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TLS Continuum: Process Improvement equals experimentation equals failure (sometimes)

As I read the literature out in the market I see wide responses to organizational problems with the usual suspects. We resolve performance issues by cutting costs. We resolve performance issues by cutting human capital spend. We resolve performance issues by cutting overhead. Here is the problem, without experimentation we will not find the true answer to the problem before you.

True process improvement is not based on some preconceived ideas as to the solutions. True process improvement is not based on looking at a problem and saying we know how to resolve it. True process improvement involves experimentation. Using the skills we discussed in last weeks blog, we use critical thinking skills to identify all the potential solutions. It is only through active and intense use of experiments that we find what are the critical few solutions that will bring the best improvement to the organization.

But there is a downside to this process. The downside is that we will identify a potential solution and when we try to implement the solution in a test environment, the solution fails. When we hit these roadblocks the tendency is to decide that the effort is not worth the effort. I would argue that the failure is a blessing. It is telling us that the potential solution is not the right answer. It is telling us we need to experiment more to find the right answer.

In the May issue of Harvard Business Review, the cover story is titled “How to Really Benefit from Failure.” The article states that in a 2015 Boston Consulting Group study a third of respondents stated that a culture based in risk aversion was a key obstacle to innovation. Our organizations do not operate without mistakes. Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas, the authors of the article suggest three steps to get the most out of our failures in the workplace.

Step 1: LEARN FROM EVERY FAILURE

We need to experiment with potential solutions. We need to discover whether the solutions help or hinder the operations. At the same time if we try a solution and it does not achieve our goals we need to understand why it does not meet the goals. Did we approach it in the wrong way? What if we altered the process pattern to approach it in a different fashion? Are there lessons from the way we tried to resolve the issues that will help us in solving future issues? There is absolutely nothing wrong in trying and failing. The problem is if we never try and expect to improve the organization.

 

STEP 2: SHARE THE LESSONS

 

In my training sessions I tell everyone that there is no such thing as a stupid question. The odds are that someone else in the organization has the same question but were afraid to ask. As we discover potential solutions that don’t work those lessons should be shared with the entire organization. The failure in one part of the organization may save the organization time in another facing similar issues. The shared information from failed efforts becomes part of the corporate knowledge base to be used in the future where appropriate.

 

STEP 3: REVIEW YOUR PATTERN OF FAILURE

 

The final step is to review where your failures are taking place and look for patterns where the experimentation failed. Are the failures caused by wrong methods? Are the wrong parties being involved causing the failures? Look at your failures internally and see if you can establish the time and place when most of them occur.

 

We cannot expect continuous process improvement to be successful if we are not willing to experiment with potential solutions. In high school science classes you are taught how to implement the scientific method. In business we need to implement our own version of the method. You need to be cognizant of that fact that anytime we experiment we risk failure. This is not necessarily a negative outcome. Each failure brings us closer to discovering the correct solution to meet our current needs to resolve an obstacle in the process. So understand and expect failure. Do not hold failure up to be a bad thing, instead use it is a training tool to better the organization.

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