Monday, September 19, 2016

Is Lean/TPS Possible in the Public Service? Part 1

By Pascal Dennis

Senior public sector leaders asked W. Edwards Deming asked this question in the early 1980’s.

His approach was working in companies around the world. Would it work in the public service?

“I don’t know,” Deming said.

Some diligent leaders ran experiments – with decidedly mixed success.

Adapting Total Quality Management (TQM) to Government,

Quality Comes to City Hall

As a general rule, government departments most similar to private sector operations had the greatest success – (e.g. a city’s motor equipment division which maintained & repaired its cars & trucks).

But the literature suggests that even those areas were unable to sustain continuous improvement, which as we know, entails building a supporting management system.

That said, our colleague, Gary Vansuch, has cited encouraging activities in the U.S. Department of Transport. Well done, folks, and please continue.

What are the obstacles to Lean in government? I’ll explore this question in upcoming blogs.

There’s a great deal at stake. Good people are giving their all to continuous improvement in government. Why shouldn’t civil servants have the opportunity to develop what Deming called ‘pride of workmanship’?

Why shouldn’t they be involved in developing and improving their work processes? Why shouldn’t their work be fun and motivating?

In fact, morale in the US and Canadian federal governments is at all-time lows.

Good news: Federal worker morale has finally bottomed out. Bad news: It’s still terrible.

Morale In The Public Sector

Moreover, the growing gap between performance in the private and public sector fuels a corrosive cynicism and disengagement – surely the last thing we need nowadays.

More to come.

Best regards,


Monday, September 12, 2016

How to Sabotage Productivity & Destroy an Organization

By Pascal Dennis

Splendid piece in Business Insider about a recently declassified WWII era guidebook on how civilians might help the Allies win the war.

The secret manual was developed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s precursor, to help sympathetic civilians cripple Axis power industry.

OSS personnel enjoy a break at their camp

Here are just some of the organization-killing gems:

Organizations and Conferences
  • Insist on doing everything through "channels." Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate "caution." Be "reasonable" and urge your fellow-conferees to be "reasonable" and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
  • Work slowly.
  • Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
  • At bad organizations, these are almost standard work, no?

Here’s a bit of homework: turn these maxims into an Anti-Productivity Checksheet, and assess your current workplace.

Hopefully, it scores low! If not, head for the hills…

Best regards,


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What Makes Toxic Cultures?

By Pascal Dennis

“The walls in that place ooze toxicity.”

That’s how a colleague describes a famous Canadian children’s hospital. I was shocked, as you might imagine.

How can this be, I thought? My colleague is a senior nurse practitioner and administrator – energetic, capable, and an inspiring optimist. And children’s hospitals are among the most inspiring of workplaces.

(It’s been my good fortune to work with the great Dr Tom Hansen, now retired, and the splendid Seattle Children’s Hospital team. Long may you run.)

Anyhow, after three years trying to change the place, she resigned.

Why are some organizations toxic?

In my experience, a deep, persistent toxicity requires decades to develop. My friend, Jim Sapienza, suggests toxic cultures are like toxic waste dumps.

Barrel after barrel of toxic waste, and decades of poor environmental practice make the latter. Similarly, barrel after barrel of human deceit, arrogance and cruelty, and decades of poor management create the former.

What’s the countermeasure? Environmental recovery requires careful removal of contaminated soil, materials and equipment, and diligent treatment of air and water using the most advanced technologies available.

Often a site is uninhabitable for years. Does the same metaphor apply for toxic cultures?

I’m reminded of that bad Charles Bronson movie, The Evil That Men Do….

Bad management can last for generations. Garbage that leaders do today can afflict people not yet born.

Leaders, are you up to the challenge?

Best regards,


Monday, August 29, 2016

United Airlines & Air Canada – Lowest of the Low?

By Pascal Dennis

We’re not happy, till you’re not happy

Recently I broke a personal rule and booked a United Airlines trip. Smarting from UA fiascos, I did so with trepidation, after a three-year hiatus.

(Last year, for similar reasons, I’d also decided to boycott Air Canada, United’s ‘partner’.)

Anyhow, my family and I were going to beautiful Bend, Oregon, where we’d hike, swim, and celebrate a family birthday.

The result? A 12 hour delay going; 4 hour delay returning. United offered no explanation, of course, no apology, and no sense of responsibility.

Fine weather both ways, so no problem there. We were scuppered by mysterious ‘mechanical’ problems, which no doubt UA deep thinkers had never encountered before.

When I described our travails to Bend friends, they were unanimous.

“Oh, I hate United!”

“United is disgusting!”

“United executives are dogs!”

Needless to say, it’ll be years before I allow wild horses to drag me onto an UA plane.

But wait! Recently, Air Canada did one worse, stranding passengers in Manchester, England for two days.

That’s not a typo – two days… (read the story here)

An Air Canada spokesperson said, wait for it, “We’re sorry we let our passengers down…”

For episodes like these, satire is redundant, no? All one can do is avoid the perpetrators like a proverbial plague (after going up to the roof and howling…).

Don’t want to be misunderstood. The UA front line people we encountered were decent, sympathetic and did their best to help.

As ever, the problem lies in the system. UA (& Air Canada) leadership has apparently made a conscious decision to ignore customer service.

Their motto should be: “We’re not happy till you’re not happy!” (Tip of the hat to Jim Barnes.)

Thought you’d like to know so you can avoid United Airlines and Air Canada. Let us direct a chorus of howls, catcalls and raspberries their way.

And a deep bow to carriers who are committed to customer care.

Safe travels,