The Improvement Journey

Bob Schultek Author of
The Gauntlet

Every innovation or improvement effort begins by defining the problem.

In addition to describing it, this definition should answer a few questions: How serious is it? How urgent is it? How costly will it be to resolve?

While soliciting stakeholders to collaborate in resolving the problem, it’s important to confirm that everyone agrees that there is a problem, and that it’s solvable. Some may see the problem as a condition that cannot be resolved, that it must be accepted as is. And among this group will be those who support the status quo.

Depending on the gravity and urgency of the challenge, those representing this position will passionately argue that any variation from the current process is too risky, expensive or disruptive to consider. They will argue for more analysis and emphasize the pain that will result from trying to make things better.

To avoid this scenario of having to justify every decision or address every inconvenience, once it is agreed that an opportunity exists to improve, challenge each collaborator to craft a simple resolution concept, or accept responsibility for not addressing the problem. As each idea is assessed, consider possible outcomes by asking: “Why will that work?” and “How will it work?”

This discussion of ideas will result in choices to be made. There should be a thorough and robust analysis of the proposed alternatives so that the best solution can emerge, enabling the team to commit and be accountable for implementing it.

As one path forward is chosen over others, some collaborators may become nervous or frustrated, concerned that they may be committing to the wrong remedy. To overcome this fear, focus on removing constraints to generate progress; resolving these is the purpose of the project. Without constraints, there’s no reason for pursuing the innovation or improvement. Seeing them as milestones in your remedial journey towards the targeted outcome validates that the most effective resolution has been chosen. Removing constraints confirms that you’re making something better.

What is your process for pursuing innovation and improvement?

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