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  • 21 Feb 2020 7:36 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    There has been much talk recently in the UK (before, during and even after, the election) about improving rail links to, and in, the north of England.  HS2 (the high speed link to London) might get all the publicity (and almost all of the money) but the government is also promising to invest in local rail and even buses.


    This is good news for UK productivity.


    Manchester and Birmingham punch below their weight when compared to similar sized cities in Europe.


    At present, neither of them has particularly good transport infrastructure and certainly nothing resembling an integrated transport plan.


    Of course, transport is not the only area that must be addressed (skills is certainly another important contender for ‘key’) but it can support other investment and other development.


    So, I welcome the promises of investment - and I will watch the developments with interest … but I hope to see evidence of multi-mode integration planning  … and I hope to see the productivity fruits in 10 years and more.


    We would like higher productivity now, but that is unrealistic.  It is important to put down the foundations now - and await the benefits that should come.



  • 14 Feb 2020 7:51 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I was musing the other day about 'off the wall' inventions that might do good for the wrong reasons - or were designed to solve a problem that no-one knew existed.


    My starting point was some old news (2019) that a UK firm had designed a toilet that was specifically designed to be uncomfortable - it has a 13 degree slope.  The point is to discourage people in certain environments (workplaces, restaurants, etc) from staying too long.


    (The firm is already in talks with local councils and motorway service station operators.)


    Can you think of other examples of such attempts to shape behaviour?


    I thought of certain music played in bars and restaurants which has me running from the place - but that's because I am not their target customer - I don't believe in paying for overpriced drinks because the decor is 'trendy'.


    Keep your eyes and ears open and look for other examples. It might help you with insights into what your firm could do to improve performance - after all real innovation often breaks existing rules and conventions.


  • 06 Feb 2020 10:43 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I saw recently that Mark Zuckerberg had had millions wiped off his ‘fortune’ by a small dip in Facebook’s stock value.


    Laving aside the morality of the vast fortunes of these tech billionaires, I wonder whether  one can create a truly engaged workforce when the leader of the organisation ‘earns’ so much more than the rest of the ‘team’.


    “We are all in this together’ cannot really apply - there may be work teams carrying out key processes but I think it unlikely that there is one cohesive organisational team.


    People often talk about the difference (in attitudes and culture) between the private and public sectors …. but I think there is much more difference between small and large organisations. ‘Organisation’ causes changes in relationships … and this is exacerbated by huge differences in earnings levels.


    Of course, perhaps my attitude is the result of envy - but I don’t think so, Perhaps it is a UK perspective - possibly.


    I am not sure whether one could set a limit on the earnings multiple of the leader compared to the lowest paid but I believe it should be lower than it is in many firms.


    What worries me on a practical level is the degree to which senior executive’s strive for short term performance to improve their annual bonus, perhaps at the cost of poorer longer-term performance. 



  • 30 Jan 2020 11:05 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Sometimes businesses gain from unlikely sources and causes - and often from secondary products or services.  We know, for example, that the boom in personal computer usage through the 1990s was great for …. makers of printer inks.


    Now take the (relentless) growth of Amazon - globally.  Who has benefitted most - besides Amazon themselves of course.


    Well one beneficiary is the suppliers of packaging materials - Amazon sends our millions of packages daily.


    And, of course, all those packages have to be delivered. So, couriers have done very well - as have manufacturers of small/medium vans  Sales of small commercial vehicles rose by about 8% in 2019 over 2018 - Amazon being the driving force as small, independent couriers take over last-mile delivery.


    So, when scanning the future for new product or service opportunities, be sure to look how you might ride on the back of other emerging  companies or sectors.


    Can you climb on the shoulders of a new giant?


  • 24 Jan 2020 12:11 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I was browsing the web recently when a headline “Offensive Productivity” caught my eye. It was an article relating to an American sports team and was bemoaning the performance of the attacking members if the team (the offence).


    Now, here in the UK, we don’t use productivity in relation to the performance of sports teams. (I’m not sure what the metrics would be).  


    So, why am I mentioning this?


    It just reminded me of that old aphorism .. Britain and America are 2 countries divided by a common language .... but the real reminder is that some language - indeed some concepts - do not travel well across national - or cultural - borders, 


    Those working in lands other than their native land do well to remember this and those offering books, blogs, tweets, etc to an international audience should also remember that some parts of their messages might be misinterpreted.


    Re-read what you write, putting yourself, as far as you can, in the mind frame of target readers - or perhaps simply casual observers. Try to spot obvious - and less obvious - sources of confusion or misunderstanding - jargon, local references, slang, etc.


    Make your productivity - and other - pronouncements culturally neutral and certainly try to ensure you are avoiding ‘ offensive productivity’.


    Of course, if you ever find my messages offensive, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Offence was not intended.


  • 16 Jan 2020 11:55 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Politicians are binary creatures.


    They view important issuers as black and white,.  They are right and everyone else is wrong.  They rarely listen to conflicting views because they KNOW those holding contrary views cannot be right.


    Some business leaders act in a similar way.  They surround themselves with people of similar views or people who are prepared to espouse similar views (‘Yesmen’).  They won’t even listen to people who will be affected by their decisions or actions.


    Both sets of individuals are unlikely to be right all of the time and doomed to failure (in the longer term) as their mistakes come home to roost.


    Failing to listen is a major crime. If you don’t listen to your customers, your employees, your suppliers and other stakeholders you will not find out what is, or might be, going wrong in your business and what opportunities for improvement there are.


    Diversity of opinion is healthy and constructive.  Of course leaders sometimes have to listen but not necessarily change their decisions or actions.  But failing to listen to what people have to say means they might miss important caveats, consequences or influencing factors.


    Making unpopular but informed decisions can be the right thing to do.  Making unpopular and uninformed decisions is crazy.  


    It stifles engagement, innovation, contribution and productivity.



  • 10 Jan 2020 7:29 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Do we want to design processes that are ‘good’?


    Well, we first have to define ‘good’.


    I would suggest that ‘good’ processes are consistent processes. If a process is consistent, we can observe it, measure it and understand it. Then we can improve it, secure in the knowledge it will perform better - consistently.


    If a process is inconsistent or erratic we can do none of those things. We first have to  understand why it is inconsistent and that can be a major study in itself So it consumes resources at this stage before we can start improvement activity.


    Our aim, therefore, is to design processes that behave predictably and consistently. We can then claim to have designed a good process.



  • 03 Jan 2020 7:41 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Sometimes, very small parts of a process can have a massive impact on overall performance.


    Take Formula 1 racing.


    Quite often, the winner is determined by when tyre changes are carried out .., or the speed at which they are carried out. Yet tyre changes probably account for less than 1% of elapsed time.


    So, when looking at business processes, don’t ignore the small details. They may be one of the governing or influencing factors. Ask the same searching questions about every stage of the process. 


    Why do we do it?

    Why do we do it like that?

    Why do we do it at that point in the cycle?

    Why does that person or team do it?

    Could we eliminate it?

    Could we simplify it?

    Could we rearrange it?

    Could we do it differently?


    Keep asking these questions and you’ll find yourself on the winner’s podium.



  • 27 Dec 2019 8:14 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many of us are about to celebrate the start of a new year. It is traditional to make resolutions or promises to oneself that should make us a better person in some way. Those of us who are committed to productivity or performance improvement should make a similar professional promise.


    For example if you travel often, especially by train or plane, how about promising yourself to buy a new business text to read on each journey. At the end of the year, you should have learnt some valuable lessons to help your improvement efforts.


    If you are a business person, how about promising to take a waste walk each week, looking for obvious and less obvious signs of waste.


    The promise you make to yourself will depend on where you are in your career, in your organisation and in your personal development. But, today, take a little time to think through possibilities - promises you know you could, and should, make and keep.



  • 20 Dec 2019 1:51 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Six Sigma is based on consistency - on reducing variation so that processes run smoothly and consistently, to their specification. 


    Most processes have some variation - due to  inconsistency of raw materials, variations in machine or equipment performance, human inconsistency and error, variations in  the environment and so on. 


    We either have to stop such variations occurring or design the process to be flexible enough to cope with the variation.


    If the variations are within acceptable - and planned - limits, the process should be able to  cope.


    So, oddly enough, our aim is to control process elements and environmental factors  and train our staff so that we have consistent inconsistencies - within tolerance limits.  If you can get there, give yourself - and your team - a pat on the back.



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