True Improvement vs Illusion of Progress

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

True Improvement vs Illusion of Progress a presentation by Peter Scholtes. Peter gave this presentation at George Washington University in 1990.

In the presentation Peter discusses five ingredients of true improvement:

  1. The proposed change is rooted in deep awareness of your customers: their concerns and how they apply what you supply.
  2. The proposed changes are important to the business and are acknowledged by customers as something of value.
  3. The approach to change is disciplined, logical, data-based and addresses the deep causes of whatever is in need of remedy.
  4. The change is supported by subject matter expertise and an understanding of how change in one operation affects other independent processes in the system.
  5. The change – its good intentions, deeper knowledge and methods – is translated into a clear picture of the new standardized operational procedure.

Peter also shares a great story about how Konica camera company focused on how to help customers take better photos instead of focusing just on the mechanics of their cameras. This understanding of the company’s role in helping customers achieve “jobs to be done” is extremely important.

The second portion of the presentation is packed with useful ideas. Peter shares a seven-step improvement model and important questions to address in each step.

As Peter mentions, accessing the results of improvements is an often overlooked step; that seems crazy, but I have also seen that results are often not monitored. Often a couple of data points are selected to “show improvement,” but there is no continual monitoring or results. The illusion of improvement is much easier to mistake for real improvement if there are not effective measurement systems to help evaluate the impact of changes over time.

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As Peter mentions, another important part of an effective improvement process is the continual improvement of that improvement process.

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