Failure Demand

I haven’t been posting for a while. I’ve had plenty of stuff to say, but felt I didn’t have the time to write it. Now this is not because my life has been filled with exciting projects, foreign travel or a demanding social life. No, my sense of being time poor has largely been because of “failure demand”.
I came across this concept in an article in the Guardian discussing the fashion of outsourcing to India. It focused on the criticisms of this practise by John Seddon, a management consultant and occupational psychologist. Seddon is quoted as making an interesting distinction between what he calls, “value demand, which is demands for service from customers” and “failure demand or the demand caused by a failure to do something right for the customer.”

In an article on his site he explains that he has found failure demand to account for between 20% and 50% of the demand in financial services call centres. He goes on to say: “It is from a cost view that managers find out-sourcing an attractive idea. To hand over calls to an agency, whether in the same country or, more lately, in other countries is to out-source waste. These organisations are paying someone else to work on their ‘muda’ (a Japanese expression for waste). Moving calls to another country just makes the understanding of what is going on all the more difficult. Should we praise these leaders for operating in a global economy or embarrass them for missing the obvious?”
In my recent experience I would say these figures might be unduly optimistic. Over the past few weeks, dealing with a variety of organisations, I would estimate that only between 5% and 10% of my time has been value demand. The rest has been time spent trying to get them to do the right thing in a timely and efficient manner. If what I had been asking for was unusual or complicated this might have been understandable, but mostly it has been to do with simple, routine transactions.
So failure demand is double edged. It costs the companies offering services. It also adds to the sense of time pressure and frustration that so many people feel today. The question is why is failure demand so prevalent? The answer, I suspect, may lie in the phenomenon I touched on in an earlier entry, “The Delusions of Design”, the management myth that “the idea that successful companies are or even can be the product of a mind that can foresee all eventualities and deliberately plan for them.” Until this myth is dispelled, I fear, failure demand will continue to figure in all our lives stealing value from both us and the organisations that are supposed to serve us.