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Edclicking

By Dr. Harry Tennant

Edclicking

by Harry Tennant
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Entries from April 2012
Posts 1 - 12 of 12

Friday, April 27, 2012

Measuring the unmeasurable

Improvement implies more than change. It implies doing something better than it had been done before. But better implies measurement. What about those cases when you want to improve something that's unmeasurable?

Most things that are considered unmeasurable actually are measurable. In cases when something seems to be unmeasurable, it generally seems that way due to a misunderstanding.

Take mentoring as an example. Can we measure mentoring? Some might say no, but consider a few points.

  • Is mentoring something you value? If so, it is worth measuring.
  • Is there a way to judge the value of mentoring? Is there some detectable outcome? If not, why do you value it? If so, the very detection of the outcome is a form of measurement...a yes/no measurement.
  • Does some mentoring result in better outcomes than other mentoring? If so, you can do better than yes/no measurement...your measurement can result in a ranked list of the effectiveness of mentoring events.
  • Can you assign values to how much better one mentoring outcome is than another? If so, not only can mentoring measurements be ranked in order but they can be assigned a magnitude of the amount of value that came from each mentoring.

Each of the points above indicates a type of measurement. Often the barrier to measurement will disappear simply by clarifying the concept that you are trying to measure.

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Keywords: Continuous improvement, measurement

 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

4 Capabilities of high-velocity organizations

 

A few organizations are able to improve much faster than others. They are sometimes called high-velocity organizations. How are they different?

  1. Seeing problems as they occur
  2. Swarming to solve problems as they occur
  3. Spreading new knowledge
  4. Leading by Developing capabilities 1, 2 and 3 throughout the organization

The opposite of seeing problems as they occur is to see them later or not at all. Teaching a unit then giving a test only to find out that the students didn't get it...that's not seeing problems as they occur.

The best time to solve a problem is when it's fresh. It's just like solving a crime. If you allow it to become a cold case, the evidence is gone, the witnesses are fuzzy, the perp has had time to disappear into the night.

One of the most neglected areas in improving education is spreading new knowledge. In many schools, new ideas are not spread. A discovery by one teacher must be independently rediscovered by others. Even worse, materials and lesson plans are jealously guarded. It wastes effort and inhibits the growth of the organization.

Adopting the characteristics of high-velocity organizations is no small thing. While each problem solved might be a small problem, the accumulation and dissemination can have a huge effect.

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Keywords: continuous improvement

 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Improvement? I'm too busy for that!

A very smart guy made a statement to me very much like the one above just a couple of days ago. He didn't seem to notice the irony in what he said.

We get signals when a process is crying out for improvement. One signal is when we feel overwhelmed. Another is when things just don't come out like we expect them to. A third is when a job that should take an hour is taking two days. 

These are opportunities. These situations are ripe for improvement. This is not the time to say, I can't improve now, I'm just barely hanging on as it is. These are the times when you need most to improve.

Improvement is not a luxury to be put off until things are relaxed and easy. That time may never come...especially if you're overwhelmed and unwilling to improve!

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Keywords: Continuous improvement

 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Perfection and disappointment

One reason that we sometimes feel depressed or disappointed with our lives is because we have high expectations. It hasn't always been like that. For thousands of years religions have promised perfection in the afterlife while warning not to get your hopes up too high for this life on earth. But for the past few centuries life has been improving rapidly across the globe. It has tempted us to think that we might attain paradise on earth. If fact, many are so disappointed with the imperfections of life that they give up. Some turn to drugs. Some simply become depressed. Some seek a life of pleasure but then find it unfulfilling.

The problem is overly high ambitions. Even an expectation of perfection. And that attitude guarantees disappointment.

The better attitude is to believe that there is always room for improvement, no matter how good or bad your situation is. Parallel to that is the attitude that we should always be involved in the business of improvement. Improvement isn't an inconvenient distraction from life. It is the essence of life.

These are highly benefical attitudes. And fortunately, no matter what our circumstances, we are always free to choose our attitudes.

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Keywords: Continuous improvement, perfection

 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Daily improvement time

I have found that a useful technique for continuous improvement is to take a little time each day to think about it. Have a little down time? Want a change of pace from your usual activities? Take a moment and ask yourself, what needs to be improved?

It's (for me) to identify areas that need improvement. In my daily improvement time I pick one and start working on how to make an improvement. The area needing improvement that I picked yesterday was transferring one set of files to multiple servers. I thought that surely that could be done more efficiently than how I was doing it.

In investigating possible solutions, I had an insight about how to smooth the transition we're planning for this summer for a change in server architecture. It's much more important than the issue I started with and I'm very pleased with having come up with a better solution to a more significant problem.

All because I had a little extra time and wanted a change of pace from my usual work.

I recently wrote about the "daily tweak". These two posts are obviously related. The daily tweak is the goal to make a change every day. Daily improvement time is figuring in how to come up with the tweak. It's a tweak on the daily tweak.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, tweak

 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Three remedies for the self-serving bias

We humans have a habit of taking more credit and less blame than we deserve. It's called the self-serving bias. Although it may make us feel better (which is no doubt why we all tend to do it), it is also the source of errors. When we allow ourselves to use the self-serving bias, we tend to fail to see needed improvements.

It is easy to fall into the self-serving biase when we assess our own performance subjectively. Subjective assessments of our performance allow us to easily believe that we're performing just fine, even when we're not performing well at all.

So, how can we overcome the tendency to overlook errors due to the self-serving bias?

  1. Be aware of the self-serving bias.
  2. Use objective measures. Be suspicious of subjective measures.
  3. Look for opportunities to improve rather than confirmation of good performance.

The third remedy is the most important. Note that it isn't the same as saying that no matter how well you've done something, it's not good enough. That's just another subjective assessment! Instead, look for imperfections, waste and unexpected outcomes. These are specific signals that there are specific opportunities to improve...which you can then do.

The goal is not to be perfect, but to continue to get better.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, self-serving bias

 

Friday, April 13, 2012

I could be wrong, but...

We tend to recall evidence that favors our conclusion. We like to think it goes the other way, that conclusions logically follow the evidence. But our brains don't tend to work that way. It's called confirmation bias.

Our brains work associatively, which is wonderful for finding answers quickly. And when in danger, a quick answer that might be right is often more valuable that a more correct answer that is not delivered quickly enough to deal with the danger.

For most of us in most situations, we are not in danger of being eaten by a sabre tooth tiger in the next few seconds, so we have more time to develop better answers rather than relying on quick answers. We can overcome confirmation bias by explicitly looking for evidence that contradicts our assumptions. It takes more time, but it improves our chances of doing the right thing.

 

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Keywords: confirmation bias

 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Collective intelligence and continuous improvement

The story of the advance of society, including the advance of civilization, is a story of specialization and collaboration. It is one of the historically most important techniques of improvement devised by man (or nature, for that matter...think evolution to exploit niches).

On the flip side, for certain tasks, a group will perform better than any individual within the group. For example, say the task is estimating the number of jelly beans in a jar. An average of all the estimates of a group is typically closer to the actual value than the best estimate of any individual in the group. So, in this case, specialization may not be helpful.

The specialist will out-perform others when he has additional information or knowledge not available to the others in the group. A specialist, Frederick Taylor, studied work tasks to gather additional knowledge. His "science of shoveling" was a famous example. The application of his studies, called scientific management, resulted in big productivity improvements in industry.

But there is another kind of specialist, the person who has been doing the job for a long time. He has a lot of specialized information about the job. Getting workers to think about their jobs and how to improve them has been one of the biggest sources of improvements in manufacturing in the years after scientific management. And the notion extends to nearly all areas of endeavor, not just manufacturing.

The challenge is: How to encourage people to reflect on their work to make continuous improvements?

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Monday, April 9, 2012

3 questions that professional learning communities answer

One of the descriptions of professional learning communities among teachers is that they are a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning.

That is a nice encapsulation of the whole idea of continuous improvement: a shift from doing to learning how to do better.

A professional learning community among teachers addresses the questions

  1. What do we want all children to learn?
  2. How will we know they have learned it?
  3. How do we respond if they haven't learned it?

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Keywords: Professional learning communities

 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Where does innovation come from?

I worked in research and technology management at Texas Instruments for fourteen years. There were two main reasons that companies like TI had research departments. The first was to come up with new technologies and inventions that would lead to new products and financial growth. The second reason was defensive: if a competitor came up with something new, the folks in research could assess the level of threat it posed compared with existing technologies.

Considering those inventions, there are two kinds of inventions that companies come up with: incremental (also called sustaining) and breakthrough (also called discontinuities). Incremental innovation is absolutely critical to a company. In TI's case, their business was based primarily in integrated circuits and the incremental inventions were mainly in production: they are the remarkable set of inventions that keep giving us more transistors and more complex circuits in integrated circuits at lower cost. To a large extent, no one but big corporations can do this kind of incremental invention. They have the existing equipment and processes so they have the best visibility into how it might be improved.

Breakthroughs don't typically come from big companies any more (although occasionally they do.) The most common scenario for a breakthrough invention is that someone in a garage or a small company takes a risk on a radical new idea. The majority of radical new ideas result in failure. But a few of them turn out to have great advantages over the way things are currently done.

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Keywords: Innovation

 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

5 ways to use data

There is a lot of emphasis these days on basing decisions on data rather than on hunches or feelings. It's not only appropriate for better decision making but it is also easier than ever before because of spreadsheets and the web. But what data should you be collecting and for what purposes? Here are five fundamental ways to use data.

Comparison

  • This year vs. last year
  • Here vs. nationally
  • Males vs. females

Time series: Change

  • Trends
  • Increasing or decreasing?
  • Change after intervention

Pareto analysis: prioritize

  • 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes
  • Pareto analysis helps to identify those most important causes
  • Who, what, where, when, why?

Correlation

  • Are factors related?
  • Be careful: correlation does not imply causation but people often mistakenly assume it does
  • However, although it doesn't imply causation, it may be a strong clue to causation

Generalize from your data

  • There is a huge amount of data on all sorts of subjects available online. If you collect data wisely, you can combine your data with existing data for much larger conclusions.
  • Look at data from the government, professional organizations and promotional organizations to see how they classify their data. Collect your data with the same classifications, then you can link your data to theirs to extrapolate from your small study to their national or worldwide statistics for broader conclusions.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

8 ways to incorporate continuous improvement in knowledge work

What constitutes continuous improvement in knowledge work?

  1. Continually root out all waste
    • Knowledge work that doesn't involve judgement or expertise
    • Use the five whys to uncover waste
    • Rotation among jobs to spread knowledge
    • Look for small forms of waste, not just big ones
    • Periodically review the structure and content of each job
    • Avoiding errors, especially big ones! When errors occur, find out why and take steps to avoid their recurrence.
    • Reduce uncertainty. Experiment.
  2. Strive to make tacit knowledge explicit
    • Specify the work; simple checklists are often sufficient
    • Codify repeatable parts of the work
    • Use the checklists or specified work. It often helps to involve two people to enforce the use of checklists.
    • Use data about the benefits of improvements to get buy-in
  3. Establish measurable goals
    • Make progress toward goals easily visible as with a dashboard
  4. Specify how team members should communicate
    • What needs to be communicated
    • Resolve disagreements with facts
    • Explicit lists of errors and their descriptions. This helps differentiate errors from style preferences.
  5. Use the scientific method to solve problems quickly
    • Ideally the person who created the problem should fix it
    • Solve problems where they occur to comprehend contextual information
    • Solve problems as soon as possible after they occur
  6. Recognize that your processes are always a work in progress
    • Codify lessons learned
    • Keep looking for new ways to work
    • Lean approach doesn't apply to visionary work
  7. Improve knowledge and skills
    • Continue to gain expertise with your tools rather than plateauing at a basic level
    • Continue to learn in your field
  8. Have leaders blaze the trail
    • Management must maintain interest and involvement over the long term
    • Persistence is the key
    • Because it is difficult, it makes it difficult for competitors to replicate

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Keywords: Continuous improvement, waste

  Posts 1 - 12 of 12
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