Confused Jigsaw

Our middle manager is running a small but enthusiastic team of office workers. Our manager is armed with plenty of experience and enthusiasm but he’s got a problem, an ongoing problem? One that the manager had thought would go away or correct itself with time. The department is running over budget and missing critical performance measures and they are under pressure. Everyone feels the pressure and knows that something must be done but what to do? Can you make appreciable gains in a few short weeks? My answer is a resounding yes! however there are risks associated with this approach.


We’ve got  what seems like a a mountain of problems, so where do we start? How do we find our leverage points agains all the possible opportunities? How do we find these points of focus against the cacophony of noise? How do we leverage our efforts and focus on the vital few? I’ve found the ‘Theory of Constraints’ (developed by Eliyahu Goldratt) as the perfect philosophy behind determining our improvement focus. We’ll discuss more about the Theory of Constraints (TOC) in an upcoming Blog Post.

How do we make these improvements when we need results quickly? I’ve found running a series of what we call ‘Kaizen Blitz’ as an ideal mechanism to deliver rapid results. View my screencast to learn more about Kaizen Events.. There are a number of  underlying assumptions with this approach; teams will willingly ‘own’ any solutions as they were the ones that came up with the solutions,  the other assumption is that we have chosen the correct area to focus on and we know the ‘general direction’ of the solutions before starting the Kaizen. As the teams own the solutions they will more willingly support the sustainability of the solutions.

We’ve talked about how to structurally set up and run  the improvement teams, but how should we manage the departments improvements focus? To be successful with the improvement efforts the manager needs to focus on follow up and follow through, making sure the teams action plans  are followed through.  I have found huge benefits in using what we call ‘Kanban Boards’ to manage deployments and departmental actions. The Kanban Board provides a visual means of managing tasks and actions, showing overloaded personnel and the pipeline of tasks upcoming. 


Now we have  a means of tracking progress, managing workloads and upcoming work we need to accelerate our progress towards our objectives. Multitasking kills productivity. Everyone has limited capacity. Just because we start things earlier does not mean that they get finished earlier. The key is making sure that multitasking is minimised, and making sure that people are working on a few tasks at once, and working on those tasks to completion. The Kanban board helps as it shows the number of tasks people are working on and so its easy to place a limit on the number of tasks a person can work on at once. I believe the Kanban board should be a part of all deployment leaders and transformation agents key tool.

In this post I’ve written  about an approach  to rapidly make improvements in your department, an approach to improvements through Kaizens, how to approach the management of that team and what to look out for if you want to accelerate your project completion cycle times.

I’d like to hear from you. What are the issues you face in your workplace, are you unsure about where to start? Have you been able to implement rapid improvements in your workplace? What worked well and not so well?