Improvement Is an Essential Skill for Every Manager


As a manager do too many days feel like ‘Groundhog Day’? Do you seem to be solving the same problems over and over again?

How would it be if over time there were less and less of these recurring problems. In addition, wouldn’t it be great if you are then better able to deal with the new issues that life will inevitably throw at you?


The good news is that you can do this by developing your skills in the science of improvement. The tough news is that it takes some learning.


I hear you say, “I didn’t get where I am today by doing science.”

Hmm? Really?

Frankly life today is too complex for simply relying on pure intuition, guesswork, ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ or ‘shooting from the hip’. This type of approach is what has got you to where you are now.

AND. It really is a big ‘AND’; underlying these you and I have a massive problem in ourselves because we all have thinking ‘blind spots’. According to Terry Heick these so-called cognitive biases reduce our thinking accuracy and result in inaccurate–and often irrational–conclusions.

Psychologists, it’s based on science, have identified over 180 of these and everyone has some combination of these human biases.

OK. First let’s just look at the word science in very simple terms. Combining a few definitions, it’s about knowledge from the study of the nature and behaviour of natural things based on facts learned through experiments and observation. Natural here means real, tangible or visible.

MORE SCIENCE – Is your mind set?

Research by Professor Carol M Dweck and others has shown we may all hold unconscious assumptions about our ability, which might be affecting our openness to learning. It’s called mindset and there is a whole spectrum of responses.

At one end of this spectrum, people unconsciously assume they have inborn ability that their success. Dweck calls this a ‘fixed mindset’. At the opposite end, people have a ‘growth mindset’, which means they can achieve success through persistence, changing what they are doing and an openness to learning, both formal and informal.

Most people are unaware of their mindset, which is usually only noticeable in their behaviour. Usually it is only in the face of difficulty or mistakes the difference is noticeable.

In the face of difficulty, a fixed mindset people tend to show helplessness and vulnerability. They tend to avoid that difficulty in future. They may stereotype, label and even lie to protect their self-image. However, a growth mindset tends to be more resilient in the face of difficulty. As well as persistence they can look for new processes, skills, knowledge and strategies.


Firstly, let’s think about an everyday problem that you may encounter. Let’s say one of your customers has experienced a problem with your product or service. In other words, in some way, it has not lived up to what they were expecting.

What’s your normal reaction? Deny that there is a problem – using a typical ‘political’ response perhaps? Find someone to blame within your organization or perhaps blame the customer?

Instead ask, “What’s actually happening and why is that?”

How could you find out?

If you could find out what’s happening and why, particularly the facts, surely this could lead to preventing things going wrong again in future. There may also be learning that means you could improve your product or service and gain competitive advantage by making it better, faster, costing less or all three.

Especially the last one, because mistakes cost money directly or indirectly.

The idea is if we can really get to the underlying our root causes of our problems, we can make changes that will stop them recurring. In life there is seldom purely one cause for a particular outcome or effect. Very often there can be a chain of causes.


A proven way to apply scientific thinking in organizations is the Deming Wheel. People know it as the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle and Plan-Do-Check-Act (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Deming was very clear that it should be Study and not Check. Study makes it very clear that proper investigation is necessary, rather than a tick in a box.

Below you can see the cycle laid out.


I recommend that you start at Study so that you have a sound, factual foundation for your project and the decisions that you take. Indeed, I usually refer to it as SAPDo to really emphasize starting with Study.

The current conditions might be better understood if you use visual methods such as process mapping along with visual analysis of data using Process Behaviour charts (AKA SPC or 6 sigma). With that understanding further analysis can be carried out with the 5 Whys and the Fishbone Diagram.

Once you have sound facts then you can have more confidence that the conclusions you have drawn on the situation will lead to effective decisions.

Improvement is a topic that I have written about before. Next, to find out more, you could read about the A3 Report. This can really help your improvement project by adding structure to it. You can read more in my blog about it.


  • It’s tough making decisions as a manager in complex world

  • Managers need to make effective decisions upon which they can take effective action

  • We can benefit from developing a growth or learning mindset

  • We are all biased, so we need the help of scientific thinking

  • Use the SAPDo cycle to drive your improvement projects

If you would like to develop your improvement skills talk to me about my project-based A3 Business Improvement Training. It’s highly practical and at the end issues in your business will have been tackled at the same time as building knowledge and skills in improvement.

If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment to discuss my A3 Coaching Six-Pack do contact me via the button below. Please do include your email address, which I will only use to send information to you relevant to your inquiry.

Thank you for reading this blog. Hope you have enjoyed it and found it useful. If you have any other questions do please use the button above. Do please share this blog with your friends, colleagues and connections. Looking forward to sharing my next blog with you.