A Systems Approach to Housing Repairs

  • John Seddon
  • Brendan O’Donovan
Part of the Service Science: Research and Innovations in the Service Economy book series (SSRI)


This is the remarkable story of Portsmouth City Council’s housing management service, which has transformed the way it works by designing services against local demand. Along the way, their work has won an award from Professor Gary Hamel’s ‘Management Innovation eXchange’ (MIX) (Hamel and LaBarre, Dispatches from the front lines of innovation management, 2010). The council is a unitary authority on the English south coast and directly provides social housing to over 17,000 tenanted and leasehold dwellings, representing 18% of tenures in the city. The department has an operational budget of £80 million and comprises a staff of approximately 600. Whilst housing repair systems thinking interventions have been documented elsewhere (e.g. ODPM, A systematic approach to service improvement evaluating systems thinking in housing, 2005; Jackson et al., Evaluating systems thinking in housing, J Oper Res Soc 59:186–197, 2007; McQuade, Public Money and Manage 28(1):57–60, 2008), this intervention is especially noteworthy for the level of integration of systems principles throughout the whole supply chain. In Portsmouth, the council’s housing tenants now experience exemplary services. Property repairs are completed either on the day required by the tenant or within less than a week (compared with the official government target of 28 days). The council’s private-sector suppliers have more than halved their costs per repair whilst the city council’s housing department operates with 12% less resource. These are results that no one would dare to have predicted if writing a plan in advance, but which have been derived from careful study of their system, leading to a fundamental change in management thinking and subsequent experimentation with new, inventive methods. Portsmouth’s design has been developed in conjunction with its private-sector suppliers—a pocket of excellence in strategic partnerships that goes against the grain of guidance on partnerships coming from central government. Through working to stock their repair vans against what was predictably required in a certain area, the contractor firms now spend less than 25% of what they were spending on stock before. On top of this, there has been real innovation within the system, both in designing IT in-house to support their work (developed at a fraction of the cost of conventional off-the-shelf housing IT packages) and in starting a new logistics arm which supplies materials to tradesmen exactly when they are required. It is not exaggerating to say that this case study of collaboration demonstrates the potential to rewrite the guidance on strategic partnerships, and to serve as the benchmark for economic performance in the public sector.


Social Housing Housing Association Strategic Partnership Housing Management Repair Problem 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Seddon
    • 1
  • Brendan O’Donovan
    • 1
  1. 1.Vanguard, Villiers HouseBuckinghamUK

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