COVID 19: No Time for Change Management? Try Rapid Cycle Improvement instead….

Richard Eaton

“Rules? Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Thomas Edison

In the midst of the COVID 19 crisis many organizations are scrambling to adapt, quickly and effectively, to a host of challenges they’ve never had to think about before. Rapid Cycle Improvement is a quality and productivity improvement method that identifies, implements and measures changes made to improve a process or a system. Fast. As a result, it’s well suited to the needs of many businesses that needs to see results within days or weeks, which is different from more traditional change management approaches that can take months to see results.

 For over 20 years, Berlineaton’s Continuous Improvement practise has partnered with hundreds of clients in a dozen different sectors to implement big changes, fast and effectively, using various Rapid Cycle Improvement techniques. Here are three things we’ve learned about what works, and three things we’ve learned about what doesn’t, so far:

What Works?

1.      A Recipe for Success

Based on the work of the world famous statistician and industrial consultant, W. Edwards Deming, Rapid Cycle Improvement is anchored on four key phases: Plan, Do, Study, Act. Simply put, plan what you are going to do, do it, study the results, then act to improve. Many organizations are really good at the ‘Do-Act’ components but struggle with the ‘Plan-Study’ pieces, mainly because they take too long. Don’t dilly dally. As General George S. Patton noted: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.”  

2.      All Hands on Deck

Take a look at your end to end processes and notice who plays a key role in their delivery, from the frontline to the C Suite, then engage those people in the redesign process. Make sure that you include your customers and suppliers because they can tell you what changes they can make to accommodate the needs of the crisis at hand. Avoid setting up a complex web of teams, interconnected by various dotted lines, and get everyone in the room, virtual or otherwise, to build out a solution.

3.      Facilitate, Don’t Dictate

During a crisis the most important tools in a leader’s toolbox are not answers, but questions. Leaders at all levels need to identify the key challenges and formulate the right questions that, when answered by their team, will realize big benefits fast. In other words, boss, check your ego at the door and be open to a little empowerment, and the results will amaze you.

What Doesn’t Work?

1.      Gentle Lies

Shane Parish notes that ‘too many prefer gentle lies to hard truth.’ During a crisis ‘gentle lies’ and other happy talk can emerge to reassure others that everything will be OK. Even worse, sometimes leaders try to sugar coat the current situation to avoid looking bad. Rapid Cycle Improvement approaches are best deployed when you assume that everything is not OK. A crisis is the right time for truth telling and, if that truth isn’t too pleasant then share it, frankly and respectfully. Then get going on fixing the problem.

2.      Suspect Data

During the planning stages of your improvement effort it’s important to base your ‘do it’ approach on reliable data. Deming said ‘In God we trust, all others bring data.’ Without reliable data, you will begin to erode the trust that is essential to an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to rapidly solving problems.

3.      Downplaying Success and Failure

We have been conditioned to underplay successes and failures mainly because few people enjoy having attention brought to themselves, for either reason. However, during a crisis when every action should be designed to create some kind of improvement, it’s important to highlight both successes and failures and communicate those widely to promote faster learning across the whole organization. At its core, Rapid Cycle Improvement is a learning process that, like most human learning, works best in a ‘safe to fail’, versus a fail-safe’, culture.

Top tip: If people are fear-full of being singled out, it will be hard for them to be fear-less in the midst of a crisis.

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    British Columbia

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    Upper Canada College

  • Overall, I would highly recommend Berlineaton for anyone seeking superior results in the field of facilitated, team-based process improvement that blend a focus on more task focused business results with the team, and overall people, engagement required to promote higher levels of ownership and execution success.

    Executive Director,

    BC Government

  • Berlineaton helped me work through staffing changes and a significant workload immediately following the COVID-19 outbreak. Our coaching sessions were very much appreciated, and I was able to re-focus on the strategic goals of our organization, while still leading my team and day-to-day operations. Being able to improve my leadership competencies and navigate the last few months was invaluable to say the least.

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