Stop playing whack-a-mole… start improving!

Nick Snelling | Head of Business Improvement

A quote from Terry Pratchett captures the problem faced by many teams when first embarking on a process of continual improvement.

“If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”
Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

Your team has raised some issues, but they don’t have the data to confirm, support or dismiss them. Any changes they propose are based on gut feeling and possibly won’t solve the problem or may give rise to other, unexpected, problems that rear their head like a perpetual game of ‘whack-a-mole’.

Sound familiar? It’s a scenario that is very common when small teams are expected to deliver without time to stop and smell the roses. Without some structure in place to record and measure key elements of their processes, how can they possibly know where to turn to next when deciding what to change?
 

Where are you coming from?

 
Don’t get me wrong, too much overhead or focus on ‘the stats’ can sometimes clog a team’s processes and stifle good reactive ideas for change (something that a small team can be very good at!). However, it’s important to find a balance and at least have some mechanisms in place to give the team peace of mind that the changes they are making, big or small, are positively affecting their core quality metrics.

When working with other teams at RedEye, whose processes I’m not altogether familiar with, after running through their process, the next thing we tend to do is establish what data they already have that supports their functions. If this is minimal, we establish a way of capturing and reporting on core metrics as quickly as possible.

In practical terms, this might involve the following:

  • Identify data held in tools used to facilitate the team’s processes (i.e. Excel, Trello, Office 365, SharePoint, Salesforce, CRMs, Proprietary Software etc)

  • Identify data silos held outside of these tools, often assembled by the teams themselves (i.e. Spreadsheets, Databases, Documents etc)

RedEye are fundamentally a data and technology business; we love data, so most teams are blessed with an array of tools and data to trawl through. Today, businesses in most sectors are progressively digital and collect multitudes of data so you shouldn’t be feeling isolated if data isn’t your company’s thing! It can be noisy at times with the sheer number of software tools being used, but sifting through the noise is a far better problem to have than the digital equivalent of tumbleweed.

To help guide you through the noise, keep it simple and focus on obtaining the data you need for analysing the task at hand. Whilst keeping data for a rainy day might seem prudent, it will swiftly become inflated and confusing if you always follow this practice.
 

Where are you now?

 
Data silos identified, the next step is to consider how you are going to analyse and manipulate them. Many of the tools teams are using will have built in reporting solutions which may not be being utilised. Alternatively, data can be extracted, either manually or automatically via APIs and integrations and imported into a tool designed for the job. One of the benefits of investing time in pulling data sources together into a specialist tool for the job, is that you can choose what you show and how you show it. It also gives the team a central place to view and collaborate on performance for the functions they perform.

Using tools such as Microsoft’s Power BI is a great way to make this process as slick as possible. They can also help to maintain consistency in reporting across different data sources and facilitate change when procuring alternative solutions.

Identify your core metrics with your team, and agree why you are tracking them. Having their buy-in on the process will build unity and encourage feedback.

Then draw a line in the sand. This is your benchmark from which to improve upon. In the unlikely event you have no data, you’ve just identified your next improvement project!
 

Where are you going?

 
Any changes you are implementing should reference what metrics the team are striving to improve. This will allow the team to ultimately determine whether a project has been a success or not.

It can sometimes be tricky to relate the problems you are trying to solve to specific metrics. This may mean you’ve identified some additional data that needs to be captured, or that the improvement affects quality of life and a series of surveys could be run to measure an improvement in satisfaction. Quite often satisfaction is overlooked as an ongoing performance metric, partly because it can be arduous and tricky to measure, but also because it can be scary to know how people really feel about the product of all your team’s hard work.

Don’t shy away from making your reports and goals fun. Consider gamification and leader boards if performance is the goal, or incentives for changes that improve quality in obvious problem points. And remember, the more up-to-date you can keep your data, the more addictive your metrics will become.

Hopefully by capturing key data, and analysing it more effectively, your team will be able to plan improvements with more precision and eventually, put that mallet down.

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