Lets be Pragmatic

I believe Deming may have said something in this area, but given I couldn’t find a famous quote I made one up.

80% of business issues come from the process and only 20% from the people who work at the business

If someone told me that, I’d say, No!Look at the things people do that cause no end of cost and impact on a business.

  • Not returning messages or only half-answering questions
  • Not investing time in communications
  • Not seeing a strategy through to completion
  • Not having a strategy in the first place
  • Not making decisions or making them too late
  • Not taking responsibility for the customer
  • Not taking ownership of the process
  • You get the idea……

The fact the process fails seems to be the end-result of poor leadership, planning, and execution. It seems wrong to blame the processwhen 5-whys can rapidly get back to the root-cause. Let me touch on one aspect of this people-dimension.

You may have heard of business buzzword bingo, you may have even played it in meetings with words and phrases like “Absolutely”, “Mission Critical” and “On boarding”. But the phrase that fills me with dread is “Lets Be Pragmatic”.

I have no problem with pragmatism and sign-up wholeheartedly to being pragmatic. As the dictionary says, “of or pertaining to a practical point of view or practical considerations”. You would be hard-pressed to find someone in business that claimed to be anything other than pragmatic. It’s the non-dictionary definitions that trouble me, the hidden meanings people have like:

  • I don’t like taking risks
  • Our focus should be on the next quarters results
  • My incentive plan is more important
  • Major improvements always fail
  • I do not support this solution
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Of course in business it is good to have balance and sceptics drive-out holes in a solution. But get the balance wrong and you end-up with a business that can’t deliver change and can’t react to customer demands. The business becomes paralysed into inaction or makes seemingly random and half-hearted attempts to change.

I think there are times when we should dream, push the envelope, be radical, take risks, look beyond the here and now, see it from the customer’s point of view. Lean Six Sigma puts you at the vanguard of business change and it is our duty to be bold and square up to the fake pragmatists.

Comments 4

  1. Robin Barnwell

    Thanks Dave, it’s difficult to have a rant only to find someone’s come along, researched, analysed, modelled and published an in-depth paper on the subject!

    Actually, I’ve got a couple of weeks vacation in Orlando in November so hope to see the Walt Disney magic first-hand. Maybe write a little on the experience.

    On the subject of field trips, while I was delivering our latest wave of GB training, we discussed the examples we were using. This GB group wanted examples not directly related to our business or the insurance industry. Over dinner it got talked-up into a field trip; to go out and see a real-life lean manufacturer, the easy favourite being Toyota UK. So if Toyota, or any manufacturer based in the UK, wouldn’t mind a few keen transactional greenbelts coming to seeing what life is like on a real production line please let me know.


  2. Dave B

    The Walt Disney Circle or Circle of Creativity looks into this in more detail

    You need people who can dream risks and visions, you then need people to normalise the dreams and then others to mitigate risk from those dreams/visions

    Sounds simple right….

  3. Robin Barnwell

    Hi Mike

    Thanks for this. To be sure, I was referring to the myriad of inconsistent decisions and internal politics that create issues and not so much the actual customer-facing processes that result.

    Too many issues are caused by poor planning, decision making and execution by the leadership team and broken processes are just an end result of this.


  4. Mike Crossen

    I found the comments in your "Let’s Be Pragmatic" blog to be quite interesting. I’ve actually had several "fun" discussions on this topic. I see a different side to what you are suggesting. I think the items you list (as people problems) are really symptoms and the root causes are system issues. Example: There are some organizations that have a great system in place and their employees return calls and fully answer questions; A result of a good system. Surely, there may be an occasional outlier (special cause) where someone does not return calls or only half answer a question. This might represent the 20%. If an organization has a reputation of not returning calls, it is most likely system issue (common cause – 80%) that can only improve by fixing the system issues (not the "people", through root cause or any other means). My thoughts on the subject. That was fun!

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