What to Change? What to Change to? How to Make the Change?

(a version previously posted on Escape from Averageness® in November 2015, titled “A Preoccupation With Internal Perspectives”)

As a management consultant, the best, most actionable points of advice I can offer my clients are:  (1) build a commonly-held, commonly-shared sense of urgency towards results;  and (2) evidence that sense of urgency with a plan for implementing a focused process of continuous improvement – a prioritized series of initiatives, performed in a specific, consecutive order, that achieves targeted, defined, measurable achievements towards those results.

Points of advice that should beg these logical questions:  a sense of urgency towards what?  What kind of targeted, defined, measurable results should we be talking about?  A process of continuous improvement . . . focused on what?

The idea of continuous improvement implies a need to address issues, to solve problems;  if it was not a manifest weakness, or a threat, or a constraint, or a gap, or an inadequacy, or a problem, there would be no reason or need to improve it.

The nature of every accepted improvement methodology – be it Total Quality Management, Business Process Improvement, Lean Production, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints – is to focus internally, on resolving operational issues, on solving problems, on dealing with quality issues;  done the right way, continuous improvement addresses the root causes of problems (not the symptoms);  done more comprehensively, it establishes the operational drivers of business outcomes.

There are certain realizations, realizations that become requirements.

One of the realizations of a process of continuous improvement is this:  operational planning (where continuous improvement lives) has to exist within the larger, more important context of strategic planning that establishes prerequisites and necessary conditions.  If that context does not exist, or if the existing context has not been updated, validated, confirmed – is no longer current, is no longer relevant – then there is no direction.

Another realization is this:  we live in a world of systems, which informs how we should think about and act upon continuous improvement;  “systems-thinking” is a way of reasoning, rooted in an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, rooted in the interdependent nature of a system’s parts, rooted in ordered behavior, rooted in the way problems are solved.

Systems are not some loosely-connected set of independent and unrelated parts – a collection of processes, departments, systems, resources, policies, and other isolated pieces of a whole;  systems-thinking is about improving the performance of the system, not its pieces or parts – not any of the parts, not some of the parts, not even all of the parts, independent of one another.

Failing those realizations, you get one or more of the following occurrences:  (1) things can get improved that have no correlation with where your enterprise needs to go, with what it wants to be;  (2) it becomes reasonable to improve anything and everything you can, without regard to order, priority, or timing;  (3) continuous improvement becomes a burdensome effort of too many initiatives, often at cross-purposes to each other;  (4) what gets improved can be disconnected from – can have little to do with – the value homebuyers expect you to create for them.

Pardon the stranded prepositions, but before it is worth being good at something, you have to know what it is important to be good at.  And, before you decide to improve something, you have to know what you will get the most improvement from.  The question becomes, what do you have to do to get there?

Eli Goldratt had it right:  What to change?  What to change to?  How to make the change?

When you know what to do, you can figure out how to do it.