We work with a wide variety of teams across varied industries. While they are radically different in what they deliver to the customer, they are so very homogeneous when it comes to “slipping back into the old way.” After years of living operational excellence in daily management and leadership, we still find evidence of their “old way” management systems and leadership defaults. I think that stress is the biggest culprit for triggering these “old ways.”
One of the biggest stressors we encounter with the teams we work with is the stress of implementing or upgrading their ERP or MRP systems. In health care, the equivalent is implementing, upgrading or integrating Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
Many of you just read that last line and shuddered a little.
We are working with two clients who are currently muscling their way through EMR deployments. And, predictably, the “old way” is finding its way into the daily routine.
Withholding names to protect the innocent, one of the teams we are coaching is spending nearly 80% of its time crawling up the learning curve, redefining workflows and just trying to exist as the new system is deployed. We popped in recently for a monthly meeting – a check in a 30-31 day pdCA cycle, checking the status of the top problems the team is experiencing. Naturally, the team thinks of “bugs” in the evolving new workflows as “problems.” They are problems. These bug-type problems (a missing category on a drop down menu, a data set that was missed and now has to be added in, etc.), while causing the team some productivity sluggishness, aren’t the same kind of operational problems this team was knocking down just a few months ago “before [fill in the software’s name] was implemented.” They are beta-testing type problems and should be captured, but not at the cost of genuine operational problems: problems that exist regardless of new technology or workflows.
This situation should look normal to the seasoned operator. We (seasoned operators – which is code for old, salty and highly opinionated) know that once the new system settles in, things will get “back to normal.” That attitude – things will go back to normal – is what scares us. Isn’t the new technology supposed to make things better (than normal)? Isn’t your operational excellence system supposed to make processes perform better (than normal)?
My problem is that when we deploy a new strategy – like EMR – that touches better than 90% of the front line’s workflows, it often takes our eyes (and our minds) off of our leadership and management discipline, and we seem to be perfectly OK with that…
Take our team doing their monthly meeting. We discovered a rogue problem solving “board” hanging on the wall near their actual problem-solving board. With great skill in sticky noting and with very good intentions, the team had been capturing “points of recognition” and placing them in buckets: high, medium and low importance based on their impact on the team’s productivity.
But what about the big quality or productivity problem they had been working on for the last two months? They “didn’t have time” to work on that problem solving because of all the [fill in the software name here] problems.
Our first impulse was to drive those points of recognition to the teams for real problem-solving board. Then, we realized that these points of recognition had points of cause somewhere in the strategy deployment process NOT in the team’s operation.
The epitome of “old way” thinking happened when the team, staring at 80% missed targets for the month, offered wistfully, “This will get better when [fill in the name of the evil software here] is over.”
To which my colleague and I replied to each other: hope is not a plan. Then we coined a new quip:
HOPE IS NOT A COUNTERMEASURE
Here are three key learnings from today’s encounter:
1. Embrace the buggy, beta-testish, points of recognition, but realize that they are a coder’s problem to contain and a planner’s problem to find and remove the root cause. Remove the distraction. Which leads us to…
2. Keep your eye on the ball (or puck…you choose the metaphor). EMR deployments are extremely distracting with their impact on your productivity, but so is the guy at the Superbowl in Row A Seat 11 who is spilling his beer on his wife. You, team leader, must shake the distractions for your team and keep them focused on operations. The unwise team leader will use new technology deployments as an excuse for poor performance. The wise team leader will seize the opportunity to get even more focused and disciplined in his or her use of the operational excellence system to manage and lead. The unwise leader is embracing hope as a plan or worse, as a countermeasure. Which brings me to…
3. Hope is helpful for the deep meaning of life, but it has no place in operational excellence. When you smell hope as a countermeasure, you are smelling the “old way,” as a leader, your job is to snuff out that ember before it catches fire and does some real damage. Snuff it out by driving the team back to using the operational excellence system for management and leadership.
Our hats are off to the planners, coders and trainers stuck with deploying new technology in the name of improving productivity. Don’t ever forget, though; that quality trumps productivity. Aim for no defects and productivity comes along as a prize.0