Improving Performance, a Book Review

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
–John Muir

I’ve recently re-read Improving Performance and thought I’d share my enthusiasm for the book. Starting with the quote above, the authors Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache explain how organizations functions as systems, analogous to natural ecosystems, and that it is impossible to correct any one part without understanding how it fits into the larger system.

Rummler and Brache provide a straightforward approach for achieving a systems view by analyzing organizations at three levels: organizational structure, processes, and job roles. To be effective, a performance improvement initiative must address the three dimensions of goals, design, and management at each of these three levels. The concepts form a  three-by-three grid illustrated at the authors’ web site. While I would not argue that this nine-box model is a foolproof technique for uncovering every aspect of a problem and assuring an effective solution, it is a useful tool for uncovering more of a problem than would be otherwise apparent.

The book is a useful warning against solutions that deal with only one dimension of a problem. Will a reorganization improve productivity it not designed to improve key processes? Will an IT system improve a process if not aligned with job roles?

For project managers engaged in process improvement, this is all tremendously important. Is the scope right? Has the problem been understood in context? Does the solution stand a good chance of achieving the business objectives? Do you need to get more stakeholders involved to tackle the problem at all of the necessary levels?

Based on the nine-box model, the book goes on to provide step-by-step instructions for process improvement and explains how to make process improvement continuous through a hierarchical system of metrics. I won’t go into details here so as not to spoil the ending for those who have yet to read the book.

I'm the Director of Threat Solutions at Shape Security, a top 50 startup defending the world's leading websites and mobile apps against malicious automation. Request our 2017 Credential Spill Report at to get the big picture of the threats we all face. See my LinkedIn profile at and follow me on Twitter at

Posted in Book Review, Process Improvement

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