QBS: Activity 5 – Managing Improvement Efforts

in Knowledge, Quality as a Business Strategy (QBS)

by David M. Williams, Ph.D.

In a recent blog post (here), I shared how Associates in Process Improvement transformed Dr. Deming’s theory of Organizations Viewed as a Production System into a five-part approach known as Quality as a Business Strategy.

In this series, we’ll take a deeper look at each of the five activities including Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Beliefs; Organization Viewed as a System (includes measurement); System for Obtaining Information; Planning; and Managing Improvement Efforts.   

Activity 5 –  Managing Improvement Efforts

Dr. Edwards Deming often asked leaders, “by what method?” when they talked of wanting to achieve improvement. His challenge to leaders was that it’s not sufficient to have an aim alone. You also had to have a theory and an approach to executing the improvement.

All organizations have aspirations for improvement, but many organizations do not have a method for designing and executing improvement or to manage the system of improvement efforts. To effectively and efficiently improve quality in a complex organizational system, it helps to have a shared method and a system of people and processes to support strategic improvement.

A core foundation for any improvement system is a strong grounding in improvement science, bringing together systems thinking as well as understanding variation, theories of knowledge, and theories of human behavior. This is complemented by tools and methods that support testing, implementing, and spreading improvement. You can learn more about the science of improvement here.

It’s important to adopt a shared approach or framework for chartering and executing improvement. There are several approaches (A3, DMAIC, FOCUS-PDSA, etc). I use the Model for Improvement..

Figure – Model for Improvement from API’s The Improvement Guide

…which uses three simple, yet complex, questions that aid in defining and designing our work:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • How will you know a change is an improvement?
  • What changes will result in improvement?

It prioritizes the use of the plan, do, study, act cycle to test and learn from change ideas.

Figure – Plan, Do, Study, Act Cycle (API)

An endless toolbox of tools and methods are available to support learning and improvement. Learn more here.

Finally, there needs to be a system to sponsor and support improvement work. Projects need to be chartered and resourced, progress tracked, and results shared. Local successes shall be implemented and spread. A learning system should aid in sharing knowledge about the successes and challenges of doing improvement work, to unpack and capture organizational barriers, and to create a culture of discovery.

Great improvement begins with chartered projects and willing teams. It takes a system to support managing improvement efforts across an organization. Laying the scaffolding and creating the support aid project success, ensure spread, and enhance learning. There’s no one way to do it, but having an improvement framework, some core improvement methods and tools, and a learning system are a solid foundation.

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This concludes the five activities of quality as a business strategy. What’s presented here only scratches the surface. If pursuing this strategy were easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s not easy and takes focus, commitment, and hard work, but the results are immense and they build year-on-year. It all begins by just starting the journey.  

Reference: Associates in Process Improvement (1999, October). Quality as a business strategy: Building a system of improvement. Austin, TX: Associates in Process Improvement

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