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.

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I’m a solution engineer for Shape Security, an awesome web security startup in Mountain View that defends some of the worlds largest web sites from bot attacks. I see this blog as a learning tool. It gives me a chance to collect my thoughts on topics of interest and to share with others. If you see a mistake or think I’m on the wrong track, please let me know. I appreciate comments. See my LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesdowney and follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/james_downey.

Posted in Book Review, Process Improvement

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