Systems Improvement – Start small stay current

July 11, 2011 at 9:59 am | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Practice Excellence, Systems Thinking | 1 Comment

We normally read hear and talk about process improvement, but I prefer to think of systems improvement since it is more holistic and comprehensive. Apart from processes the systems include people & structures. When we look at all the three parts together along with their interactions & effects on each other, the improvements brought about are far more lasting and satisfying. In other words, we need to use systems thinking.

To bring about improvements to the existing systems, effective management of change is critical. It is good to remember 3 ‘A’s of change management; Awareness -> Acceptance -> action. Unless we are aware of the need for change, no improvement can be brought about. Once we are aware, we need to accept it before it can be put in action. Some of the common challenges faced when we try to put in action are covered below.

For last few years I have focused my work around systems improvement. A recurring challenge faced by me and others I help / coach in systems improvements is about managing the current transactional activities and at the same time working on improving the systems that we are responsible for or we participate in. One solution that seems to work is to start small and not to bite more than we can chew. I have seen umpteen cases where people take up a big chunk of improvement work and soon find that they can’t manage it along with other day to day activities. This soon leads to disillusionment and loss of interest and initial enthusiasm. The result is that the whole improvement initiative is dropped and we continue to do what we have been doing including firefighting as the problems keep recurring.

Another common challenge is that when we decide to change our way of working, quite often it affects not only the present and future but also the past history and we need to change that as well to keep the new way of working consistent. Amount of work involved in history and current transactions together can be huge so here again either we get overloaded or tend to leave the past as it is. Either of these creates a problem. Best way I have found is to definitely make the change for present & future and also plan to incrementally change the past within a timeline.

Once we implement the change, it is important to give enough importance to sticking to the new way of working. Old habits die hard and there is always a temptation to slip back to old ways. Self-discipline helps to stick to the new way till it becomes a habit for us individually and gets into the culture at the system level.

I can give examples from my experience, but the concepts are so simple it might make sense for you see them in your own context. If you face any problems in applying these concepts please respond. Similarly, if you find them useful I will really appreciate your comments sharing your experience.


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  1. That’s a great answer for me to improve my work.

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