Adapt and Improve Your Way Into Being a Competitive Force

April 6, 2012

As part of my Maine Agile User Group talk this week, I referenced a quote from management guru Peter Drucker that you don’t typically see or hear:

“Productivity means the balance between all factors of production that will give the greatest output for the smallest effort. This is quite a different thing from productivity per worker or per hour of work…”

This quote comes from his book, The Practice of Management, originally published in 1954. Unfortunately, another one of his quotes, “what gets measured gets managed,” is used and abused all too regularly.

As you can glean from the second sentence of Drucker’s productivity quote above, he was cautioning us about emphasizing the wrong things – and as the Principle of Suboptimization tells us – optimizing each part independently will not lead to an overall system optimization. In fact, it can worsen it. We need to be very careful about what we’re measuring and what behaviors we are driving with those measurements.

What I really like about the quote is the first sentence and how it directly applies to what we’re trying to accomplish with Lean and agile thinking: generating the greatest – and most valuable – output for the least amount of effort. It served as the cornerstone for my talk about being agile, the mindset and approach that we need to take to our work to reduce or eliminate queues of work and any potential for bottlenecks.

It was all about approaching work differently, striving to improve both the people and the system. Since I had books on hand as giveaways, I thought it would be great to quote material from the books. A couple of quotes that I considered relevant to adapting and improvement were:

“Agility is a quality of the organization and its people to be adaptive, responsive, continually learning and evolving.“ -- Scaling Lean & Agile Development:

And…

“The primary task of Toyota’s managers and leaders is not to focus exclusively on improvement, but on increasing the improvement capability of people.” -- Toyota Kata:

Agile development is frequently characterized as being able to adapt to changing software requirements, but we should set our sights higher. Change can mean improving at a faster rate, not just adapting to changing software requirements, and being able to do both will make you a powerful force to contend with.