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Blog Author:
Richard Eaton
Adventurer. Process whisperer. Force of nature.
Richard Eaton is a Co-founding Partner of Berlineaton, a Victoria owned and operated management consulting firm. He specializes in the areas of continuous improvement, and leader development. He holds an MA in Leadership from Royal Roads University and is Lean certified
Awesome and Awkward: The Tale of Two Continuous Improvement Projects
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Charles Dickens

Berlineaton has facilitated hundreds of process improvement projects over the past couple of decades and, in general, we have found that there are two kinds of process improvement initiatives: 1) Awesome, and 2) Awkward. Fortunately for us the Awesome vastly outnumber the Awkward. It’s also important to note that both projects, from the point of view of our clients, are usually successful and that client satisfaction scores related to our work extend into the high 80% range for all our projects. Nevertheless, there seems to be something Awesome, or more inspiring, about some projects and something Awkward, or less inspiring, about others.

“Why is that?”, we wondered. How is it that two projects with similar goals, delivered by the same consultants using an identical methodology, could feel so different in terms of the end result from our point of view? Here are four reasons why we believe that the ‘Awesome’ and the ‘Awkward’ projects turn out the way they do:

1. Frustration versus Fadism

Most Awesome projects result from people wanting to Continuously Improve their core processes for one main reason: to reduce frustration for themselves and their clients. Process misalignment and complexity can mess things up for people who just want to come to work, do a good job and feel like they’ve made a difference. Awesome projects result from those who engage in a process improvement effort to eliminate this frustration and do a better job for their clients. Those who take on these kinds of projects merely because it is some kind of fad they read about, saw someone else do, or because (worst of all) they’ve been ‘ordered’ to do it, usually play out as more Awkward, or less inspring, projects.

2. Teams versus Siloes

The most Awesome projects are delivered by cross functional teams, pulled from the ranks of the ‘doers’ who deliver service across a wide range of internal siloes. Working together to challenge, suggest, test and innovate, front line staffed Design Teams can come up with huge across the board wins that are unattainable by individuals working alone, external consultants, or small groups pulled from just one ‘silo’.

3. Global Focus versus Self-Interest

Awesome projects put aside purely partisan motivations and strive for results that add value globally, to a wide range of stakeholders. With this kind of appreciative, outwards focused mindset a whole world of possibilities opens up, enabled by complimentary business relationships, mutual accountabilities and other fruitful alliances that were previously thought unattainable. On the other hand, Awkward projects can result when we adopt a self-interested mindset prompting a protectionist, ‘us versus them’, and status quo preserving orientation that can widen gaps within the organizations, as well as with potential allies and other helpers.

4. Leaders versus Drivers

The most Awesome projects are usually championed by visionary leaders who are experts at rallying a broad base of support behind a common, noble cause. These leaders can articulate challenges and improvement goals in a simple, honest and direct fashion that connect people personally with the ultimate aims of the project in some way. Awkward projects can emerge where leaders drive an authoritarian approach to creating ‘efficiencies’, or to otherwise denigrate, disrupt or destroy long standing organizational models. We’ve noticed that most people can see through this kind of approach and will either ‘quit and stay’, or otherwise subtly resist these kinds of top down driven transformation efforts to the point that they fail in one way or another.

So, then, how can you make sure that you Continuously Improve your business processes via Awesome projects? It seems quite simple really:

1. Focus on addressing a clear, shared, business frustration

2. Engage cross functional teams drawn from frontline staff across a range of specializations

3. Challenge and empower the team to achieve visionary, aspirational goals and,

4. Above all, lead in an authentic, direct and matter of fact way to connect people personally and practically to your future vision
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