Tag Archives: build capacity

Build Systems That Allow Quick Action – Don’t Just Try and Run Faster

This month Paul Borawski (CEO of ASQ) has asked the ASQ Influential Voices to share their thoughts on the cries for “faster, faster, faster” that so often is a refrain heard today.

I have long said that the measure of management improvement isn’t only about improving. It is the speed at which the management system and internal processes are being improved. Improvement is a given. If an organization is not improving every year the odds of long term success is low.

One of the common objections to a need for improvement is that we are doing fine and we are improving (so leave us alone we are already improving). That is better than not doing fine and not improving but it isn’t a reason to be complacent. Managers should be continually pushing the improvement acceleration higher.

The biggest problems I see with a focus on being faster are attempting move faster than the capability of the organization and falling back on working harder as a method to achieve the faster action. Really these are the same issue – working harder is just a tactic to cope with attempting to achieve better results than the system is capable of.

Agile software development has a principle, sustainable development, which is a reaction to the far too common attitude of management to just have software developers work longer and longer hours to meet targets. Any attempt to be faster internally or respond to a faster marketplace should first put the principle of sustainable workload as a requirement. And next build the capability of the enterprise to respond quickly and keep increasing how quickly it can respond effectively.

The well know management improvement concepts, practices and tools will lead an organization to improve that capability reliably, sustainable and continuously.

My new book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, delves into how to manage an enterprise based on the ideas needed to apply management improvement concepts, practices and tools to achieve results, including, but not limited to, faster.

Related: Process Improvement and InnovationFind the best methods to produce the best results over the long termThink Long Term Act Daily

Customer Focus by Everyone

There are many critical elements to a management system. One that is fundamental, yet still poorly executed far too often, is creating a system where all staff can focus on enhancing value to the customer every day.

If your enterprise does not focus on this, it should. If you think your enterprise does, my first, second and third suggestions are to think more critically about whether it really does. If the answer is yes, then you are lucky to work in such an organization.

Saying that customers are valued is easy. Actually designing systems to focus on providing value and continually improving to provide value more effectively is not. It really shouldn’t be obvious to a customer in 5 minutes of interacting with your organization that it is obvious customers are not very important.

It is very difficult to create a system with customer focus by all staff without several basic supports in place. Respect for people needs to be practiced – not just mentioned. If there isn’t time to work on improvements to the system, often meaning you have the equivalent of sickness management instead of a “health care system” that is a shame. The reality of most organizations seems to be to make it very annoying for customers to even bring an issue they are having to the attention of the organization and even then the gaol is to use the absolute least amount of effort for the band-aid that can be tolerated.

Staff have to be given authority to act in the interest of customers. But this can lead to chaos if a good system isn’t in place to steer this process. And without processes in place to capture (systemically) needed improvements there will be huge waste.

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Continual Feeding

I like growing things. I think it is part the connection to system thinking I have had since I was a kid. I like finding ways to leverage my effort so that I put in a bit of thought and effort and then get to enjoy the fruits of that effort for a long time. This idea also guides my investing approach.

I planted a vegetable garden in my yard a few years ago. My strategy was to find methods that gained me what I wanted (yummy food) without much effort required from me. I don’t want to deal with persnickety plants. Basically I composted leaves, grass and yard waste. I put that into the garden spot and put in some seeds and small plants to see what would happen. I watered things a bit early on and if we had very little rain for a long time. But in general my attitude was, if I could get success with some plants with this level of effort that was good. Only if nothing would grow would I bother with more involvement from me.

photo of wineberries

Wineberries in my backyard.

Luckily it turned out great. Lots of great tomatoes and peppers and peas and beans and cucumbers and more, and very little effort from me.

I actually even had more success with wineberries. I didn’t even have to plant them (some bird probably seeded them for me and I just let them grow). It was wonderful for several years. Then I had a huge area with huge amounts of tasty berries: it was wonderful. Sadly then birds started to eat them before I go them and I got far fewer good berries than before. The berries were so good I went to effort to keep the birds from devastating my reward (to some success but with much effort). Oh well, I didn’t really mean to get onto that – those berries were just so great.

Now I am living in Malaysia and growing plants on my balcony. It is wonderful in many ways but one of the issues is I have to continually water the plants. Even though we get a great deal of rain, not nearly enough reaches the plants (and also the dirt doesn’t retain the water well – especially given the small volume of the containers). So if I want the fresh vegetables I have to continually water the plants. This goes against my desire to plant seeds and let me sit back and enjoy the bounty of my limited efforts (ok it is still pretty limited).

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Psychology of Improvement

Even if ideas are good and have significant importance (high value to customers, reduce waste dramatically, improve safety…) implementing the ideas can be difficult. Getting people to make an effort to improve a situation by simply laying out the dry facts is not very effective. You need to engage in the management system to make your ideas something other people care about and want to do (you need to consider the psychology of getting things done in human systems).

Often a good way to do this is not to just think what is best for the performance of the system, but figure out what people want fixed/improved… and then figure out what I think could help. Then pick among various options to improve based upon the advantages to the performance of the organization, desires of decision makers and the ability of an improvement effort to build the capacity of the organization for customer focused continuous improvement.

Few places I have worked just want to adopt Deming’s ideas (which is my belief for what is the best way to improve performance). But they have things they care about – reducing the times people get mad at them, increasing cash flow… I find it much easier to help them with their desires and slowly get them to appreciate the benefit of Deming’s management ideas, lean thinking and quality tools. Though even this way it isn’t easy.

Even if the organization I am working with doesn’t think based on Deming’s ideas, I do. So I believe any effort to improve the management system must consider all 4 areas of Deming’s management system. In the beginning of an improvement effort psychology is very important for the change agent to consider and deal with. With an understanding of psychology and an understanding of the organization you can build appropriate strategies to improve and build the capacity of the organization to improve over the long term.

I also think about the long term as I am thinking of how to help. It is important to not just solve the current dilemma but to improve the organizational capacity to improve in the future. And for me that means increasing people’s understanding of the ideas I explore in the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog.

Related: Building the Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationStop Demotivating EmployeesHow to Improve

Interviewing: I and We

In response to: say “I” — not “we” — in your interviews

If you are a manager you need to lead teams, lead projects and improve work systems. In an interview I believe you need to say specifically what you did but also talk about what the team accomplished. A manager needs to have successful project and make other people successful. To me the important thing is getting great long term results, not doing lots of tasks themselves. Often figuring out the right leverage points to work on is difficult but it doesn’t have to be a large volume of work, just the right decisions on where to make improvements.

Sometimes (often, for me, but maybe I have more difficulty explaining it than I should) these ideas are hard to convey to others. It is similar to answering hypothetical questions where, the way to “handle” the issue raised is to avoid getting into that mess in the first place. We were able to success not because of 3 specific actions I took during the project but because of the system I put in place and cultivated for years that allowed the team to succeed. But some people have trouble connecting long term system improvements to current project results.

As a manager my main focus is on building capacity of my organization to succeed over the long term. That greatly reduced any fire-fighting I have to do. Of course for many interviewers great tales of fire-fighting play better than I didn’t really have to do much to make x,y and z projects successful because I set the stage over years creating a system that works well.

Creating systems that work well often isn’t tremendously exciting and tales of creating systems that avoid disasters seem boring. I didn’t have to be heroic isn’t as sexy as and I was a hero in this way 3 months ago and then last month I saved us from disaster when… If I am interviewing, I would want to ask why you have to keep being a hero, but I don’t think most people think that way.

If you just talk about what I did it also can confuse interviewers, I think. Those things are often not directly tied to accomplishing some business need. Creating the right systems which allow great results to be attained often isn’t obvious why it matters. It is indirect and not nearing as obvious as fire-fighting behavior what the benefit is. Most organizations are not used to the value of creating well performing systems so they just think of management doublespeak that accomplishing nothing (since most such talk, respect for people, for example, is just talk and not of much value).

To show that the improvements made have real results I think you then have to switch follow “I did x,y,z’ with “which allowed our team to accomplish a,b, c.” Unless you really did have to do most things yourself instead of creating the systems that allow others to perform well. In which case it makes it easier to say what I did, but should cause those doing the interviewing to ask why you hadn’t set up better systems (at least it would if I were the one conducting the interview).

Related: How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedWhy work doesn’t happen at workBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesCircle of Influence

Building on Successful Improvement

Do ‘Quick Wins’ Hurt Lean Initiatives?

This becomes very difficult, since in many organizations these executives have the strategic attention span equivalent to the life-cycle of a mayfly. When the ‘quick win’ approach is taken, the savings / impact becomes like a drug to the executives. They see the benefit and they want more – NOW. Usually they are able to get this for a while, since they are very interested in the program at the beginning and show their support thought attending events and removing obstacles, and in general there are a lot of opportunities in healthcare for immediate improvement. However, as these opportunities dry up, and the work gets harder, while the executives focus shifts elsewhere, the expectation is to continue to deliver exponential results (a clear sign the truly do not understand the fundamental concepts at play here), and those who are leading the Lean charge, try to appease.

If you don’t change how people think, the quick improvement can end up not helping much. I think quick wins help. But managing how those quick wins happen is important. Creating a maintaining a dialogue that while quick wins are possible, much bigger wins are possible by building on the gains to adopt more critical improvement (and often more complex and requiring more effort) .

As quick wins are achieved try and be sure they are building capacity at the same time. Get people to think in new ways and see improvement opportunities. Also have people learn new tools to attack more problems with. I firmly believe you learn lean best by doing lean. So getting quick successes is great training – better than classroom training. But in doing so, you do want to focus on making sure people understand how the quick fix is a process they can repeat to improve other areas.

And one of the skills you have to practice in the example mentioned in the post mentioned above is managing up. It is tricky but part of what you need to do is coach your bosses to understand lean so that you can expand the adoption of more lean thinking in your organization.

Related: How to ImproveBuilding a Great WorkforceFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementLeadership

How to Improve

My management philosophy is guided by the idea of seeking methods that will be most effective.* There are many ways to improve. Good management systems are about seeking systemic adoption of the most effective solutions. What this amounts to is learning about the ideas of Deming, Ackoff, Ohno, Chirstensen, Scholtes, Womack… and then adopting those ideas. In doing so learning about management tools and concepts as they are applied to your work.

Here is a simple example. Continue reading