Closing Our Work System Deployment Gaps

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

As I post this article, I am about to begin  my eighteenth year as a national Examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Award. This privilege affords me the chance to learn from the best companies with each annual award cycle. I get to spend time learning from some of my brightest peers and some of the best organizations. If I am really blessed in a given award cycle, I have the chance to serve on a site visit team. Most recently, I had the chance to do that last year, and the experience did not disappoint. Once again, I had the chance to explore work system design and deployment gaps.

Where are Your Work System Deployment Gaps?

Serving on a site visit team gives me the chance to see if the front lines really do what the leaders said they do in the fifty-page application. With over 60% of an application’s fifty pages being devoted to results data, it is tough to address the criteria and describe deployment  – how people across the organization use and improve key work systems – in a meaningful way.  It is not uncommon to find deployment gaps in reality that were not presented in the application. It is tough to standardize human behavior across a team, site, business unit, or organization.

That’s why we use the site visit model. The model allows us to verify onsite if the different types of deployment stated in the application actually exist and are effective. The visit also allows us to explore why, from a work systems design perspective, such possible deployment gaps exist. Where might you have work system deployment gaps in your team or site?

Standardize Behaviors to Help Shrink Work System Deployment Gaps

What is a deployment gap? For example, I have been on more than one site visit where one wing of a floor in a hospital used one set of process measures while the other wing used a different set of measures. The same type of care was being provided, but different measures were being used to a lesser degree. Both groups were using data to make decisions, but the measurement deployment gap between these two groups could be contributing to a lack of alignment in daily efforts to provide patient care.

How often have you seen people who execute the same daily processes use different measures to gauge their performance? Have you seen people use different processes to meet the same customer need? How often have you seen different approaches used to hire people, train people, and recognize people across departments or work sites? Deployment gaps are common in all of these areas, and others.

Today’s analytics capabilities can help us deploy process improvement tool use across work groups and locations. It is much more difficult to standardize human behavior across the different areas of importance that might exist in your organization. In a service-oriented economy however, behavior standardization is exactly what we are after. How can we close deployment gaps that can’t be addressed with a new app or revised code? How can we get all of our leaders, let alone our people, to be on the same page in terms of how they execute their roles as leaders each day?

Exploring Leadership Deployment Gaps

How often do your leaders send a consistent message to all team members? Do differences in teamwork quality across different shifts help explain process variation? How consistent are the process improvement efforts used by your different work groups and business units? To what degree is it easy to identify, share, and embed the best practices that are used by the pockets of excellence in your organization?

Answering questions such as these can help you quickly assess the impact that potential deployment gaps might be having on your efforts to sustain process excellence. All too often, we accept these differences between individuals and groups as being part of the culture. We say things like ‘That is just how the night shift is’ and ‘Maintenance people always have trouble with paperwork.’

Don’t Allow Deployment Gaps to Persist

We often go too far in allowing people to ‘be themselves and be empowered’ instead of pursuing standardization of best practices across the site, business unit, or company. Empowerment is both great and necessary for excellence. We run the risk of introducing excessive variation into our processes, work systems, and performance results if we fail to effectively manage such individualism however.

Many organizations have adopted some form of a criteria-based site visit model to help get all of their teams and locations on the same page. Time must be spent on the front lines – in the value stream – to really be able to determine where best practices exist. Spending time on the front lines also helps identify where inconsistency in best practice application may be contributing to increased errors and failures. Where do your greatest deployment gaps exist?

Ideas for Closing Work System Deployment Gaps

More importantly, how do we close our deployment gaps? Begin by defining behavior and task expectations, both qualitative and quantitative, in an aligned and integrated manner across all jobs. Measure performance against those expectations needs consistently at the process / work group level for all jobs. Ensure you are compensating people for taking the desired actions each day. Don’t pay people for ‘just showing up.’ The graphic provided shows one way to show the results of such evaluations.

If you want different behaviors on the job, you have to change the work systems that are encouraging the current behaviors. System changes are needed to address defined gaps. You can use a well-researched database of internal and external best practices as a key improvement source, such as the application summaries Baldrige recipients share. We might know of the need to take these types of actions, but we still often fail to ensure ALL key groups are utilizing the best practice work systems we install.

Can You Live With Your Deployment Gaps?

It is a simple question really – how much variation in work practices are we going to allow as leaders across our different work groups? How big can your deployment gaps be and still sustain success? How much profit do you lose daily because of your deployment gaps?

Such questions are easy to ask, but tough to answer. How wide are your deployment gaps? Keep improving!

Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems


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