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deming, improvement, leadership, lean, management, transformation, Uncategorized

Accidental Success Is No Reason To Celebrate

Lean Rule #18: If you can’t explain it, you can’t take credit for it.

It is not unusual to expect people to be able to explain the causes of a decline in performance.  Those leading an area experiencing a decline are expected to know their processes well enough to explain what happened, as well any countermeasures planned to get the process back on track.

For a variety of reasons, though, we don’t expect the same level of understanding for an unexplained improvement in performance.  The improvement is often gladly accepted with the hope it will continue, or it is credited to something subjective like increased focus.  In some cases, the improvement is celebrated even though there is no indication that result was anything other than random.

As with a decline, an improvement in performance results from one or more causes. The inability to explain the reasons for a sudden improvement shows a lack of understanding of the process.  And without an understanding of the causes of the an improvement, it will be impossible to standardize them and assure that the improvement can be sustained.

One of the objectives of standardized work is to control a process to the point where absolutely nothing is left to chance.  Although in reality, it’s not possible to ever get to this point, it is important to keep trying.  This means continually studying the process to understand why it performs as it does.

When work is approached as an ongoing experiment, results will continually drive learning which in turn, will feed improvements in standard work.  Changes in performance – good and bad – will be easier to analyze and understand because people will always be looking for situations where their hypothesis has failed – i.e, standard work did not result in perfect quality.

Although more commonly used than people would like to admit, hope is not an effective way to run a business.  For many organizations, transformation in thinking will be needed to create the type of environment where people become obsessed with achieving perfection – and getting there requires never stopping even after a behavior change is evident.  You will know the transformation is beginning to happen when the desire and energy to study the causes of accidental success is approached with the same urgency as a sudden decline in performance.


About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.


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