People sitting on a hill top thinking

Continuous Improvement blog Systematic Thinking - The Unglamorous Stage Critical to Successful Change

The majority of improvements that fail to take do so not in the innovation or implementation of the improvement, but in the focus given to subsequent sustainability.

Innovation is FUN; tossing around an issue, applying tools, discovering hidden factories, taking leaps and tangents. Even the words related to innovation are attractive; Kaizen, creative, dynamic, innovative, blue sky thinking.

Implementation is BOLD. We have the courage of our convictions, we are changing the status quo, challenging the norm, pushing the envelope. Quickly after Implementation we want to see our results and the endorphin release when we move the needle.

At this point when we have been FUN and then been BOLD, too often we look for the next fun bold thing to do. It is a discipline now to sustain this change, (oh no, discipline, that’s not me, I’m placebo, the changeling, dynamic, bold, creative, fun.)

The change agent who really understands the process will sustain, will be disciplined, and will apply Systematic Thinking to create the foundation for success.

Systematic Thinking is challenging to describe as it’s a behaviour, but will provide a control plan or mechanism for the change to ensure it sustains.

Example 1 – The international invoice approval process has been re-engineered and cut from 18 steps to 6 saving 3 minutes per invoice. How do we create a system to ensure this new process is followed?

  • Update our SOP
  • Train all current users
  • Update training for new users
  • Add to GEMBA coaching topic list 

1 and 2 are arguably covered in Implementation but looking at potential new users and targeted coaching and observation of the current users will systematically embed this change as the new way to work.

Example 2 – A department has put in a new IT system. Everyone has been trained and we have SOPs on the main tasks. How do we create a system to ensure this new IT application is optimised?

  • Create an issues / suggestions log
  • Allow all users to input at daily stand up.
  • Set up a regular meeting (daily weekly monthly) with the application support team to discuss
  • Agree escalation, reporting, and SLA response and fix times with support
  • Measure

This example demonstrates the key aspects of thinking systematically. It’s scheduled as opposed to ad hoc, it’s about data not anecdote, it sets an expectation, and finally the outcomes are measureable so we see improvement/deviation. 

It’s critical for success to sustain changes. Regular planned check points, data driven process or discussion, defined expectation, and measured outcomes make up a systematic way of thinking and sustaining successful change. It might be the unglamorous end of the change process but this small discipline will have a huge impact on the success rate of implemented improvements.