Consulting for Beckford Consulting is always bespoke. We are excited by ‘wicked problems’ and intractable challenges that are not susceptible to conventional approaches. Solving, dissolving or ameliorating any situation is rooted in developing with you a systemic, shared, understanding of the issues being addressed and the creation of a framework for their resolution.
There are three distinct phases to this (the timing of which can be short or long) – sometimes doing all three in a few hours. We seek to ensure that you are always in control of the consulting process, using these three phases (and sub-dividing elements over time while maintaining the systemic perspective) to create check points for evaluating progress and modifying the pathway to resolution as the situation unfolds. In a dynamic situation no solution works for ever our aim is to create the conditions under which you and your organisation can change as necessary. Adaptation is the basis of survival and success.
Few people seek to engage a consultancy when all is going well. Diagnosis rests in exploring with a problem owner the nature of the problem as they experience it and the diagnostic process seeks to uncover not simply the reported symptoms but their underlying causes. Depending on the nature of the challenges the process commonly considers people, processes, behaviour, information as few, if any, challenges can be resolved through only a single dimension and is delivered drawing on an appropriate range of methods and tools selected to suit the particular need.
Prognosis provides the basis for action, or not! A prognosis is a description, first of what can be expected to happen if nothing changes, second to provide a range of alternative futures depending what courses of action are adopted. These range from doing nothing to substantial transformation. Critical to this stage is to understand not just the possible actions but the costs, benefits and consequences of each choice.
The therapeutic process is joint work between the client and the consultant designed to deliver the changes required to generate the alternative future selected. As the aim of all consultancy should be to render the consultant redundant the transfer of knowledge and expertise to the problem owner(s) is a consistent and continuing element of the treatment. Therapy may include the development of a different business or organisational model, personal development through coaching and mentoring for individuals, creation of informational models and prototype information solutions, process redesign and a host of other activities necessary to the task.
Consultancy must be about philosophy and principle not simply practice. We consider that by working with our clients as partners develops deeper thinking, knowledge and understanding. We engage with them to diagnose the challenges being faced, to develop prognoses about possible futures and explore therapeutic actions; treatments, that will resolve or dissolve the diagnosed issues.
In this thinking, understanding ‘why’ you are doing and changing things is really important and the ‘what’ or ‘how’ should follow from that. After all if you already know how to address your challenge why are you talking to consultants?
Effectiveness in consultancy rests in developing shared understanding of purpose – the why and the what. The how then follows because if we can collectively comprehend your purpose, vision and intent, then we can co-create a tool or method for delivering them.
Organisations are often ‘perpetually failing problem solving engines’, unable to adapt at the same rate as their environment, forever falling behind. A viable organisation will have capability to adapt, resolving its problems in near real time; this relies on distributed information and power of decision with a managed autonomy empowering the people. There can be an untidy, messy human dimension to this, something some consultancies sometimes prefer to place ‘outside the scope’. We don’t mind a bit of mess, resolving it is one dimension of the overall challenge.
There are two key thoughts that underpin this approach, Dalou’s sculpture of “Wisdom Supporting Liberty” and our recognition that we must also learn by reflecting on our work.
Research into what enables an organisation to be effective underpins all of the work of Beckford Consulting (Established in 1990). Bringing a rigorous, research-based approach to all projects ensures the development of transformational thinking to address the challenges faced by clients. We work with you to develop, support and enable business planning, information strategy and the definition and management of performance.
Our research considers the development and the application of the theories of Management, Organisational and Informational Cybernetics linking practice and theory such that each informs the other. Having a foot in both the practical and academic worlds enables us to understand theory in practice, and practice in theory blending leading edge, original thinking with extensive practical experience, combining pragmatism with innovation and invention. We believe that the most appropriate evolution come not just from the past but from new insights arising through experimental research. “Continuing to use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail is not any more sustainable than it ever was,” he says, “If what we’ve got isn’t working, we’d better go and invent something new.” We achieve this by rooting our practical work in the application of new thinking, by challenging theory with the practical problems that arise from its application and creating a virtuous learning cycle.
We have worked with clients across multiple industries in the commercial, public and third sectors. Projects have encompassed most of the major challenges facing contemporary organisations particularly the synthesis of people, processes and information for overall effectiveness thereby embracing information systems conception and design, radical re-engineering and supporting transformation management.
Sectors include, energy generation, banking and financial services, railway management, transport systems management, logistics, food production, steel production, chemicals, pharmaceutical research, property management, retail motor distribution, law, healthcare, tertiary education, public sector governance.
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Beckford Consulting is research led, dissolving wicked problems and conventionally intractable challenges by developing and applying cybernetic and systemic thinking that renders them amenable to resolution or amelioration. We recognise that the methods and tools to solve a particular problem may not exist so we maintain the capability to invent them.
Each year with seasonal changes and changing weather patterns, the UK railway experiences ‘seasonal bumps’ causing delays and cancellations. This project models the systemic interactions and interdependencies arising on the UK railway between weather, asset specification and asset performance. The cybernetic performance model being developed also embraces the information generation and decision processes to enable weather related decision making to address those. The objective is “to deliver a Seasonally Agnostic Railway as a safe, resilient, complex adaptive system”.
This project also supports three PhD Studentships in cybernetics.
Beckford Consulting is leading a joint research project with University of Surrey, funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation to explore development of a roadmap for achieving adaptive management practices in land-transport infrastructure sector. The core activities are: a workshop to establish challenges in current practice; an open consultation to map current data and analytics capabilities; an event at which the emerging blueprint for a multi-dimensional decision support model can be evaluated.
A pro-bono project being undertaken with a leading metabolic consultant to rethink and redesign the patient and engagement pathways for a new clinical service. It is expected that the approaches adopted will loop back to already established services, improving clinical outcomes and effectiveness.
Building from the idea of cyber-effectiveness we are developing a process to evaluate how any organisation achieves multiple dimensions of value from its investment in information (infrastructure, devices, applications, MI).
Additional organisations are sought to participate in the development of a system of evaluation.
It is well understood that the process of audit is undertaken to identify opportunities for improvement and identify areas of non-compliance or risk. There is much research undertaken on the benefits of such audits to the residents and patients of care facilities and on the improvements in service that are said to arise. There is little or no research into the impact of such audits on care staff who commonly are subjected to the audit process.
We will be undertaking a research inquiry into these effects and seek both individuals who would like to participate and funding to support the work.
There are a substantial number of charities ranging from multi-million pound multi-nationals to tiny local operations, from those run by full-time professional staff to those entirely delivered by volunteers. We are pressed daily to make donations to these organisations but how well do they make use of the money we give them? How effective are they in fulfilling their stated charitable objectives?
We will be undertaking a research inquiry into these questions and seek both individuals who would like to participate and funding to support the work.
Stafford Beer suggested that ‘a model is neither right nor wrong but more or less useful’. We use modelling in our work to capture a representation of the situation being studied. Perhaps a spreadsheet, a diagram (or more than one!), a database, but some device that allows us to explore with you and other stakeholders those characteristics of the situation that are causing concern and jointly elaborate alternative ways of addressing them. Modelling is helpful in ensuring the discussion is ‘about the problem or challenge’ not about the individual participants and stakeholders, it allows the development of a more objective discussion about a shared challenge and a mutually desired objective.
Building on the ‘More or Less Useful’ series of videos, we are delivering a series of workshops in partnership with client organisations to deliver education in understanding and thinking from a cybernetic perspective while addressing real world challenges submitted by the participants.
We are often asked to provide mentoring to individuals and support them in accelerating and improving their impact on the organisations they work with. Current examples include supporting Policy Fellows at the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as mentoring international groups undertaking research projects for the Safer Complex Systems work of its Engineering X programme. We are also working with other individuals in positions of CEO and Operations Directors, Clinical Leadership, Senior HR Officers and some students.
None of our diverse natures, experiences, ages, gender, sexuality, ability or disability or alter the realisation that all of us, sometimes, need a different insight.
Mentoring is something we do because it is the right thing to do, sometimes it is funded, sometimes pro bono. Do get in touch.
Working with a major pharmaceutical research and development organisation we developed a prototype cybernetic project management tool which enabled arising opportunities and constraints to be modelled into the project plan. This enabled near real-time re-optimisation of complex multi-year pharmaceutical research projects.
Working with an industrial chemicals manufacturer we developed an investigative process to enable the research and development team to develop and test potential new products and, critically, to use the knowledge gained from each new experiment to refine the search space dramatically reducing time to market for new products.
A key element of this solution was the development of a novel approach to machine learning which we have subsequently used in other projects and sectors.
We worked with a major renewable energy generator to model their complex international supply chain through extraction, preparation, transport and consumption. The work identified significant opportunities for the organisation to substantially improve effectiveness.
A multi-year engagement with a multi-national social care provider (7 countries), drawing on the ideas of organisational cybernetics, engaged the whole organisation in designing and delivering its own transformation programme. The effect of the work has been re-engagement with the purpose of the organisation which will serve to ensure its relevance and continuation and enabled the restoration of its economic viability.
We were engaged by an organisation charged with the preservation, maintenance and utilisation of a major legacy transport operation to work with them in preparing for the long term future. The challenges embraced organisational structures and performance, engineering and maintenance project management, information devices, systems and architecture across a highly distributed organisation. Work with the executive management team delivered a substantial redesign of the organisation to focus it on fulfilment of purpose with a clear focus on cost and how it might be better managed. A major information systems update is in course.
A housing association, a registered social landlord, was seeking to improve its performance and to be able to demonstrate that performance at audit – the key to continued good funding support for their residents. We worked with them to develop ways of operating that were service user led, essentially putting control in the hands of the customers, instead of the traditional bureaucracy. This transformation was a big shift, and required the alignment of the board and management with the vision and ambitions of the CEO. The upshot was a sustainable reduction in annual operating costs of £1.5 – £2million. Because they are a non-profit organisation, all that surplus is now being reinvested in the housing stock, which is improving the lives of the 40,000 residents.
A company delivering sterile supply services to the National Health Service needed to understand how to optimise performance in new facilities. Modelling of existing facilities across several locations led to a realisation that some ‘improvements’ led to a deterioration in performance. The whole process was modelled in order to understand this and to resolve it, leading to a revised model with the realisation of potential savings in existing facilities – realisable savings in one case of £300k per annum found in 30 minutes. The model provided to the client the ability to:
The CEO of a major transport business wanted to have a simple picture of the performance of the organisation based on key indicators of past performance and predictors of the future. A system was built which, drawing data from across the business, compared current achievements with both targets and trend indicators, turning good numbers green and bad numbers red! A ‘bad’ number indicated a process which was failing or trending towards a failure point. A ‘good’ number indicated ‘on-target’ performance. This simple system enabled the CEO to focus attention on those things needing expertise whilst being aware of every facet of performance.
The general manager of a large logistics business needed better information to manage the performance of a major distribution hub. The traditional, very functional approach to performance reporting had proved unsuccessful, taking too long to produce and not enabling resolution of the apparent problems. A process-based modelling of the whole system showed that there were only five possible process route ‘types’ overlaid on an organisational structure dictated by the parcel handling machines. The only variables under the control of the GM were the total number of staff and how they were deployed around the hub. The solution lay in creating a reporting tool which reported volume along the various process routes, calculated the number of staff required and compared this with the number of staff actually used – by line, by section, by shift and by manager – and all before the commencement of the next working day. The use of this tool enabled a reduction in operating costs of £4m (about 25%) in 6 months with the same volume of activity.
A major transport operator wished to realign its structure to become fully focused on effective delivery of services to customers. A review reflected on the purpose and vision of the organisation and recognised that any redesign needed to encompass the established primacy of service quality.
Far from simply reducing numbers to make the existing structure more ‘efficient’, the project considered the long-term effectiveness of the organisation. This led to a radical redesign of the roles of directors, managers and front line staff each having greater freedom and discretion. For the organisation to be both more effective AND efficient AND to respond more appropriately to its customers, front-line staff needed greater discretion in their interactions with clients. Whilst to ensure a successful future, the organisation was divided into operational and developmental functions – the first focused on delivering current products to current customers, the second on delivering a range of major change projects to create the future.
The newly appointed finance director of a major public service provider rapidly became aware that the ICT department he had inherited was not fit for purpose. Its reputation in the business was very poor and it appeared focused on its own issues and problems rather than those of the business it purported to serve.
Working with the finance director and the board, an initial review highlighted a number of problems. The departmental head (a hardware specialist) believed that the business was there to support ICT, was disengaged from the objectives of the organisation and had a negative attitude which cascaded through the department – the whole was dysfunctional. Customer service (internal) was non-existent and its performance was holding the business back. From an information systems perspective, there were numerous systems but these were poorly understood, managed and documented – and other parts of the business were pursuing independent initiatives – unable to get service from the ICT team.
It was considered that the position of the departmental head was unsustainable and, whilst the search went on for a replacement, an interim manager was appointed. An information strategy was developed to address the issues, this encompassed:
Over three years the department (now called Information Services) has been transformed. It has a new head, is totally customer focused, has delivered several major systems projects – on time, to standard, on budget, to specification and has a solid and growing reputation – not just within the business but also in the parent company and the industry.
A plant was continually failing to achieve desired budget targets. The managers did not properly understand their production capacity nor the impact of interactions in the processes. Taking high level measures across the organisation from the first process through each stage to the final product it became clear that built into the business were tensions that meant a manager at a late stage in the process could only succeed by ensuring the manager in front of him failed.
Modelling capacity and then simulating performance throughout the process allowed us to see the capacities of each of the stages, the limits that cannot be exceeded with current conformations. In operational terms we were able consider performance against current capacity, and in strategic terms, we could consider how to improve capacity. In the case of this plant, over time they ended up wondering what to do with the extra production!
A transport provider was considering the development of a shared-service centre for its existing businesses and the subsequent integration of further operations – subject to successful acquisition. A consulting enquiry rooted in process analysis, interviews and discussions was supported by development of an integrated model of the existing organisations. Capability was included in the model to simulate changes at the individual process level, at the level of the company and at the level of any combination of companies within each process.
Whilst the analysis showed that the NPV on that particular investment was inadequate, the model can be used to analyse the cost and investment issues of performance and integration problems and develop the business case.