“All of our problems arise from doing the wrong thing, righter”

-Russell Ackoff

Service organizations have long embraced process improvement to fix their problems.  The most popular fads have been lean and/or six sigma to enable process improvement.  Large organizations have whole elitist groups to facilitate such efforts.

Charged to improve  processes with limited scope and thinking by management, these teams kick off projects that must bear a return.  So, they go out find some low-hanging fruit and check the box of improvement.  This allows the team to celebrate and claim victory.  Pizza party for those involved.

Been there . . . done that.  Process improvement is not system improvement, not that some don’t try to be.  But when teams:

  • get no or little executive involvement (beyond sponsorship),
  • don’t focus on changing management thinking,
  • and don’t redesign the work end-to-end,

we wind up with process improvement that has little real improvement or damaging effects on the entire system.  This comes in the form of waste and sub-optimization.  It’s like wetting your pants, you get that warm feeling at first, but really are only left with a mess.

Systemic improvement begins with getting knowledge outside-in as a system.  This means understanding the customer purpose of the work we do and adopting measures from this purpose and redesigning the work to achieve this purpose.  Anything else is really just top-down, inside-out command and control thinking and efforts.

Management has to have skin in the game to get a normative experience to see the damage of their thinking on work design.  Without a change to thinking systems will revert back to the original state or, more likely, entropy.

Unfortunately, most improvements are of the process kind.  Management has little desire or motive to change and so process improvement becomes acceptable and comfortable.  So those that need to change most . . . management are left out and business improvement becomes marginalized.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.