TRIZ FOR UK GOVERNMENT COST CUTTING

Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC)

TRIZ was used to identify methods for significantly cutting costs for Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC). 

The Legal and Democratic Services (LDS) had been tasked to increase their services while reducing their cost to BCC from its present high level to zero, then to reverse this further by paying BCC from new high profits. LDS developed the “Bucks LDS Model” with the assistance of Oxford Creativity, which aims to reduce corporate funding, increase external revenue and improve efficiencies to achieve this. TRIZ was used to understand the problem, and develop the model, which will reduce the corporate funding to LDS to zero within 3 years. BCC LDS will be the first local authority in the UK to develop and market their Democratic Services team. 

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL (BCC)

introduction

The Comprehensive Spending Review of 20 October called for sweeping cuts across the board, and county councils were not exempt from the need to save money. In preparation for this, Buckinghamshire County Council have been discussing internally ways that they could not only reduce costs and improve efficiency, but also increase their external revenue stream. Buckinghamshire County Council wanted to examine if the Kent Model could be applied to their Legal and Democratic Services department. The Kent Model was developed by Kent County Council legal department: the department devotes energy and resources to generating extra revenue by offering legal services to external clients, and have grown significantly in size in order to do this. This reduces the corporate funding they require from the council. A workshop was held with Oxford Creativity to identify ways to reduce costs of the current system without losing any benefits. 

The Workshop 

The initial workshop drew together the senior management team and focused on two TRIZ Tools: Ideal Outcome and Thinking in Time and Scale. 

Ideal Outcome 

“Successful, detailed and accurate capture of the Ideal Outcome gives us a clean start without irrelevant details, inappropriate solution directions and limitations. When we start problem solving we are usually hemmed in and concerned with constraints and problem boundaries, and the definition of the Ideal Outcome helps us think only about what we want, not just what constraints or the problem history are subconsciously telling us to choose” [1] 

The Ideal Outcome is a TRIZ thinking tool. Seeking descriptions of the Ideal is a rigorous first step for problem solving. Attempting to define the Ideal stimulates ideas, helps everyone think clearly, move in the right direction and focus on the desired end point and outcomes. Whatever problem you are tackling if you begin by imagining the Ideal version of the thing you want - asking everyone to focus on an extreme and perfect end point helps both problem understanding and problem solving.

Be careful what you wish for - Oxford TRIZ can show you how

Get what you want with Oxford TRIZ

Figure 1: Cartoon - The dangers of offering solutions rather than defining what you really want.

Using the Ideal Outcome is a formal way of capturing all our benefits (what you REALLY want) – without thinking about solutions (how you get those benefits). We started by defining their Ideal Solution, in each of the areas of Government, LDS and Staff. 

Some benefits included: the right skills and knowledge in the team to provide council with full legal service, happy staff, increased external business, energy on savings is directed to the right places where real savings can be made, fully motivated and efficient workforce increased flexibility, capacity to expand/contract and a large client base. After defining all the requirements / benefits through the Ideal the next step of the process was to attempt to define the problem and see its context. The TRIZ process suggests routes to problem definition and one essential tool for this is Thinking in Time & Scale.

Thinking in Time and Scale 

One of the TRIZ tools is called “Thinking in Time and Scale”, or the “9 boxes”. This helps us model clever and creative thinking, and acts as a kind of lens onto your problem, giving us great clarity of thought and understanding of the whole problem and solution space.

Thinking in Scale is a way of examining the problem at different levels of detail – like “Google Earth-ing” your problem: you analyse every level, at the super-system level (e.g. your company), system level (e.g. your business unit), and sub-system level (e.g. your team and the members of your team). 

In Scale means understanding the context of your system – up into the big picture and down into the details Thinking in Scale helps you place the answers to the relevant questions such as the context of your situation or problem. 

TRIZ tool 9 boxes of thinking in time and scaleFigure 2: The TRIZ tool of 9 boxes or “Thinking 
in Time and Scale”


Thinking in Time – helps you map significant time steps of the problem situation. 

Time helps you think about the trends from past to future. You can see when significant changes have occurred and have brought you to your present situation, and how this is relevant to the future and where you are going and where you would like to be.

Mapping the past helps you understand the present, mapping the future gives you insight to what is needed now to get there and what you would like and where you would like to be.


thinking in time and scale for BUCSFigure 3: Applying the 9 boxes provides clarity of thought.

We split into groups to define the problem context by thinking in Time and Scale.  We used the following parameters: 

The LDS Department needs to take on more external clients, offering both legal and democratic services outside the county council. However, within the council there is the culture that the quality of service improves year on year, so the quality of work done for internal clients must be in line with this.   

Completing the 9 boxes also highlighted some concerns over staff, as the need to provide a commercial service may change the ethos of the department. 

9 box table for Buckinghamshire County CouncilThis clearly identified the changing context and highlighted a number of problem areas.

Staff have chosen to work in the supportive environment of L&DS, and many have left commercial practices as they have favoured an organisation which offers a better work/life balance. Changing the focus of the department to compete with the sort of firms which are happy, for example, to cancel leave in order to meet a deadline, may mean that the current staff may be less happy. It is therefore important that the work/life balance in the LDS is maintained as far as is possible. 

We then discussed the Kent Model with regards to Ideality. 

Ideality Audit 

The Ideality Audit is a way of evaluating systems not only from the benefits they deliver (which we have identified in our Ideal Outcome) but also the costs they need (any input: not just money, but also time, energy, other resources etc), and harms (any output which we don’t want, even if it isn’t actively harmful to our system or environment). 

We reviewed the Ideality of the Kent Model. One of the biggest problems with using the Kent Model as a foundation for change is that no one is really sure how successful the model really is. 

Ideality audit - benefit, costs, harms

Figure 4: The TRIZ Ideality Equation

Kent County Council (KCC) have had to take on many more staff to cover the increased workload, meaning that they have higher overheads and they must always ensure they have an appropriate workload: they have increased not only their benefits, but also their costs (staff and associated overheads) and harms (excessive capacity when there is less work available). Also, the Kent Model has not been applied outside Legal Services before, so it is untested in the Democratic Services division. 

Bucks Model 

We discussed the developing Bucks Model with regards to Ideality. This consists of two stages: 

- Creating efficiencies and cutting costs (reducing costs and harms) 

- Generating additional profit (increasing benefits) 

The proposed way of generating additional profit would be through generating more additional work. However, this must generate profit, not just revenue. We discussed how LDS would be required to become more proactive in seeking and maintaining external clients and change its culture to respond faster and more appropriately to external clients. 

We reviewed the budget briefly and there was agreement there were some savings that could be made. 

There were also some concerns if the department is reliant on external work to cover costs, the council’s work may slip down in terms of priority. External work will require a commercial mindset both from the department and from the individuals, as in order to compete with commercial firms for this work, the department will have to ensure a fast and efficient turnaround of work. 

There would have to be clear understanding over prioritisation of tasks in the event of floods of work coming in from different sources (i.e. the council and externally), as there was concern that in order to offer a commercial service, external work would be prioritised over internal work. 

LDS’ current approach to external clients 
Figure 5: LDS’ current approach to external clients

This is a problem as the internal work is LDS’s main reason to exist (Prime Output), and everyone agreed we wanted to keep on doing the excellent job we currently do.

We agreed that any required additional benefits such as fee-earning work for external clients should not be taken on at the expense of the departments Prime Output: delivering excellent legal advice for Bucks County Council. 


Function Analysis 

After the initial workshop, Oxford Creativity returned to Buckinghamshire for another session and guided the team through developing a Function Analysis of how Legal and of Democratic Services functions as a department. The relationships between the services and their clients in the council were described as they are now, and then an “Ideal” Function Analysis was drawn up to describe how they would like to be in 3 years time. 

This allowed LDS to examine their current system and, by identifying the strong and weak points within it, gain a clearer idea of what they would like for the future. 


External clients for BCCFigure 6: External ClientsInternal clients for BCC
Legal Services Now
Bucks County Council Legal Services now

The Function Analyses also clearly described the challenges the department will face, and the contradictions inherent in their situation: that they must continue to provide legal services to the council without receiving any funding, and must generate proportionally more fees from external clients in order to do so. 


Legal Services March 2014

Bucks County Council Legal Services then

Stepping through these relationships, it became clear that this only described the work of the Legal Department. We therefore drew up separate Function Analyses for the Democratic Services department. 


Democratic Services Now 

Bucks County Council Democratic Services Now

While drawing this Function Analysis, it became apparent that not only were there opportunities to increase the number and type of External Clients, but also that the way that Democratic Services provides their services is much more flexible than the Legal Department. Democratic Services is made up of a network of individuals who are employed as contractors: therefore it would be possible to increase the amount of external work that the department does with very low risk and no increased overhead. It was also agreed that the fees could be increased from their current level to a more competitive market rate. 

Democratic Services March 2014

Bucks County Council Democratic Services March 2014

We discussed the useful functions that Democratic Services could provide to external clients, and we generated a list of potential clients that could be contacted. Applying some of the logic of an existing and successful model in a new area demonstrates true innovation for local government. 

Next Steps 

As a result of the workshops with Oxford Creativity, the following action plan has been developed by BCC. 8.1.What we have achieved so far - Savings in addition to the target set by the AOP (Achieving Outstanding Performance) Board - Researched “Kent model” - Developed options for moving forward 


Where are we

  • Compiled Business Plan 
  • Compiled Marketing Strategy 
  • Identified external clients


Intentions 

  • We remain part of the County Council 
  • We minimise corporate budgets for Legal and Democratic Services 
  • We increase our external revenue 
  • We ensure internal fees are kept to a minimum 
  • We maximise our efficiencies internally 


Goals 

  1. Subsidised- reduced internal fees compared to external 
  2. Saving – Income from external work replaces corporate funding. 
  3. Potential profit – Additional income earned from external work and subsequent profit made given back to Buckinghamshire County Council 


Next Steps 

  1. Establish “The Bucks LDS Model” which aims to reduce the corporate support for legal services to zero over a 3 year time period. 
  2. Become the 1st Local Authority in the Country to develop and market its Democratic Services team. 


Conclusion 

Part of the outcome of this work was to communicate effectively the impact of the proposed changes both to the council and to the staff of LDS: in addition to providing a report, Oxford Creativity commissioned some cartoons which explained the changes:


BCC LDS now

Figure 12: BCC LDS Now 

BCC LDS 2013

Figure 13: BCC LDS in 2013

BCC LDS in 2014

Figure 14: BCC LDS in 2014 

Full BCC Case Study (PDF)

References: [1] Gadd, K. (2011) TRIZ for Engineers: Enabling Inventive Problem Solving. London: Wiley Blackwell. pp