Creating an agile public sector organization – it’s not just about IT

Throughout the year, we’ve attended public sector conferences in the UK and spoken with our clients, listening to what is keeping them up at night – and by and large, it’s what to do about data, automation, and all things tech. Many government suppliers offer quick-fix tech solutions, but are these products and solutions really getting to the heart of the issue?

It is compelling to consider purchasing a solution that claims it will save you money or make you more effective at delivering services to residents. While solutions indeed have the potential to achieve these goals, it all begins with two critical steps:

  • First, understand the customers’ (or residents’) needs (why you are delivering the service to them).
  • Second, to maximize the value of your investment, it is essential to take a broader view, identifying patterns in these customer needs and optimizing solutions across numerous services.

When we look at improving part of the service, in isolation from the whole, sub-optimization is likely. Sub-optimization in this example, is when we try and apply an improvement to one component, that ends up impairing the output of the system as a whole.

Let’s take an example. Perhaps residents are calling for their waste collection schedule, and you believe you can serve this information through an automated message, or perhaps another resident needs a new recycling container, and you want them to be able to register their needs through automated options over the phone. These sound like good ideas. Right?

However, things can easily start burdening other parts of the service, if not considered from an end-to-end perspective. For example, unless the automation of the refuse collection is updated when there are changes to this schedule, residents are going to be left confused and frustrated when outdated information is shared.

Or worse, in the scenario of needing a new recycling container, unless the fulfillment and delivery team are informed of automated requests and have the capacity, and stock, to fulfill the request, this may cause a bigger bottleneck to the process. This is an example of sub-optimization: moving the problem down-stream, as opposed to the original intention of making the process more efficient. Leaving the resident feeling unclear about where their request is and if they will get their new container in time for their next collection.

How do we recommend avoiding this sub-optimization headache?

An effortless way to avoid sub-optimization is to start by visualizing how the council currently delivers its services to residents. Once you have started to visualize the diverse types of requests/work or inputs you get, you can measure how long it takes to fulfill steps in the process.

Example visualization for types of requests/work and how long it takes to fulfill steps in the process

This enables you to look at the lead time to deliver on these requests. The lead time is the time it takes from when a request is raised through to delivery, in this example. By having this lead time, you have a baseline for knowing if any further changes you make to the service impact this, to allow you to decide if this impact is within tolerance for the cost of running the service. It also enables you to discover more about the needs residents have for requests being fulfilled by, and if current lead times are meeting their needs.

By using visualization, you can begin to discern patterns that may point towards areas for improvement.

You can explore further to validate if residents’ needs are being met, while trading off how the council could be more efficient in meeting these needs.

The power of this simple visualization technique is the first step to learning more, enabling more informed decisions about how technology could be optimized, and leveraging benefits for both residents and the council across services.

How we can help

We can help you visualize, measure, and run improvement experiments to help you improve how you work. This might include testing and implementing some new technical solutions along the way, but only if they help you deliver changes to the resident faster.

And of course, this is just the start. We must ask ourselves the more important question of whether the services and changes being offered by the council are making the residents’ lives better.