Friday, 24 January 2014

Piano lessons for procurement

I have often been surprised at how some struggle with stating exactly what they want to buy, and whether or not they can move from inputs and outputs to outcomes in specifying. I frequently meet people, who knowing I am a strong advocate of stating outcomes, somehow believe that specifying outcomes means forgetting about the need to state inputs and outputs too - it is not just outcomes which are specified.

However, let me illustrate by way of procuring piano lessons - I am not being frivolous, part of this saga actually resulted in a court case, where I live, in Lisburn.

When the decision is made to send a child to piano lessons, is it to learn to play the piano or something else?  First, let's consider piano lessons for the completely unmusical child - the piano lessons will be inputs and paid for, let's say for each one hour lesson. The best piano teacher in the world may never be able to help someone who completely lacks an aptitude, has no sense of rhythm and is tone deaf. Paying by the inputs of lessons given is probably quite a reasonable approach. Indeed there is probably an implied contract of paying for 10 lessons in advance.

But can only those who have had formal training teach someone how to play a piano? Are the teacher's personal musical qualifications (Grade certificates) an input to the specification or a part of the selection criteria of the teacher (supplier). Before you rush to a conclusion, what about all those who teach kids how to play the guitar -  few will be qualified 'on paper' but they may be actually very good at teaching someone else how to play.

Then let's think about the outputs of the piano lessons.
When the parent seeks out a piano teacher, does the parent say, "I want you to get my child through to Grade IV on the piano" or "I want you to teach my child to play the piano"? If I am correct, passing the Grade exams is rarely stated, is something the piano teacher often initiates, and is an output. Indeed, for some pupils, they may never want to formally sit an exam but just want to be able to play at that level. The outcome is surely, the ability to play, or even entertain - that isn't necessarily dependent on having a certificate but on having the skill to play.

I'm sure you find this discussion somewhat bizarre, but I suspect somethings we would do well to reflect on some of those aspects when we support others in their specifying.

Anyway, I suppose this is the sort of discussion which could have taken place in a case last week in Lisburn Courthouse. An unqualified piano teacher, faked putting pupils through exams and then issuing them with fake certificates. The teacher pleaded guilty and therefore no-one legal arguments were presented - we never heard whether or not the pupils could play. Perhaps one will become a famous pianist.

I don't condone the fraudulent behaviour of the teacher, although no one can deny she was creative, but I would quite like to hear if the kids in question can actually play and whether they are of the standard which would have passed the exams in question. I would also quite like to have heard whether the parents asked about the teacher's qualifications when they decided to make use of her services, and also whether 'getting the grades' was consider an important performance criteria for the parents.

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