Pipeline Workshops: Three Dimensions of Continuous Improvement

(published on Escape from Averageness in February 2009 as “The Antidote to Averageness”, emphasizing three critical dimensions in which builders must continuously get the job done; now discussed at every Pipeline workshop)


In the Lean World, the term “sensei” connotes the idea of wise counsel; a similar term in the TOC (Theory of Constraints) World is a “Jonah”.  My buddies Pascal Dennis and Scott Sedam would no doubt have a more authentic and appropriate definition for sensei;  all of us would agree that serving the homebuilding industry can feel less like either, and more like a voice in the wilderness.

What the three descriptions share is the wisdom of time.

Over the years, I have learned to reduce matters – solving problems, managing constraints, meeting challenges, prioritizing opportunities – to their essence. The term for this approach is elegance:  solutions that are simple, suitable, appropriate, effective, to the point.

It was not always so.

Almost two decades ago, as SAI Consulting was beginning its work of helping homebuilding companies understand and improve their business processes, I characterized the effort to achieve and sustain improvements in business performance as having “a certain chemistry – a complexity and a comprehensiveness”, noting, therefore, that “improving performance tends to be hard, involved work.”

I went on to say that, “It is hard work because performance can’t be improved without doing things differently, and change is threatening to most people;  it is involved work because improving performance requires more than a simple, one-dimensional approach – it requires a continuous effort on more than one front.”

In retrospect, I do think there is a chemistry, and I do think it is hard, involved work; but not because it is complex.  Even at the time I was noting its complexity, I was also saying that “business performance improvement really boils down to getting the job done – viewing the issue, sustaining the effort, and getting the results – in three critical dimensions.”

Now, I would substitute “focused” for “complex”, and I would say that you have to do what works, that you have to know how and when to use the tools in the toolbox, without regard to the consulting religion or denomination from which they come, but I would also say that those three dimensions are as true and relevant today as they were 17 years ago.

For a homebuilding company, improving operating performance and business outcomes still requires an operating discipline, a business context, and a perspective about how value is created and delivered.

DISCIPLINE: Narrow the strategic focus.  Design the components of your operating model – your processes, your systems, your business structure, your business culture – to deliver exceptional levels of the specific and distinctive value demanded by a narrowly-defined and purposely-chosen segment of homebuyers.

CONTEXT: Become a company of business-people.  Develop a savvy, accountable, motivated homebuilding team comprised of savvy, accountable, motivated teammates, and instill in them a business logic:  teach them the real numbers of the business, give them the authority and responsibility to act upon that knowledge, and, then provide them – as a team, not as individuals – a collective stake in the financial outcome, a collective stake in their livelihoods, a collective stake in their futures.

PERSPECTIVE: Get horizontal.  Organize and focus your efforts around the manner in which you perform work and create value.  It is the most basic and fundamental proposition of your business enterprise – of any business enterprise:  the reason you exist – the way you make money – is through the value you deliver to your customers and other stakeholders;  the only way that value is created is through the work that you do;  the only way that work is performed is through some manner of workflow;  work flows horizontally, not vertically.

Absent a disciplined operating model, an underlying business logic, and a horizontal perspective of how value is created and delivered, an understanding of production principles would be knowledge without purpose. Pipeline workshops provide the parameters in which production principles operate.

Pipeline workshops are a call to action; they provide a way forward.


The next Pipeline workshop is at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on October 15-16, 2014. Cost is $795.00.

Delivered by SAI Consulting. Sponsored by BuilderMT and Big Builder (Hanley Wood).

Registration/Reservations: www.buildervelocity.com