Tag Archives: change

Process Improvement and Innovation

Every so often an article appears discussing the need to change focus from process improvement to innovation (and recently they are followed with quite a bit of blog talk). I disagree on several grounds. First you have needed to focus on both all the time. Second, it is not an either or choice. Third, the process of innovation should be improved.

I do not believe process improvement is bad for innovation. Bad process changes can be bad for innovation. But if we are looking at a research and development organization where the output is new products then process improvement would be focused on improving the processes to make that happen. The type of process improvement would be different than those made to manufacturing a product better.

Some six sigma efforts are little more than cost cutting efforts. And those efforts might claim a “process improvement” that is really just cutting costs in R&D. But we should not confuse bad management with the good practice of process improvement. Yes, cutting costs for the sake of cutting costs often leads to problems. Waste should be eliminated (which can reduces cost). Focus on eliminating waste. Eliminating waste in innovation activities is no worse than eliminating it anywhere. It might be more difficult to determine what is waste (that is where management skill and knowledge come into play) but the idea that process improvement (including eliminating waste is bad for innovation is something that should be rejected). And process improvement in innovation should not be limited to eliminating waste.

A good example of process improvement in innovation activities: Fast Cycle Change in Knowledge-Based Organizations (pdf format) by Ian Hau and Ford Calhoun, published by the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement, University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Related: Better and DifferentNew Rules for Management? No!Quality and Innovation“New” Management NeedsManagement Advice Failures

Motivating People to Change

Don’t miss a nice series of posts by Jon Miller: How to Motivate People to Change – part 1, part 2, part 3. [links broken, so removed ๐Ÿ™ ]

Success may come in the short term when motivation is through a combination of fear and reward centering on financial safety and security, belonging to a group and achievement of status…
There is some question as to whether this type of approach to motivation is sustainable, and at the very least it is not one that can be applied to motivate 100% of the workforce…

Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System is possibly the longest continuing and most successful improvement methodology today. It is a great process for motivating workers and for sustaining improvement. So simple, yet so powerful.

Related: Stop Demotivating EmployeesCommunicating Changetheory x motivationIncentive Programs are IneffectiveMotivational Posterstheory x or theory y managementposts on managing respect for people

Change is not Improvement

In response to: Why executives order reorgs [the broken link was removed]

“We trained hard… but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion; inefficiency, and demoralization.”

These lines, from the Satyricon of Petronius written 2,000 years ago…

Unfortunately it seems this quote is not actually his [the broken link was removed. Peter Scholtes first told me this quote wasn’t accurate, when he was in the process of researching it for his book, The Leader’s Handbook]. Instead apparently someone attributed the quote to him to give it the weight of time. I think that the sentiment expressed rings true speaks to the experience of many.

The Improvement Guide: the Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance, is an excellent handbook on making changes that are improvements rather than just a way to create the illusion of progress. The book uses three simple questions to frame the improvement strategy.

  • What are we trying accomplish?
  • How will we know that a change is an improvement?
  • What changes can we make that will result in improvement?

The second questions if rarely used. Without that question it is much easier to make vague statements that seem like reasons to change and why it would be an improvement. But if you have to document how you will know the change is successful it makes it more difficult to change for just the appearance of improvement.

Once the organization does that regularly, the next step is to actually measure the results and validate the success or failure of the improvement efforts.

Management Lessons from Terry Ryan

Management Lessons from Terry Ryan: Humility, Stability & Personality from Management by Baseball:

competitors in any endeavor figure anything easy must not be a very important differentiator (bass-ackwards of course, but the erroneous mental algebra is that if it was important and easy both, everyone could/would do it and since they’re not doing it and it’s easy it, therefore, must not be important. Goofy but widespread thinking. As long as Ryan and his team make this seem like luck or just simple stuff, others won’t feel like they’re being outfoxed (which is not an incentive to deal with the fox again).

This seems true to me. I can’t really understand why people seem unwilling to do the simple known things to improve performance. But there does seem to be the attitude that we need to find secret or fantastic new ideas in order to learn.

People seem to think: โ€œI can’t just read some idea in a book published 30 years ago and improve. If it were that easy everyone would be doing it.โ€ Well it isnโ€™t quite that easy but it is close. Just do the obvious things that have been well publicized for decades and you will do much better than most.

Ryan says the whole operation has had this 10- to 12 year run of stable key folk. This lowers overhead, as anyone who has ever worked in a healthy small business. Operational overhead shrivels becaus[e] people learn what others’ strengths are, learn to trust and leave people alone to do their jobs. Once it becomes apparent that chronic office politics and effort invested in other overhead activities gets no organizational reward, people look for alternatives (like real work) with which to win brownie points.

Avoiding Deming’s deadly disease: mobility of top management.

Toyota Manufacturing Powerhouse, Relentless, Detroit News:

Unusual among automakers, “they don’t hide a lot,” Coventry said. “It’s like going to the Super Bowl and having the opposite side throw their playbook on the table. It’s as if they feel they can still beat you on the field.”

Here is one simple way to get results. Use the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes. Some more great management books.

Laurence Haughton on Peter Drucker

Laurence Haughton on Peter Drucker:

He criticized organizations who issued directives to “cut 5 or 10 percent from budgets across the board.”

And I’ll bet others can find 100 additional quoted and ignored lessons from Peter Drucker just like that one

I’m sorry to say that despite all the tributes, up to now, we’ve learned very little from Peter Drucker.

It is frustrating, but I wouldn’t draw that conclusion.

As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of W. Edwards Deming’s ideas. Many of his ideas are ignored. However, even so, his influence on management in America, and worldwide, has been significant and positive. The way I see it even though managers are only benefiting from say 20% of the wisdom of Deming or Drucker that could very well still make Deming or Drucker the most influential management expert.

updated: Also see the Slacker Manager post on The Drucker paradox [the broken link was removed]

Related: Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively