We’re fortunate to be having John Seddon keynote at our internal conference in a few weeks so I wanted to read some of his material in advance. I bought the Freedom From Command and Control book out of interest to see how he applied systems thinking to the service industry.

Depending on what your background reading has been, it may or may not be heavy going. I really appreciated the background I’d done in reading about lean thinking, systems thinking and other respects so I found most of my interest seeing how he viewed the application of these tools, rather than the description of the tools themselves.

Despite some warnings from a number of people, I found the book easy to digest – made all the more entertaining by the repetitive (in a good way) and controversial statements thrown in the book. I figure Seddon wrote them in to intentionally jar your traditional manager into thinking differently.

My biggest takeaways follow:

Stop creating failure demand – Lean thinking looks towards the end-to-end flow of value – starting from customer demand. Seddon articulates on focusing on the idea of shaping the demand and service organisations often get to choose what sort of demand they have (to a degree). More often than not, organisations instead flex their capacity to meet all demand – not really spending the time to think about whether or the demand they have is what they want or not.

For me, this links into another view such that organisations need to address bigger root causes, improving quality and experience for customers to stop generating failure demand. I see these ideas equally apply in a software context – many of the practices we adopt is intended to build quality in from the start so the development effort can be focused on helping the flow of business ideas, rather than spending time on fixing “defects” for customers that should not have reached them in the first place. Similarly, properly addressing user experience early enough will help to prevent failure demand.

Reaffirmation that arbitrary targets are bad – Seddon isn’t fearful to state his view around the idea that setting targets are bad – in that, you get what you measure and the targets are often not really related to the purpose of the system. This seems to sit well with the discoveries of the Beyond Budgeting Movement who’ve realised you cannot use the same instruments for measurement, planning and setting goals (decouple them!)

I found interestingly Seddon still explain to people the importance of measurement, just not arbitrary ones that managemet set and then create systems around.

Using Capability Charts to map demands – Seddon describes the capability chart as a way to visualise the way demand is being generated. Its focus on visualisation is a way of helping people to see natural fluctuations in a system and a way of identified trends not easily seen when boiled down to a matrix of numbers.