Quality Progress - December 2017 - 64
F E AT U R E
Understanding how your organization
strategically critical processes.
works as a system-and using that
+ Consider team size when setting team
Ensure team members
understanding to set improvement priorimeeting times. As a guideline, each team
have the job flexibility to
ties-resolves this type of confusion.
member should have at least 20 minutes
attend team meetings
Organizations are social systems in
of "air time" per meeting. A three-perwithout jeopardizing their
which individuals balance fulfillment of
son team may meet for an hour, but few
regular job performance.
their organization's purpose with pursuit
teams are productive after working for
of their own goals. To improve the perthree hours or more. This implies a maxiformance of your organization as a system, those in charge
mum team size of nine.
first must identify the critical bottlenecks that limit overall
When process complexity demands more than nine
organizational performance. One or more critical bottlenecks
team members, organize members of the whole team to
always exist inside or outside of the organization. If no such
serve on subteams of two or three members. Subteams
bottleneck existed, the organization would produce infinite
typically include: metrics and data analysis; voice of the
volumes of perfect-quality products or services, which is
customer (carrying out focus groups, surveys and qualimpossible.
ity function deployment); quick hits to make fast, small
No matter how many improvements an organization
improvements as opportunities surface during a long projmakes, if it does not relieve its systemic performance botect; corrective action if the process being worked on lacks
tleneck, it will fall behind its competitors that systematically
it; training and deployment; and, occasionally, tasks that
don't require the whole team, such as cost-benefit analysis. improve. Beyond local improvements, an organization's
annual planning cycle must assess the organization's
When the whole team meets, break into subteams
opportunities and processes, identify the vital few processes
and work on tasks in parallel. Before the meeting ends,
limiting mission accomplishment and sponsor improvement
reconvene the whole team to share and discuss subteam
efforts to relieve strategic process bottlenecks.
progress, problems and plans.
W. Edwards Deming first sketched this systematic
+ Ensure team members have the job flexibility to attend
improvement approach in a flowchart he presented to
team meetings without jeopardizing their regular job perJapanese business leaders in 1950.5 Sadly, not many U.S.
formance. Absenteeism from team meetings signals that
firms were led by plate breakers. Champions for systematic
missing meetings is acceptable and is an early warning sign
improvement are uncommon, but they create tremendous
of failure. Senior managers, though willing, usually have too
opportunities for quality professionals with the know-how
many conflicting obligations to attend improvement team
and courage to work with such leaders.
meetings regularly. If their contributions are desired, it is
Senior quality professionals and consultants can help orgabetter to invite them to serve on the steering team.
nizational managers assess and improve their organization's
+ If needed, provide backup for team members whose
absence from regular work disrupts business. Thank and
+ Focusing on the question, "Why does our organization
credit all contributors.
exist?" CEOs tend to describe their organizations in one
+ To maximize the odds of a successful improvement plan,
of three ways: function-what the organization does for
break risky tasks into smaller, easier tasks. A team with
customers; process-how it produces its products and
the know-how to perform 60 to 80% of all steps in a new
services; or structure-the organization's major parts.
process can run small, fail-fast pilot tests to invent ways to
A rare fourth description-purpose and mission-
close process gaps. While simulating the improved process
replaces confusion with clarity at all levels by stating why
on a few typical work units, members with the deepest
an organization exists in its wider context (such as to proexperience improvise ways to fill process gaps as needed.
duce products and services that create customer appetite
Gradually increase the complexity of work units as pilot
and satisfy that appetite in its markets).
testing progresses. When a pilot test goes wrong, stop
Employees of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., for example,
it; diagnose what went wrong, learn, adapt the process,
understand that they are ladies and gentlemen providing
retrain and rerun the pilot test on similar work units.
genuine care and comfort to the ladies and gentlemen
who are guests in their luxury hotels.
+ Identifying the vital bottlenecks blocking mission accomThe fourth type of confusion arises from mistaking increplishment, then sponsoring, forming and training strategic
mental improvements scattered around the organization for
improvement teams of managers and supervisors to make
strategic improvements that yield organizationwide benefits.
December 2017 ❘ qualityprogress.com