Tag Archives: management improvement carnival

Innovation Tips for Strategic Planning

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Over the past 15 years, I’ve helped several organizations with continuous improvement initiatives at the strategic, executive level. There are a lot of themes that keep appearing and reappearing, so the purpose of this post is to call out just a few and provide some insights in how to deal with them! 

These come up when you are engaged in strategic planning and when you are planning operations (to ensure that processes and procedures ultimately satisfy strategic goals), and are especially prominent when you’re trying to develop or use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other metrics or analytics.


1) How do you measure innovation? Before you pick metrics, recognize that the answer to this question depends on how you articulate the strategic goals for your innovation outcomes. Do you want to:

  • Keep up with changing technology?
  • Develop a new product/technology?
  • Lead your industry in developing best practices?
  • Pioneer new business models?
  • Improve quality of life for a particular group of people?

All of these will be measured in different ways! And it’s OK to not strategically innovate in one area or another… for example, you might not want to innovate your business model if technology development is your forte. Innovation is one of those things where you really don’t want to be everything to everyone… by design.


2) Do you distinguish between improving productivity and generating impact?

Improving quality (the ability to satisfy stated and implied needs) is good. Improving productivity (that is, what you can produce given the resources that you use) is also good. Reducing defects, reducing waste, and reducing variation (sometimes) are all very good things to do, and to report on. 

But who really cares about any improvements at all unless they have impact? It’s always necessary to tie your KPIs, which are often measures of outcomes, to metrics or analytics that can tell the story about why a particular improvement was useful — in the short term, and (hopefully also) in the long term.

You also have to balance productivity and impact. For example, maybe you run an ultra-efficient 24/7 Help Desk. Your effectiveness is exemplary… when someone submits a request, it’s always satisfied within 8 hours. But you discover that no tickets come in between Friday at 5pm and Monday at 8am. So all that time you spend staffing that Help Desk on the weekend? It’s non-value-added time, and could be eliminated to improve your productivity… but won’t influence your impact at all.

We just worked on a project where we had to consciously had to think about how all the following interact… and you should too:

  • Organizational Productivity: did your improvement help increase the capacity or capability for part of your organization? If so, then it could contribute to technical productivity or business productivity.
  • Technical Productivity: did the improvement remove a technical barrier to getting work done, or make it faster or less error-prone?
  • Business Productivity: did the improvement help you get the needs of the business satisfied faster or better?
  • Business Impact: Did the improvements that yielded organizational productivity benefits, technical productivity benefits, or business productivity benefits make a difference at the strategic level? (This answers the “so what” question. So you improved your throughput by 83%… so what? Who really cares, and why does this matter to them? Long-term, why does this awesome thing you did really matter?)
  • Educational/Workforce Development Impact: Were the lessons learned captured, fed back into the organization’s processes to close the loop on learning, or maybe even used to educate people who may become part of your workforce pipeline?

All of the categories above are interrelated. I don’t think you can have a comprehensive, innovation-focused analytics approach unless you address all of these.


3) Do you distinguish between participation and engagement?

Participation means you showed up. Engagement means you got involved, you stayed involved, your mission was advanced, or maybe you used this experience to help society. Too often, I see organizations that want to improve engagement, and all the metrics they select are really good at characterizing participation.

I’m writing a paper on this topic right now, but in the meantime (if you want to get a REALLY good sense of the difference between participation and engagement), read The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon. Yes, it is “about museums” — and yes, I know you’re in business or industry — and YES, this book really will provide you with amazing management insights. So read it!

2012 Management Improvement Carnival – Part 1

doug-jan-e(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

I am pleased once again to host ASQ Influential Voices blogger John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival, featuring some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past year. Be sure to check out previous installations of the Carnival to get a broad sample of the most recent blog posts that are relevant to managers who are interested in quality, innovation and process improvement.

This post covers two of the four blogs I’m reviewing for the Management Improvement Carnival: StatsMadeEasy and the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) collection of insights from Peter Bregman.

The first blog I reviewed for 2012 is Mark Anderson’s “Stats Made Easy” at http://statsmadeeasy.net. I like this blog because I teach statistics, and I really appreciate the efforts Mark goes to each year to explain statistical concepts clearly and with flair.

In August, Mark reviewed some recent research, based on A/B testing, that indicates sans serif fonts attract more attention in blogs and email. This was great news for me – a dedicated disciple of Calibri! In November, he drew an interesting conclusion based on comparing Nate Silver’s presidential election predictions on the FiveThirtyEight blog to hurricane predictions using spaghetti charts… that perhaps it’s OK to average the results of stochastic output from simulations to yield a “best guess” forecast. I’m not sure how rigorous this approach is, but certainly, the result that ” meteorologists now predict the bulls-eye within a 100-mile radius—compared to 350 miles 25 years ago” is significant. As a meteorologist, this intrigues me, and makes me want to delve into even more research on how spaghetti charts are statistically useful for prediction.

Mark’s posts are not limited to statistical reflections. In “Brain Drizzling? Try Linking Instead” he reflects on Osborn’s techniques for brainstorming, and suggests that finding associations between seemingly unrelated concepts may, in fact, be the preferred approach for generating truly novel ideas. As the shared basis for historically leveraged methods like TRIZ, I’d support this stance.

As a university professor, I was also intrigued by one of Mark’s posts from October, where he discussed French President Hollande’s call to “ban all homework”. Supported by the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, the data does indeed show that there is a negative association between the amount of hours spent each night studying, and students’ performance on skills exams.

The second blog I reviewed for 2012 is Peter Bregman’s posts to the Harvard Business Review online blog network. Peter advises CEOs on strategy and leadership, and is not afraid to venture into less mainstream topics like meditation and emotions. This really appeals to me, since I believe that positive psychology has a role to play in the future of quality improvement.

In January, he tackled “The Biggest Myth in Time Management,” explaining that we set ourselves up for failure when we believe we can get it all done. In fact, if we completed all of the tasks on our to-do lists, we’d have nothing to do – and there would be no progress to be made! Progress itself is a journey, and the fact that our to-do lists grow and expand and never seem to “end” is actually a wonderful sign – it’s a sign that we are expanding our capabilities, our potentials, and our ability to add value to the situations around us. Peter recommends, instead, that we focus on the devil of “follow-through” (or willpower) to make us feel more productive.

One of his February posts examined the role of expectations – and whether they are useful, or can hinder our efforts. I’m interested in this topic because of the Buddhist encouragement to release all expectations in order to release desire… and thus suffering. Sounds really useful, but I just haven’t been able to get there myself (although I can easily see problems with others’ expectations). He proposes a solution though:

High expectations can have a positive effect; people need a high bar to stretch towards. But I think many of us take it too far. We slip so easily into criticisms of ourselves and those around us — family, friends, coworkers, public figures — that we no longer expect people to be human beings. And when we shame ourselves and others for failing, we make things worse. We contribute to pain while nurturing impotence.

When we face weakness — ours or someone else’s — it doesn’t help to blame someone or something, pretend it’s not important, or simply decide to change. And it’s not sufficient to identify a three-step process to fix the problem. So what does help?

 Here’s the best I’ve come up with: compassion.

One of the things I try to do, personally, is manage my emotional guidance system – and always try to move towards better-feeling thoughts. One of Peter’s May posts asks “Do You Know What You Are Feeling?” He suggests that being more mindful, more conscious of your feelings from moment to moment – might actually help you make better decisions in the workplace, especially when those decisions involve how you act and react in response to others.

He also recommends not setting goals in 2013. Are you strong enough to accept that challenge?

I strongly suggest that you just go read ALL of Peter’s posts. He is so reflective and honest in his assessments of self that I think he provides an excellent example for all of us.

Part 2 of my Carnival report follows tomorrow.

Moving Beyond Profit: Support the WHY

It’s amazing how sometimes, just a tiny TINY little stir-of-the-consciousness can yield amazing insights.

That’s what just happened to me a few minutes ago. While scanning this morning’s Twitter feed, I saw this one:

It reminded me of an article I posted in early 2011 titledIs Profit Waste?where I posed the question of whether profit was just one of many kinds of waste – that is, overproduction of revenue. When companies talk about a desire to grow, usually they mean they need to figure out a way to grow their revenue stream (and often this means growing the organization, expanding the scope, or adding to product lines and service offerings). In fact, one of the strongest drivers for pushing innovation is that desire to grow.

But WHY? Why do you want to grow? It’s that question that the tweet above answered for me in less than 140 characters.

Here’s a company that’s not trying to sell you on the WHAT that they do. It’s a new company, so obviously they’re trying to get started, but they’re immediately clear about WHY they want to grow… they want to get more women into technology! And the clear outward sign of successful growth will be getting more women into technology. And oh – by the way – in order for us to pursue our PURPOSE of getting women into technology, we need to make some money, and to do this we’ve written our first app. And won’t you please buy it… because if you do, you can help us work to get more women into technology!

I love this. I think more of us should approach our business stories this way! Don’t focus on business growth or profit growth, focus on WHY you’re working in the first place and WHAT you want more revenue to spend on. If we support your mission, we’re more likely to support your product, even if it doesn’t meet all our needs. Furthermore, we’re more likely to want to work with you to enhance the products, expand your reach, and collaborate to achieve higher levels of quality and serendipitous innovation.

Management Improvement Carnival #161

It’s been a long time! Although I haven’t served in this role since the spring of 2009, I am pleased once again to host ASQ Influential Voices blogger John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival, featuring some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past couple weeks. Be sure to check out previous installations of the Carnival to get a broad sample of the most recent blog posts that are relevant to managers who are interested in quality, innovation and process improvement.

My top recommendation is Lotto Lai’s review of a recent symposium in Hong Kong, entitled “One Year After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident – the Way Forward with Safety and Risk Engineering.” (3/10/2012) This is a really fascinating and comprehensive look at the Fukushima disaster from the quality management perspective. I particularly like one of his slides about 60% of the way through the presentation that presents a 2×2 grid detailing probabilistic and deterministic approaches to the design that were intended to enhance plant safety. I really like this grid and will be thinking about ways to apply them to problems that I encounter in my job and my consulting (fortunately, none of which involve managing nuclear power plants).

On a lighter note, I also enjoyed “Coffee Shop Buzz is Good for Your Creativity” from Lifehacker. (3/6/2012) Have you ever thought that maybe the social pressure around you is what helps you get things done at the coffee shop? Hmmmm.

Oh, and we can’t forget St. Patrick’s Day! In preparation for the big weekend, Carly Barry at Minitab blogged about “The Odds of Finding a Four Leaf Clover” (3/16/2012). If you’ve ever struggled with odds ratios to compare the likelihood of two events, this article might give you the example to clear it up for good.

My newest “find” in the realm of quality and management improvement blogs is David Kanigan’s “Lead.Learn.Live” at davidkanigan.com. I so love the interconnected nature of blogs… a couple weeks ago, he “liked” something on my blog, and I decided to go check out his blog. And I really like his too! David intersperses original business-oriented posts with cited snippets of art and inspiration, and posts at least on a daily basis. Here are some of the most recent:

He calls attention to one of David Allen’s posts in “Gnawing Sense of Anxiety about Un-Captured Work” (3/10/2012) reiterates some of the themes I have been reading about in Baumeister’s excellent 2011 book on willpower. Apparently, our unconscious is totally restless when we have tasks on our to-do lists for which no plan exists to address. Once we set up a plan (e.g. “I’m going to schedule Saturday morning to download and look at that new data!”) our unconscious gets real happy, lets go of its silent panic, and we’re less overwhelmed and less distracted. Pretty cool!

In “The Process of Pivoting” (3/10/2012) David encourages us to move to a better feeling if we’re brought down by a problem, or a challenge, or some coworker’s crappy attitude at work. He doesn’t actually say any of those things, but you should be able to easily relate to the general scenario.

How can magical thinking be a solid tool for people who want to improve quality and performance – especially while managing teams? Find out in The Poison of Performance Appraisals (3/10/2012)… Deming would agree.

(And although this isn’t technically a blog, they do use a blogging infrastructure behind the scenes, so…) Hot off the presses we have “A Flash of Green Enhances Creativity” (3/20/2012)… did you know that temporary exposure to the color green can enhance inventiveness? Researchers reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that experiments were conducted where people were asked to solve problems surrounded by either green or red borders. It didn’t matter whether you were male, female, short, tall, or Australian… everyone was a better problem solver “in the green”. This also brings a new meaning to “Green Flash” 🙂

Management Improvement Carnival #59

I am pleased once again to host John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival, featuring some interesting or noteworthy articles that have been posted over the past couple weeks. Be sure to check out previous installations of the Carnival to get a broad sample of the most recent blog posts that are relevant to managers who are interested in quality, innovation and process improvement.

  • Small is the new big. Sustainable is the new growth. Trust is the new competitive advantage. All of the rules of business have changed, and the seismic shift is both electrifying and frightening. But there are opportunities to be embraced, and many of them are summed up in this HBS blog article entitled Why Small Companies Will Win in This Economy
  • There is a great post from March 8 by June Holley, talking about self-organizing to achieve systems-level innovation. She notes that because theory is lacking, this process might be protracted, but to get to the point of understanding theory we need some more “real life” examples and case studies of how we self-organize in our organizations well – and not so well.
  • Is environmentally friendly insulation higher or lower quality? Reflections on the Building Material Emissions Study discuss its outcomes. How we deal with the interplay of quality and social responsibility will become an even greater issue over the next several years as our ability to grow unbounded is checked against the availability of resources – check out this study to see what related studies might be on the horizon.
  • Sustainability 2.0 Doesn’t Add Up by Samuel Mann is an interesting read, reflecting on the notions of sustainability, social responsibility, psychology, and organizations. I’ve included it here for its broad coverage of some interesting topics and vignettes.
  • And did you know that neuroscience may provide some insights into how to stage your process improvement efforts and your initiatives that focus on innovation?
  • And don’t forget to try out Gmail Autopilot, the newly released utility that will help you autorespond in very meaningful ways to your mundane emails and even your money laundering spam from foreign countries. It’s a technology advancement so advanced it’s unbelievable!

2008 Management Improvement Carnival: Part 4 of 4

This is the fourth and final installment of my collaboration with John Hunter and friends on the Year-End Management Improvement Carnival, where we review the best management improvement blogs and share which posts we found to be the most insightful or helpful. Today I have the privilege of bringing you a few gems from the iSixSigma blogosphere.

PART 4 of 4 – The iSixSigma blogs are written by a cast of columnists who share their experiences with the practice of quality improvement. The favorites I’ve picked out here are only the tip of the iceberg… there are many more on the site.

Innovation and Six Sigma (5/9/2008) – This article aims to answer the question “Does Six Sigma kill innovation?” In addition to being a thought-provoking article, the collection of comments is worth reading as well. I particularly liked this perspective: “I’m reminded of a story I was once told about an author who decided to write an entire novel without using the letter E. You’d think this would be incredibly limiting, but in fact the author ended up learning many, many new words and taking his writing in entirely new directions. The structure forced him to break old habits and think in new ways.”

The iPod Did Not Come From a Focus Group (3/3/2008) – Development of the iPod is an example of customer and market-driven innovation. The author of this article notes that “your company probably knows more about what is possible than most of your customers; but the lesson I take away from the Apple example is this: some of our customers know a lot more than we do, and we ignore them at our peril.” There’s also a pointer to an excellent 2002 article in the Harvard Business Review.

Six Sigma: The Laissez-Faire of Politics (1/28/2008) – In this article, the author explores how to solve a real public policy issue using Six Sigma: reducing the consumption of plastic bags (like the ones you get at the grocery store) on the national level. “If there is one area in society that definitely needs an injection of Six Sigma, it’s politics. Just like the working world of business, people want a silver bullet quick fix that sounds good and will make people feel good. Politicians often open their mouths without performing due diligence and as a result only partially address an issue.”

What You Measure is What You Get (12/22/2008) – This post reflected on the role and meaning of measurement (one of my favorite issues). “Perhaps what you measure is what you get. More likely, what you measure is all you’ll get. What you don’t (or can’t) measure is lost” – H. Thomas Johnson

Six Sigma Project Failure (7/28/2008) – What’s required for a Six Sigma project to fail? Conflicting definitions are explored in these survey results. (This is somewhat related to Eight Reasons Why Projects Fail (4/24/2008), another good post.)

Return to Part 1 of 4 –>

Return to John Hunter’s Management Improvement Carnival: 2008 Year in Review –>

2008 Management Improvement Carnival: Part 3 of 4

This is the third installment of my collaboration with John Hunter and friends on the Year-End Management Improvement Carnival, where we review the best management improvement blogs and share which posts we found to be the most insightful or helpful.

SpicesPART 3 of 4 – Clarke Ching’s stream-of-consciousness blog covers random musings, cartoons, links to useful articles, recipes, mathematical puzzles and games, and thoughts about quality-related techniques including Theory of Constraints and software development.

Testers – the worst thing that happened to software development? (5/30/2008) – This story describes a first-person view of how software quality can be achieved more easily – by studying the successful approaches used by good maintenance teams. “There’s a huge amount that development managers (i.e. those that work on bigger projects) could learn from the way good maintenance teams work. The first would be to break down their work into smaller chunks.” (Again, this reminds me of “stackless thinking”which really appeals to me.)

Critical Chain Scheduling (8/22/2008)– Clarke wrote an article, published over at stickyminds.com, covering how to use the critical chain method to improve scheduling in agile development environments. “Critical Chain, as I’ve described, is a great way of rebuilding trust between managers and their staff. In fact, it is THE best way I’ve found. It’s also sorely needed, judging by some of the comments.”

Lord Kelvin (9/13/2008)Why measure things? On a trip to Scotland, Clarke reflected on this question as he pondered the intro to Douglas Hubbard’s book, How to Measure Anything: “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of science.”

Go to Part 4 of 4 –>

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