Blog: Emergent Leadership
Getting To Right The First Time
Posted by:WorkAware

Experimentation is expensive. Trial and error is expensive. Innovation is important but chasing productivity is just as critical a business imperative and it will become increasing more so. “The capabilities that companies need most have evolved, but methods of building those skills have not” – McKinsey Insights & Publications, January 2014, “Building Capabilities for Performance”.

While reduced cycle times can increase productivity, it has it’s limit (Little’s Law); as cycle time is reduced, throughput is increased but so generally is work in progress, the real killer, as organisations push for more from fixed and limited resources resulting in a constraint within the process or in production (Theory of Constraints).

The key to real sustained productivity isn’t to be found in cycle time alone but in getting the right work done right first time, whether it be the business or by the employee. Start with an understanding about dependency. Dependency works both ways. We depend on others to do their bit so we can do ours. In the same way, we have to do our bit so that others can do theirs. This relationship has to be sacrosanct.

Without an understanding that we have an impact on all that’s around us, we become silo operators in a world that’s screaming for not more but better collaboration and integration of capability (such as DevOps). Getting it right first time has to be inviolable if we are to achieve productivity that’s meaningful not just to ourselves but to those who will rely upon the outcome/s of what we do.

In general, getting it right first time isn’t difficult, complicated or expensive compared to everything else. We decide how complicated work has to be and we have a choice to simplify that too if we choose.

We complicate getting it right first time when we:

1. Ignore validation – of process, effort and results; we fail to check if we are applying the right process, doing the right work right and if we have right inputs for the right outputs

2. Don’t separate needs from requirements – we assume requirements and needs as synonymous when they’re quite different. A requirement states what work must be done whereas a need explains why the work has to be done.

3. Assume the satisfaction or acceptance criteria of our work – we don’t bother to validate the validation. This is when hand-over issues fall through the cracks because we assume what is given to us is validated and fit for use.

Getting it right first time is rightly about people’s mind-set. People can be naturally disposed to right first time (e.g. perfectionists) or they need a cause behind it (a stake, skin in the play). Either way organisations must recognise effort as much as they do results.

The management practices of the 19th/20th century have unfortunately steered the equation too far towards results (achievements and performance) to the extent that perhaps businesses are rewarding the wrong outcomes (and behaviours).

Too often we find performance management disregards people’s effort, as in “not recognised” or “not rewarded” and in certain cases people were even (wrongfully) punished (performance managed or sacked) as in “never good enough” to a manager’s subjective standards.

For a right first time culture to flourish, we have to recognise and reward the effort not just the results. We don’t need management science to show us this. We know the majority of workers want their effort recognised and rewarded and they are prepared to be engaged for it. Organisations on the other hand have been going about it the wrong way, focusing solely on results. Is it a wonder HR departments are screaming engagement and diversity when reality dictates that a culture of humanity be sacrosanct instead.

Right first time efforts help productivity in ways no amount of capability and capacity building will because they deliver the one thing that business don’t want and don’t need functionally, operationally and strategically – unplanned work, aka “rework”.

Unplanned work will:

1. Delay other key and strategic programs in the business pipeline that must get off ground. They delay time to market and lost opportunities.

2. Hog resources that could be released into time and resource critical work. Hogged resources become expensive relative to the duration of the work including time and expense for all reworks.

3. Mostly be responsible for the bulk of late deliveries and broken promises pulling down customer satisfaction and ultimately reducing value through increased customer attrition, they go elsewhere and to other competitors.

By rewarding just results it’s exactly the above wrong behaviours that are encouraged. It doesn’t matter if we have the best resources available all the time if all they do is repeat doing the right work wrong, doing the wrong work right or worst doing the wrong work wrong.

Getting it right first time is doing the right work right first time and hopefully, every time and for that recognising effort is key (something performance review by subjective KPI’s hadn’t done very well).

Make it clear, make it visible and make it accountable. Reward the effort, not the person.

As an organisation begin with the simple premise of what and why are we doing what we’re doing. If it has no importance or priority, why do it? And if it has to be done, what do we need to ensure that it will be done right first time; whose and how effort can be better leveraged and recognised? Don’t assume that everyone knows what has to be done or when it has to be done.

As a staffer, manager and stakeholder, recognise and accept the consequences of unplanned work or reworks. Every piece of unplanned work or rework is costing the business somewhere in lost productivity. Anyone can achieve great results given time and ample resources, the best performer is the one who does it right first time with a minimal of wastes and delays.

For performance management to be fair and equitable and that correctly and justly recognises and rewards the right people, it has to also recognise and reward the effort for getting the Right Work Done Right First Time, Every Time and not just outcomes.