As clients of improvement consulting in the past, we saw what great consultants did – and what poor ones did. Our principles take this experience and learning into account to design a client experience and results that we could only have dreamed of back when we were on your side of the desk.
When we work with you to improve a process, our goal is to deliver measurable results, that are visible to you, your team, and clients. While we provide reports as an output, our principal objective is outcomes – faster, better, easier, continuing improvement with engaged people.
As clients, we were frustrated with consultants constantly attempting to create long-term dependency on their services. Our approach is to help our clients develop their own improvement capacity and mindsets so that they ultimately do not require our help. Their long-term success is the best advertising that we can ask for.
While we have built much of our practice on the principles of Lean Enterprise, we do not limit ourselves to what are thought of as traditional Lean tools, methods, and mindsets.
Many firms specialize in only one discipline: Lean, or Six Sigma, or Agile/Scrum or Service Design. In our experience, organizational issues do not always fit cozily into these categories. Making organizations work better requires more of a toolbox than a single tool.
Our approach is more like an auto mechanic – use the tool/discipline that is best suited to the job. Would you trust your car to a garage called “Bob’s Wrench”? “Joe’s Screwdriver”? Of course not. We use a full toolkit drawn and adapted to knowledge work from, among others:
It is this nimbleness that puts the “Agility” in our name.
While we have deep experience in the above approaches, we avoid dogma. There is no “one-way” to solve a problem, and most formal methods do not work perfectly when they collide with reality – they each and all have blind spots. As a result, we go heavy on adapting our methods and approaches to real-life situations. We do not put any effort into defending specific popular approaches and blindly applying existing methods.
Our observation is that change that is imposed, is change that is opposed. We build change management from the very beginning of an initiative, starting with which projects you select and who participates in the projects. To reach your desired results, the people doing the work need to be involved, or else they will not own the solution and the solutions themselves may not work. Our experience is that this approach leads to the greatest buy-in and sustainability of results, creating highly-engaged people who want to improve and keep improving.
Ownership of your improvements is critical. Our approach ensures that leaders from top to bottom, and staff own the improvement ideas – so that these ideas grow deep roots and are more likely to be sustained. We build the human side into each step in our method, creating energy and focus through:
Related to dogma, above, we use the language of the group we are working with. We avoid complex jargon, manufacturing-speak, or Japanese terms when an immediately understandable word will do better. If you are trying to get your people on the bus and keep them there, unfamiliar language creates barriers to entry and separates people into “in” and “out” groups.
“Let us conduct hansei on the application of that FMEA so that we can poke yoke the client interface to reduce muda” vesus
“Let’s reflect on the results of that risk assessment so that we can error-proof the form to reduce rework”.
People create and collaborate better when they are having fun. Fun helps create better psychological safety, and better results. Whether through simulations, exercises, or our facilitation methods, we have built fun into our methods so that your experience with us charges your batteries; it does not drain them.
We work closely with you to avoid “surprises”, using frequent signals checks to ensure that our work is aligned with your needs and expectations.
Many projects fail because solutions are identified but not tested and fine-tuned. We use a lightweight approach to help teams identify their solutions, write them up in the form of experiments, then conduct tests to learn what worked and what needs to be adjusted. Then make the adjustments and try another learning cycle. Doing so has several advantages:
Implementation is where results are created. If your people are overwhelmed or short of resources, we can roll up our sleeves and implement solutions alongside you until we have collectively relieved this pressure. We can work side-by-side with you to implement your improvements until you are sure that you are able to deal with the inevitable hidden challenges and you are certain that you are ready to go alone.
As well, our implementation approach creates visual management and improvement routines that are a simple bridge to longer-term continuous improvement on your own. We also use the principles of Agile/Scrum to create value quickly, in rapid iterations to create further buy-in and momentum.
We have yet to see an organization that has created and sustained high performance by simply using tools to improve processes. Our approach goes beyond tools to look at the work as a system: the combination of process, technology, structure, trust, mindsets, and principles that combine to determine the level of performance. In our research on the Top 20 causes of high performance, “process” barely made the top 10 – in fact “process” is usually the result of these other factors.
For example, imagine streamlining a process to make it perform faster by eliminating unnecessary approvals. It might work for a while, but after time, if there was a low level of trust between stakeholders, excess approvers might creep back into the process. Same thing with mindsets – if our mindset is that “to avoid risk, we have to consult as broadly as possible”, then you might see the approval process becoming bloated again as the mindset demands that more people are involved in the process.
For this reason, we look at the whole picture – the work as a system. We help leaders use system thinking and specialized tools to identify gaps and misalignments that only they can address, increasing the chances that their improvements will be sustained and continue to evolve.