Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: June 2nd, 2023


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Insights about improvement, innovation, and leadership

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

Extreme agile video game development

“We see our game designs as hypotheses and our playtests as experiments to test our hypotheses.” – Valve.

I don't know anything about video game development but this video about Valve, a game-making software company, demonstrates  ​ how an obsession with testing, feedback, and agility – a process they call “playtesting” – can produce a better product more quickly. Valve reminds us that small tests of change with rapid iteration and close to real-time feedback are effective methods to accelerate efforts to deliver better value. No project management, scrums, backlogs, or lean six sigma required.

Optimize when you optimize

A common progression through a career in operational excellence includes a discovery phase (wow! These principles and tools are amazing and can make the world a better place), a proliferation phase (let's apply this to everything), an evangelical phase (why doesn't everyone use this approach everywhere for everything?), a disillusionment phase (people just don't get it!), and a reflection/enlightenment phase (I need to seek the underlying truth about these principles). Those who make it far enough down the path will realize that you should not seek to optimize everything, but prioritize what makes sense to optimize

“Learn anywhere, apply anywhere”

Some quick hits on continuous improvement:

Value-based Care

News headlines across North America suggest healthcare is in a crisis and is unsustainable in its current model. Is it finally time for value-based care? Value-based models for care aren't new, but the industry has remained remarkably immune to aligning payment and delivery models to patient value and remains stubbornly focused on output-based models.

There's a Canvas for that

A blank canvas is symbolic of endless possibilities – pure divergence. “Blue sky” thinking is an important skill in strategy, but so is making choices. In strategy and improvement, “canvases” have become common for facilitating convergence rather than divergence, growing in popularity such that many common canvases are embedded into digital whiteboard tools such as miro, mural, and lucidspark.  Most canvases represent a popularized model or framework such as Roger Martin's “Playing to Win” model. Martin has been sharing a weekly series on the compatibility between Playing to Win and other models such as Jobs to be Done framework, Blue Ocean Strategy framework, and the Business Model Generation framework. 

Canvases are great tools for embedding models and facilitation processes to capture a team's thinking and (hopefully) converge on some choices, decisions, or actions.  

There are many canvases out there. Here are some popular ones that I frequently return to:

The Playing-To-Win Strategy Canvas – embeds the strategic choice-making framework of Martin and Lafley 

The Lean Change Canvas  – embeds Kotter's change model when planning organizational changes

The Value Proposition Canvas – embeds elements of Clay Christensen's Jobs-to-be Done framework

Empathy Mapping Canvas – a Stanford D-school staple for better understanding customers

Creating a Culture of Improvement

Intellectual Honesty is Critical for Innovation

The most innovative teams balance psychological safety and intellectual honesty, but sometimes these can work against each other. Is your team distressed, anxious, comfortable, or innovative?

Your Organization's Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Processes Are Out of Date

Organizational problem-solving strategies too often revolve around outdated top-down approaches focused only on downstream execution. Atif Rafiq discusses bottom-up decision-making, decision sprints, and upstream problem-solving in 

A New Way of Decision Making with Atif Rafiq on What's Next with Tiffani Bova

CIOs on Leading Change

Change is not only constant – it is accelerating and becoming more complex. Here are 5 CIOs discussing what is needed from C-suite to lead change in 2023.

Books — Coming Soon

We all fail sometimes. We all make mistakes. Sometimes it results in shame, blame, fear, and suppression. Other times it leads to insight, growth, and improvement. 

I'm looking forward to the release of some upcoming books that explore better ways to make mistakes and better ways to fail:

 Mark Graban's The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation shares the stories of many CEOs that focused on turning mistakes into learning and growth opportunities.

 Amy C. Edmondson's newest book Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well, to be released in September, promises to provide “specifically tailored practices, skills, and mindsets to help us replace shame and blame with curiosity, vulnerability, and personal growth.”

Coaching – Developing Self & Others

Know Thyself

When selecting jobs or careers, we are often advised to “follow our passion” which leads us to seek a job that makes us happy. Arthur C. Brooks suggests that instead of asking “what should I do?”, ask yourself “how you can go about doing with love and excellence whatever work comes your way” and “if you cannot achieve excellence in that job or do it with love, then–if you can–leave it quickly.”  Read more in The Only Career Advice You'll Ever Need.

Humble Hubris

Humility is often discussed when describing contemporary “leader as coach” models, but the archetype of the successful business leader as an over-confident shark is enduring. Does humility require complete passivity and perfection? Of course not. We're all human and are at times arrogant, ignorant, and impulsive. Jim Benson describes how “humble hubris” can be an effective coaching model

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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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