Improvement for nothin' and performance for free?

Copyright 2014 Key Business Improvement

Copyright 2014 Key Business Improvement

Well almost! You do have to put in the effort, particularly in thinking differently. Sadly for too many managers at all levels 'paying' that price is too high. However, on the bright side there are many who are willing to pay the price and to think differently.

According to research in the UK very roughly across all sectors half of activity is waste. In that a huge amount of activity is neither creating value that customers would willingly pay for nor stuff you have got to do at the moment like planning, paying wages in cash, paying suppliers by cheque, proper maintenance, and so on.

In workshops or when giving talks, I ask whether business people have ever been given the wrong information and had to do a job twice or have they had to wait for information or materials before they can carry out their activities. Almost always all hands go up. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a huge amount waste in all organisations, yet there seems to be limited systematic effort to continuously keep driving out waste. Computers and the internet are no exception!

There are techniques like so-called Lean Six Sigma that are very powerful and can extract waste to produce the ultimate in efficient and effective running of any organisation. Unfortunately it is usually thought that specialists are required and managers at all levels seem reluctant to make it part of everyday core activities.

If managers are really serious about improving performance and thinking differently, a good starting point for making ongoing all round improvement is to use the Study-Act-Plan-Do (SAPDo) cycle. The idea is for the use of this improvement cycle to be part of everyone's everyday work helping them to take a simple systematic approach to solving problems. This includes managers and 'C'-suite executives.

You will find the SAPDo learning and improvement cycle also presented as PDSA, PDCA and it is very similar to the DMAIC cycle used in Lean Six Sigma. You will see similarities with scientific method, which has been around in one form or another for over two thousand years. So as a fact- or evidence-based approach to resolving issues or improving performance you might think it has some pedigree.


When faced with a performance issue, challenge or problem, instead of jumping straight into action - or even plan - stop and study, really look at what is actually happening. It may be that immediate action is required to protect the customer or the organisation. Take that action and then go back to understanding the underlying cause of the problem. Once you do understand the underlying cause then you can look at the alternative ways to change systems of work, processes and, perhaps, the policies or lack of them that caused the issue in the first place.

Time and time again having put in place some temporary remedial action people seem to think that's it! Until the next time...

Risk assessments must be part of considering alternative permanent solutions. You don't want to create a whole new set of problems, now do you?


Decision time. Choose a course of action to change the systems and or processes taking into account the risks or implications. If you don't change the systems or processes you will go on getting what you always got or worse because stuff wears out and people get fed up.

Important question. Can you do this for nothing? That is, by using what you have already, perhaps in a different and better way, can you still resolve your issue. You will be surprised what the possibilities of this are if you only ask the question. One payoff for doing it for nothing is that you will not get delayed or blocked by sorting the finances so can get the benefits sooner - and free!


Here's an important question: How would you know whether a change was an improvement? If it is possible to measure what's happening so much the better. In the absence of careful measurement, too often improvement is sabotaged by vested interests, "That didn't work!"

Planning to change the way work is done in terms of what is changed, what new resources may be required, what training everyone involved might be required - including for management - and when and how long it will take to implement the change.

Here's the bad news. No plan stands contact with reality. Everyone should know this from their experience. Yet people constantly seem surprised that they have to amend their plans. If you think about this should not be a surprise. Even if the analysis of the whole situation was perfect the outside world is in a constant state of flux. So, you know the Boy Scouts motto, Be Prepared!


So you put your plan into action implementing your improvement to the system. You start run the new system allowing it to settle down, all the while, hopefully, measuring performance data.


Finally, what has happened? comparing before and after was there a significant change? Even more importantly, what did you learn along the way? Is there room for further improvement and can you do that for nothing too? If it didn't work, what will you now try?

The SAPDo learning and improvement cycle can be thought of as spiral of improvement. Always looking for opportunities to improve or take into account changing outside circumstances and environment. And it may only cost you the 'price' of thinking differently.

This was based upon the ebook Simply Manage, where you can find out more. about effective management.