Why we don't sell process improvement


Our firm doesn’t sell process improvement or provide consulting services in defined or designed processes. I’m often asked, as a I travel around the world, “What does you firm do?” The answer to this is simple! “We are a management training business.” “We also have event management and publishing businesses.”

We sell management training! We also organize events for managers to learn about new management techniques and we publish books and pamphlets that teach people how to manage better in creative and knowledge worker industries.

The term “Kanban” is associated with the Toyota Production Process and the Toyota Way. It’s also associated with Lean. Lean is a Western interpretation of Toyota’s methods. The academics that first coined the term Lean came from an industrial engineering and process improvement background. They went looking for an industrial engineering and process improvement method. What they truly missed is that the Toyota Way is really a management philosophy and a management method focused on driving a specific culture within a business. Instead, they found an industrial engineering method focused on waste elimination from workflow processes.

I don’t subscribe to this process-centric approach. The reason is simple. With creative and knowledge work industries, the workers are managers, making decisions that affect the bottom line performance of their employers, every day, perhaps every hour. These workers resist being changed by the industrial or process engineers and they resist adopting new processes that they feel affect their identity and social status and the identity and social status of their peers or social group. People resist being changed! The use of the industrial paradigm in creative and knowledge work is counter-productive!

Meanwhile, managers love the idea of the 20th Century process engineering paradigm. Just install a new process for the workers to follow and everything will be fine! Or so they think! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. What is truly required to improve the performance of 21st Century knowledge work businesses, is better management! Managers think that processes can fix all their problems and meanwhile, they don’t change their own behavior. At David J. Anderson & Associates, we believe that it is, in fact, a change in managerial behavior that is needed to truly improve 21st Century businesses. So long as we obsess with processes this will not happen.

So our business is dedicated to teaching knowledge workers, regardless of their pay grade, how to manage better: how to make better decisions; how to define better policies; how to understand the inherent risks in their business activities; how to cope with uncertainty and complexity.

Process improvement and process engineering is a 20th Century approach to industrial problems. We might say, simple or complicated domain problem, but not complex domain problems. For modern industries dealing with complex problems, challenges that are changing while they are inventing solutions, environments that are ever-changing, these businesses need a new approach. We need to teach people how to manage their business. They need to take responsibility for their decisions and manage the risks they are responsible for. Knowledge workers are highly paid. Even individual contributors in high tech industries are rich. They are paid high salaries for their skills, expertise and the basic economics of supply and demand. One consultant and author told me yesterday, “I am tired of rich people telling me how put upon they are!” The bottom line is that for the pay they receive, knowledge workers and their bosses need to show some responsibility. Abdicating responsibility for their actions to an inanimate process definition is not acceptable behavior.

With a process-centric view it is the process that takes the blame, or the consultants, or industrial engineers, or creators of the defined process they are following. What is needed is for workers and managers to take responsibility for their own actions, decisions and method of working. Each workflow and process should be unique – evolved specifically to cope with the risks and demands in context.

I genuinely believe that significant improvement in 21st Century businesses will not come until we face this management problem. So my firm does not teach process improvement. We are purging the language of process improvement from our lexicon. We are a management training firm. Our Kanban training curriculum teaches people to manage their creative and knowledge work businesses better. Our training is designed for individual contributors and managers of all levels. Our coaching classes are designed for those who would coach people to manage their businesses better and our train-the-trainer classes are designed for those who would deliver our management training.

Process improvement is the past! Training in Enterprise Services Planning is the future. Our passion lies with helping people produce better business results for their customers, their employees and their owners. Our brand essence is “pragmatic, actionable, evidence-based guidance.” Stop installing defined processes! Stop trying to change your people! Embrace the notion that your business can be managed better! Learn how to “decide with confidence.” We can help!

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