Process Improvement – Been there, done that. Have you Really?

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel to discuss IT Alignment with Operational Goals in the Healthcare community.  It was a lively discussion with several great opinions.  What bothered me was the conversation the evening before the event at a dinner for the panelists and sponsors.

At the dinner, I was conversing with a CTO and we were discussing the “stimulus” package.  He was ecstatic over how much money would be heading his way and how this would help him and his budget problems, and how he could help more patients.  I acknowledged helping more patients is great, but maybe he should take a focused look at his processes first to see what he can gain there and to make sure he is not spending money on bad processes.  I said, “As the saying goes, if you have a mess and you automate it, when you’re done all you have is an automated mess.”  He looked at me like I had horns coming out of my head!  He then politely said, “Oh, we’ve already done that.”   Our conversation was interrupted before we could continue.

What worries me is the “we don’t have that problem” attitude.  I have dealt with his organization.  He DOES have that problem.  He just can’t see it. They had done a re-engineering project several years ago, and had some success in several areas.  They thought they were doing process improvement.  They may have done process improvement, but they were a long way from continuous improvement.

There are two important things to remember when starting a process/continuous improvement program:

1)      To get the full impact, it must be a continuous process.  You can never think you are done improving.

2)      Leadership must get “boots on the ground” and see how the processes are being executed.  They must ask questions and get engaged.

There’s a lot more, but without these, you will not get the full, sustained impact of a continuous improvement program.

So how do you know you truly have a continuous improvement program?  – When you stop calling it a “continuous improvement program.”  And then, when someone from outside the organization comments on what a great CI program you have, your response is, “Oh, I hadn’t noticed – that’s just the way we do things here.”

 

Glenn Whitfield

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Raising Expectations with the “New” Social Media

 

Remember when we used to have time?  Things took time to develop.  Problems took time to solve.   Well, those days are gone – long gone.  The world has moved on.  We have access to virtually any information we want whenever and wherever we want.  We want what we want when we want it and we want it now.

With tools like Twitter, the game is changing.  People follow people, read what they are doing, share information, and learn.  Here’s an example:

A couple of weeks ago, Jason Tryfon (@jasontryfon), President of Vital Insight Group, was tweeting he was heading to Virginia to meet with a client.  He posted a tweet he was boarding his plane, and if all had gone smoothly, that probably would have been it for a while.  But, he happened upon a flight attendant who may have just been having a bad day, or maybe has no idea how to service a customer, but in a matter of seconds, over 5,000 people found out about his not so pleasant experience.  Several thousand more sent those notes forward (retweet), and suddenly, thousands of people know about a bad experience on a flight that hasn’t even left the ground yet!  You can read more about his experience in his blog post here.

So how does this change our expectations?  With instant information and communication methods, we are made aware of situations and problems almost as they occur.  The challenge is since we are made aware of them so quickly, we expect a solution to them just as quickly.  Sometimes this can be done.  Sometimes the problem is so complex it can’t.  But due to our new expectations, we tend to think we can solve any problem instantaneously, and when we do this, we look for that one thing that will solve our problem.  We try to implement it (quickly), and then we look for our problem to be solved.  Related to one on my favorite topics, this has been one of the approaches to the ongoing problem of obtaining IT Business Alignment.  This is one reason why it is still an issue.  We want to solve it in one fail swoop.  

But how can we use these new expectations to our advantage?  Think about what is being passed along – information.  Someone (your customer, your colleague, or your boss) is providing you with information.  Your challenge is to appropriately respond.  So, instead of thinking you have to completely resolve the problem immediately, provide information back about the issue.  Create a dialogue.  Who said it had to be a one-way street?  How you do this will depend on your business and your unique situation.  But could you imagine the reaction if, when Jason landed and he looked at his twitter, there was a message, “Mr. Tryfon, We are aware of your situation and offer our apologies.  Please contact us at XXX-XXX-XXXX – United Airlines Customer Service.”  Creating a near instant dialogue to solve a problem.  Game changing.

The expectations are there and coming at us faster than ever, with no sign of slowing down.   So, what do we do?  As Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” There are many steps in the journey, and if you make a mistake, take a step back.  So start with a step, just make sure it’s 140 characters or less….. J

 

Glenn Whitfield

What IT Business Alignment Isn't

 

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few months on the classic IT Business Alignment issue, and am putting the final touches on a white paper that will offer a definition of IT Business Alignment and present a framework for how an organization can start toward the goal of achieving better alignment.  Until then, I want to briefly talk about what IT Business Alignment isn’t.

While reading CIO magazine the other day (yes, the actual print edition), I came across one of those sponsored ads that looks like an article – “An IT Focus on Process”.  The ad-article immediately caught my attention due to my focus on process and process improvement.  As I read, I’m thinking there’s some pretty good stuff here – a focus on structure processes, need for organizational alignment – then it came.  The hook, the savior, the thing you need to achieve IT Business Alignment:  Software.  Yep, buy our software because it does all these great things that will allow you to achieve IT Business Alignment. 

Whether or not the software actually does these things I don’t know.  It may be the greatest software ever written.  But IT Business Alignment isn’t software.  If buying software is all we need to do to achieve IT Business alignment, why is it still a problem after 30+ years?

Companies are constantly pushing for the one thing that will enable an organization to achieve alignment – maybe that is why the issue has, in some circles, become stale.  People go off, buy the software, install it, and then wonder why they aren’t magically aligned.  They focus on the technology, maybe glance at the process, are blind to the people and wonder why things don’t go as planned.  How about a new approach: Focus on the process while engaging and involving the people to prepare for the technology.

Why not give it a shot?

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

Lean, IT, and Agile

 

Last time, in exploring Lean & IT, I posed the question, “Are you going to ‘do’ Lean, or are you going to ‘BE’ Lean?”   In other words, are you simply going to use the tools of Lean, or are you going to embrace the true belief in continuous improvement and make it a part of your organization’s culture?  The latter is much harder and takes much longer to achieve. 

Over the past week, thinking about the relationship between Lean and Agile, I posed a question on Twitter: Is Agile software development Lean, or is Lean part of Agile software development?  To expand on this, Gerry Kirk (@gerrykirk) created a poll. As of February 1, the top three responses were:

1) Lean complements Agile (42%)

2) Agile is part of Lean (21%)

3) I don’t really care, I use Lean as part of my Agile work (17%)

Looking at the responses, #3 can be grouped with #1, so that nearly 60% of respondents feel Agile and Lean complement each other.  This goes to the point of viewing Lean as a collection of tools, and not a mindset or organizational culture.  It is also important information for an IT organization that may already be using Agile, and wishes to move into Lean.  Understanding how your organization views or understands Lean before embracing it will allow you to develop a strategy for truly beginning the Lean journey.

As IT organizations begin to embrace Lean Thinking, and it’s associated methods and tools, they need to remember it is a total organizational journey, and not just doing some Value Stream Maps or A3s.  It does not start and stop with the IT department.  Yes, the tools are important, and you can’t get there without using the tools, but it is an organizational journey, not a quick trip to the supermarket.

By the way, I was in the 21% that feels Agile is a part of Lean. 

Glenn Whitfield