Delivering According to Priorities

March 30, 2009

It’s a good thing to do away with discrimination in the job market, more so during an economic downturn when the sheer volume of jobseekers gives the recruiter so many adequately qualified people to choose from that discrimination in individual cases becomes virtually impossible to prove. So, with the ever increasing number of jobseekers in the UK it might seem like a good time to ensure that none of those millions qualified candidate is denied a job on the basis of, say, religion or gender.

But why, oh why, has the government given priority and Parliamentary time to THIS , a single job opportunity which becomes available only a handful of times a century, when there’s a crying need to deal with the pressing economic conditions hitting MILLIONS of jobs at the moment?

Architects, the Visual World, and Real Life

March 27, 2009

The DeliveryDemon was half-listening to Radio 4 a few days ago when a startling statement made her sit up and take notice. Architects don’t design buildings as places where people can go about their lives. The fact itself wasn’t surprising, the shock came from hearing it stated explicitly in a programme about architecture. Architects consider themselves to be artists, not artisans, and the goal is an accolade awarded for visual drama, not an award for practical use. What have architects delivered as a result? The DeliveryDemon has experienced all of the following:

  • Vast open-plan offices where temperatures, noise-levels and light conditions are wrong for most of the people who work there
  • Buildings given a ‘buzz’ by the removal of sound insulation material, turning them into concentration-sapping echo-chambers
  • A long curving wall in an underground canteen, which focused the chat and clatter of the diners on to a group of tables where conversation was impossible
  • Collections of buildings which funnel the winds and turn streets into litter-churning wind tunnels
  • Staircases so inaccessible you need a lift to go up a single floor
  • Sealed buildings where the temperature and airflow are totally dependent on electrical / mechanical intervention.

Todays’s architects aim to deliver visual interest to observers of a building, not practical functionality to the users. The result is non-functional, energy-hungry buildings. There’s something badly wrong with those priorities.

Delivering Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

March 19, 2009

DeliveryDemon was more than slightly incensed to receive from the local MP a letter which delivered a blast of breathtaking cynicism with a nasty aftertaste of unsubtle manipulativeness.


There’s a proposal to resite the outpatient facility of a hospital in the area, currently based in a town with a population of 50,000. It’s not being moved to another nearby town with a population of 46,000. No, it’s being moved to a much smaller town, population 9,000. This for a service used by older people, disabled people, ill people, people who may be unable to drive. This in an area with limited public transport outside the main population centres. Nothing in the letter to say why the MP supports this particular move, just a statement that the hospital deems it to be best for patients. Knowing the quality of service delivered by this particular hospital, the DeliveryDemon thinks this very statement is a good reason to question the decision, but that’s another story.


Anyway, the letter delivers a couple of paragraphs of unsubstantiated benefit claims followed by a tirade about political bias with a claim that only one view can be the right one and a total absence of any explanation of why the balance of benefits would favour the MP’s preferred option. The text is littered with ‘what do you think?’ but guess what options are offered in the poll at the end. Choose between the good of the patient and political pressure. In other words, either you agree with the MP or you are in favour of evil, underhand politicking. No room for dissent there.


Let’s step back from the issue of the hospital and look at the intended payload of this communication. No doubt Phil Hope would like to present to the local planning committee an interpretation of poll results showing that, of those who voted, the majority were in favour of his preferred option. Well, it’s a convenient vehicle for those in favour of the proposal to cast a vote in support of him. It has been lent dubious credibility by being sent to all local voters, and worded in a way which makes it unlikely that anyone not already in favour will vote against it. I refer back to my earlier comment on breathtaking cynicism and unsubtle manipulativeness.


And what is the actual delivery payload when the reader thinks about the letter? Any or all of the following:

  • Annoyance at an MP who thinks that voters are idiots who can be manipulated like this, and who thinks that it’s alright to do so
  • Annoyance at the waste of taxpayers’ money and the creation of landfill fodder in the form of thousands of pages and envelopes of expensive House of Commons stationery
  • Suspicion about the validity of the proposal
  • Distrust of the letter’s signatory
  • An inclination to question something which might otherwise have been of only passing interest.

This MP has made a massive mistake in ignoring the fact that successful delivery of a communication can only be measured in the context of the perception of the recipient. The implied message in his communication is completely at odds with what he intended. And that brings us to honesty. Successful delivery happens when deliverer and recipient have a shared view of what is to be delivered. Try and slip in something different from what you’re claiming to deliver and you’ll destroy the recipient’s trust. Honesty is the only basis for a strong relationship.

Well, What Do You Expect?

March 16, 2009

Driving up the A1 can be pretty tedious and it’s surprising where the mind can wander – while concentrating on the road of course. That’s exactly what I was doing when I noticed something which immediately had me thinking about delivery and expectations.

Of course, anyone involved in the successful delivery of goods, or services, or anything else, will have realised that it’s essential for the supplier and customers to reach a common expectation about what is to be delivered. Under-delivery is an obvious problem, but what about over-delivery – is it a good thing? In practice, over-delivery is a two edged sword. The customer may well be delighted to get more, or better, than they paid for but, by contrast, the next adequate delivery will look like  a drop in quality or in service unless the supplier manages the situation so that the over-delivery is viewed by the customer as a special event. Expectations need to be recognised, considered, and managed.

Back to the A1. Like many of the UK’s major roads, the fixed traffic signs are supplemented by expensive matrix signs which were originally intended to display warning text or symbols. In the past, the blank faces of these signs used to offer mute reassurance that all was normal on the signed road and others nearby. When this situation changed, a message appeared on the signs. The driver’s expectation was that a blank  sign indicated all was well while a lit up sign was a warning. The sheer simplicity of this allowed the signs to function with minimal distraction of the driver’s attention from the traffic. It also allowed the signs to exercise their warning function from a far greater distance than reading distance.

Now a driver can no longer expect that a lit sign is communicating information about current road conditions. It may:

  • Distract attention with wordy nannying platitudes – ‘Tiredness kills – Take a break’
  • Confuse with lack of precision – ’21 miles and 20 mins to J36′. For whom?  A caravan limited to 50 mph or a 60 mph lorry or a car going at the 70 mph speed limit?
  • Imply an undefined problem – ’15 miles and 20 mins to J13′. On a 70 mph road? What’s the holdup? What are they not telling us?
  • Lie! ‘Slow traffic queuing ahead’ remaining lit long after the problem has cleared.
  • Assume that local problems affect the entire road network. ‘Debris on the road’ without a matched sign indicating that the danger area has been passed.

On the surface all of this may seem like just another of the many factors which can make driving in this country a less than pleasant experience. But it’s much more fundamental. Drivers used to expect matrix signs to deliver warnings of current local problems. Over time, the operators have become sloppy about delivering that function so that information can no longer be relied on as current and accurate. Worse still, decisions have been taken to use the signs for several completely different purposes with little or no regard for the context in which the displayed messages are being delivered. The mute reassurance role has been lost completely as a lit sign can no longer be assumed to convey a warning. And the genuine messages are so outnumbered by the noise that they cease to register with drivers.

The taxpayer’s costly investment in the network of maintenance signs has been wasted. And it’s all because of people who thought their particular agendas were so important they could abandon the expected safety function of the matrix signs and ignore all considerations of context and good practice.

Green Statistics Deliver Half the Story?

March 11, 2009

This isn’t about whether the green arguments are correct. It’s a look behind some recent statistics which only deliver half the payload of relevant information.

Statistic 1 – Energy Saving Lightbulbs will Reduce Energy Consumption

Seems pretty incontrovertible on the surface but it just takes a little thought to identify some of the weaknesses in the statement.

  • The lightbulbs give out less light so people will want several bulbs to get adequate light levels. As well as increasing the running energy, there’s an increase in manufacturing energy for more bulbs and multi-bulb fitments.
  • The bulbs don’t fit many existing units so these will be scrapped. Landfill disposal requirement and manufacturing and logistics energy costs for new fitments.
  • There are no arrangements in place for safe disposal of dead bulbs, although they pose a greater risk than traditional bulbs.
  • Light levels reduce with bulb age, creating increased energy demand for replacements.
  • Low light levels at switch-on. Think of increasing numbers of elderly tripping in badly lit passages. And the DeliveryDemon encountered a low energy bulb on a timer in a dark-painted loo. Not conducive to a hygienic environment, and resulting in increased use of cleaning products.
  • Bulbs cannot be dimmed, resulting in a potential increased fire risk as those seeking romantic light levels choose candles.

Statistic 2 – There’s a Reduction in the Number of Plastic Bags

There’s less to challenge here than in the case of lightbulbs, as far as the DeliveryDemon knows 🙂 but there’s still more to the story than meets the eye.

  • Not much publicity has been given to the production volumes and environmental costs of the ‘bags for life’ which retailers are selling us to replace plastic bags.
  • How many shoppers buy bags for life because they forget to bring one of the heap of bags building up in the house or the car?
  • How many shoppers wouldn’t have bought a new bag for life when they already had one, if the supermarkets had big reminder notices in their car parks?
  • How many wouldn’t request plastic bags if they had the opportunity to remember bags for life before they get to the checkout?
  • How many special-purpose bags and containers are being manufactured because there’s no longer a supply of free plastic bags for things like poop-scooping, storing muddy boots and trainers…..

While the headline statistics may have a degree of validity, they only deliver half the story. The above statistics put an overly positive spin on what’s happening. And the DeliveryDemon knows that delivering the sugar without the medicine is more likely to result in an attack of toothache than a cure.

The UK isn’t delivering

March 4, 2009

This is a bit of a consumer rant, but with a delivery focus. The UK isn’t delivering at the most basic levels. Being a customer in this country is a battle through marketing hype in a vain attempt to get the goods or services you want to buy or are already paying for. With businesses struggling you would think that some effort would have been diverted to delivering to customers and improving the bottom line. But not in this country. I’ve wasted half of this morning on the phone as a result.

T-mobile is having network problems. OK, technical problems happen. But when the network is down, customers need to find out whether the problems they encounter relate to the phone or the network. When it’s the network they need to know whether the problem is local or widespread. For a technology company with a large website you might expect some sort of network status on the front page. Not with T-mobile. You can’t contact them from the handset of course, so you have to find a landline. Once you get through, you might expect a recorded message to the effect that the network is down. Not with T-mobile. You get stuck in an interminable queue for 20 minutes, listening to some dire muzak selection. At the end of all that it takes about 20 seconds for someone to say the entire network is down, but by this time the customer has wasted the best part of half an hour.

Wake up, T-mobile. If you have problems delivering the network service, there’s no excuse for wasting the time of thousands of customers this way. Use the technology available to you to deliver information to the customer in 3 seconds, not 30 minutes.

And Keyline aren’t doing any better at delivering shampoo to customers. They talk about brands, not products that customers want to buy. It took numerous emails and phonecalls to find that they had bought the Henara brand from Schwartzkopf. Keyline customer services don’t want to get involved in anything so mundane as telling customers where they can obtain a particular product. All they do is pass the customer on to their wholesaler. The wholesaler doesn’t seem to know what they deliver, all the will say is who they deliver to. This leaves the customer ringing round individual pharmacies to find out whether they stock the particular product.

There’s a pattern emerging here and it’s not an encouraging one. For a long time there’s been a focus on branding and marketing. That’s not a bad thing in itself as it makes the product recognisable and visible. But all the branding and marketing in the world doesn’t bring in a penny if the customer can’t buy the product or access the service. And a customer service department is a complete waste of money if they can’t tell the customer what the customer needs to know.

It all comes back to delivery. In hard economic times customers naturally take more care of their spend, and money will gravitate to the companies which deliver the goods. It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But companies are surprisingly slow to learn the lesson.