Chris Croft's Personal Blog

June 26, 2010

Cutting Costs – Proving you’ve run out of easy gains

Filed under: Managing People — chriscroft @ 8:10 am

With all the talk of cutting costs in the public sector, and of course the private sector as well is always looking for ways to save money, I’m wondering which of the following is more true:

a) Because organisations are made of clever people but somehow end up making stupid decisions, perhaps because of the difficulty of communication in large structures, there is loads of waste to be saved, with little or no investment, just by using clever ideas like Lean, whatever that is exactly….
b) People aren’t stupid, it’s all been thought about, there are good reasons for things that look silly to the casual observer, and if you save in one area you probably end up paying more in another.

Yes yes I know it’s a bit of both, but that doesn’t help unravel the possible from the impossible. And if painless savings are not easy to make, the result in the public sector will be the getting rid of people, which must lead to a reduced quality of service and more unemployment – not good for anyone!

So – are we stuck in the eternal triangle of Cost, Quality and Time or not? The triangle says that if you want to reduce costs you have to either reduce quality or increase waiting time. But is this always the case?

I’ve tried to be brief with what follows, but there is some big stuff in here, so if all the details aren’t there then don’t worry, you’ll have to either trust me and follow the flow (recommended option), or email me for more information.

My theory is that there are two stages – to start with you might be able to get rid of fat and “beat the triangle”, but once the easy fat has gone then you are up against the laws of nature that govern the triangle. Here are two examples:

1 – Quality vs Cost

Quick wins
– Reducing sickness absence by better performance management would both reduce costs and increase quality of employees and their work.
– Better measurement and then increasing utilisation of resources would also save costs without affecting quality – everything from training courses half full (waste!) to equipment and people not used all the time (waste!) and although some of this might require different cost accounting and cleverer scheduling, these could be done.

Then there’s the position on the Taguchi cost curve, which says that costs are u-shaped as you increase quality (it’s expensive to be brilliant, but it’s also expensive to be rubbish), but that it’s best not to be at the lowest point of cost – ideally you should be to the right of it, at a point where your cost of preventing failures is about double the cost of the failures that you do have. If you’re not at this point then you’re wasting money.

But of course if you ARE at this point then there is nothing else to be squeezed from the system, and if you can measure these costs then you can PROVE it!

Cutting costs is likely to mean cutting your prevention costs (quality audits, training, etc) which looks good in the short term but leads to higher, less visible, costs later in the shape of failure costs (complaints, redoing work, etc). No doubt emptying bins every 2 weeks, and axeing libraries, and axeing support for Forgemasters, will have hidden costs that are not yet visible as we cut the current highly-visible easy-to-cut budgets.

But I think the onus is on local government, the NHS, or the managers of the commercial companies to prove that they are at the optimum points on these – if they can’t, then they are admitting that they don’t know where they are, and they aren’t managing, they are guessing.

2 – Waiting time vs. cost

There has been lots of work done on getting waiting times down, first in manufacturing (Just In Time, Kanban, Pull systems, smaller batches enabled by quicker changeovers (SMED), bottleneck theory (OPT) etc) and then applying these ‘Lean principles’ in the service sector. It would be shame to go backwards now by cutting costs in areas where relatively small savings will cause large reductions in service.

There might be easy gains still to be found in areas where waiting times are long due to bad planning and stupidity. If the gardeners turn up and have forgotten half their tools, because they don’t have a checklist of what to put in the van, or the Ambulance central purchasing people haven’t bought the easy-to-use equipment and the paramedics can’t do their job properly, then yes, there are easy improvements to make. (These may be out of date examples by now, I hope so, but they certainly were real at the time!)

Or if there are unnecessary steps (detailed minutes have to be written, and then checked by someone, and then typed by someone else, and then rechecked and approved, – you know who you are! – and then nobody ever reads them) or if technology could do it all for you (dictaphone that goes straight to word document via voice recognition software) then quick wins can be made.

But again, as with quality, you get to a point where you up against the laws of the universe, in this case queue theory, which says that the queue length is inversely proportional to the resources, so unless you have spare capacity there will be queues, and if you want shorter queues you need to have more spare capacity, which means cost, and, worse, it means cost that doesn’t look good. It looks like people sitting around, and equipment not fully utilised, and it’s hard for observers to understand that it’s about being able to respond, rather than waste. We can see it easily for the fire brigade, but find it harder to see for doctors or local govt planners etc.

It can be shown with maths, …or just some dice, …or a spreadsheet, (I have made one and stored it here that if you have 20% spare capacity you get queues averaging 4 people, and you cut your apparent waste to say only 5% over capacity, a tempting saving of 15%, your queues will increase fourfold to about 20 (because your utilisation is now 95% and queue length will always be U/(1-U)).

To get rid of queues completely you have to have 50% spare capacity, i.e. double the number of people you thought you needed, and clearly this is too expensive, so basically we need to say Hello Again to longer queues for our public services.

Again, the onus is on management of these areas to work this out and to show that they have made all the easy cuts and are now up against the inescapable trade-off formula, and to make it clear that if we won’t or can’t pay then we will have to queue longer. Otherwise, if things remain unmeasured and unclear, they will just get impossible targets forced upon them and then look weak or foolish when they fail to meet them.

Right – I think I need to go and lie down now!

I hope the above has given you some ideas to ponder.

Onwards and mainly upwards



June 22, 2010

Thanking god for my goal

Filed under: Sport — chriscroft @ 7:17 pm

You see this a lot in the world cup. Pointing up at the sky, crossing themselves etc.

I seems to me that if it really was god who helped them score, then does that mean that god is taking sides? I wonder which team HE supports (if it’s England then He’s not doing a very good job!). Something tells me that god has bigger fish to fry than supporting one football team against another.

And what should He do if the penalty taker AND the goalie are appealing to him simultaneiously?

Kaka, a famous god-thanker, was sent off in Brazil’s last game; where was god in that match?

No, I think we should face the fact that, whether or not God is up there, and whether or not He is a football fan, it’s skill, hard work and teamwork that count. So that’s maybe just one out of three for England then!

PS Just saw Jokovic doing it at Wimbledon – aargh!

Watch just the second half

Filed under: Sport, Time Management — chriscroft @ 7:07 pm

90 minutes is quite a big commitment of time if you’re watching more than just the England matches, so I’m thinking that coming in at half time might be the answer:

if it’s nil all then great, you’ve missed nothing
if your team is a goal down then you can watch the chase
if youre team is a goal up then you want watch either the sweaty hanging on, or see them pile in a few more

either way you get 3/4 the fun for 1/2 the time – bargain!

June 14, 2010

Avoid the nibble

Filed under: Negotiation Skills — chriscroft @ 10:59 am

The nibble is where someone adds something else to the deal AFTER you have agreed it. Things like “… and it’s another £40 for the feet” (a real nibble I experienced at DFS sofas) or “…and of course delivery is extra” would be nibbles.

Nibbles can be done by both the buyer and the seller. For example, with a house the buyer could say “You will leave those shelves won’t you” while the seller might say “We’re taking the magnolia, it was a wedding present, you don’t mind do you?”.

The nibble is dishonest because they are waiting till after the deal is done, deliberately, because it’s then too late to change it. And it’s effective because the item seems small compared to the overall detail, you’d almost be petty to object to it. You’re so pleased to have got the deal that you don’t mind the occasional detail being changed.

But hang on! Those shelves, or that magnolia, are worth £50! Don’t just give them away! So a good answer might be “Well in fact we really like the magnolia, it was one of the things we liked about the house, and we’ll have to replace it if you take it, and that will cost about £50. Would you like to give us the cash for it now? (holding out your hand). Or shall we take it off the price of the house?”

(Sales note – this is a tea or coffee close, giving them a choice of A or B. The nibble is an assumptive close – “you don’t mind do you?” – making it hard to say “Well actually I do”)

But what about the nibble that comes up when it’s too late? For example, the sofa feet, when you’ve already signed the cheque? Well, basically you have to be prepared to say “No, that wasn’t my understanding of the deal, they have to be included or the whole thing is off”. You HAVE to be prepared to walk away from the deal completely rather than let nibblers get away with it.

The other thing you can do, and the main point of this article, is to head them off at the pass by asking the question “Are there any extras I need to know about?” earlier in the negotiation. This question completely takes away their ability to nibble you later. Whether you are buying or selling, always ask it!

Christmas present suggestions

Filed under: Gadgets, Random stuff - uncategorisable — chriscroft @ 10:53 am

Christmas present suggestions!


Do you / your partner secretly want to sleep with Alan Sugar, or George Clooney?  etc?
Get your own rap, made by the 21 year old music graduate son of a friend of mine – you provide a list of content and he makes a great rap for you! Email me for details of my contact if you want one. – hilarious website where you can get moth stickers to put over holes in your clothes made by moths, pillows which have arrows going through your head, You Are Here cushions, and man pants…

A4 photobook at – you upload a collection of digital photos and they automatically make them into a really nice hard cover book with the pictures different sizes and with different page layouts so it looks really artistic.

Coin shrinking money box
really cool – how does it work??

Sphelix – 80mm “thought ball” made of rubberised plastic – incredbily desireable and beautiful, everyone who sees it is fascinated by it and won’t put it down. £10 –

my minibook of happiness, or full size paperback “A little bit of everything” £6

croc slippers Hard to get in the right size, but great if you can. Comfy, furry, snug, and yet also waterproof if you need to nip outside to get more logs for the fire…

Your own design on a t-shirt, anything you like, pictures, words, graphics, photos etc –

Pandora charm bracelet – the latest thing in the world of posh jewellery :
design your own Not cheap, but very nice, and then your Christmas and birthday present problems are solved for ever as you can get one or more beads each time – they cost about £20 each.

Subscription to The Week – I love this magazine, which has all the news you need, each Friday. Has a summary of sport, what’s happening in each country, films, gossip and tabloids, science stories, etc No more Daily Mail!!

Bedside / daylight spectrum lights:
the ultimate is the PER3, which slowly comes on in the morning to wake you up gradually, and it does it with full spectrum light so you can lie there and get your dose of feel good pseudo-sunlight as you wake up. Good adjustable bedside light too.
It’s £127 from amazon and there’s a good demo movie at

I also like the Philips dawn simulator, which doesn’t have the full spectrum light but is a soft yellowish traditional light, but more cosy to read to at night, again it switches on slowly in the morning to wake you up gradually, and as it comes on it slowly turns up the volume of the radio or a jungle or wind chimes. Nice! £77

The cheapest way to get sunlight into your pineal gland during the winter, for the feel good feeling, is to get a full spectrum bulb for your desk and have it on as you use your computer – or even sit and stare at it if you have the time. I got my energy-saving biobulb for £13 from and I think it works. Hard to tell, I’m always a bit manic! Not the most romantic Christmas present, but kind of cool!

Magic tricks (Davenports at Charing Cross) and if you’re in Bournemouth – you can go into Mike’s shop and he’ll demonstrate tricks which you can then buy for £5-£15 Have a cuddly toy made out of your house/dog/flag/cartoon/kids / sketch of parents, etc (but price unknown)

amusing t-shirts:
bird clock £40 I got one as a joke and now I love it.

global warming mug –

power mat cordless charger – expensive though, as you have to get the receiver part for every device. For hardcore gadgeteers and iPhone-aholics only.

bluetooth keyboard for your phone (but not for iPhones) – folds out and then you can write emails etc really fast on a proper full size keyboard £60

digital photo frames generally – getting cheaper all the time. Not sure which one is the best.

tiny TV remote which fits on a keyring – can be used to turn the sound down or change channels on any TV, even secretly in the pub! (may not work if the pub TV is just a screen on a central feed) only £1.71

Frixion biro you can rub out

and finally, my list wouldn’t be compete without a headtorch; and I think the mighty Petzel Myo XP has finally been deposed by the Lenzer L7: ….. 3 watts of awesome power giving 140 lumens, in a unit that’s only 117g: even lighter than the Myo! Oooh, missus!

§ Remote controlled helicopters – these are down to £20, tiny, easy to fly (indoors!), and can land in the palm of your hand. Perfect for kids or adults.
§ Sat nav: has really come of age now. The easiest gadget to use, more useful than you could ever have dreamed, and now down to £100 (or less on ebay).
§ Wind-up LED torch: the LEDs use so little power that the winding action gives loads of power for very little effort: 30 mins from 30 seconds!
§ Pink toolkit – has the extra advantage that men probably won’t borrow your tools
§ Pink punch bag, comes with pink gloves too
§ Have your own rap made, or have one made for a friend – you supply some information about them and they’ll get a professionally done song, all about them, for about £35 – email me for contact details.
§ Black & Decker Alligator – safer than a chainsaw, and I love mine
§ A puppy
§ A Nintendo Wii – a bit pricey, but if you can justify one (maybe for the whole family?) I hear they are great – I still haven’t tried one!!
§ A puzzle game called hotspot, from the makers of rush hour, you get 50 puzzles where you to jump your alien to the finish square. Forget boring old Solitaire, everyone who I show this to is addicted to it. Great for £12

§ Digital photo frames – still getting cheaper and better all the time, but now affordable – see amazon If you can I’d get one with a nice slow change rate between pictures, ideally up to half an hour or even several hours. Mine changes every 10 seconds which is a bit fast!
§ DVD boxed sets of things like Twenty Four (still the most exciting thing on TV ever), Thunderbirds (still classic) or perhaps Father Ted.
§ Two dance mats so you can compete all night.
§ And if you really want to push the boat out, how about a folding mountain bike or full sized road bike that folds so it fits into the back seat or boot of your car? With the Dahon Jack or Dahon Cadenza you can park and ride – all sorts of times when this could be useful. It takes literally 5 seconds to unfold or re-fold the bike. Not cheap, but very beautiful and great to ride
§ A year’s subscription to The Week. Better than a newspaper, and cheaper, and quicker.
§ and then there’s also matmos lights
§ I was only joking about the puppy.

Pilgrim Jewellery – this really is the best, I think. See google.

How about getting a second hand TIVO TV recorder from e-bay? Now they only cost about £50, and they are just like having Sky Plus – they record any programme you like, whenever it is on, and you can scroll through its memory and watch or delete whatever you like – you can also freeze time for up to 30 minutes if the doorbell or phone rings, and can go back up to 30 minutes if you want to see something again. You pay £10/month or £200 once off and then it gets updates every night on which programmes are coming up – I love it!

Or how about some Crocs – the latest shoes, made of rubber, that look really ugly, like cut off wellies, but are amazingly comfortable. Not warm, so they are summer shoes, brilliant for indoors, or the garden, or the beach. The “Cayman” is the classic one to get. Trust me and try some on before rejecting them.

Or, since it’s the winter and we can’t even IMAGINE the summer at the moment, how about a nice pair of Possum Fur slippers? Fantastically warm, hard wearing, and made from possums which are a pest in New Zealand where they have to be culled – they eat whole trees apparently… so you’re saving the environment too. No, I don’t get commission.

and then there’s also matmos lights:

I’m also pretty impressed by the Lenser LED head torch

And of course don’t forget the good old million candle power rechargeable torches, chargeable and bright but heavy,

The Sound Asleep Pillow £20
let your gradually diminishing ipod play list send you to sleep…

digital photo frames from about £30 upwards
getting more affordable this year, still not brilliant value, but pretty good

powermonkey £20
take it with you on trips and you can charge your phone or ipod or anything from it with no need for mains power or lots of wires and chargers
got me and my ipod to Everest base camp!

i-sound beanie hat with speakers inside £15

pants purse £7

game/puzzle “inverse” not tried it but looks beautiful and intriguing. £20

air guitar thing £11 “guitar rock star”
not tried but recommended on top gear – and it does look fun!
See demo

Condiment gun – squirt tomato sauce onto your chips – with a gun!
not sure how you clean it. Looks brilliantly childish! Could lead to trouble if combined with alcohol. Maybe you need to get two?

Airzooka much better and more fun that it looks. I’ve got one and I love it (the dog doesn’t). £10

For only £7 I like the look of the echo –bot
When it detects movement it plays back your pre-recorded message who whoever has walked into the room. Possibilities!

Moshi Mopods. Can’t explain. But I like them. £5.

Solar powered artificial plant. Not quite as environmentally friendly as a real plant, but not bad! £8

For kids I think etch-a-sketches are still hared to beat

For £20 I like the frame that you can put old LPs in (and change whenever you want)

For nerds the WiFi detecting t-shirt is pretty cool (OK yes, I do want one)

USB microscope – both cool and educational
£50 though

Possibly the stupidest but best gadget this year is a singing Tengu
£20. As they say, you’ll never feel lonely at your desk again! Not sure if it would be suitable for work…

**Non consumer Christmas ideas**
1. Clothes/ornaments/books etc from charity shops / recycling centres / second hand book shops / car boot sales / ebay second hand / your own stuff you don’t use any more (or as a last resort, fair trade or organic
new stuff!) – customised if you want, to make it more interesting!
2. Actions: giving blood, adventures (family walk / hike /bike ride etc), Promises e.g. cooking a dinner, IT support, housework or to fix up some shelves or teach someone a skill (i.e. DIY or computer related).
For coupon templates:
3. Baking: homemade cakes/sweets, spice mixes, home flavoured olive oil, homemade chutney and jam
4. Creative arts: poems, pictures/paintings, stories, quotes, fimo figures/sculptures, songs,
5. Techy: Compilation CDs, home videos, hand me down computer parts/tools etc, selection of relevant free software downloads on CD, film/series downloads (though maybe slightly illegal?) etc
6. Crafty: home made/painted pottery, home made writing paper/cards, candles, knitting, art, homemade candles/soap, patchwork, silk painting, home made cushions, candlesticks, sock pùppets, badges, mosaic stuff
7. Truly eco: plants, mini herb gardens, cactus (I think it’s OK for you to buy these!) etc
8. Memory lane: newspaper articles from someone’s youth (esp G&G), calendars (with everyone’s birthday on would be very useful!), photographs/albums

Wherever possible, wrapping should be recycled paper/newspaper if poss.
– or reusable bags with shredded newspaper filling.

Think of all the time in the shops that you’ll save, and how much more chilled out you’ll be!

Note: Careful with purchasing charity gifts like a “cow for a villiage in Ethiopia” – sometimes these gifts are not all they’re cracked up to be. What happens if everyone buys cows, when the village actually really needed the clean water gift instead?

*Photo gifts – Gifts include calendars,
photo diaries, coasters, mousemats, cushions, posters, clothing, tote
bags, badges and stickers

*Oxfam online second hand store:
— Great second hand book section, and you can search by price (5 quid and under). Loads of audio books too. Lots of board games – and some really cool vintage clothing! Big selection of DVDs and CDs too.
— Alternatively – ebay can be a good source of second hand CDs, DVDs etc.
–Also, amazon do most books with a new or used option – so you can find the difficult to find stuff on here, if you have something particular in mind.
–Another one that could be worth a look is Cash Converters – though charity shops preferred!

*Painting pottery
If you fancy getting creative, you could try a family trip on a Sunday to a pottery painting place (collecting ideas from magazines etc before hand is always a good idea).
–Paintaplate, 9, Moorburn Avenue, Giffnock, Glasgow, Lanarkshire G46
7AN Tel: 0141 569 5683
–or you could try (further afield – lomond shores, linlithgow etc – nice for a day out)

*Getting crafty:
Materials, from beads, basket making and macramé to origami, soap / candle making and leather crafts, can be bought on … 39?_npmv=3
Also, to make something more techy: … idZ2QQtZkm

*Buying eco as an alternative…:
Do a search in ebay on “eco” – you can drill down into the various
Also check out: … Category/5

A personalized OS map- perfect for that walker/ cyclist/ environmental campaigner in your life-
Think I might get one for my Dad…

Road-kill calendar
featuring a run-down of your favourite animals
– hilarious!
NOTE: No animal was deliberately maimed or killed in the production of this calendar.

Talking loo roll holder – they get a message from you when they pull off a piece of paper
I know it’s stupid, but I want one, so others may like it too

Milk jug that looks like a milk carton—milk-jug-2334-p.asp

OCD Chopping board Oooh, there are several people I could give this to
Air Fork One
for kids who don’t like eating

Educational mugs

Garden bird mugs – very nicely drawn watercolours, with the call of each bird £10 each

London cityscape tea light holder

Protect your laptop while hiding it – e.g. if a student house is broken into, they won’t find your macbook £30

Labyrinth card came – fun and interesting, all ages, I really like it

Mix anad match cutlery set – fun and artistic
classy in black and white:

a more fun cutlery set—Mix-and-Match?gclid=CMTewd3Tn6wCFUsZ4QodIjyY_A

Animal neck pillow for kids when travelling

A mini digital video camera that you can attach to your bike helmet, or collar of your dog and see where he goes off to when you’re not looking
(I haven’t researched whether this is the best price or quality of camera, but it does look good)

Coffee mug that looks just like a big camera lens, even has a lens cap lid

Snow grippers which slip onto the underneath of your shoes so you want walk on ice. If we get the winter we are being warned about, these could be a great safety bonus–Stretch-crampons/dp/B002ULFQ8I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320509689&sr=8-1

Also for the snow, the roll-out ice carpet – roll it out on top of the snow and you can safely get across the garden. I actually think it might be quite useful, especially for older people

For the traveller – Mini scales to check the weight of your suitcase – the fines can be large if you’re overweight, especially a problem when you’re coming home.

Toothbrush holder for 4 brushes that looks like a great big molar:

Touch screen stylus for iphone, ipad etc that looks like a giant pencil
Would allow you to write notes in meetings on your ipad without it looking as if you’re doing your emails, which unfortunately typing does, even if you’re not….

For us oldies when caught without glasses at the curry restaurant:

Three fragrant mini handbags for drawers or cupboards – really cute!

Singing bird clock – I got one of these as a joke, but in fact I love it. Everyone is amazed by it, and you know the time by the sound of the bird (e.g. The Midnight Owl)


Filed under: Assertiveness, Happiness — chriscroft @ 10:43 am

Some people might find this a bit depressing, but if you let it influence your behaviour for the better then your overall happiness will be increased, and I hope you take it that way!

Did you know that in your whole life you only have about 850 months – and half of these are probably gone by now. If you’re over 35 then it might be much more than half that have gone, and it’s unlikely to be much less than half.

and when you reach 50 you only have about 850 weekends left

and for those of you who are so young that you can’t imagine ever reaching 50, did you know that if you allow for times when you or they are away, you only get about 850 weekends with your children.

The moral of this has to be “don’t waste a single one!”

You might argue that the number should be 900 or 1000, but the point is the same.

So, if you got an email from God (assuming you don’t listen to me!) saying that you in fact have 841 months or weekends left to live, or 841 weekends with your children, what would you do?

I expect you’d do two things:
a) plan how you’re going to use this precious time, making a list of priorities
b) be assertive in the carrying out of this plan, saying No to things that felt like a waste of the precious time

And of course this is what we should all be doing anyway. Just because we don’t know the exact number, we can kid ourselves that there isn’t a number, it’s infinite, and therefore it’s OK to not have a plan, not have priorities, not be assertive and not say no. But there is a number, whether you like it or not, and therefore it’s worth making the most of every day week weekend month and year, before you realise that most of them are gone. Starting now!

June 9, 2010

Engineers – or not

Filed under: Careers, Random stuff - uncategorisable — chriscroft @ 6:24 pm

One of my pet hates is people who claim to be Engineers when they’re not. This is probably because I feel a bit guilty that I was never a very good engineer, and I’ve forgotten 99% of my engineering degree, but still, at least I sort of am one, unlike the Heating Engineers and Waste Disposal Engineers and Telephone Engineers that I see on people’s vans, and hear about on the news. At least “Engineers are trying to fix it” makes us sound like good guys, and also clever and hard working maybe, but still, it’s annoying when people think that Engineers are people who fix your washing machine, when they’re so much more than that!

So if anyone gets a photo, or just sees a good one, I’d like to hear from you.

Recently my wife heard an announcement on the supermarket tannoy “Would a Space Engineer please go to aisle 10”, and we’re wondering what that was – Shelf stacker? Shelving assembler? Interior designer? (not knocking these jobs by the way, each to their own, just don’t say you’re an engineer when you’re not) …Maybe they really did need someone from NASA…?

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