Month: December 2011

Christmas Spirit alive and well in East Grinstead

It’s that time of year again when itinerant panhandlers (i.e. carol singers) appear on my door-step attempting to sing a few strangled verses of some long forgotten carol before being sent away with a flea in their ear and a recommendation for a few singing lessons by yours truly. Last year some group of lads came around and made a vague attempt at Silent Night (oh I wish it was when they started). Now it happened they started up just as the Tele was playing up, her in doors was having a moan about my lack of Christmas spirit and that mutt of a sheepdog of mine was attempting to bark the bloody house down whilst attempting to get at said carols singers.

Actually in hindsight it may have been better to let her out … anyhoo in amongst all this cacophony I answered the door just as the second line … holy night … was tailing off into oblivion and a hopeful carol singer put out his hand for what I assumed was some act of supplication. WE DON’T DO THAT HERE CLEAR OFF I said (now RoyMogg readers may wish to know that this in fact is an entirely accurate description of events that occurred that fateful night ed.) and closed the door and turned around and saw my stunned wife and daughter telling me I cannot say that, lack of Christmas spirit etc etc. To my astonishment they run after these erstwhile vagrants apologising … ‘he’s a little tired, worked long hours, miserable git’ and so forth… giving them money for their efforts and wishing them merry Christmas and all that. Shocked I was – I thought I was being very reasonable but ho hum I guess it takes all sorts

In the Christmas spirit an alternative carol:

Good King Wencelas last looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
and When a poor man came in sight,
Wencelas set the dogs on him …

Merry Christmas to RoyMogg Readers

A Guide to Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic as normally used means building something up from two or more basic elements also has a more negative connotation as artificial not natural (or not analytic in synthetic proposition terms)

When I was a boy we learned to read and write by the old fashioned method chalk and talk. You talk or you get the chalk! When old Mrs Meredith (now sadly passed away to the rejoicing of countless generations of her former pupils – I just thought I can now slander her name with impunity) asked you to spell a word she followed it up within at most a second or two with a piece of chalk fired at your head . I used to marvel at the unnerving accuracy that this slight women managed to find the target (mostly Lyn Davies head as it happens) across a crowded classroom with rarely a off target projection. Strong in arm the chalk made its parabolic flight with ICBM accuracy to find the offending dim wits ear – there to explode in a satisfying plume of chalk dust. Such was the skill I often thought she should have made the first eleven she clearly had cricket in her blood – she must have been related to WC Fields – mainly because of the beard come to think of it.

If there is good structure to teaching of whatever style the student will learn quickly – We must not at the first sign that one of Labours’s chavs cannot fill in his benefit claim form change the entire process. Is it worth another method and changing the whole pedagogical approach if the evidence for outcomes at eleven would not materially differ if a good style of teaching delivered by effective professionals was in place? What we are doing with the initiative is extending the control of government (as they cannot trust teachers) from what is taught, the content of the teaching, to how it is taught in the context in the classroom where the innovation and creativity of teachers should be allowed full rein. What this whole approach shows us is the limited understanding government has about practice and no appreciation that students are individuals with different learning styles – and as a consequence a one size blanket initiative will not fit all. What is needed is for professionals to be empowered to use the full armoury of tools and techniques at their disposal (including synthetic phonics) to delivery effective teaching and not headline spin for ministers to give the illusion they are making progress with their education policy.

Should Sharia Law be included as part of Common Law?

I now feel safe after two years to publish this posting without fear of a flogging in the vestry of our local church

A bit of controversy last week over the Very Reverend Sheik Rowan Atkinson (yes the ecclesiastical comedian) the mad Mullah of Lambeth (AKA the Archbishop of Canterbury or ABC as he is know to his dwindling flock) and his pronouncements about the incorporation of Sharia law into UK society – he didn’t really say this but its good to ham it up.

I do call into our local church on occasion and bowling in there last Sunday there was a gaggle of the faithful standing around and musing over the recent lecture given by ABC and his apparent call for the inclusion of some parts of Sharia Law alongside Common Law. Not withstanding the lack of insight evident about what Sharia actually is – which is more a comprehensive way of going through life informed by the Qur’an and further elaborated by the words of the Prophet as captured in the Sunnah – that covers conduct of the faithful through life as well as more mundane legal precepts. Lots of huffing and puffing was in evidence (I assume from you ed.) about sanctity of Common Law etc etc then we looked around – and talk of the devil in waltzed Mullah Colin Grahame AKA the Reverend Collin deacon of … . He had just got back from blessing the local lap dancing club … and we asked his opinion. ‘We could always call the offertory the whip round’ (polite chortling) and have young Sheila (i.e. an eighty-five year old denizen of the church) up the belfry to call the faithful to prayer (more polite chortling then having had this brilliant idea in five mins the deed was done) and ‘we could have one or two verses from the Holy Qur’an instead of the New Testament’ (muffled suppressed chortling) and have a ‘show of hands to see who’s been pinching from the poor box’ (lots of laughter) …

Then followed a more meaningful consideration of what is actually wrong with thinking about applying rules and ways of living as they have been captured in Holy Works right across the world into our everyday life (surely that’s what we do as Christians) – there is not much talk of stewardship, ethical behaviour, and the right way of going about with ones fellow human beings nowadays. It not so much about Law, as doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do, and this sort of thing has underpinned the great religions for thousands of years. OK Sharia law as it seems to us as practiced in some countries is not acceptable, but the sentiment, that one has to take on board these; responsibilities, rules and prescriptions that were written down for very practical reasons years ago is correct. Codified, the rules were a coherent way to manage ones society – in the heart of where Islam was borne, at that time, it was a pretty fragmented violent pagan society. Islam bound together that society within a set of coherent laws and rules. Sharia law was set-down a thousand years ago (Judaism 2,500 years ago) and needs perhaps more a reflective approach now (as it does receive in many advanced Muslim countries) but the basic ethics that underpin Islam underpin Christianity as well.

Over the week the ‘Colonels from the Shires’ have appeared from the woodwork at Synod meetings complaining that no ‘rag-head’ law will hold here but they are a tiny minority – and we are not about to accept calls for the resignation of ABC from Sun Editors and journalist hacks who think ‘communion rail’ just won the franchise for the East Coast Line or the 2.30 at Lingfield. So this controversy will fade into the past and we will move on – although it must be said that ABC would be wise to have one of his minions give a future lecture a ‘butchers’ before it goes out.

After the service in the pub we reflected over the debates and controversies around this issue – that is until someone piped up – ‘Crap we left Sheila in the bell tower’



Some Links if you would like to know more about this issue and what ABC actually said

The Five Steps to Outsourcing – Part Three

The last part to the outsoucing process concerns carrying out a well-managed and transparent process

In negotiation avoid shortcuts and set specific goals – and ensure they are delivered. Evaluate, clarify and frame negotiations to keep competition alive. Document all discussions and carry out frequent self-assessment and use a term sheet, this helps drive and track the discussion and allows apples to apples comparison -over time the term sheet can evolve into a contract. Good note taking then transference to the final document of the substantive requirement and agreements made during the discussion is important. Do not leave anything out of the agreement that important to you that was discussed and agreed elsewhere – if it is not in the agreement it does not count.

Partnership rhetoric will appear at some time in the discussions especially from the vendor side. Unfortunately partnership usually means giving all the risks to the vendor from the customer side or to closing off competition from the vendor side (sole sourcing). On the positive side partnership can be invoked to get over tricky points and put them off until later stages in the negotiation – however as we point out later some things should never be put off until after the contract is signed. Partnership should be based on performance and strict business principles not waffle.

Never ever let issues that should be solved at negotiation drift into ‘we will solve this later’ discussions. They never are and these can be a source of major conflict later. An old saw from the collective bargaining days is very apposite here: ‘It is better for the negotiation to break down rather than the agreement’. All-important details must be cleared before signing a contract – never sign until they are or you are courting disaster.

5.0 Set up a well executed communication process

Manage the up and down communication channels carefully. Make sure no senior management speak to vendors and control vendor access to senior management strictly. You will have to brief senior management about the risks of this issue. In best practice the rules of engagement will state that suppliers who circumvent the process automatically disqualify themselves. Some vendors are good at getting around the formal process to the senior management and exploiting this to short-circuit the tender process. We all know of ‘golf course’ deals that cut through a bid process and enable vendors to return to the customer team informing them they ‘know’ the requirements of senior management.

Keep talking to vendors and meet frequently to discuss the proposals – the more open and interactive the better the eventual outcome. Ask for alternative proposals reordering or cherry pick ideas from several contenders to shape the deal you want.

Communicate internally at an early stage and keep your own people up to speed at all times. Don’t imagine for a minute that you can hold discussions in camera and keep an outsource negotiation secrete. We cover this aspect in more detail elsewhere but bring staff on board at an early time can generally increase chances of success. Indeed the staff to vendor fit is a key success criteria for the whole business success of the process so informing must take place as early as practicable.

Last but not least when the deal is done do the deal – as quickly as possible begin to execute the agreement. We have heard of examples where the transference can take many years to actually take place and this is a disaster for all concerned.

The Five Steps to Outsourcing – Part Two

The Five Steps to Outsourcing – Part Two

3.0 Organise for success

First of all vendors to this for a living – often the vendor sales team have been doing this for years and when this is done will move onto the next. The customer side on the other hand may have not done this before or the team carrying out the supplier proposal evaluation may be completely new compared to the last time the outsource process was run through. It may be very wise to engage a contract consultancy to handle (or mentor) your side of the whole process.

A point that is often missed is to plan the capacities of the customer team that will be creating then managing the outsource process. In a large bid the job is fulltime and often key members of the customer bid team will also have a day job to contend with – don’t forget this (or holidays etc.) plan capacity well. Plan well, resource well and set realistic time scales – time pressure can act in the vendor’s favour and allow skipping of important details. Do not be put under pressure by poor capacity planning or too optimistic time schedules.

Just a few words on the differences between the types of bid document commonly encountered during the bid process. A RFI is a high-level document inviting general response and can be used as a test for possible solutions and to pre-select candidates for the bid. Usually there is no bid price given by the suppliers – nor should we expect too much detail here. An RFP invites a formal response and takes longer for the vendor and the customer to evaluate. In a significant bid the costs associated can run very quickly into hundreds and even millions of pounds there fore before starting the whole circus make sure that you intend to place business. Ensure we are being realistic and take care that the quality and clarity in the RFP promotes conformance in the proposals received to ensure comparability. I always favour a clear template approach that forces answers in a clear structured way and allow suppliers to put all the waffle in the attached appendices.

4.0 Set up a competitive bidding process

You need to decide on sole source versus competitive sourcing towards the market. Sole sourcing is usually suggested (by the vendor) if there is a history between the companies and there is a time constraint – but there are significant downsides. Loss of leverage, not being able to compare alternatives, less aggressive pricing, and a sole source could have high impacts such as the legitimacy of the deal. Last but not least, the process may actually take longer as there is no time pressure that comes from a true competition.

It is our view that a competitive bid process has a better chance of realising cost savings, suppliers can come with more innovative proposals that the in-house supplier – although a well managed internal bid can address this problem. The process can actually be quicker as the client can drive the competitive process – by a strict time based approach to the process for example. But on the other side competitive bidding is more resource intensive, for the supplier as well as the client and this has to be planned for. Be careful about inviting a supplier to the party just to act as a market testing benchmark when the intention is really to squeeze the in-house supplier. You may do this once but will be pre-qualified out of any future by business by suppliers. In principle this is business be open and prepared to do business with other suppliers it keeps the market healthy.

Be precise, not prescriptive, comprehensive but concise in the way you pose your requirements – focus on key objectives. We need the ‘what’ not the how – avoid laying down all sorts of preconditions about how the service is to be delivered – that’s the suppliers job in the proposal. I have seen in several RFP’ s detailed specifications of what packages to use and how precisely the service is to be delivered – effectively closing off all innovative solutions that may have been available from the vendor.

Five steps to effective outsourcing – Part One

Five steps to effective outsourcing – Part One


The jury is still out as to whether outsourcing can deliver measurable business improvement and better-cost performance. Many outsource deals fail to live up to the grand promises made in the press releases and back sourcing or early closure of deals is becoming an increasing trend. Having said this there are key principals that if followed can greatly increase the chances of success of the whole process.

1.0 Scope the demand

There must be clear scoping of the demand and what is being put to the market. This need to be on the basis of knowledge of what and how the service is being carried out now and how much is being paid for it. Outsourcing on the basis of lack of understanding or frustration is the poorest reason and almost certainly will lead to poor decisions and no benefit. It is best practice to fully assess the current service as provided even to the extent of allowing the internal organisation to prepare an ‘ internal’ bid for the service. This allows a thorough scoping of the service and an accurate benchmark. It will also expose the fat which contributes to high cost in the current ways of working and the profit to be made by the outsource vendor should you go to market without assessing the current cost structure.

2.0 Clarify the objectives

Within the objectives for the outsourcing there must be consistency and reasonableness of demands – cost reduction, as a key aim coupled with a demand to increase service may be inconsistent. Sign off and agree internally why we are doing this and determine what is driving the whole process within the organisation – this is important from the vendor’s perspective as well. If the vendor knows that cost reduction or technology refreshes are key objectives the response can be tailored to precise needs.

We should be aware that objectives can change over time and the original case for an outsource can be undermined by events. Revisiting the rational is an important task during the process – don’t be driven by the running train. And be prepared to get off if the rationale changes. It makes no sense to go on when the entire rational and benefit case has disappeared.