Instant pudding may make a great snack, but it’s a terrible approach to managing quality and productivity in business. Unlike the average domestic kitchen, there are very few things that you can simply whip together in the business world.

Overview: What is instant pudding?

In the context of business and process management, the term “instant pudding” refers to the common belief that improvements can be achieved quickly through hype and props rather than substantial, data-driven methodology. The term was popularized by W. Edwards Deming and originated in the book Out of the Crisis by James Bakken of Ford Motor Co.

3 drawbacks of instant pudding

The instant pudding approach is unproductive and insubstantial in general, but there are a few drawbacks that are particularly noteworthy.

1. No commitment to change

The first major drawback of the instant pudding attitude is a lack of genuine commitment. Even if the verbal affirmation is serious, the initiative is only an idea until it’s actually put into practice. Setting real goals and a practical framework is a basic best practice for process planning.

2. Dropping the data

Data may be an industry buzzword right now, but that’s for a good reason. Companies have an unparalleled opportunity to gather and leverage data across the board. There’s simply no comparison between data-driven continuous improvement and arbitrary affirmations.

3. Communication confusion

The lack of planning and establishing of a practical framework inevitably causes communication breakdown. This has many negative effects on companies, including reducing efficiency, increasing the risk of errors and demoralizing employees.

Why is instant pudding important to understand?

Practicing good habits and avoiding negative ones are two sides of the same coin, which is why successful business leaders need to be well-versed in what does and doesn’t work.

It’s everywhere

Even if you’ve never heard the term in the context of process management, this attitude and approach is prevalent in many organizations in virtually all business sectors. Awareness helps you spot this attitude at an early stage.

Recognizing the right hype

Hype is often a main ingredient of the instant pudding problem, but that doesn’t mean that hype is bad. In fact, businesses should use some emotional and social appeals to encourage team members to embrace important changes. However, hype should always be in proportion to the process.

Bracing for impact

When you see an instant pudding situation playing out, you need to know how to brace for the impact. This could be in the form of a deflection, where the hype fades quickly and the whole thing is dropped, or become a lingering jingle in the office for a much longer period.

An industry example of instant pudding

A large retail store sees high volume of customers and sales on a regular basis, which has fueled growth and expansion. However, there is also a growing number of complaints of poor customer service from various angles.

The business leaders recognize the problem and express a desire to address it. After cursory meetings and discussions with staff, they decide to change the layout of the customer service desk, improve the aesthetic and add a few greeters to make the shopping experience more personal.

While none of these things are bad on their own, they are also not addressing the root problems of poor customer service, which requires careful research and experimentation. This short-term and superficial approach is a basic example of an instant pudding in process management.

3 best practices when thinking about instant pudding

The best way to handle an instant pudding situation is to step back, pivot to a DMAIC model and start again.

1. Push towards real goals

The best way to avoid the pitfall of fluff and baseless affirmation is to set goals based on research, experience and predictive analysis. You may have to adjust your expectations after some trial and error, but you should always have established and quantifiable goals in sight.

2. Set project parameters

Every project should have defined success and failure standards. This covers any “lines” that must not be crossed, whether it’s a certain length of delay, price point or quality level. Parsing these parameters sets the stage of proper goal-setting.

3. Calculation over convenience

Instant pudding is all about convenience, calculations are not. Unfortunately, business and process management requires a lot more calculation than affirmation. Don’t cut corners for the sake of convenience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about instant pudding

What are common signs of an instant pudding in business?

When there’s lots of talk and activity, but very little drive to use data to improve the solution. Confusion and ambiguous language from leadership are another common red flag.

How do you add substance to an instant pudding solution?

Instant pudding solutions are generally useless, but they aren’t always harmless. That’s why it’s usually better to just back and start afresh with a more realistic and productive approach.

How do you discuss the instant pudding problem with other people?

Addressing empty or superficial solutions from other people can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. You can start by asking questions that dig into the matter to encourage the person to develop their plan in more detail.

The proof is in the pudding

Instant pudding can take many forms in business. It could just be empty words or perhaps a clumsy copy of someone else’s solution. There’s no substitute for real and fresh ingredients in the “process pudding,” which is why business leaders need to stay focused, anchored and real.

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