Getting Results: A Two Stage Process?

When you first get involved with an improvement activity you often find that you can split the improvement into two halves. One part is fixing things that are broken, the other part is doing things that will make the process work so much better than it does currently. Making this distinction can help to improve the way that the improvement works out for your business.

When you don't make this distinction it is possible to lose focus and not make tangible progress. Critical actions get lost in the mix of activities and you find that you are still stuck with today's lacklustre process. So, whilst you are trying to make things better you still have to get the day job done. If this takes longer than it needs to be that can be a problem.

Distinguishing between the fixing and improving tasks doesn't take long to do, but it can help provide clarity and focus, and more importantly speed to the improvement project.

A good example of this is one of my clients; they were trying to sort out the performance of their business' ERP system. We completed a current state map and it was clear that there were a great deal of gaps in their day to day working practices. These were clearly things to fix and we could also see ways to improve them longer term. We also conducted a future state mapping session, to see where we could get to with the system, and this included closing some of the gaps that we found, but the majority of the items were improvements.
The improvements were tempting, that's for sure, but the focus in the first instance had to be closing the gaps out (fixing stuff). This is the approach we took, with rapid results, and goes back to the two stage improvement approach that I often witness.

When you start out on an improvement project that splits down into these two stages, as I have described above, it does help your focus to categorise the two groups; things to fix and things to improve. Then comes prioritisation within the things to fix category. 'Do less better' is a mantra I have adopted, close out one gap after another rather than trying to do all of them at the same time.

Once you have a complete process (i.e. all the gaps have been closed) then you can get to work on the improving part. Not all improvement projects will require a fixing stage, but many do. If you are spending a lot of time on your improvement projects and not seeing progress, or results, it might be time to take a step back and ask if your project also has this two stage theme. If it does, you know what to do.

Giles Johnston
...optimising MRP systems and re-engineering business processes