Just ask how you can improve

Following the principles of lean management, we have discussed with many customers over the last few weeks. By asking them what they personally feel about the work we do. Their opinion of how we work as a presales team, not about the company’s performance as a whole or the level of customer satisfaction at the present time. And who could answer this question better than any line manager? Our customers!

Fortunately, we’ve had quite a bit of practice at this now. Doing this for the first time takes some arm-twisting and it feels daft on both sides. Customer surveys on products or services are familiar to us.  Consultants asking to be criticised feels rather strange.

After some initial irritation, customers realise that we as a team are concerned with improving. This understanding is enhanced by a method based on Lean. Time again, all the conversations were great. There was compliments, but also some insights that are hurting, which is precisely why we are doing this.

This year, I have to say, I’ve been amazed at how rapidly our business is changing. We started an agile presales approach “Agile Business Accelerator” in 2018 with the expectation that about 25% of the market would demand iterative approaches. However, during the customer interviews, we discovered that all the customers we interviewed required an iterative, business-generating approach.

Customers presented this in their style and the culture of the companies rather differently. Oftentimes, they don’t even use the word “agile”. I consider this to be very valuable, business values are needed, and we find a suitable methodology together.

Thank you for your commitment and openness!

Generative

About transparency

Some years ago, I attended an inaugural lecture by a division head in which she analysed current figures from her reports, identified discrepancies and resumed. She concluded that these discrepancies indicated deliberate cover-ups. A circumstance that she will change. Because only a transparent system is able to provide people with the opportunity to act in a purposeful way.

I endorse the last sentence with all the knowledge and experience I have. Cheating, estimated figures or sloppiness combined with an 80s “management by objective” apparatus are the best possible nursery ground for mismanagement. At the very best, they cause frustration in individual areas, when everything fits according to the specifications, but the overall result is poor.

My own example above, by the way, did not end well; a new system was created that was consistent above all. This could be observed closely in the defects that were subsequently closed. I cannot say whether the original intransparent system was created intentionally. But I am very sure that the new system which was created aimed at concealment.

Now, there are certain areas where transparency is not permitted. Reasons for designated restrictions on transparency are, in my experience, Almost always fabricated. “We can’t give you the current figures, as you know one of our parts of the company is listed on the stock exchange.” When systems strive for transparency, it usually has a very different ring to it: “We want to better understand how our services are viewed by customers, so we compare x-and-y. The listed part of the group can only be included in the analysis in such-and-such way. But we are continuing to work on possibilities here as well.”

It’s about what you want to measure and what you can measure. People who understand Lean or Agile know that it’s a journey. Establish metrics which really move you forward, and in the best case these are lead-measures. Not forgetting to use the existing possibilities of “what you can measure” creatively and to create better chances.

In my experience, real good transparency is always a journey, not something you can finally achieve or even set by decree.

Transparaenz

Why I like visions

Often, visions come with a bad name. Some even see them as irrelevant decoration. This is true for many visions. You can find global-galactic versions, all-encompassing more-beautiful-further-faster editions to preposterous visions that are essentially meant as a kind of misleading advertising.

In my experience, managers who don’t think much of vision can very rarely say in a nutshell what direction they want to take. When asked about the direction, they typically say something about making money in the industry in which they work. But customers don’t buy from me so that I can make money. Money is the compensation for something that is worthwhile.

Having visions can be a particularly good North Star. In programmes or projects, a half-day vision workshop is definitely rewarding, especially if the project is under time pressure. The people involved then know where they stand and have fewer wrinkles on their foreheads. They decide more often in a concerted direction. When problems arise, the alternative options for solving them are usually properly pre-sorted.

Visions are directional for every kind of team. Newly formed teams find themselves together more quickly. Teamwork has fewer friction points. Especially when the business is in transformation, people find anchor points.
Even visions that are too specific and too near prove to be helpful. Especially because dealing with the destination together contributes to team-building. With some guidance and time, dealing with vision, mission, company purpose, values, etc. becomes more and more professional.

For practice, it’s best to think about yourself: What do you want to achieve? How do you want to succeed? Why do you want exactly that? Just like above, the first answer to such questions will be a solid “Um, uh”. And that’s a start!

Spitzer Bleistift