Wednesday, 25 November 2020

A 3 step plan to increase the hit rate for management actions

Someone tried to derail my day yesterday. They hadn't prepared their information in a timely manner and then tried to cancel our meeting just moments before it was meant to start. I won't go into how I originally rearranged my day for this meeting, or the fact that we still managed to have the meeting, despite a good chunk of data being missing.

But, amongst all this frustration, there was a clear learning point for the person in question (I hope that they got the point!).

The point was that not only was the task not done, the person who had to do it was oblivious to the fact they had the task to deliver in the first place. I mean, they would have known about it when the task was originally agreed, but since then it has floated away into the ether...

So, let me share with the three step plan for increasing the hit rate with these kinds of actions. You can use this if you find yourself struggling, or if you find members of your team accepting tasks and then just not delivering...

Ok, so what are these three steps?

Quite simply they are:

1. Write it down

2. Keep the list visible

3. Start your day from the list

Let me run through these points in a little more detail, to give you some ideas on how you can apply this approach.

Write it down

All you need to do here is find a way to capture the action. Writing it down is a good place to start!

One word of caution here. Don't write actions down and then lose the piece of paper / spreadsheet / Word document / online to do list page...

Ideally you will have one list that evolves as you add and remove items. Online to do list tools are great for this. Paper does work (as do whiteboards) but they take a little more effort to rotate the contents as you complete items. The habit of writing the actions down, however is definitely the first step.

Keep the list visible

I have already implied this next step. If you lose the actions you probably won't remember them. If you don't remember them you probably won't perform the necessary actions.

Here are a few options to help you review your lists of actions (and to get your mind whirring about the possibilities for your business):
  • Sunrise meeting - using a standard agenda to manage your business processes, recapping on the actions as part of the meeting.
  • Whiteboard - agreeing to update the actions before a certain time of day, so everyone can see the current state of play.
  • Electronic reminders - using your email program, or an online tool to ping you reminders to complete your tasks.
  • Visual cues - forming your own habits through reminders in your working environment.
  • Formal reviews - standalone action review meetings, to review and flush the actions that are on the lists.

Start your day from the list

There are two interesting strategies that fall out from this particular point.

The first is Parkinson's Law. This is the observation that work expands to fill the time available. It always seems, however, to never be your actions that expand to fill the time available. More often it is a crisis or someone else's task that you need to resolve (perhaps your listed actions would divert these crises...).

The logic here is that if you start the day with an action or two from your actions list, then you will still have enough time to complete the rest of your tasks. This might sound odd, but it does work for the simple reason that you end up making different decisions for the rest of your day and become more efficient (slightly less time = being slightly more ruthless with the time you give to activities that then come your way).

The other point of interest is Kaizen. Kaizen is the simple strategy of 'fooling' your brain into action by using small bite size chunks. If you break up your actions into small steps (with each step, perhaps, taking no longer than 5 minutes to complete) your brain doesn't freak out (aka it doesn't trigger the 'fight or flight' response) and you make progress.

With this approach you normally gain momentum and complete tasks faster than expected. It's funny how the brain works, isn't it?

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Can you put this to work?

I hope that you can find use for the three simple steps listed above. Although they are simple, they really do work. And, when this approach works, change happens! In fact, it isn't only change activities; normal management tasks (that help you avoid future crises) get done too.

If you are looking for more ideas like this, then don't forget to check out the Making It Happen toolkit.

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 Effective Root Cause Analysis and 'What Does Good Look Like?'.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

What are your improvement 'guiding principles'?

If you have read my other blog posts, or books, you will know that I continuously refer to a specific challenge within continuous improvement.

The challenge is what happens after you have improved all of the really obvious improvements.

I refer to this as being the difference between moving from 'bad to OK' compared to moving from 'OK to amazing'.

The first part of the journey is relatively straightforward. You see something that isn't right and you fix it. Simple.

So, what happens when you move past this point and you can't see as many things to improve? You need a different focus, you have to start looking somewhere else for your improvement inspiration.

creating a vision for your business
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The other day I was talking to one my my client's member of staff about this very issue. The person in question was relatively new to the business and had made a big impact to the running and organisation of their manufacturing activities.

After a walk around the production floor we were discussing one of the live projects. Behind me was a list of 'guiding principles' and our conversation naturally drifted to this list.

Years ago I had a discussion with the owner of the business about the same challenge I mentioned earlier on. We decided to tackle both elements of the continuous improvement journey at the same time. We identified the key issues that needed addressing and created a vision of the future.

The vision of the future was distilled down into a set of guiding principles that we used at our meetings to shape and guide our continuous improvement journey. A few of them have evolved over the years, but fundamentally we are still on the same journey.

My conversation with the new member of staff was timely. They could see how the current programme of improvement projects aligned and how the queued improvements continued the journey.

If you find yourself struggling with where to take your continuous improvement programme, or want to create a vision for your business then I recommend pulling together your own guiding principles.

And, if you aren't sure where to start, then check out The Improvement Accelerator Framework, or my book What Does Good Look Like? to give you some practical ideas.

Having a set of guiding principles makes decision making and project selection easier in the long term. Keep the list manageable, for most people that means having between 7 and 10 principles.

You'll know what works best for you.


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 Effective Root Cause Analysis and 'What Does Good Look Like?'.

C'mon! Just write the SOP!