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. Years ago, my boss was frustrated because an award was sent to the Director’s office to be signed and the awardee’s name was spelled wrong (the third time an awardee’s name had been spelled wrong in a short period). After the first attempts my boss suggested these be checked and double checked… Which they already were but…

I was assisting with efforts to adopt TQM and the time and when she told me the problem and I asked if the names were in the automated spell checker? They were not. I suggested we add them and use the system (automatic spell checking) designed to check for incorrect spelling to do the job. Shift from first looking to blame the worker to first seeing if there is way to improve the system is a simple but very helpful change to make.

This example is simple but it points to a nearly universal truth: if an improvement amounts to telling people to do their job better (pay attention more, don’t be careless, some useless slogan…) that is not likely to be as effective as improving the process. The example includes ideas such as poka-yoke (mistake proofing), respect for people and root cause thinking. I find it most effective to apply tools within an system that has some understand of the management concepts of Deming, lean, six sigma

The tools by themselves can be useful but it is much easier for them to be misapplied when there is not a more comprehensive understanding. If an organization wants to commit to a serious effort to improve that does not mean that improvement must wait for this education. But it does mean the most effect way forward is to initially strive to improve performance and at the same time build the capacity of the organization by building a broad understand of these ideas. Building that capacity is an investment that will pay off over the long term (and can be “funded” using the gains made using the tools and concepts).

* Update – in re-reading this my first sentence strikes me as a bit obvious, to the point that it is meaningless. Let me state it another way. I am not focused on getting the best result this minute, I am focused on finding the best methods that will produce the best results over the long term (predictable, repeatable system performance). I do not believe that the best management system is one that relies on heroic effort (fire fighting, large sacrifices…). That is most often the sign of failed management not successful management. CMMI covers this idea well.

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