Is your organization good at getting better?
Does your organization even have the capability to improve?
Whether your organization calls it continual improvement, optimization, enhancement, upgrading, or advancement, improvement or, perhaps more correctly stated, the ability to improve is a critical capability for the modern IT organization.
What Is Improvement? What Does It Mean to Improve?
Improvement can be thought of as a way to leverage an existing capability or situation to develop an enhanced capability—or even a new capability—that results in better effectiveness and efficiency. It truly is about making things better.
Improvement can take shape in many forms. Many organizations think of improvement only in terms of improving effectiveness (the outputs produced from work deliver or enable the desired results and outcomes) and improving efficiency (work is done with less effort and cost than how that work is currently being done). But improvement can also be reduction in technical debt (such as code that perhaps wasn’t the best design when first installed and now requires extra work to maintain). Improvement can also take the form of personnel gaining new skills and competencies.
But some organizations struggle with the idea of improvement, or even worse, understanding the need to improve.
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Why Is It Important to Improve?
There are many reasons why it is important that organizations invest time, effort, and resources into improvement.
- Organizations are always evolving, with new business models, products, and services.
- New technologies and methodologies are constantly emerging.
- Improvement provides organizations with opportunities for learning and growth.
- Competitors are continually improving and evolving.
- In the digital age, organizations must improve, or they will cease to exist.
The bottom line is that if an organization cannot or does not improve, they don’t just sit still. They actually get left behind by their competitors, by their employees, and by their customers.
If an organization cannot or does not improve, they get left behind by their competitors, their employees, and their customers.
Techniques for Improvement
Organizations must develop the capability to improve. While there are many techniques that can be utilized to identify and implement improvements, here are four straight-forward methods that can be applied in any scenario.
PDCA. This is the perhaps the most well-known of improvement methodologies. PDCA (or, Plan, Do, Check, Act) was popularized by Deming and is based on the scientific method. The beauty of the approach is in its simplicity:
Plan. What is the objective, and what is needed to deliver the desired results?
Do. Execute the plan.
Check (or “Study,” as Deming later preferred). Review the data and results from execution of the plan.
Act. Identify new improvements and use as input to the next cycle of PDCA.
ITIL® Continual Improvement Model. ITIL formally introduced the Continual Improvement Model in ITIL v3 with a slight revision in ITIL 4. Based on the PDCA model, the Continual Improvement Model consists of seven steps:
- What is the vision? What is the business vision, mission, goals, objectives?
- Where are we now? Conduct a baseline assessment.
- Where do we want to be? Define measurable targets.
- How do we get there? Define an improvement plan.
- Take action. Execute the improvement plan.
- Did we get there? Compare metrics to the baseline assessment.
- How do we keep the momentum going? Embed improvements, identify learnings and new improvements, and what can be done differently in the next iteration.
Improvement Kata. Improvement Kata is described in Mike Rother’s book, Toyota Kata. The Improvement Kata is an approach for moving from the current state to a new state, based on a four-part model:
- Consider the vision or direction
- Understand the current condition
- Define the next target condition
- Move iteratively to that target condition, which will uncover what needs to be worked on.
What differentiates the Improvement Kata from other approaches is the use of discovery as a means to identify improvement, rather than defining a pre-planned approach.
DMAIC. DMAIC is a data-driven improvement cycle used for improving, optimizing, and stabilizing processes and designs. The steps within DMAIC are:
Define. Define the problem. What needs to be improved?
Measure. Quantify the problem.
Analyze. Identify the cause of the problem.
Improve. Design, implement, and verify the solution.
Control. Ensure that the improvement is sustained and maintained.
Is Your Organization Ready to Get Good at Getting Better?
The future belongs to organizations that get good at getting better. What will it take for an organization to get good at getting better? Yes, understanding some improvement methodologies can help. But it’s more than just that. It’s about orienting the attitudes, behaviors, and culture toward continual improvement. Here are some tips:
- Improvement and optimization are not and cannot be “one-and-done” activities.
- Shift in mindsets. Individuals within an organization must believe that there is always room for improvement.
- Collaboration. All people working together are smarter than any one person working individually. Having differing perspectives involved in improvement only improves the quality and effectiveness of improvement.
- Optimization is a team sport. Improved ways of working become better embedded within the organization when improvement efforts are inclusive.
In the modern organization, continual improvement is a “normal” way of working. The right attitudes, behavior, and culture, combined with a methodical approach, make getting good at getting better a core competency and key differentiator for your organization.
Doug Tedder is the principal of Tedder Consulting, a service management and IT governance consultancy. Doug is a recognized thought leader whose passion is helping and inspiring good IT organizations to become great. Doug is an author, blogger, and frequent speaker and contributor at local industry user group meetings, webinars, and national conventions. Doug holds numerous industry certifications in disciplines ranging from ITIL®, COBIT®, Lean IT, DevOps, KCS™, VeriSM™, and Organizational Change Management. He was recognized as an IT Industry Legend by Cherwell Software in 2016, and is one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders in Technical Support and Service Management. He is a member and former president of itSMF USA, a member of HDI, a contributing author to VeriSM™, and co-author of the VeriSM™ Pocket Guide. Follow Doug on Twitter @dougtedder or visit his website.