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The Problem is Process, Not People

Posted by Jon Santavy on Jun 1, 2017 9:44:00 PM
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If your team is consistently underperforming, you’ve got a tough road ahead.  I hate to break it to you, but in our consulting practice we find that people can and want to perform well, and it’s most often the systems put in place that force underperformance. 

Thankfully, there are good approaches to turning systems around, and performance always follows.  In this article, I’ll share a couple examples we see work time and time again.

After you read this article, write down what metrics your team is not meeting, and the processes in place that support/deter them from hitting those goals.  Consider how the process is driving the outcome, and what improvements to the process will improve performance.

1.) Good people in a bad system will fail

A team at a leading cancer institute were in the middle of a nightmare.  Demand for their services increased 133%, but the system did not change. 

Patients rated the clinic poorly due to long wait times, crowded waiting areas, and long visits. 

Nurses and doctors rated the clinic poorly because although the clinic ‘closed’ at 5, they’d regularly be required to stay late into the night. 

Management missed nearly all of their target metrics including overtime costs that were through the roof, and high turnover from staff heading for greener pastures. 

Everyone in this organization genuinely cared about their patients and their cause, but the system prevented their success.  Had they not looked at the system as a whole, they would not have been able to find the root cause of the problems.

All of these issues were resolved by looking at the system as a whole, and improving the processes in place.  The clinic said the new system was like “night and day” and they “couldn’t believe it was the same facility.” 

Read how this systems based approach reduced total time in clinic by 25% and gave back 15,000 patient hours per year.

2.) Name, Blame, and Shame

The United debacle in which a passenger was dragged off the plane took over the news cycle for days/weeks. 

The best analysis of this systems failures came from a great Lean thinker, Mark Graban.  He blogged about the system failures that allowed the doctor to be dragged off the flight.

Mark focused on the response from United.  Would they simply name the people in the organization that made mistakes, blame them for the debacle, and shame them?  Or, make systemic improvements to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Read Mark’s analysis on the policy and system changes that resulted from the situation.  He’ll show the Good and the Bad of the United CEO’s follow up to Flight 3411. Follow @MarkGraban.


When an organizations goals and standards aren’t met, we tend to blame people first. 

We’re all guilty of blaming system failures on the lack of interest or incompetence of employees - these situations occur in manufacturing operations, at the DMV (Driver’s License Center), and in supply chain/logistics.

You can only watch delay after delay for so long before the frustration sets. 

This is a hard lesson to learn, but you can learn it from today’s examples. 

When I see underperformance, I take a step back to evaluate the issues, I try to understand the complexity and interactions of the system, and then evaluate what system level changes will enable better results.  Simulation allows me to do so in even large and complex operations.  Are you evaluating how your system impacts your metrics?

Topics: Project Management, Healthcare

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