Mike Rother, in his excellent book ‘Toyota Kata’, explains that ‘command and control’ organisations see the ‘implementing’ word as a very positive one but that their obsession with it actually impedes their progress and the development of their people.
To explain what is meant by an implementation versus a problem solving mode:
Implementation mode (‘Go fast to go slow’)
This mode can be characterised as:
- The need for a clear and (usually overly) simple ‘solution’ up front arrived at by some expert(s) a la “we have the answer!”;
(where this answer is normally derived from copying what others have already done);
- A detailed plan (the more lines on the Gantt chart, the better!) that sets out exactly what needs doing, when, and by whom to implement the answer;
- A target date (along with some incentives), established to motivate (!) people to put on their ‘implementation’ blinkers…nothing must get in the way;
- A finish line mentality – “we got it in!…now let’s move on to something else.”
- The above requires the organisation to assume everything is ‘steady state’ (which includes ignoring the effects of the rest of the system on the component(s) in focus);
- However, there is continual change both inside and outside the environment (which may or may not be noticed…and which is unlikely to be understood);
- It is impossible for us to predict what will actually eventuate;
- We spend vast sums of money trying to shoe horn our answer into this changing reality, often years after it was conceived;
- There has been very little meaningful learning and development going on!
“Humans have a tendency to want certainty, and even to artificially create it, based on beliefs, when there is none. This is a point where we often get into trouble. If we believe the way ahead is set and clear, then we tend to blindly carry out a preconceived implementation plan rather than being sensitive to, learning from, and dealing adequately with what arises along the way. As a result, we do not reach the desired destination at all, despite our best intentions.” [Rother]
Problem solving mode (‘Go slow to go fast’):
There are three things we need to know with certainty (none of which is to know the answer up front!). These are:
- Where we are (current condition);
- Where we want to be (target condition); and
- A method by which to manoeuvre through the unclear territory in-between
Some key points to make:
‘Where we are’ means that we really understand our current condition, which includes why we are like this (i.e. the system conditions and management behaviours that make it so).
‘Where we want to be’ doesn’t mean “we want to have implemented x”. That’s just the implementation mode by another name. It means clearly stating a target condition (our challenge towards purpose): how should the process operate i.e. can we describe this in terms of relevance to the customer and the process performers. This description can’t know how it is to be achieved….this will unfold via…
…the ‘method’ (experimentation), which IS clear. The experiments themselves will not become clear until we progress step-by-step through the obstacles within the unclear territory.
“True certainty and confidence does not lie in pre-conceived implementation steps or solutions, which may or may not work as intended, but in understanding the logic and method for how to proceed through unclear territory.” [Rother]
So what’s the point?
Too many ‘projects’ are merely the implementation of a new technology or ideology (that someone has been convinced they need) with:
- a reverse-engineered ‘business case’ that attempts to justify what should be achieved from ‘putting it in’; and
- a grand plan with supposedly certain time, scope and cost.
Such projects regularly fail, sometimes spectacularly and even if they ‘complete’ (whatever definition they use for this word), there has been little value added or learning achieved….in fact they often (usually) destroy value and repeat the same errors and pitfalls as the last project and the one before that.
Instead, we should adopt a mindset of:
- being really clear on what we are trying to achieve (in respect of customer purpose); and then (and only then)
- work our way towards this ideal through a series of steps:
- learning as we go; and
- deciding the next step (the how) as we learn, adapt and ‘see’
Okay, so I’ve ‘scratched the surface’ of the idea that a brilliant implementation plan is not the answer. For those that would like an excellent analogy to think about this, here’s a useful (and short) post: The difference between launching a rocket and driving a car.
We should know ‘before we leave the house’ what our intended destination is, why and how we would know how we are going towards it…and we should steer our way there (unconstrained) as we meet the unknown obstacles on the way.
There would be little point in claiming ‘completion’ because we had spent our quota of time, distance or cost if we hadn’t actually arrived!