The Three Laws of Improvement

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the three laws of improvement and unleashing the power of your people for improvement. My name is Ross Maynard, and I’m a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants here in the UK. Now, the aims of this course are fivefold. Firstly to help you understand that successful improvement is not about tools and methodologies, but about creating an environment where change can happen. Secondly, to help you appreciate that the principles that underlie successful improvement activity. Third, to present some simple tools that you can use with your people to drive improvement. Fourth, to show how you can unleash the power of your people for improvement. And fifth, to provide a simple process to start that improvement activity. So rather than focus on improving methodologies such as Six Sigma or lean, I want this course to look at the kind of fundamental principles for improvement. What are the building blocks that make successful improvement. And I’ve called these the three laws of improvement, though they’re not immutable laws, like the laws of physics, but rather the kind of core principles that we need to put in place for a successful improvement activity. And the three laws of improvement are as follows. Firstly, that many small changes in the process add up to large improvements at the system level. Secondly, the people in the process are best place to understand its problems and constraints and to improve it. And thirdly, that the effect of blame is to push information about mistakes on the ground. So we’re going to look at each of these in turn, and the first law first, of course, many small changes add up to large improvements at the system level. This is called the doctrine of marginal gains, which you may have heard of. And the principle is that if we improve each step in the process by a small amount, say 1%, then we will get major gains at the top level as these improvements accumulate together. Even better if we can eliminate unnecessary steps. If we can combine other steps, simplify steps, then we’ll get really major efficiency gains at the process level. And of course, the best way to deliver these many small improvements is to harness the energy of the people who work in the process, which is the second law of improvement, which we’ll come to. Now, the first law is a great way to get started with a process improvement. People get involved and enthused, it builds teamwork and communication. We use simple tools to help people improve their own work, and everyone feels the better for the second law of improvement is that the people in the process Best Place to improve it. Your people know your processes better than anyone. In particular, they know where the barriers are. They know where the problems arise. They know where the risk points are. They know the constraints, they know the problems in the process. If they’re given time to work together using simple methods, then they can implement improvements, which will add up at the top level. engaging your people in improvement will also fire up their enthusiasm. It will boost morale, it will improve team working and communication as I already said. And of course, using your own people for improvement is much cheaper than using consultants. However, you do need to commit regular time to improvement perhaps half a day per week for the team and that is a fair investment for a company and management must provide the support for this to happen. The support to remove obstacles and to facilitate Tape changes and to support implementation. The third law of improvement is that the effect of blame is to push mistakes underground. Blame is criticizing people for mistakes or for not meeting targets. Most problems are actually caused by issues with the process, rather than by individuals or their competency. Not meeting targets, for example, it’s a symptom of an unstable process, not an individual’s performance. The question that you should be asking is, what is it about the process that allows this mistake or performance issue to arise? What within the process is allowing errors to occur? That’s the question we need to know. Unless we encourage the open discussion of mistakes and errors, without blame being attached to them, then we’ll never be able to learn from those mistakes and move on.