Leveraging Management Improvement Techniques

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How many times in the past few years have you heard, “This is not just an improvement program. It’s a revolution in management thinking”? Then, after thinking about this specific revolution, you find that, in many ways, it is similar to other revolutions you’ve recently heard about, such as reengineering, total quality management, activity-based costing or management, just-in-time management, time compression management, employee empowerment, benchmarking, lean manufacturing, economic value analysis, or broadbanding.1

How can so many revolutions — similar in many ways — be concurrent? First, some revolutionary improvement techniques are identified with problems that are limited to specific parts of the organization. Second, only a small subset of an organization’s members may understand the jargon of each method. Third, different strategies often require emphasis on different aspects of performance to which the specific improvement methods are directed. Organizations face the challenge of choosing from a plethora of methods that claim to effectively and efficiently reduce costs and improve service and value to customers. One way for the whole organization to improve is to merge methods, because each revolutionary method, by itself, may be ineffective or inefficient in parts of the organization. We present a framework that helps managers understand why this failure occurs. The framework also helps managers merge improvement methods. This leveraging of methods makes it possible to produce more significant results in less time than the application of any single approach. Managers can use the framework to create their own management revolution.

Understanding Improvement Methods

Any improvement method has four major components:

  1. A particular perspective that defines its approach and objective.
  2. A special language or jargon.
  3. Analytical tools and techniques.
  4. Change tools and techniques.

Understanding the four components of a specific method has several benefits. It provides a basis for assessing the applicability (and likelihood of success) of a method in specific situations. As we will demonstrate, the method’s perspective, language, and tools help to identify and define the problem, how to address it, and who should address it. It helps a manager identify and address the potential weaknesses of a specific improvement technique. And it gives a relatively simple, powerful way for finding opportunities to link various methods.

· Perspective or Frame of Reference.

The perspective of an improvement method can be thought of as an observation platform that allows a manager to focus on the objective and see the route for getting there.



1. Our intention is not to belittle or denigrate attempts to improve management practice and organizational productivity. We are aware of both private- and public-sector organizations in which the improvement methods referred to here have helped to increase productivity dramatically.

2. The 1994 Buyers Preference Survey (New York: Electronic Buyers News, May 1994).

3. Conversation with S. Player, 22 January 1993.

4. We based our discussion about the users of these methods on our experience and the comments of the managers, consultants, and academics who have either discussed this issue with us or reviewed this manuscript. For a similar identification of improvement methods with functional groups, see also:

T.H. Davenport, Process Innovation: Reengineering Work through Information Technology (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1993).

5. Two excellent sources for implementation techniques are:

W.L. French, C.H. Bell, Jr., and R.A. Zawacki, Organization Development and Transformation: Managing Effective Change, fourth edition (Homewood, Illinois: Edition, Richard D. Irwin, 1994); and

T.G. Cummings and E.F. Huse, Organization Development and Change, fourth edition (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1989).

6. For additional discussion of the questionnaire, see:

S. Hronec, Vital Signs (New York: American Management Association, 1993), pp. 57–61.

7. An example of a proprietary tool is the “Change Readiness Survey” used by Arthur Andersen. Other tools are:

A.G. Henkel, C.L. Repp-Bégin, and J.F. Vogt, “The Empowerment-Readiness Survey,” in J.W. Pfeiffer, ed., The 1993 Annual: Developing Human Resources (San Diego, California: Pfeiffer, 1993), pp. 148–160;

R.S. Wellins and J.M. Wilson, “Team Readiness Survey,” Empowered Teams: Creating Self-Directed Groups That Improve Quality, Productivity, and Participation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991), pp. 95–98.

For an example of tools for assessing training needs, see the training needs analysis in:

J.H. Morrison, “Determining Training Needs,” in R.L. Craig, ed., Training and Development Handbook (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), pp. 9–1 - 9–17.

8. Some of these branches have been given program names, such as the version of setup reduction known as SMED (single minute exchange of dies).

9. Both the Johnson & Johnson and Pennzoil examples are from:

S. Player and D. Keys, Activity-Based Management: Arthur Andersen’s Lessons from the ABM Battlefield (New York: Master Media, 1995).

10. For an interesting discussion of new tools breeding new perspectives, see:

K.W. Hoskins and R. H. Macve, “The Genesis of Accountability: The West Point Connection,” Accounting, Organizations and Society, volume 13, number 1, 1988, pp. 37–73.


The authors would like to thank the Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing-International (CAM-I) for the support provided for this paper.

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