A huge thank you to those from the six Housing Associations who came together at the Paradigm Housing Group on Friday 15 Nov to share ideas about continuous improvement. (Plus a massive thank you to Paradigm for hosting it). I was privileged to represent the Network Housing Group (NHG) and as such glean some really smart ideas about how lean and systems thinking might be introduced into the change programme underway at NHG.

We were of course competitors. But we are also part of an industry that needs to raise its game collectively if the right housing is to be available for those who need it. So it makes sense for organisations, who are all seeking similar aims in terms of more efficient and effective ways of working, to meet to share ideas.

Key themes discussed:
Introducing lean and continuous improvement methods is tough. It takes perseverance on the part of knowledgeable and determined individuals. But once the first couple of projects are under your belt (and they don’t have to be big to get heads to turn) attention is captured and support grows.

Having said that, stories abounded about the difficulties in rolling out successes to other parts of the organisation. Reluctance to engage took many forms – e.g. ‘our income collection performance is good therefore we can’t see what an improvement programme would achieve’, ‘our resident satisfaction survey responses are over 90% so we must be pretty good already’.

Systems matter, but much more important is the need for rigorous thinking about processes before going anywhere near a systems solution. Plenty of examples of what seemed to be the right systems choice (CRM featured much within this discussion) only to discover that the process issues that existed before remained stubbornly in place.

Metrics are vital. What metrics do we need if we are to use measurement as a way of embedding changes to processes? How is the data captured and presented? How do you cope with metrics needing to change, with some being in vogue one moment, and others coming to the fore as attention shifts from one issue to another.

Invest in improving employee engagement and real benefits will be realised. (A fascinating presentation from the Radian Housing Group – check them out for amazing outcomes in relation to employee engagement).

And finally, my own speciality – understanding and driving improvement in costs. At NHG, because we have a major change initiative underway with structural and organisational implications, we have invested in knowing the cost of every activity across the Group. It’s been a great foundation for major decisions about organisational change. But can these be used for the ‘opportunity cost’ of change to processes, in other words, for calculating the benefit from a process improvement in terms of both actual cost savings and the opportunity cost of staff doing something different with freed time? Plenty of examples of benefits from process change but a struggle to see them appear on the bottom line.

The group is meeting again in the New Year, and if, as a Consultant, I can remain involved, I will look forward to it. In the meantime, much to do.

Paul Clarke
Develin Consulting