Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Continuous Improvement Killers

I'm a huge fan of continuous improvement or (given my adversity to #wankywords) always looking for better ways to do things. The problem is that whilst some of us are keenly looking for improvement, others are more interested in maintaining the status quo - here's the most dangerous improvement killers out there:

Reverse engineering.  This is the subtlest of the improvement killers but it's also one of the most harmful. Dressed up as accepting change what this often looks like is a rose with a quick change of name that still looks and smells the same.  A great example of this is when changing training materials - in education we often get a new qualification or a change say from competency based assessments to achievement based - we can change the qualification, the assessments, but often the teaching teams want to 'adapt' what they currently have.  In essence this means teaching exactly the same material under a different title and killing the opportunity to really make things better.  Sometimes a big improvement opportunity calls for big changes not just tweaks.  Sometimes we can't break through to the next level without leaving the last one behind, scary as that might be.

Don't throw the baby out... We've all heard this one too and in some ways it's related to the one above.  Sure we need to change the bathwater, but the baby stays right? Yes... sometimes.  Sometimes the metaphoric baby was the problem in the first place.  Sometimes our metaphor is a bit twisted too - the baby is the bit we need to change and the bathwater was okay, but it's all changed around depending on who you need to speak to.  Ask yourself this question; if we were starting from scratch, would we do it this way? You might then be able to at least work out what needs to go.

We've tried that and it didn't work.  How many times have you had a suggestion bounced back because it's been tried before but didn't work?  Reality is that this is another way of saying that 'it ain't broke don't fix it'.  It's possible that they have tried it before and maybe it didn't work, but everything changes and often as not there's a whole raft of reasons why initiatives haven't worked, some of those may well have changed.  You do need to learn from the past and things that have been tried, but you also need to be able to revisit past ideas with a fresh perspective and recognise the opportunity for improvements are no more set in stone than the thing you are trying to improve.

If it ain't broke... Okay so I used this phrase above, but it's important to note that there's a whole world of people out there who believe that something being okay is good enough.  I don't believe in 'best practice' but I do believe in opportunities to improve always being there.  Great it works, could it work better?  Even when I'm told (maybe especially when I'm told) this is best practice (stay calm) I want to ask 'Is there a better way of doing this?'.  Even if it was the best for a given point in time with a given set of people and conditions, those things change, is it still as good as it can be?

We don't have time.  Now you're just pushing my buttons! This is one of the most frustrating things in business, the illusion of a lack of time or a perceived level of 'busy' that prevents looking for better ways to do things.  If you don't have time to find efficiency savings for example, then you actually have to accept that you're okay wasting time.  It's like someone offering you a $20 dollar note for a $10 and you turning it down because you only had $12 and you can't afford it...

Best Practice. Sorry, had to add this in, I know I referred to it, but it doesn't exist and so it's a killer to continuous improvement because it infers something is 'concrete'.  This is the best and so decreed that it will always be so. BS. If something is in reality the absolute best (and I'm not even sure that is a reality given the amount of subjectives at play), it's the best then and there only, with those circumstances and conditions, people, time etc. everything changes and so does your practice need to.

People.  I didn't really want to say people because I like to think that everyone would change for the better given the opportunity, but the reality is that some people won't ever change and sometimes we just need to move around them, over them, through them or whatever else works to actually get effective improvements.  I'm not ready to give up on most people this easily, but there are some people that simply resist any sort of change even if it means huge benefits for them.

That's it, I'm fairly well done on the subject for today at least, but just like the content of this blog, this list is subject to change and improvement.  Have I missed something? Almost certainly, so feel free to add comments or ideas to mine...