Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: January 13th, 2023


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Insights about improvement, innovation, and leadership

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

Where are the “big wins”?

It's human nature. We are seduced by the quick fix, the miracle cure, the diet pill, or the tonic. Instant gratification. We choose anything that promises results without requiring time, effort, or changing behaviour, and are willing to pay a lot for it. Marketers and salespeople have known this forever.

Leaders looking for improvements or innovation often seek the same miracle cures in the form of “quick big wins”, even when they know the underlying problems are complex, sticky, and enduring. The challenge for improvement advisors and consultants: do you sign on knowing that the leader wants a diet pill when you're offering to be a personal trainer? Do you succumb to promising false miracles?

Rick Bohan shares his experience with ‘Where Are the Big Wins?' How I Got Fired as a Lean Consultant'.

How to go South by Southwest

Southwest Airlines is digging out from its holiday season debacle, which resulted in thousands of cancellations, reputational damage, a Q4 loss, and an estimated $825 million cost. The causes are likely complex and Southwest pilots disagree on the causes of cancellations, but outdated systems and a focus on short-term financial results appear to be significant factors, despite employees and customers expressing dissatisfaction with their scheduling and booking systems for well over a decade.  

Modernizing core technology platforms is complex and expensive, making many executives allergic to such investments, many of whom are satisfied to “sweat the assets” that “still work” and avoid any expenses that may reduce quarterly EPS. It seems like an unnecessary expense until a meltdown occurs.

Listen to your customers and employees. Treat your core technology as an essential asset and enabler, not strictly as an expense. Nurture your culture.

What the h*** do you mean by “Digital Transformation”?

What solutions are organizations prioritizing for 2023? Digital Transformation. Digital Transformation's ascended to 1st in the list of preferred solutions in the PEX Report 2023 Global State of Operational Excellence. (it was 3rd in the PEX 2022 report). 

What exactly is meant by “digital transformation”? Much like the challenges with defining “lean,” “digital transformation” is often a vague term applied to transformation efforts involving technology. Gartner defines digital transformation as “anything from IT modernization (for example, cloud computing), to digital optimization, to the invention of new digital business models.” Salesforce defines digital transformation as “the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.” These definitions are generic, providing little insight into how organizations may be transforming.

In 2014, in an effort to more clearly define the building blocks of digital transformation, MIT Sloan published the Nine Elements of Digital Transformation. Fast forward to 2023, and MIT Sloan has updated its framework based on current trends and patterns from “digital masters”.  The New Elements of Digital Transformation focus a lot more on employee experience, innovation, and core platforms.  

So what is digital transformation, and what does it look like? There is no single definition; if there was, it would evolve as quickly as technology and market changes. One thing's certain, organizations everywhere are clamouring to leverage technology as the core solution to driving improvement in 2023 and beyond.

Creating a Culture of Improvement

No More (Wasteful) Meetings

Leaders spend a lot of time in meetings. Meetings are the dominant form of corporate process, but like any process, when the outcome is not clear, the roles are not defined, and the work is poorly designed, tremendous waste is created. Shopify has made the bold move of canceling recurring meetings with three or more people, all meetings on Wednesdays, and meetings with 50 or more people outside of Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to free up time for higher-value work

Will this improve productivity? Research suggests that it will. HBR conducted research across 76 companies and found that employee productivity was 71% higher when meetings were reduced by 40%.  Resolve to spend less of your time in meetings in 2023.

They can, why can't we – still

In 1980, in an attempt to compel American businesses to adopt employee-led continuous improvement and long-term thinking as a prescription to maintain market supremacy, NBC released a now-classic operational excellence documentary, “If Japan Can, Why Can't We?”.

Leaders from Westinghouse, General Motors, and of course, Dr. Deming, discuss how deeply engaging employees, delivering continual incremental improvement and focusing on the customers provide organizations with a sustainable, competitive edge. 

43 years later, How America Can Beat China on Forbes, prescribes the secrets to developing a sustainable, competitive edge to maintain American market leadership. You guessed it: deeply engage employees in continual improvement, think long-term, and focus on the customer.


Leaders are often stereotyped as high-charisma, “always on,” “front of room” generals. But it takes all types, including the quiet leader.

One of the most powerful books on leadership I've ever picked up is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Whether you're an introvert or work with one, this book is a classic on leadership styles. 

High-performance culture

Make 2023 the year where you prioritize a high-performance culture.

Coaching – Developing Self & Others

The New Year is the time when many of us pause and vow to break bad habits or create new ones. Willing your way to new habits is destined to fail. Make 2023 the year where you increase your chances of making new habits that stick using the lessons of  Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Clear joined Tim Ferriss this week in a wide-ranging discussion related to his magnum opus. I highly recommend subscribing to Clear's 3-2-1 newsletter for some regular snippets of wisdom. 

The Jerk Store Called

Jerks. They're in the workplace. Sometimes, they're even your boss. Jerks can have an outsized influence on your engagement at work and even in your private life. Tessa West, NYU Professor of Psychology and author of Jerks at Work, shares some great tips on dealing with jerks in the workplace in this interview with Seb Murray.

Free Course on Design of Experiments (DOE)

Organizations all want a culture of innovation and experimentation. But by what method? Simply empowering people to tinker or change things without a method will not create the improvement or learning sought by organizations.  

If you're working on improvement experiments where the costs and uncertainty, and risks are significant, and time is valuable, it may warrant using Design of Experiment rather than small-scale tests of improvement. Applying a structured scientific method may accelerate your learning more efficiently. Granted, it requires conditions where one can control many of the key factors, which is sometimes impractical in complex systems.

 Check out this course on Experimentation for Improvement on Coursera. It's accessible, comprehensive, and free. I found it better than any Six Sigma-related DOE course I've taken over the years. And did I mention it's free?

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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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