Thursday, December 10, 2015

Duplication and bias - two problems that cost you a fortune and are easy to solve.

Having just had a rant on the ridiculous attitude some take to outsourcing, I'm now going to skewer another pair of bugbears of mine - duplication & bias. Again this uses mapping.

I'm going to start with two maps, both from a Government department. One is an internal system, the other is external. Now, you can argue about the position of pieces on the maps but that's not the issue. What I want to point to are the green dots which are replicated from one map to another. Lets now look at those maps (figure 1 & figure 2)

Figure 1 - An Internal System

Figure 2 - An External System

What the maps tell me is I have multiple components, repeated and often treated in different ways. Sometimes we even use different terms for the same thing. The more maps I add, the more duplication I find. Eventually with enough maps then most components are green i.e. duplication is everywhere. 

I can use these maps to create a profile for an organisation by adding all the green dots from many maps to a single page. I've shown this in figure 3, highlighting the level of duplication, examples of bias and a "cluster" for how things should be treated.

Figure 3 - A Profile for activities within an Organisation

The purpose of this profile is it tells you were you are duplicating, where you have bias and gives you information to go and challenge what is being done. This is the real power of mapping, the act of sharing these maps enable you take out waste and start learning common patterns. But is this just a Government thing? 

People often think that Government is the home to inefficiency. It might come as a shock when I tell you that the private sector excels at this. In one case, I know one large corporate with 380 customised versions of the same ERP system built by different teams but meeting the same types of needs for the same type of users. The private sector in my experience beats Government hands down for duplication, bias, waste and making decisions without any form of situational awareness.

Unfortunately because so few organisation do something as basic as mapping out their environment and collecting those maps, they have no continuous means of identifying duplication and bias. They endlessly create custom built examples of things that are well defined products and they rarely clear out the baggage except in some big "rationalisation" effort. Of course, most of those "rationalisation" efforts are a joke because they try to clean up their act with no maps of the landscape and hence no idea of what to clean up. It's all praying to the God of the water cooler that somehow people will take care of this through serendipitous discussions.

So, how common a problem is this? Well, most companies (i.e. > 99%) have no recognisable form of situational awareness.

What about a figure for the level of waste! It's difficult to put a number on that because it varies between organisations. But experience dictates that if you combine duplication, bias with inappropriate doctrine (e.g. outsourcing too much) then in a large organisation you are looking at around 90% waste.

90%!  You're kidding! Nope, I'm not. People will tell you it's lower (i.e. 20-30%) but when you get into the details then all sorts of things come out of the woodwork. In one case, I have an example where the cost reduction was 99.95%. The reason why people think it's lower is they have no mechanism of situational awareness and so they really have no idea how much duplication, bias and misapplication of doctrine there is. Never, ever underestimate the amount of waste that happens because people make decisions without understanding their environment or sharing that understanding with others.

Of course, don't tell them they're wasting bucket loads of cash, they'll just get defensive. It's better to lead them to that conclusion. Hence take about ten heads of different business units, put them in a room and ask them for maps of their landscapes. They'll look sheepish, often lots of foot gazing with a few claiming "we do mapping". Try to get them to discuss a system and ask who has got this. I can tell you now you'll quickly find that they all have lots of the same type of things but most likely they'll have all customised it. If you've people in the room with more experience of the environment, you'll quickly discover that most business units will have multiples of the "same" thing. Before long, you'll find an example where you'll be counting 30 or 40 different versions.

Now, be careful here because people often raise the idea about common or shared services. There's nothing wrong with this idea as long you're talking about a fairly industrialised act (see the post on outsourcing). The problem with past "common" or "shared" service efforts is organisations didn't have any situational awareness (they still don't) and so they tried to share the wrong things (i.e. stuff that wasn't industrialised). You need to first use the profile to identify duplication and then eliminate bias (i.e. unnecessary customisation) and then with the industrialised stuff (which turns out to be a lot of IT) you can then look at common, shared services or outsourcing to a cloud provider.

Oh, and as for the person who said "we do mapping" ... the reality is it's extremely rare and so you can bet they don't. Organisations do use things such as value stream mapping, business process diagrams which are all fine but don't give you context and can therefore lead to all sorts of really bad decisions. For a map you need position (in this case a chain of needs relative to an anchor which is user need) and movement (in this case evolution) and without these two aspects then you'll just keep repeating the same old problems.

This "wisdom" is brought to you courtesy of 2007. For all our sake's, stop doing this sort of nonsense in Government IT. Don't build things without some form of situational awareness. I know a few Depts think of themselves as little Empires and don't want to share but we can't afford to waste vast sums rebuilding the same things over and over. If you're happy with the status quo then please go and work in the private sector instead because a) you won't harm Government or waste taxpayers' money b) the private sector has so much waste they won't notice you piling on a bunch more.