Failure Demand in action

Recently, my work has involved some analysis of a local authority’s business processes. As part of that I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the concept of “Failure Demand”. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Failure Demand is described by the occupational psychologist and author John Seddon as:

“It is demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer. Customers come back, making further demands, unnecessarily consuming the organisation’s resources because the service they receive is ineffective. ”

Failure Demand – Vanguard Consulting Ltd

Whilst the Vanguard page is worth a read, there’s another great example of Failure Demand in the “How to break the first rule of Systems Thinking” post from ThinkPurpose.

What does Failure Demand mean in practice?

Any system used to provide a service has a given capacity. To use this efficiently, there is a balance between reducing resources and managing demand.

On the resource side, we can look at how resources are used:

  • Do we have the right people and skills?
  • Are they motivated and focused?
  • Are processes efficient?
  • How is IT used?
  • Can self-service help?

When it comes to demand, the first question to ask is not be how effective the use of resources is. We should really ask are they doing the right thing? Does it meet the customer need?

If it doesn’t then there will be repeat contacts, often relating to Failure Demand – where the volume of work is increased by managing incidents of failure within a process. Examples of Failure Demand include “you’ve sent the wrong item” or “the person didn’t meet the agreed appointment”.

It often takes longer to put something right than to get it right first time. An organisation can implement the very best systems but if it doesn’t meet customer needs in will fail. This is true whether that customer is internal or external; paying for a service or not; client, citizen, traditional “customer” or student. Customers will become frustrated and annoyed that they have repeated contacts to avoid issues. Staff suffer reduced morale as a result of their increased workload.

A real world story of Failure Demand

I spent a good chunk of one day last week working from a car dealership. It doesn’t matter which one… this could have been one of many up and down the country. I also know they are really hot on customer satisfaction. I’d like to make it clear that all of the staff involved were friendly, attentive and did their level best to help me. This is not a complaint, just a true story that helps me explain the Failure Demand concept.

My car is 3 years old, so it was booked in for a service, statutory MOT test, warranty checks, and a quote for an extended warranty.

As the day went on, I saw the Service Manager getting more and more stressed. He wants to do the best he can for his customers but the team is down from 4 to 2 at the moment. That’s going to be tough, but then we layer on the Failure Demand.

At 12:30, my car was nearly ready (it just needed cleaning) and I paid the bill. That was proactive, working to close my account and get me on my way. Great customer service, nothing so far to detract from the outstanding feedback that the dealer hopes to receive (maybe I’ll come back to that in another post).

But I asked about the warranty quote I had requested a week earlier. The person who could deal with that was off work (for understandable personal reasons) but the receptionist who had booked my appointment had assured me it would not be a problem. so, a message was left and someone will call me back after the weekend (Failure Demand 1).

At 13:30, I chased up to see why I was still waiting for my car. It hadn’t been cleaned (Failure Demand 2).

At around 14:00, I got my car back. The service handbook had been stamped and details added for the third service but the second was blank. I always take my car to this dealer, so it must have been missed last year. So the Service Manager looked up the details and added them to the book (Failure Demand 3), once he had found his stamping machine.

By now, I was embarrassed that I kept on going back with “things to fix” and I drove away. As I left, I found that my seat was in the wrong position, the dashboard display was unfamiliar, the doors automatically locked (and much more besides). The profile settings associated with my key were missing!

Having heard the receptionist fielding calls to try and let the Service Department focus on customers who were already in the building, I knew that phoning would not get me an answer any time soon. So, I returned to the dealership to see if the settings were lost for good, or backed up somewhere (Failure Demand 4).

Another Service Manager confirmed that they are not backed up. Some software updates are non-destructive. Others less so. So I left again, disappointed.

Except, as I started the car, my seat moved itself, the dashboard was set up as I expected! My profile had loaded but, presumably the software update had been incomplete before. Now it had finished, everything was back (phew).

Later that day, I received a text message. It contained a link to the video report of the inspection on my car during the service. Nice to have, except I’d authorised the repairs hours previously. Not exactly Failure Demand, but potentially another issue to fix in the process.

So, what’s the answer?

The intention is to move to a position where available system capacity is focused on “Value Demand”. Value Demand is characterised with things that deliver value to the customer or to the organisation, such as provision of information, or just getting it right first time.

If the warranty quote was ready when I paid the bill, the car had been washed when I was told it would be, and the service handbook had been stamped first time then I would have been happy and three items of failure demand could have been avoided. If the Service Manager had known to tell me that software updates might still be taking effect when the car was restarted I might have been less concerned about the missing profile.

The customer would have been happier, the Service Department’s workload would have been lower, and the Service Manager would have been less stressed.

It seems that spotting these issues as a customer is easy… the trick is working out how to fix them in my own work processes…

Featured image: author’s own.

Extended warranties (and my experience with Samsung Care+)

In the UK, it’s common practice for retailers to try and sell extended warranties with their products. Dixons Carphone (Curry’s/PC World) were early proponents of the practice, and most consumer electronics have some form of extended warranty on offer.

I generally don’t buy these warranties because:

  • UK consumer protection law is pretty good (thanks to our previous affiliation with the European Union).
  • If I break something, I’ll generally pay for the repairs, replace the item (for low value goods), or fix it myself.
  • If it’s really bad (like when my son broke our 4K TV), we have accidental damage cover on our household insurance*.

Last year, I bought a new mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy S20 5G). I decided to pay a significant sum for the Samsung Care+ package because of previous experience of paying for repairs on my sons’ S10 and Note 10 phones and I knew it was very expensive. I also knew how easy it is to chip the curved edge on the screen (which is not covered by a screen protector).

Samsung Care+

Samsung Care+ is meant to be a bit like AppleCare+. I say “a bit like”, because it’s intended to cover consumers for out of warranty repairs. It’s also clearly named to sound similar. Both are insurance-backed but my Samsung Care+ experience has not been a positive one.

If you go to the Samsung UK Support website, there are various options for repairs including at doorstep, pickup, and in-store. I found that Samsung Care+ only offers a pickup service. A courier collects the phone and takes it to TMT First, who assess the damage and provide a quote. After paying the excess, the phone is repaired and sent back. Samsung quotes 7-10 working days for this service. Mine took longer because, after the screen repair, it failed quality checks and needed more work before it was delayed again “due to limited staff”.

7-10 working days is around 2 weeks without a phone. This is when you realise how important these things have become in our lives. My phone is my primary camera. I use my phone as a digital wallet. I use my phone for mobile access to various Internet-based services (web, podcasts, apps). I use my phone for second factor authentication. I can’t even log on to my bank’s website without a digital access code from my phone. Not having my phone for weeks at a time is a major inconvenience. I could put my SIM into another device but it wasn’t my primary phone and I didn’t want to re-register all the services (although had to anyway after my S20 was wiped). This is why I paid for an extended warranty. I would have been better paying for a doorstep repair.

Samsung Care+ is supposed to make it easy to get your phone fixed. Indeed, quoting the Samsung website:

“Made by Samsung. Fixed by Samsung. You can’t stop accidents from happening, but you can be protected with Samsung Care+. Simple, affordable and comprehensive insurance from the people who know your Galaxy inside out. Not only are you covered for a wide range of mishaps, you’ll enjoy first-rate support when you need it the most.”

Samsung Care+ | Tablet and Phone Insurance | Samsung UK (checked 31 August 2021)

First-rate support. Hmm… My experience was not first-rate. It didn’t even save me much money (though I suppose it will if I have to make a second claim in the next year or so).

What would Apple do?

Why compare to Apple? Well, because Apple and Samsung are the western world’s biggest OEMs for premium mobile phone handsets. And because the naming of their insurance-backed extended warranties suggests that at least one of those brands is trying to compare itself with the other…

Apple owners tell me that AppleCare+ is better. This Tech Radar post tells me that AppleCare+ includes “same-day carry-in; mail-in with a prepaid, overnight delivery box; or on-site repairs at your home or office” and “a temporary, express replacement phone sent to you before you send in your defective unit”. Those repair options are clearly better and the replacement device would have saved me a lot of hassle. AppleCare+ and Samsung Care+ are similarly priced, but it’s worth noting that the equivalent iPhone would have cost more than my S20 did… so I guess you pay for that service.

Once bitten, twice shy

Regardless, I won’t be buying Samsung Care+ again. And I’ll be thinking twice before I buy another Samsung phone, however good it is…

 

*Beware, this can be an expensive approach for low-value items. I once fell into the sea whilst taking photos of my children and destroyed an iPhone 6S. The 6S was the last iPhone model to not be water-resistant (though I’m not sure anything will survive salt water). After paying the insurance excess, the payout was not huge, and the premium increase for the next few years probably wiped out any benefit.

 

Image credit: screenshot from the Samsung Care+ website, taken on 31 August 2021 as fair use for quotation, critique or review under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Customising the “New” button on a SharePoint document library

Microsoft SharePoint gets a lot of bad press, but that’s largely down to organisations that use old versions “out of the box” and don’t try to make it work for them. Even worse, they don’t keep the platform up-to-date and wonder why their SharePoint 2010 intranet looks so old fashioned…

This post isn’t an advert for SharePoint. Sure, it has its foibles but it can also be pretty useful and it is not going away any time soon. In fact, SharePoint is a key workload in Office 365 and it underpins both Microsoft Teams and OneDrive for Business. So, let’s try to embrace it and make it work for us… to make life a little more simple.

One of the things we’ve had in place for a while now in risual Consulting is a custom New menu on the document library that contains our templates. If I go to create a new document, what I see is this:

Our menu has a selection of different document types, each with their own template.

To set this up, all I have to do (as a site owner) is click the Edit New menu option and then select or re-order items:

To add new templates to the list, just use Add template. I’m not sure where SharePoint stores the templates, because they don’t appear in the list of documents in the library.

As I write this, I’m considering removing the capability from our team site… because new documents get created as Document1, Document2, etc. in the document library, and we have a much more precise naming convention to enforce, but it’s still a really useful feature that’s worth calling out.

There’s more information about customising the navigation on a SharePoint site on the Microsoft website.

Notes from the field: Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo

Generally, Office 365/Microsoft 365 data is located in the datacentre region that relates to the country where the company’s registered address is. If your company is registered in Amsterdam, you’ll be in West Europe. If you’re registered in New York, you’ll be in a US datacentre somewhere. Registered in the UK… it depends on when your tenant was created but it could be in West Europe (if it’s an older tenant, like mine) or in the UK…

For global organisations, this can be a challenge. If your data is on the other side of the world then you may find that latency adversely impacts access to resources. The Microsoft global network is designed to efficiently route traffic from local points of presence to Microsoft datacentres over fast links, but sometimes that’s not enough. In these cases, check out the Microsoft docs on network planning and performance tuning for Microsoft 365.

The other challenge relates to data residency and, as you can expect, there are some options.

One would be to establish multiple tenants. But that means multiple Azure AD instances. Added to which, a DNS name can only be registered in one place. This means I can’t have users with @markwilson.co.uk addresses (for example) in more than one tenant. For a global organisation with everyone using an @company.com address for identity, email and instant messaging, that’s going be a challenge.

Another option is Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo. This service allows the provisioning and storage of data at rest in the locations of your choice. Note that this is not designed for performance optimisation – in fact, the Microsoft website specifically calls this out:

“Note that Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo is not designed for performance optimization, it is designed to meet data residency requirements”.

Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo documentation

On the face of it, Multi-Geo sounds great, but it has some pretty significant licensing restrictions:

“Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo is available as an add-on to [selected] Microsoft 365 subscription plans for Enterprise Agreement customers with a minimum of 250 Microsoft 365 seats in their tenant, and a minimum of 5% of those seats using multi-geo. User subscription licenses must be on the same Enterprise Agreement as the Multi-Geo Services licenses.”

Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo documentation

In my case, with a US-headquartered organisation where the UK organisation was tiny in comparison, Microsoft 365 Multi-Geo became cost-prohibitive. With around 80,000 US seats and only up to 1500 in the UK, they would have needed almost three times the number of licences in order to hit the 5% minimum seat count in the UK satellite location. And it needs to be on an Enterprise Agreement (not Cloud Services Provider), although that’s probably not such a challenge when operating at this scale.

For the vast majority of Microsoft 365 clients that I work with Multi-Geo is not even a consideration. But if it is for you, then go in with your eyes open. The reliance on the US-HQ IT team for Microsoft 365 led to a total change of strategy for my client… and that meant the project was no longer led from the UK, and therefore they no longer needed my team’s services.

Notes from the field: some common dependencies for Microsoft 365 deployments

My blog posts take a while to get published these days. I struggle to find the time to write them and often a few notes can remain in draft form for a long time. Some of those notes never make it. Others possibly shouldn’t.

This is one of those posts where I’m not sure whether to publish or not. It’s based on an email I sent to a client, in 2018, as we were starting to work together. That client was about to embark on a migration to Windows 10 and Office 365, and these notes were intended to set them in the right path.

We all know that Office 365 is under constant development, and some of the advice below might not be current. I don’t think it’s too far off the mark but your mileage may vary. I’ve also added a few comments where I know we’d look to do things differently today. Those comments are marked with square parentheses.

All of these dependencies were things I identified before we got into design… but many more came out as we got into the detail.

Preparing the identity platform

[Identity is key to any successful Microsoft cloud implementation. And Azure AD is Microsoft’s cloud identity platform.]

Recommendation:

  • IdFix tool used to ensure that there are no directory issues that will cause synchronisation issues.
  • Azure AD Connect synchronising without error between on-premises Active Directory and Azure Active Directory. Even with on-premises authentication via ADFS or similar, user objects will be required in Azure AD in order to populate the Exchange GAL.

[in this case, I could be reasonably sure that both of these are already in place for the existing Skype for Business Online deployment.]

Useful links:

Preparing for Exchange hybrid

[It’s common to run Microsoft Exchange in a hybrid configuration when migrating mailboxes to Office 365. Generally, the hybrid will remain in place even after user mailboxes have been migrated to the cloud, for management purposes. There are constraints around the versions of Exchange Server that can be used though.]

  • The hybrid server must be running the latest or immediately previous (i.e. n or n-1) cumulative update or update rollup available for the version of Exchange installed on-premises
  • Domain names that will be used for email should have the appropriate records created and verified in DNS.
  • Ports should be enabled to allow traffic to flow as outlined in the above article. It may be useful to run the Remote Connectivity Analyzer (RCA) tools to verify this.
  • In addition, I recommend that the other Exchange servers in the organisation are upgraded to run with the latest available updates.

Useful links:

Preparation for deployment of Windows 10 images using SCCM

[System Center Config Manager (SCCM) is now part of Microsoft EndPoint Manager (MEM) and I’m not sure I’d recommend an SCCM-based deployment these days. My first preference would be to use Microsoft’s own Windows images, in Azure AD-joined configuration managed with Intune (also part of MEM). This topic would make a blog post on its own…]

Config Manager needs to be updated to align with the version of Windows 10 being deployed: Support for Windows 10 in Configuration Manager.

[Even when I wrote the notes 3 years ago, it seems I was guiding the client towards a Modern Device Management approach with Intune…]

Preparation for the use of Office applications (desktop and web)

[Office 365 ProPlus is now Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise but the advice below is unchanged apart from the product name.]

Office 365 ProPlus (i.e. subscription-based Office application) requirements are the same as for Office Professional Plus 2016 (i.e. perpetually-licensed applications) and are detailed at Microsoft 365 and Office Resources.

With regards to documents (including spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) containing macros, etc. It would be advisable to perform some basic compatibility testing: Check file compatibility with previous versions.

Office 2016 and 2019 are supported under the Fixed Lifecycle Policy.

Use of a supported browser is critical to the use of Office 365 web-based components although many organisations are held back by legacy software releases.

General Microsoft 365 system requirements may be found at the Microsoft 365 and Office Resources link above. Most notably:

“Microsoft 365 is designed to work with the latest browsers and versions of Office. If you use older browsers and versions of Office that are not in mainstream support:

  • Microsoft won’t deliberately prevent you from connecting to the service, but the quality of your Microsoft 365 experience will diminish over time.
  • Office 2019 connections to Microsoft 365 services will be supported until October 2023.
  • Microsoft won’t provide code fixes to resolve non-security related problems.

[Microsoft’s guidance previously stated that “Office 365 doesn’t support interoperability with any software that isn’t supported by its manufacturer.”]

Weeknote 22/2021: By the sea

Last week, I was on a family holiday – and the sun shone too. And, for the record, it’s still a holiday even if you don’t go abroad. It’s only a staycation if you stay in your own home.

Connectivity

Sadly, I’ve been strugging with mobile connectivity recently. I finally got around to putting a 5G SIM in my phone. Since then the 3/4G signal has been awful and I haven’t even seen 5G. giffgaff’s Twitter support were worse than useless, eventually demanding a list of personal information in a direct message including things they should know (like the identifier of the SIM they had sent me, which Android refused to show me). In the end, I gave up as I needed a SIM removal tool… I’ll try again this week, now I’m back home.

Meanwhile, in parts of Dorset, I even got a French mobile signal (when I couldn’t get an English one…)

Family History

One evening, whilst discussing family history, I found that my wife’s Great Great Grandfather was quite possibly murdered in the 1890s! The Coroner’s report suggests the body was found buried in a sitting position – so that sounds like foul play. It’s unclear whether there was a severed hand found nearby with some money but the newspaper says “hat” so that may be translation!

This week in pictures

Weeknote 21/2021: Running late

Last week’s weeknote is a few days late…

That was the week when I confirmed that:

  • I’m still not a fan of panel discussions (I did take part in this event, but it still didn’t do it for me).
  • …or online events. Matt Ballantine’s post on “why I struggle with online events” sums up many of the things that I hadn’t quite managed to put my finger on. Basically, just because you can get 1000s of people to attend for virtually no cost, doesn’t mean it’s good value (not for the attendees anyway!).

On the subject of online events, I missed the Microsoft Build keynote completely (because of the poor communications), but I found this nice summary of what Google is up to:

Meanwhile, I’m reading The Human Organisation Report, to help me understand how to make work work.

A colleague shared this great advice for helping neurotypical people communicate in a way that works for those who are neurodiverse – so we can all understand one another:

It was also the week when I saw QR codes being used incredibly badly, and also well.

Last week in pictures

Not much on Insta’ this week…

Next week (now this week)

I’m on holiday now, which leads to my final point. I was reminded that being away from work should be absolute… if you do drop into email to do “just one thing” you may see things that then nag you and you have to fix them…

You have been warned!

Weeknote 20/2021: Echo chambers

This week has been a bit flat. The weather is mostly awful, so I don’t much feel like riding my bike. I hurt my back exercising on Wednesday. And I have 5 weeks to get into shape for my ride across Wales.

This weeknote will be a short one. I can’t believe it’s Friday already…

This week I:

  • Desparately tried to bring some very dry design workshops to life with the inclusion of visual content, only to find that Microsoft Teams isn’t very good at sharing digital whiteboards, yet:
  • Was reminded that annual reviews are a good opportunity to take stock on what’s happened in the last 12 months.
  • Received my new UK (non-EU) driving licence:
  • Escaped from my home office and spent a few hours working inside a coffee shop, for the first time in months.
  • Learned that my social bubble is oh so echoey… when I stepped outside it I heard of people for whom the discomfort of taking a lateral flow test is some kind of hardship (Really? Spreading Covid is a lot worse, I’m sure!) and got called an idiot for not agreeing with conspiracy theories around government tracking of citizens.
  • Felt the need to remind people that there are two NHS Apps:
    • The NHS App (authenticated), which lets you access your own health record.
    • The NHS Covid-19 app (anonymous), which is used for test and trace purposes.

This week in pictures

Weeknotes 18-19/2021: Doubling up

Last week didn’t have a weeknote. I just didn’t get around to it! To be perfectly honest, my weekends are packed with cycling-related activities at the moment and work has been pretty busy too… so here’s a bumper fortnight-note. Even this is delayed because I locked myself out of WordPress with too many incorrect login attempts… but the very fact I managed to post this indicates that I got in again!

Working

There’s much I can write about my work at the moment but we are approaching my annual review. That means I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the last 12 months and looking forward to where I need things to head in the coming weeks and months. It’s not been a wonderful year: although my family has been fortunate to avoid Covid-19 we’re still living in strange times and I really could do with leaving my home office for the odd day here and there. Procrastination levels are certainly up, followed by evening catch-up sessions. That could be another reason there was no week note last week…

Learning

I did manage to squeeze in another exam. It’s one of the Microsoft Fundamentals series: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900) and I used Microsoft Learn to prepare, passing with a good score (944).

I’m also really interested in building a body of knowledge around sustainable IT and I worked my way through the Sustainable IT MOOC from the Institut du Numérique Responsable’s ISIT Academy. Not surprisingly, some of the statistics are French-specific but, in general I found the content interesting and enlightening. Definitely worth a few hours for anyone with an interest in the topic.

Watching

I’m a heavy social media user and I’m under no illusions about what that means in terms of my privacy. I often say that, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Even so, my wife and I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix a couple of nights ago. Highly recommended for anyone who uses… well… the Internet. So, pretty much everyone then.

Cycling

After riding England Coast to Coast (C2C) on The Way of the Roses a couple of years ago, I’ve been planning my next big cycling trip.

My eldest son and I were planning to head to the French Alps after his GCSEs this summer but, well, that was before a global pandemic messed up our plans. So we’ve been looking for something a little closer to home. We’re planning on riding the length of Wales – from Cardiff to Holyhead on Lôn Las Cymru

After booking all the hotels, and the train travel to return from Holyhead (5.5 hours, via England, with a change mid-way at Shrewsbury) the biggest challenge was booking 2 spaces for bikes on the train. I had similar issues with the C2C and I’m just hoping that I manage to make the cycle reservations nearer the time. I certainly can’t allow myself to stress about it for the whole 4 day ride up!

Something that will almost certainly come in useful on that trip are the waterproof socks I bought from Sealskins… they are fantastic:

Still on the subject of cycling, the Trek X-Caliber 9 mountain bike that I bought last autumn is back in the workshop. It’s 6 months old, with just 300km on the clock and the forks have gone back for warranty repairs (and that’s after the headset bearings already had to be replaced because they were not fitted correctly in the factory). More generally, there’s a big problem with bike part availability in the UK right now – partly Brexit-related (inability to buy from some EU-based vendors) but some general supply issues with some parts on back order until 2023.

Meanwhile, I’m finding more and more of my weekends involve supporting my eldest son with his racing (either cross-country or cycle-cross, with the occasional road circuit). One bonus was that the usual Saturday Youth Coaching session was replaced by a pleasurable gravel ride (and pub garden visit) this week due to non-availability of our usual venue.

Random techie stuff

The last few weeks in pictures

Weeknote 17/2021: Not yet digitally transformed

This week I’ve been struggling to focus but still moved a few things forwards. I also kept bumping up against some bizarre (non) efforts at “digital transformation”, courtesy of Standard Life (abrdn), Costco and the UK Government.

This week’s highlights included:

  • Realising that digital transformation hasn’t reached Costco UK yet – and no membership card means no entry and no shopping:

Looking ahead to the (long) weekend, I have no races to take the eldest teenager to and the weather ins’t looking wonderful. So, just the usual Youth Cycle Coaching on Saturday and, hopefully, some relaxing and pottering at “geek stuff” in the Man Cave…

This week in photos

No Insta’ from me yet this week (maybe there will be over the long weekend) so here’s a Line of Duty meme instead: