Monday, August 23, 2010

Sneaking in Improvement

One thing that I have noticed recently is the tendency of companies to move operations to other states to avoid higher taxes in certain states. This is particularly true of California which has the highest taxes for businesses anywhere in the USA. Of course a similar phenomenon has been going on for years with outsourcing to other countries. Now I am not arguing for or against this type of action as it varies from organization to organization and the specific issues concerning each organization. However what I am suggesting is that process improvement could be sneaked in during these times of upheaval as they create the opportunity to get past the usual petty politics during normal times.

The great thing about times of change that involve cost cutting is that the petty power games get steamrollered over by the change coming through. This lessening of petty power politics allows the organization to employ process improvement methodologies and best practices far more easily than during normal times. Of course care must be taken to balance the implementation of process improvement along with the organizational changes that are taking place. However, in spite of the organizational changes taking place, I feel that there is an opportunity to make positive changes that would be difficult in normal times.

It is sad but true that organizations must sneak in something as important as process improvement when people’s guards are down. Until people’s attitude towards process improvement changes, it will have to be performed in whatever way it can be done.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Petty Little Power Games

If I could travel back in time, I would among other things (buying Microsoft stock at the right time etc.) ask the titans of Quality (Deming, Crosby, Juran etc.) how they navigated past the petty power struggles.

To clarify what I mean, I was asked recently why best practices are not widely implemented. My answer? “Petty power struggles”. What do I mean by that? Consider an organization that is low maturity and does not implement the best practices out today. Inspite of its low maturity, there is a sort of structure there. People after years of working there have become managers, directors etc. They have a pecking order of sorts. Now consider that a best practice like ITIL is to be implemented at this organization. The first thing about this development that will strike terror in everyone’s heart is the potential damage that this would bring to the various little power structures all over. A person who was a manger may now no longer be one and someone with ITIL certification could possibly be in a more commanding position. This could occur at all different levels across the organization. So how do people respond to this possible threat? By not implementing the best practice and keeping the status quo. If management insists, the “threatened” staff find numerous ways to cause problems, delays and confusion that effectively bring the implementation to a grinding halt. The most common is that the current project that needs to be completed will be delayed if a best practice implementation is to be performed. This effectively frightens the upper management into delaying the implementation until this important project is completed. At this point the game is as good as over. All the staff have to do now is threaten the well being of other projects as they come down the pipeline and the implementation effort is effectively history.

Over and above this, staff can be deliberately difficult, deliberately dense and intentionally make mistakes in the implementation effort to further undermine it. The one thing they usually do not do is study up on it and become experts at it thus ensuring a position of power in the new way of doing things. That would be the obvious and straightforward way of doing things, but human nature being what it is, the more difficult path is generally chosen in order to preserve the present (and inefficient) status quo.

What these obstructers do not realize is that the future will involve best practices whether they like it or not. The only question is how smoothly or otherwise the best practices will be implemented and with what fallout.