The antidote to average-ness

In the Lean World, the term “sensei” connotes the idea of wise counsel. My buddy Pascal Dennis would no doubt have a more authentic and appropriate term, but both of us would probably agree that serving the homebuilding industry can feel less like a sensei and more like being a voice in the wilderness. Qualifying as a true VITW would seem to require that you endure at least 10 years of frustration. On that basis, I could certainly qualify.

If I have learned anything over the years, it is to reduce things – problems, solutions, challenges, opportunities – to their essence. It was not always so. Ten years ago, when SAI was just beginning its work in helping homebuilding companies to understand and improve their business processes, I characterized the effort to achieve and sustain improvements in business performance as involving “a certain chemistry – a complexity and a comprehensiveness”, and, for that reason, “improving performance tends to be hard, involved work.” I went on to say that, “It is hard work because performance cannot 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 it is hard, involved work, but not because it is complex. Even at the time I was saying how complex it was, I was also saying that “it seems to us 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.”

I would substitute “focused” for “complex”, but I would also say that those three dimensions are as true and relevant today as they were 10 years ago. For a homebuilding company, improving operating performance and business outcomes still comes down to having a strategic and marketing discipline, creating a business context in which everything makes sense, and having a perspective toward how value is created.

Discipline: It has to narrow its focus, by designing its operating model to deliver exceptional levels of the specific and distinctive value demanded by a narrowly defined segment of homebuyers.

Context: It has to be a company of business-people. A savvy, accountable, and motivated homebuilding team comprised of savvy, accountable, and motivated teammates. It must teach its employees the real numbers of the business, give them the authority – and responsibility – to act on that knowledge, and then give them a real stake in the financial outcome.

Perspective: It has to organize and focus its efforts around the systemic manner in which it performs work and creates value for its buyers. Sometimes it is about process management. Sometimes it is about project management. Sometimes it is about solving problems, and sometimes it is about managing constraints. It is always about understanding the cause-and-effect nature of the system in which it operates.

Everything else is just a means to an end.


  1. Ping from Leslie:

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  2. Ping from Leslie:

    No one with the right mind set wants to be average or mediocre. Mediocrity should not be the norm.

    Self Strategy, as well as business strategy is always better with focus. But sometimes a narrow focus can blind you to what is happening and around you – (cause and effect theory). So, is it narrow focus that is needed or attention to excellence?

    I read once a quote that stuck with me – “Every job is a self portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” — LMD