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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Continuous Service Improvement: Thinking Like an Explorer

Admittedly, we are still at the very beginning of our Lean journey as part of a program of Continuous Service Improvement. And in that sense - I'm feeling right now that we are facing the same kind of challenges that Lewis and Clark faced on their expedition of the early 1800's. Leaving St. Louis Missouri and heading west to the Pacific Ocean across a vast expanse of unsettled, and at that point, undocumented geography - to discover the riches and rewards of the territory.

 Setting out into new territory can be daunting and even perilous at times. But with the belief and commitment that the rewards will far outweigh the risks, that is how new lands and the associated rewards are discovered. As the French author AndrĂ© Paul Guillaume Gide is quoted as saying in 1925: "One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the familiar shore". What I think Gide was saying here is it takes courage to leave the familiar and explore the new - to consider and embrace change. Not news to any of us I'm sure.

 So, will we stray a bit along the way - sure. Will we need to constantly check in to make sure we are still focused on our goals - of course. Will we need to constantly review and adjust those goals to ensure they are still in the best interest of the organization - absolutely. Will we make an occasional mistake and have to back track a little in order to move forward again - naturally. But none of that should deter us or impede our desire to constantly improve our processes, our products, and our organization as a whole while ensuring we are always focused on delivering and improving customer value along the way. 

Within our Continuous Service Improvement journey, the use of Lean provides us with a framework and a way of approaching continuous improvement through a standardized methodology. The methodology itself is not particularly difficult. But one of the risks of adopting a methodology like Lean, or any other improvement methodology is the inclination for some to think of Lean just as a set of tools that can be applied to a situation and voila, you have improvement. If it was that easy, I should be able to give you all of the tools that your mechanic has available, and expect you to be able to fix your car as well as the mechanic can. Of course Lean isn't just a set of tools that can be applied anywhere. Lean is a philosophy. And yes, it is a methodology that includes specific tools and techniques, but extends into a broad understanding of specific principles, and even more importantly, requires a total shift in mindset. A new way of thinking and looking at things. Don’t be afraid to be different.

It's a focus on the process, not the people doing the process. It is a way to change the way everyone thinks about and approaches continuous improvement. It's an opportunity to reflect on those "I don't know why we do it this way" moments we've all had. Or to approach things from a "I wonder how I could make this better" perspective. It is a means and opportunity for practitioners to 'not give up' when things don't go exactly as planned. But most of all, it is something we all must learn - from Senior Managers all the way to the front-line teams that are directly involved in the creation and delivery of value to our customers.

 So think back to that statement by Gide above. Yes - Lean itself isn't necessarily hard. But accepting Lean as a new way of looking at things, as a new management philosophy, and taking the step to realize that shift in mindset and culture causes us to lose sight of those familiar shores. It does take courage. And it does take patience. But without those two things, along with a commitment to try, we are destined to just keep doing what are already doing.
David Cresswell, Associate Director of Strategic Practices in I.T. Services at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Greater Vancouver, BC ( ).  

As part of his portfolio, David and his team are responsible for identifying, incubating and introducing new methodologies and practices to benefit the Institute.  Lean is one of those methodologies that is being implemented through the Strategic Practices portfolio.   

David can be reached at  

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