Are we here to fight alligators, or drain the swamp?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readOct 27, 2021

If we find the real work, we’ll find the joy…

If you start from understanding the demand presented to (public) services — the actual demands that people present, their requests for service — you can get to a more fulfilling and empowering conception of public services in a very logical way.


Most service industries have very little real understanding of what is being asked of them, even when the customer calls or comes to the office and says what they want.

> We turn these into our language, our systems, our little boxes of service.

> ‘Meeting demand’ is humdrum and uninspiring anyway.

> And when we don’t properly understand, we tie ourselves up in knots providing something that doesn’t actually hit the spot.

Reduced resources mean we complicate the demand by creating barriers to service — eligibility criteria, assessments, triage, queuing, waiting, checking, chasing, rework and so on… then the work becomes downright dispiriting.


Actually understanding the demand as presented in the citizen’s own voice is powerful.

Taiichi Ohno allegedly described the purpose of the Toyota Production System as ‘to reduce the time from customer payment to delivery of the vehicle’.

I compare this to ‘reducing all the steps, noise, error, delay and complication from the citizen making the demand to their demand being met’.

This helps with operational improvement — lean processes, and with organisation demand — putting the capacity and capability to meet demand at the point of contact.

But this is still just the beginning. If our job is to reduce the time, steps and cost from the demand arising to the demand being fulfilled, and (to use the title of John Seddon’s first book), ‘I want you to cheat’, a new possibility arises…


…we can ‘cheat’ by putting the capacity and capability to meet demand in the hands of the citizen and community!

Service is always co-created with the citizen — even if they’re not always a willing participant, it’s only with their involvement that positive outcomes are possible.

Taking our own logic seriously can lead us to fairly radical reframing and ‘playing on a broader stage’.

‘Enable the community to meet their owns needs’ creates more possibilities, more ways of seeing, and more dimensions for manoeuvre. (It also creates more to think about, more complexity, and to a certain degree, more risks…)

Once you have started to see ‘the work’ as enabling, empowering — rather than processing demand — you can take another step.


You can ask how people can be helped to meet their own purposes in life without falling into need in the first place.

Which level are you playing at?

- producing ‘services’ that misunderstand the demand?

- meeting demand?

- helping with needs?

- enabling purpose?

Are you fighting the alligators, or draining the swamp?

#complexity #lean #management #servicedesign #publicservices