Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: August 12th, 2022


Thanks as always to Ryan McCormack for this… there's always so much good reading, listening, and viewing shared here by him!

Insights about improvement, innovation, and leadership

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

The Waste Land

A classic dilemma in process improvement is deciding whether to optimize a task or redesign the work to eliminate the task completely. Optimizing waste can be wasteful in itself.

I've been conditioned to believe that we shouldn't be so quick to jump technology as a solution to process problems or throw vast sums of money at our broken systems without exhausting other options first. However, when your processes rely on technology so old that it can't be maintained and human efforts are disrespectfully wasted on tasks that can be readily automated then an upgrade is overdue. I can't decide if this eye-popping walk-through of the IRS's tax return processes is an improvement enthusiast's Disneyland or nightmare.

But really, who's surprised that the IRS's internal processes are this bad?

Getting it into focus

Most problems that require a project team are complex – otherwise, they shouldn't require a team. It's tempting for these teams to simplify the problem and ignore the beautiful mess presented to try to make sense of it all first. But simplifying before solving can often lead to poor solution approaches and poor choices of tactics. Break down the problem and focus on the prioritized problem at the point of occurrence instead – focus first, then simplify.

A bureaucracy in motion stays in motion

If you've tried to drive improvement at scale in a large organization you've undoubtedly felt like you were up against some formidable forces of nature. Others before us have encountered it too and have documented several “laws” related to bureaucracies that are so predictable as to be Newtonian. But, much like the laws of physics, understanding these 3 laws of large organizations may help you combat the unhelpful consequences of bureaucracies and help drive improvement into the culture.

Creating a Culture of Improvement 

It's the journey, not the destination

Building a culture of improvement is not simply about KPIs and holding people accountable for results. Understanding how you get results is at least as important as the results themselves.  In 4 Words, Google CEO Sundar Pichai just gave the best advice on how to lead

Emitting humility?

When we're afraid to make mistakes, we hide them. Long revered by improvement geeks as the prototype for organizational culture, Toyota apologizes for faking emissions data for almost 20 years in one of its truck-making divisions. An investigation revealed that the engine-developing teams felt so pressured to meet strict targets that they covered up the actual results. 

I never Meta leader like this before

Imagine your CEO sets a bold new strategy for the company. Futuristic. Different. Risky. Six months later, when the markets don't respond well and results are lagging, naturally, they blame you. Mark Zuckerberg is turning up the heat on Meta employees and pressuring them to produce and get results, or else. What could go wrong?

Coaching – Developing Self & Others

About time

“Once I get really organized I can finally breathe.”

“If I can only get through my to-do list then I can get on with my life.” 

We all want to get more done. Get things off our plate. Pursue the nirvana of Inbox Zero or some future where we can do what we actually want to.  The real problem: there are an infinite number of important and interesting things to do in a finite amount of time.  

Our typical response is to get busier.  Seek ways to be more productive (life hacks, time management), distract ourselves (scroll through social media, etc.), or obsess over choices (prioritization). As a productivity geek, I have spent decades trying to adjust my routines to seek improvement. What if you never sort your life out?  

For other unconventional approaches to time management, check out Oliver Burkeman's work at https://www.oliverburkeman.com.

Just asking

Asking questions and healthy skepticism helps us learn and improve. But there's a difference between genuine inquiry and “I'm just asking questions”. 


Improvements happen all the time. But continuous improvement? That requires sustained discipline and deliberate practice until it becomes second nature, which sounds daunting. Luckily, my good friend Sylvain Landry can help.

I recently finished reading his new book Bringing Scientific Thinking to Life: An Introduction to Toyota Kata for Next-Generation Business Leaders (and those who would like to be). This compact guide is great for beginners, practitioners, and leaders who are looking for practical models and methods to build improvement as a habit and not just an event.

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Ryan McCormack
Ryan is an operational excellence professional with over 18 years experience practicing continuous improvement in healthcare, insurance, food manufacturing, and aerospace. He is an avid student of the application of Lean principles in work and life to create measurably better value.


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