Sunday, December 1, 2002

Stairway to excellence: the incremental process improvement methodology


By Jeff Chilton

"If you add a little to a little and do this often, soon the little will become great."
-- Hesiod (ancient Greek poet, circa 850 B.C.)

Faster. Better. Cheaper. Whether you're in the increasingly scrutinized public sector or the heavily competitive private sector, there's constant pressure to improve every aspect of your operation, from the quality of products to the treatment of customers.

Nowhere is this drive to excel more apparent than in the Information Technology arena. The explosion of the Internet has introduced customers and constituents to a wide range of services and conveniences that a growing mass of humanity is demanding from all entities with whom they conduct business. Government leaders and business executives, ever eager to please their respective constituencies, are placing more and more demands on their IT resources to deliver more and better services while at the same time reducing costs. There are nearly as many approaches to responding to this demand as there are people on whom this demand has been placed. As with any other human endeavor, though, there are certain approaches that are far and away superior to the bulk of those attempted.

The two keys to efficiency and effectiveness

Consistency is the key to productivity. Making things the same, doing things the same way, institutionalizing your methods and tools--this ensures both quality of product and speed in delivery. When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, he revolutionized manufacturing because he created a consistent, repetitive system for producing his product. The Big Mac that you buy from the McDonald's in Atlanta, Georgia is the exact same hamburger as the Big Mac that you buy from the McDonald's in Gardnerville, Nevada because the company has perfected a rapid, consistent, institutionalized process for preparing the product. Creating a standard, repetitive, consistent process ensures that there will be fewer errors and faster delivery.

Innovation is the key to progress. Constantly coming up with new and better ways of doing things ensures that you'll always be out in front of the pack. Fresh ideas, new approaches, and radical departures from the norm open up new markets and stimulate lagging sales. With innovative concept vehicles such as the Dodge Caravan, the first ever "mini-van," Lee Iacocca took the faltering Chrysler Corporation from near bankruptcy to a leading contender whose legacy of innovation still produces unique vehicles such as the retro-styled PT Cruiser. Stepping outside the lines is clearly the path to continued success when the rest of crowd stubbornly clings to the tried and true. You have got to do things differently in order to do things better, or to improve.