mardi 5 juin 2012

Not all improvement is transformation

First, let’s define what I mean by transformation : A transformation is to create something sustainable, new and better in terms of effectiveness and efficiency ( “In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is determined without reference to costs and, whereas efficiency means "doing the thing right," effectiveness means "doing the right thing.", ) for customers , stakeholders and the whole Organization.

But why improvements are not (always) transformational ? Below, a first reflection…about it.

1.Understanding statistical theory contributes to improvement of management of a system ( Recognizing a stable system, understanding common causes and special causes are allow us to understand variation between people , interactions and interactions between people and their System (source : Shewart, Wheeler, Deming) Without understanding the difference between common causes and special causes, the probability is high to improve the wrong things and that things soon come back as they were. (source : Shewart, Wheeler, Deming) I’ve personally lived the experience one more time by focusing on individual or Departments rather than focusing on the whole System. Focusing on improving individual performance through Standard Operating Procedures and individual KPI, on improving Takt Time of a process, on setting up leveling box to manage priorities… lead me one more time to improve the wrong things. Without understanding common causes and special causes, few improvements are transformational. So, we’ve improved the wrong things to create something new but not better.

2.Each of us as individual has his own mental model. How is it possible to transform without challenging what we think and why we think. First, we have to be opened to transform the way we think…. How can we lead a transformation without being ready to learn new things? As individual (insider), a transformation comes necessarily through new questions helping us to understand what’s our Organization is doing and why we are doing what we’re doing. Improving without challenging what we think and why we think will most often lead to the same results than before. Why? Our assumptions about work and people drive the way we design our Organization (rules, incentives, system, appraisals,…). To transform we must not imagine to challenge only one time our way of thinking but we have to be conscious that we will have to continuously challenge our thinking. External questions (Patrick, Jean, Barry, Sarah, Ibby,…) have also contributed along my journey to learn…and continue to support my learning. Although with some, the exchange time was short, their questions have allowed me to discover by serendipity new answers and questions ....Most often those experts didn’t come with advices, solutions or plans but with questions. So, it’s really important to be clear about what you want when you select advice from outside (consultants, educators,…). On what method and on which assumptions do they based their work ? To start, I highly recommend “The leaders’ handbook, P. Scholtes” for any outsider or insider . If we improve things without challenging our thinking, we will not create something new , perhaps something better but for how long ?

  3.I highly recommend to read the book Thinking in Systems, A Primer, Donella H. Meadows, Edited by Diana Wright, sustainability institute. In chapter 6, D.H. Meadows gives with humility a list of places to intervene in a system ( See below a copy of the list of leverage points to intervene in a system in increasing order of effectiveness.
" •Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)
• The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows
•Structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)
•Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes 
•Strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against
•Gain around driving positive feedback loops
•Structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)
•Rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)
•Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure
• Goal of the system
•Mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises from
• Power to transcend paradigms "

She claimed we need to know about these shifts, where they are and how to use them. Forrester (Thinking in Systems, A Primer, Donella H. Meadows) said most people know where these points are instinctively, but tend to adjust them in the wrong direction. DH. Meadows says also it’s a tentative of order (see conclusion) but the higher the leverage point , the more the system will resist changing it. So, effectiveness of improvements is linked with the place you intervene…It’s also another way to reply to the answer. We're not always creating something new through interventions in and on the system and not necessarily something better and sustainable.

4. See also E.W. Deming, Out of the crisis in order to gain understanding on SPK (to be developped in a further post). 

You've certainly other stories, other references or other ways to explain why only a few improvements are transformation. Please share your comments.

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All content is my opinion and nothing should be interpreted as being endorsed by my employer