Skip to main content

Seeing the Improvement Wood for the Chaos Trees!

How are you feeling about your business the moment?

Are you feeling frustrated and irritated by the apparent lack of progress being made with your improvements?

If you answer ‘yes’ to this second question, don’t worry, you are not alone!

We all feel this way at times and the reason I am writing this article is that if you feel this way right now then I want to reassure you that there is a simple way to get out of this situation. I have been in this situation many times in both my operational life and as a consultant. It is normal and taking a deep breath and stepping back from the noise of the day-to-day is essential.

Let me take you through the three quick steps of Stopping, Assessing and Acting.

Take stock of where you are right now

In order for us to step back and try and see some of the ‘improvement wood’ as I refer to in the title of this article we need to have a simple question to focus our attention. A question I recommend that you ask is:

“Do our current processes suit the needs of the business and our customers?”

Hopefully you already have your processes mapped out and understand clearly what is meant to happen step by step.

Note – if you don’t have a grip on your business processes then check out this method to help you. 

When I was responsible for a loss making business unit I was still relatively new to the business and didn’t fully understand how it all worked from start to end; I didn’t understand the theory behind the chaos. All I knew was that I had been dropped into a chaotic work environment where the customers rang constantly to complain and I frankly had no way out because I didn’t have my road map.

Once I got my head around the process the route forward became clearer. Make sure you are clear what your business is meant to look like before you try to plan your way out.

Who owns which process?

Leaving your organisation chart behind (temporarily) we need to be clear on who owns which process within the business.

A phrase I use on a seemingly bi-weekly frequency is ‘we don’t need more processes we need more execution’. If your business is clear on what should be happening (as in, you do actually know what your processes are and how they should work) then the next question we need to ask ourselves is:

“Do we have clarity on who owns what process, how we measure that process and how we report on it?”

Days can be busy and effective teamwork and process ownership can get blurry. I remember one business where everyone got involved with everything in a bid to help each other out. It sounds nice, but the reality was that it became a right old ‘hodge podge’ no one did their own job well, but spent time helping each other out. For example, the purchasing role was done 50% by the person who was meant to be doing the job and the other half was nibbled away by the three other members of the team. It was no wonder that their supply chain were confused with so many people getting involved with their overlapping activities.

Getting clear on the question above will help you to immediately spot some process management issues that you can start to address.

Grab a whiteboard, a wall, anything(!) and take a time out to figure out what you need to change

What else concerns you?

If you want to move away from a state of chaos to one of performance and control you need to be clear about what else is concerning you about how your business is working.

At this point in the seeing the wood for the trees activity you should already have a list of:

  • Process steps that don’t make sense that you want to change.
  • Management issues (ownership, measurement and reporting) that you need to address.

"So, what else concerns you about how your day to day works?"

Draw up a list of issues that bother you, add them to the above list and prioritise the whole lot.

Guess what? You should now have an action plan that can help you to move from chaos to control. If you meet up regularly with your team then you have the perfect vehicle to deal with the actions and watch the performance of your business improve.

You know the answers already

This is the frustrating point about improving businesses for many of us. If we can just grab a few minutes to look at how our business is operating we can do something about it. The loss making business unit I referred to above moved into profit after three months. After another two it pulled the entire division I reported to into profit. I had machines that used to produce 30 cycles in a good shift, now delivering consistently over 85 per shift.

No magic, no silver bullets… just logic, good management and persistence with a good set of actions.

Hopefully you can use the above ideas to move your business forward and get you away from a feeling of chaos and back into a sense of control. If you are looking for a structured approach to improving the performance and productivity of your business then sign up for your free month of Making It Happen today. You can find out more here.

All the best,


About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.

Discover practical improvement strategies to drive up productivity for both you and your business. Get your first month free and get started today - click here

Popular posts from this blog

Kaizen improvements need to be specific

Do you find that your Kaizen improvements don't always go to plan? If you do, then you're with the majority! Whilst there is great deal of 'trial and error' there is a simple approach that can help. Available from Amazon Being specific about critical parts of your improvement can uplift your results. So, how do you go about doing this? The most direct route is to be clear about which parts of your improvement are critical. From here you can explain, in detail, what you want for those items. This might take some practice as many of us have become lazy in this regard. We take it for granted that our team 'get us' and will know what they need to do. If you ever feel that something basic is missing from an improvement ask this question: "What does good look like?" The answer should put you back on track. About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and

Where to start with Kaizen, if you just aren't sure

Kaizen is a great word. It is a word that can unleash the potential of both a business and an individual. Kaizen means more than just continuous improvement. It is a word that is linked to: Confidence Growth Exploration Courage Many people I speak to, that are new to improvement projects, aren't sure if they are on the right path when it comes to embracing the spirit of Kaizen. If you are also one of these people then let me share with you a few thoughts that can help you feel at ease about starting and leading change. Start with your concerns A great place to start your improvement life is with anything that isn't right. Getting your concerns out into the open really is the first step for most of us. If you aren't happy with something, raise it. This isn't only a great place to start, but something that you shouldn't give up. Whenever a standard is not being met, or not even defined, get vocal and then do something about it. Start small The intention of Kaizen is

Stimulating Kaizen opportunities - the 'mechanical' way!

I often end up in conversations about how to stimulate Kaizen ideas and opportunities. If you have read my other posts, you will know that I split the improvement journey into two halves. For many people, the initial Kaizen focus is all around fixing things that are wrong / not working properly. Once you get past this point you need something else to focus and motivate you to generate improvement opportunities. The two halves of the Kaizen journey The discussion that I often end up in, is the one around the imagination quandary. People talk to me about not being creative, or not being inspired to come up with improvement ideas. Do you ever feel this way? It seems that there is a popular view that some people are creative and some aren't. Great Kaizen ideas are not just the product of 'creative' people. There are lots of ways that you can generate improvement ideas without having to sit on a mountain top cross legged waiting for inspiration. Finding a 'mechanical' w