Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Improve the system to offset spending reductions

The global financial crisis is forcing governments world-wide to reduce spending as an alleged strategy for 'cost saving'. An earlier blog showed that this is a false claim. Reducing spending without system improvement is simply cost shifting. And the shift tends to be towards those who can least afford the cost.

Cost savings are achieved by improving the system so that
  • the system is more efficient = uses less resources
  • the system is more effective and hence, there is less rework = uses less resources
There are numerous valid strategies for improving the system using small changes
  • Start with Easier First - releases resources quickly and easily (minimum change)
  • Then Reduce rework - reduces resources consumed and hence releases resources
  • Build in Continuous improvement - releases resources through improved processes
  • And always Focus on solutions - doing more of what works, and less of what doesn't work, rather than developing counter measures (rework = uses more resources)
  • Big improvements from small changes are achieved by addressing the constraints - only introduce changes (differences) that make a difference.
The latter strategy does not assume that the way to maintain outcomes (e.g. student learning) is to increase the focus on what appear to be core activities (e.g., classroom teaching). Making such an assumption usually leads to cutting resources for things other than classroom teaching.

Reducing the cost of poor student behaviour
Each year, inappropriate student behaviour costs the Tasmanian education system tens of millions of dollars worth of staff time, energy and commitment that would otherwise be applied to the core task of educating students. In many cases poor behaviour is the major constraint on achieving and maintaining learning outcomes.

The irony is that, in order to maintain resourcing for core activities (especially staff:student ratios in classrooms) the system is cutting 'non-core' activities such as support services, professional development, school development and the provision of tools. There is little regard to the cost effectiveness of such decisions.

The development of a system-wide student support information system (estimated cost $300 000) was abandoned as a very early 'cost saving' despite the fact that it would have returned many times its cost in actual savings, and helped to improve key outcomes and core activities. These improvements would have allowed some slight reduction in resourcing for core activities across the entire system which in turn would have resulted in actual cost savings in cold hard cash.

And this is just one example.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Challenges as opportunities

The global finacial crisis is presenting challenges across the board. Many of these challenges are urgent as resources are lost, or simply not available. If financial resources are inadequate the first response is to stop spending in an attempt to 'reduce costs'. But this strategy does not actually reduce costs... it just changes who pays the cost, and usually, this becomes those who can least afford it (The Myth of cost saving by cutting spending).

The only way to reduce costs is to improve the system - to reduce waste starting with rework. The best way to do that is to ensure that

  • Goals and purposes are clear and shared
  • Commitments are feasible (and/or safe)
  • Processes are efficient and effective (reduce rework - releases resources)
  • Improvement is continuous
  • Everyone is a contributor and beneficiary
  • The initial focus is on making things easier first (releases resources)

NOTE: the above list are core tasks - they do not really represent anything new. The small change is to actually attend to these matters on a moment by moment basis and to integrate them into everyday practice. They are not (and cannot be) separate from doing what needs to be done.

Improving the system is a key response to the urgent challenges we face. But the challenegs also represent an opportunity is (at least two ways):

  • The harsh reality we face forces up to reflect on what really matters - we have an opportunity to ensure that our goals and purposes are clear and shared
  • The unfamiliar difficulties we face brings our systems to the 'edge of chaos' under which conditions the system may be vulnerable but it is also easier to change.