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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.

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