Reflection and Getting to Work on Improvement

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Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

The start of a new year is a good excuse to take stock of how things are going and think about what improvements you could work on. Those reading this blog could frame that in relation to how things are going at work and how you would like to make an effort to improve.

It is very easy to get so busy getting through what must be done each day and week that those things you believe are important just keep getting delayed until they are forgotten. Now is a good time to think about what important improvements you would like to work on that you didn’t get around to last year.

Thinking about why past interest in improving failed is worthwhile. Why didn’t those past efforts have the desired results?

image of text - quote by Dr. Deming: "Improvement of Quality and Productivity, to be successful in any company, must be a learning process, year by year, top management leading the whole company."

Sometimes people have big ideas but can’t figure out how to get started so nothing happens. With this type of problem, finding small steps to get started is useful. Take some small steps while thinking about how to build on those over time. Keep the initial steps to get started small and then get to work.

Other times what you think of working on doesn’t interest others. This is a weakness; it might still work, but it is much better to find things that matter to others and work on those things. This will help you gain cooperation, if and when you need it. Also when you make progress on things people care about, it makes it much easier to build on the success. This is the magic that successful management improvement efforts use to fuel continual improvement.

A longer term strategy, that I really like, is to grow your circle of influence. To me, it is a great long-term strategy with an appreciation for systems thinking. You can increase benefits over time, and it makes it so management improvement efforts keep getting easier, which is nice. The beginning is the hardest part. (The links in this post have some tips).

Other times, the problem is not largely due to lack of knowledge or experience on process improvement tools or strategies. The best way to learn is by doing. The problem here is that you don’t want to stumble around with those you have to convince to go along. For this issue, I suggest finding a project you can work on your own, or with a few other people that are excited to learn and try out new ideas. Gain some comfort with, for example, using the PDSA cycle (or any other tool) without too much pressure. This is one of the instances where I think choosing items mainly for ease is fine (rather than chasing for impact).

While what I just recommended can work, it is challenging to pull off well. It is much better if you can work with a consultant at first to help guide the process and let you work on an effort that will help you build an appreciation in the organization for the value of management improvement efforts. But if you don’t have the ability to hire a consultant, then you can work on your own to learn, just realize it will be a much slower path to success. If you use a consultant, the most important part, not surprisingly, is chasing the right one. I won’t go into that now but for readers of this blog, finding a consultant that demonstrates mastery of Deming’s ideas is obviously critical.

Reading and listening (to our podcasts and videos) is a great help. In my experience, it is much more valuable when that learning is combined with actual attempts to make a difference in your organization. Just learning abstractly is helpful, but it really isn’t until, for example, you are trying to work on turning the PDSA cycle multiple times quickly that you can really get the most from the material you are learning from.

We have previous posts on this blog that can help you get started: How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on ManagementHow Do I Apply New Management Ideas Without Executive Level Support?Stratify Data to Hone in on Special Causes of Problems

1 thought on “Reflection and Getting to Work on Improvement”

  1. Balaji S. Reddie

    Someone at his Seminar : I’m too small to make such a difference .
    WED : Have you spent a night under a blanket with a mosquito ?
    Someone : (laughs)
    WED : Begin with yourself……….just please begin !

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