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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: The gap with the ideal is a good place to define objectives

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Thursday, October 21, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

There are at least four conditions that trigger improvement: what we did didn’t work as planned, we disappointed a customer, there is an anticipated (or actual) need to get better, and what we do departs from the ideal.

The most superlative operationally excellent organizations generate and sustain rates of improvement and innovation that are faster, broader in span, and more relentless than their peers and competitors can generate.

There are several triggers for this improvement.

First, because work is consistently designed so departures from expected approach or outcome are immediately evident, those surprises are trigger for problem solving.

Second, even if work proceeds as expected, if customers (internal or external) are somehow disappointed, that is a trigger for improvement.

Third, there is the anticipatory case for change that triggers improvement.  e.g.,
— currency exchange rate changes will require a 20% reduction in cost.
— a competitor is entering the market and we have to add more value with less effort.

Fourth, there is the ideal as a consistent source of concern.  In my work with Toyota, the doing of work was explained in terms of ideally, we would be respond with defect-free products and services, immediately, on demand, in units of use (1×1), without waste (notice that is one of several criteria, not the sole criteria as some would have), safely, and securely.

Observed departures from the ideal were triggers for the question: what is it we don’t understand that causes us to have defects, delays, waste, and risk?  Outside Toyota, a ‘relentless pursuit of perfection’ is a trigger too.  As I detail in The High Velocity Edge, perfect workplace safety was the objective at Alcoa, perfectly safe nuclear propulsion the objective in the US Navy.

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