Craftsman Spirit

Do you consider yourself as an artist and your work as art?

Art isn’t just about doing fancy stuff or indulging into painting, dancing etc. Your work becomes art when it changes others for better. When your ideas and insights change the conversations. When you overcome resistance to start, execute and most importantly, finish what you start. When you have the humility to accept what needs to improve and change. When you have the courage to truly ship your work, let it intersect with the context and make a difference. When you bring your humanity into everything you do. When you refine, improvise and evolve your art.

I learned a great deal of this from Seth’ Godin’s life changing book “Linchpin” which I also reviewed on this blog (with one question interview with Seth Godin).

In Japanese, the word “Shokunin” means artisan or craftsman. Shokunin Kishitshu means “craftsman spirit”. I read an interesting post on some of the key elements of Shokunin spirit.

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the post by Karri R. at Warrior Life. When I created this sketchnote, I was prompted to ask three questions:

  • Are you doing the work you can be truly proud of? Do you take pride in whatever you are currently doing knowing that the way you do it makes a difference?
  •  Are you raising the bar for yourself? Do you always try to refine your ways of working and elevate the level of your work? Do you constantly look for newer ideas and insights that can help you in your work – directly or indirectly?
  • Is your work making a difference to others? In what ways? Are you aware of the impact of your work and do you try to maximize the impact to bring about a positive difference around you?

BONUS: Read this 100 word story “In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden” that captures the second element of craftsman spirit so well.

Optimize the Whole

When we think in parts, we improve in parts. Most of the business improvement is the game of ‘sub-optimization’. You optimize pieces without looking at the whole.

When a customer reports problem with your software, you do an incidental root cause analysis and address the code quality problem. You deploy tools, introduce new processes, measure constantly and yet – a few months later, you encounter a similar problem.

But when you look at the whole system, you might figure out that the real root cause is in something which is immeasurable yet important – may be, collaboration with other teams or how you sell. May be, inefficiencies rooted in how you support your customers after product is delivered.

We optimize the silos and the whole misses our radar. If ‘customer centricity’ is one of your key values, you should consider optimizing the whole customer journey with your organization – not just your development processes.

Often, we also optimize that which is measured. If your metrics are narrow, you will never be able to focus on systemic metrics that may really help your business and the customer.

Here are a few important things to consider when you optimize the whole:

We need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

  • Focus on Value Stream. Value for customer is created in a series of interactions between various processes that starts right from first contact with the customer. Value stream mapping is a lean tool to identify a series of events right from conception to delivery of product or service.
  • Define what “complete” system means. Too often, we think of complete product as a set of completed features. For customers though, complete product is an experience they receive through each interaction with the organization. It helps to define what ‘complete’ means.
  • Measure Right. When you have narrow functional metrics, people in each function will work  hard to achieve their goals and yet, organization will not realize benefits of having such metrics. However, if you have more systemic metrics (and rewards) where people win only when the system wins, it aligns everyone to the same set of goals to ensure that ultimately, customer wins too.

Sub-optimization in organizations is a thinking problem. When you fail to see the whole, you undermine your capabilities as an organization.

And this may be the precise thing that holds you back from delivering a superior performance to your customers.

Implicit Customer Expectations: Are You Addressing Those?

Customers don’t always specify everything they want. Truth is, not everything can be specified.

Lets say, you go to a restaurant and order a sandwich. You specify the type of bread, filling preferences, sauces etc. That’s what you want and it can be specified explicitly. But you also want the bread and veggies to be fresh. Preparation to be hygienic. Ambience to be nice. People to be courteous and so on. How often do you specify these expectations? It has to be that way.

These are implicit customer expectations and they are powerful. It starts with a decently working product but you deliver real value to customer when you address implicit expectations. Better yet, if you are able to create a new set of implicit expectations, you start leading the way. This not only delights the customer but creates a new standard for implicit expectations in your area of work. When you set new standards for implicit expectations, you move a customer from “experience” to “advocacy.”

Implicit expectations are slippery. Easy to overlook or ignore because they are unsaid and invisible. This is an area where you are likely to take shortcuts because RoI of addressing implicit expectations is not visible.

In your quest to deliver a working product fast (and cheap), do not forget that customer still expects you to address the intangible elements of product that are not specified but certainly expected.

If you want to deliver great value to your customers, you have to get your kitchen in order. That’s where real value is created.


Related Posts:

In 100 Words: On Criticizing Constructively

Painting

A novice painter once put his first painting at a busy cross road for people to mark mistakes. End of the day, the painting was full of cross marks!

Next day, he made the same painting and displayed at the same cross roads. This time, he kept colors and brush there and requested people to not only point out mistakes but also correct it themselves. The day ended and painting was intact with no corrections made!

It is as important to say no to constant negativity as it is to pay heed to constructive criticism that helps us improve constantly.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

In manufacturing, “touch-time” is when the raw material actually touches the machinery and moves one level up in the production cycle. In a factory, more capacity to produce does not yield results if “touch-time” is low. In lean methodology, it is also referred to as “processing time”.

As a professional, you have required skills and knowledge that increases your capacity to deliver. But that is of no use if your “professional touch-time” is less i.e. time when your unique abilities and talents are at work to produce meaningful results. In a typical work day, how often do we get sucked into activities that adds no or little value but just ends up filling the time?

If you are a programmer, what percentage of your time is spent in actually writing/improving code and building awesomeness into your software? If you are a sales professional, how much of productive time do you spend on reporting/MIS versus actually talking to a prospect and making a sale? If you are a CEO, how much of your time goes into driving strategy versus implementing tactics? If you are a writer, how many hours per day goes into actual writing?

When you are in “touch” with your work, you become better. You concentrate. You start spotting opportunities to improve. You optimize it. Nuances of your work start showing up. You build a serious expertise and get creative. You start adding “real value” to the customers.

The only way to improve quality of our work is to do the real work – not just preparing for it, but doing it.

Critical questions then are: When did you last measure how you spend your productive time in the day? What is your professional touch-time?

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden

Improvement is never a destination, but a journey that is organic, constant and never-ending. Consider this story from Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur

A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes.

A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”

Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Don’t Miss: Nicholas Bate’s Life Tips 101

Great Quotes: On Expectations

“Nobody rises to low expectations.” ~ Calvin Lloyd

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to believe that they can do better. People respond to expectations and the only way to grow people is to consistently raise the bar of expectations.

If a team is not doing great, it is either because the team members are incapable or the leader has established very low expectations from them. Low expectations result in lower or mediocre performance.

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details and when to see a broad picture.

If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising your bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

P.S: This also applies to expectations that you have from your own selves.

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Annual Management Improvement Carnival: Edition 1

It is always a great privilege to participate in Annual Management Improvement Carnival organized by John Hunter. I am thrilled to play the host at QAspire and I will be featuring my “four favorite” blogs in two editions. From time to time, these blogs educate me, stir up my thinking, change/challenge me and help me grow.

In this first edition, lets look at the first two blogs that I *love* reading.

Seth Godin’s Blog

Seth Godin needs no introduction – he is the most amazing thinker, doer, initiator, instigator and change agent. He inspires me (and the world) through his words and deeds. Finding a few posts that I really liked over last few years is just like showing a small tip of a huge iceberg, but I will still attempt! Here are the ones that really touched me:

  1. Self directed effort is the best kind: “The thing I care the most about: what do you do when no one is looking, what do you make when it’s not an immediate part of your job… how many push ups do you do, just because you can?
  2. You matter: “When you touch the people in your life through your actions (and your words), you matter.”
  3. The paradox of expectations:it’s worth considering no expectations. Intense effort followed by an acceptance of what you get in return. It doesn’t make good TV, but it’s a discipline that can turn you into a professional.

Bonus Resources:

  1. Blogger J. D. Meier compiled one of the best posts titled “Lessons Learned From Seth Godin”. Some of the best insights, blog posts and ebooks from Seth Godin, all at one place.
  2. Fellow friend Ivana Sendecka compiled “15 Must Watch Videos Collection of Seth Godin’s Wisdom”. A wonderful mash-up of Seth Godin’s best videos.
  3. Reviews of Seth Godin’s books “Poke the Box” and “Linchpin” at QAspire (containing one question interview with Seth).

Work Matter (Bob Sutton’s Blog)

Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. I have been a regular reader of Bob’s blog Work Matters where he writes about innovation, learning and leadership. His new book is Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best–and Learn from the Worst. Some of his best posts I like includes:

  1. New Research: We Are More Creative When We Help Others Than Ourselves:There is an interesting set of findings from psychological experiments that suggest we see others’ flaws and strengths more clearly than our own (I wrote about this in Good Boss, Bad Boss) and that, on average, human-beings make more rational decisions when make them for others rather than themselves.
  2. 17 Things I Believe: Updated and Expanded:Strive for simplicity and competence, but embrace the confusion and messiness along the way.
  3. 11 Signs You’re A Bad Boss: From AMEX OPEN Forum: One of them, “Implementation is for the little people. Your job is to develop and talk about big ideas, not to waste time thinking about all the little steps required to make them happen.”

Bonus Resources:

The Attitude of Quality

A retail outlet of a leading shoe brand recently opened up in near vicinity. The design of the store is flashy with impressive interiors and product arrangement. The brand carries a lot of consumer trust since many years. Good store, great brand and competitive prices all at one stop. The only (and probably the biggest) irritant there was attitude of their staff. They seemed too busy and non-responsive leaving many customers (including myself) waiting for long. Frustration amongst customers was visible. The business owners invested a great deal in expensive interiors, they did not think enough about investing in getting the right people, training them and managing their attitudes.

From selling shoes to writing software, every product has to have a strong “service” layer. People enable this layer. At the local shoe store, things were not meant to be that way, but people made them so. In a knowledge/service oriented world, quality of product, environment and infrastructure is just the beginning. Quality of interaction, quality of care, quality of being human, quality of walking that extra mile to delight the customer matters more. They need to complement each other.

The “attitude of quality” is about wanting to do the right things. Even if they are not prescribed that way. When no one is watching. When it takes a bit of extra effort. When you are not paid ‘extra’ to do it. In the current scenario (and the time to come), a professional’s ‘attitude of quality’ will be a key differentiator for his/her success.

I remember a project manager who would test everything before sending it to customer, even after the inspection team had signed off the deliverable. He toiled at the last moment, late in the night to ensure things because he cared. Because he carried an ‘attitude of quality’. He wanted to delight the customer.

Bottom line:

Quality is an attitude. The work we deliver, the products we ship and experiences we extend to customers reveals this attitude. Invest in quality of your product/service, but do not forget to invest in people who carry the right attitude. Because only excited, engaged and enthusiastic people can excite the customers and pass on the enthusiasm. People (and their attitude) is at the core of excellence. We need more ‘attitude of quality’ in our businesses and service organizations.

The Importance of “Know Why”?

Knowledge industry, particularly software, is full of people who possess “know-how” – knowledge of how to get something done. Give them a task, and they will be able to apply their technical skills (read ‘know-how’) to accomplish it.

A lot of people possess a very sound “know-what” – knowledge of facts, figures and methods. Give them a topic and it is likely that they know the theory and facts. “Know-how” shines with “Know-what”.

Sales and marketing folks focus on “know-who” – people they know, have met and have a business relationship with.

There is a proliferation of know-how-what-who people, however, what we need more in businesses today is “know-why” people – those who possess knowledge of the purpose of doing something, insight into the meaning of work.

In lean terms, doing everything else without knowing the purpose and meaning is a “waste” – because everything that is done without understanding the purpose is a cost.

Understanding the purpose, context and meaning requires something more than simple “explicit knowledge”. It requires curiosity, implicit insight, ability to connect the dots, question our work, think about system and understand the invisible currents.

Purpose is powerful tool to keep people aligned, establish a vision (for team and organization), inspire team members and guide large scale strategic changes.

“Know-why” is at the core of excellence and is a pillar on which improvements are (and should be) done.

Given business priorities and rate of change, it is very easy to get carried away by tactical tasks, speed and progress. Corporate culture rewards speed, action and progress. But if you are running fast in the wrong direction, you are prone to accidents.

To avoid this, it is crucial that we know why we are doing what we are doing. Is it adding value? What problems are we solving? Is it really worth it? Why?

So, once in a while, it helps to slow down. Step back. Question our work, see the broader picture and flex our “know why” muscle.

“Know-why” empowers how, what and who. We surely need people who know how and what to do – but we need more and more people/leaders who combine what and how with a powerful why.

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Join in the conversation: How can you instil a strong sense of “know-why” in your organization/team/self? Is there a dearth of “know-why” in business today? What can we do about it? Let your ideas flow in comments below.

On “Systems Thinking” and Improvement

A few years back, when I was struggling with some repetitive/difficult situations at work, one of my seniors (and a good friend) asked me, “Do you know the root cause of your problem?”. He went on to draw a diagram on his notebook, and connected the problem to the other parts of the organizational system. I realized that I was fighting the symptom, whereas the root cause was something completely different.

He told me, “As long as you fight individual fires and try to find single reason for all your problems without looking at the bigger picture, you will never see any improvement in your work.

Today, when I am responsible for improvements in a business environment, this lesson serves me well. My friend introduced me to the powerful concept of “systems thinking.” Ability to see relationships and patterns in different (and seemingly unrelated) elements of work is an essential skill for a modern day professional, because we are surrounded by systems. Right from human body to software we write and communities we belong to, everything is a system and improvement can only happen when we really understand the interconnectedness between different components within a system.

You can change the system only when you know the system – and knowing the system is a curious and creative pursuit. Improvement starts when you are “intentional” about being curious and creative.

I have seen doctors who try to “cure” isolated parts of the body without worrying about the root causes and I have seen leaders who try to “quick fix” every problem that comes their way. Systems thinking (or seeing the bigger picture) is not just a problem solving method, but an important tool for continual improvement.

In his book “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter Senge emphasizes that we need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

He adds, “Reality is made up of circles, but we see straight lines."

Bottom line: Think systems, not events. Next time you solve a problem or implement a significant change: Solve the immediate problems, but do not forget to look for systemic connections and causes. Observe trends, see patterns, study the history of changes. Remain curious and be creative.

Join in the conversation: How do you see patterns and systems? How well do you connect the different parts of your work? What would you recommend?

A Simple Checklist (But No Simpler)

Albert Einstein believed that supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible.

He said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Here are some very basic (irreducible) questions that can act as powerful checklist to assess your processes.

– Why are we doing what we are doing?

– What all we do?

– How are those linked together?

– How is it done?

– What are the dependencies?

– Who is the customer? What does customer expect?

– What are the top 3 areas where small change can lead to a big difference?

– What all is redundant?

– What can be eliminated to reduce waste (of effort/time/energy/money)?

– What can be simplified?

On a second thought, you can also apply these questions to your own set of working patterns/personal initiatives/career. It’s not just organizations that have processes. We also have our personal processes (ways of working), and they play a huge role in what we deliver to the world as individuals.

Quality (and hence excellence) is largely a personal affair!

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Note: I am scheduled to speak at Ahmedabad Management Association on the topic “Personal Mastery: They Key to Deliver Quality”. (Friday, 08-Jul-2011 at 6:30 PM IST at ). It is an evening talk open for all who are interested. Are we meeting? :)

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Related Posts:

Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

Three Rituals For Constant Alignment and Learning

On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

Passion in Work: What’s Your Ice-Cream?

Bringing our energy to work is not optional anymore. It pains to see people at workplace who seem to be dragging themselves with work assigned to them. They do it because they get a paycheck at the end of month and they do it only when someone asks them to do it. Work, for them, is simply a means to an end, and that is evident from the quality of their outcomes.

Our work can mean different things to us. For some, it is just a profession. For others, it is a passion. What your work means to you makes a big difference in your success.

I have interviewed hundreds of candidates so far during recruitment process. Some people do what they are doing because that’s what they got into. They were in by a chance and were pulling on. Others chose what they were doing and they clearly shined out.

During a recent interview, when I asked a candidate why he preferred software testing as his career, he gave a very interesting answer. He said, “Everyone likes ice-cream. Software testing is my ice-cream”. Thought provoking.

Bill Strickland wrote,

“Passions are irresistible. They’re the ideas, hopes, and possibilities your mind naturally gravitates to, the things you would focus your time and attention on.”

Our passion for our work is the source of energy, and this energy clearly translates into physical energy – the motive force that pushes us to initiate, to finish, to persist in between, to experiment and hence learn. This energy can be felt and seen as a sparkle in the eye when a person talks about/executes the work.

Doing what we love doing, and then doing it with passion is not only important for executing a job. It is our obligation to ourselves.

Vincent Van Gogh said it beautifully,

“Your profession is not what brings home your paycheck. Your profession is what you were put on earth to do with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.” – Vincent Van Gogh

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Join in the conversation: Think about and tell us why you are doing what you are doing? What makes you tick? What’s your ice-cream?

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Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Actualizing with the self
Great Quotes: Work and Play
Follow your Energies
Passion Power

Who Is Responsible For Improvements?

Improvements don’t happen if organizations don’t have someone responsible for it. This is the reason why a lot of organizations have senior executives who think about and plan improvement initiatives. From a strategic viewpoint, this makes a lot of sense.

However, there is another side to it. Just because there is one person responsible for improvements, no one else cares to thinks about any improvements. This is counter productive, simply because the most meaningful improvements in work can only come from those who are actually executing the work day in and out.

Improvement comes from learning of what works, what doesn’t and what works better. Learning comes from doing the work, from trying, from experimenting and from failing. So two key things emerge out of this thought process:

Building a culture where experimentation is valued is crucial for improvement

In his book “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter Senge writes,

The irony is that if we were only working at the top of the organization we might never have been aware of some of these problems and thus might never have attempted to solve them. But when you build a team that believes that change from any place in the system is possible, significant change can sprout from even the tiniest of seeds.

When people try to improve anything, they will make mistakes. Their experiments will fail. In overly risk-averse organizations where making mistakes is almost a crime, improvements will never come from the real practitioners. Hence, it is extremely important to build a culture where people are free to start new initiatives, look at fresh new ways of working and simplify the complex. They not only need encouragement, but empowerment. Leaders play a crucial role in building this culture.

Improvement is everybody’s job

Senior executives responsible for process improvement are facilitators. They facilitate the practitioners so that they can improve on work processes in tiny bits. Improvement managers then take those small local improvements to the organization level. But involving people in improvement is crucial.The goal of sponsoring improvement initiative is to empower people to enhance their capacity to create. For improvements to have net positive impact on an organization’s efficiency, they have to be driven by practitioners.

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Join in the conversation. What ideas would you suggest to involve practitioners in improvement game? What are the best ways to empower people so that they initiate improvements rather than just executing the instructions?

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A Worthy Goal for 2011 and Beyond

New year brings with it new predictions, agendas, resolutions and trends. New business models, new ways of working, cooler tools and technologies.

One thing that remains constant (and has remained constant) is “Excellence” – which is at the core of the success of any organization, product, service or an individual.

If I were to select only one theme for next many years, it would be excellence because once you start looking for excellence in everything and commit yourself to it, you often tend to get it.

Quality is often defined as “degree of excellence”, extent to which organizations, people and products reach their potential. In my view, quality is a route to excellence and continual improvement is the tool. Excellence requires passion to improve constantly.

As we start a new year, let me share one of the best definitions of excellence I have come across in the last year:

Excellence isn’t about meeting the spec, it’s about setting the spec. It defines what the consumer sees as quality right this minute, and tomorrow, if you’re good, you’ll reset that expectation again.

The surefire way to achieve excellence, then, is not to create a written spec and match it. The surefire way is to be human. To be artistic: to make a connection with the customer and to somehow change them for the better.

From Seth Godin’s post “What is Excellence” at Tom Peters website

So, seeking/delivering excellence in everything you do is a goal worth chasing in 2011 (and beyond). “Striving for excellence” should be a call to action for us to renew our focus on developing a culture of excellence, great leadership, adopting best practices, making them work in our context, continual improvement and superior service to our customers/peers.

On that note, wish you an “excellent” 2011!

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Teaching, Improvement and Change: A Few Parallels

12 years back, I started my career as a tutor who taught Oracle and PL/SQL to students belonging to different age groups. One thing I realized very early in my career as a tutor is that everyone of us has a different rate of learning – the speed with which we grasp new things, accept changes and change our own thinking.

Another important realization was that however good the tutor is, students only learn when they actually practice the lessons and apply them in the real world.

So what does these lessons have to do with process improvement?  A lot!

In my view, implementing an organizational change is pretty much like teaching, because just like teaching, it changes people/teams/organization for better. It involves creating an impact on how other’s see their work. It involves implementing change. It involves communication and connection.

We make a big mistake when we expect everyone across the organization to accept change at an equal rate. People learn and adapt at a different rate and it is important to “facilitate” change than to “push” it. My first lesson in teaching still holds true.

Change involves lot of training and counseling, but real acceptance of any significant change only happens when people actually apply the new practices and experience the tangible benefits of the change. This also means that when people implement change in their day to day work, there will be a lot of realignment and fine tuning in the process itself. My second lesson from that brief teaching experience comes in handy here.

I also saw that students learn the best when they see relevance of the subject with the real life. Ditto with the improvements, because ultimately, people will only implement an improvement action when they are convinced with the purpose of improvement.

Bottom line: Teaching, process improvement and change initiatives – they all involve people. Knowing how people learn, change and adapt helps when implementing significant organizational changes/improvements.

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Improvement, Change and Strength of Belief In Outcomes

We all find it difficult to stick to our new year resolutions beyond a few months. A lot of people wish to focus on their health and start exercising. Many people I know want to quit smoking. We have a lot of “wishes” on improvement, but we often fail to take some real actions.

Why?

Because change is hard and most of the times, we are resistant to change. Not only because it pulls us out of our comfort zone, but also because when we initiate a change, we don’t see the end results very clearly.

My gym instructor recently shared a very good insight. He observed that people who constantly focus on the pain when exercising give up sooner. He also noted that people who look for instant changes in their health after a few days of exercising also get disappointed soon.

That insight goes well with my own experience which suggests that all meaningful changes take time, demand persistent effort and are driven by strength of our belief that things will be better after a change is implemented, be it improving processes or getting in a better shape.

I realized that we only change when we “have to” change (externally driven) or when we strongly believe in the result of change (internally driven). Most people/organizations don’t think about meaningful changes unless the consequences of not changing are serious or our survival is at stake. In my view, it is always better to be internally driven to changes and improvement (and hence constantly improve) than to be forced upon by external situations. Because the latter often tends to be more painful.

Bottom line:

How much you improve (as an individual or as an organization) is directly proportional to the strength of your belief in the benefits of change.

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P.S. Read this interesting quote on Twitter, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

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Have a great day!

Establishing Forums to Build a Quality Oriented Culture

Total Quality Management (TQM) says that quality is everybody’s job. Each individual’s approach to work, understanding of quality and personal standards of excellence are crucial for delivering quality. One of the biggest challenges for a lot of organizations today is to involve each and every team member in the quality game.

Most people in the organization can do a better job if they know:

  • What are the key values and beliefs on quality/excellence in the organization?
  • What key actions will help me to align myself to those values and belief system?
  • How will those actions add value to organization? How will it benefit me?

Constant communication (from top to bottom and vice versa) is the only way to answer these critical questions and  keep people engaged in excellence. Here are a few forums you can establish/use to promote quality consciousness across the organization:

  • Promote quality initiatives in all your monthly/weekly team meetings. Let people at all levels know that excellence in work is not optional. Use these meetings to give them a broad overview of strategies and purpose.
  • Establish quality circles or improvement/quality focus groups and rotate people to give everyone a chance to participate.
  • Deliver induction trainings to all new joinees and constantly train them thereafter. Train your middle managers on quality to build a right leadership ecosystem.
  • Organize events like group discussions and brainstorming sessions to promote ideas, share success stories, best practices and project case studies.
  • Spread awareness of your quality beliefs and systems by designing e-bulletins or newsletters. Record video messages on quality and upload them on your corporate intranet.
  • Encourage discussions/participation by using internal blogs/wiki/forums.
  • Set up a reward and recognition system to promote right behaviors with respect to quality of products/services delivered to customers.

Quality improvement involves transformation, and these forums helps in transforming culture for excellence in all spheres of an organization’s activities. Moreover, they are excellent tools to answer the questions most people have.

TQM is not just a philosophy. It is a vehicle to drive excellence across the organization. Probably that is the reason why it is called “total” quality management.

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Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Metrics: Are They Mapped With Your Business Objectives?

You can measure almost anything in your business, but if those metrics don’t serve a real business objectives, they are just numbers with no real meaning. Measurement is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I have seen extreme cases where organizations either measure so much or they don’t measure anything at all. Both extremes are dangerous, because it de-focuses people from doing the right things.

A lot of business leaders. quality consultants and improvement experts are obsessed with fancy metrics that may not have direct relevance to the business objectives. Whether measuring a project or a business, here are a five steps to map your metrics with your business objectives:

  • Know your goals: Identify what are your strategic, tactical and operational goals. Understanding your business challenges and goals is the first most important step. If you don’t know why you are measuring something, you will get numbers and you won’t know what to do with them. It won’t help.
  • Identify metrics: What metrics can effectively help you meet your goals? For example, if you reduce your defect rates, you can keep your customers happy. Reducing overrun on your project can have direct impact on your bottom lines. You get the point.
  • Identify impact: Some metrics directly impact the goal, while others may have an indirect impact. Identify whether identified measurement has direct or indirect impact. A great way to do this is to draw a two dimensional table with business objectives horizontally and measurements vertically. Map the impact and you will have a great view of your business goals and impact of those metrics.
  • Establish operational procedures: You can now establish processes and methods to collect the data, frequency and consolidation mechanism. This is also a great way to ensure that all your operational processes are aligned to perform in a way that it satisfies at least one or more business objectives.
  • Don’t forget the “invisibles”: My earlier post “The Invisibles in Business Performance” touched upon one of Deming’s seven deadly diseases – “Running a company on visible figures alone” and listed out some areas of your business that cannot be measured, but can have direct impact on your business. Striking balance between managing these invisible aspects, managing by visible numbers and focusing on people seems to be the optimal route to manage the business.

As I mentioned in my earlier post – “With visible figures alone, a business is run. By managing the invisibles together with the visible figures, a high performance, sustainable and scalable organization is built.”

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Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Bonus: Read my post (How to) Have a Great Monday! – and have a wonderful start into the week!