their colleagues, it’s about helping each other when things go wrong.

It’s a brave thing to do and I wish there were awards for brave failures. Because like Pixar, the company that turns brave failures into huge successes, it’s the only way to forward.