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Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems That Never Happened: Creating and Sustaining Process Improvement

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Abstract

Today's managers face a paradox. On the one hand, the number of tools, techniques, and technologies available to improve operational performance is growing rapidly. On the other hand, despite dramatic success in a few companies, most efforts to use them fail to produce significant results. To understand and resolve this paradox, this article investigates the difficulties organizations face in implementing processes and techniques such as lean production, TQM, computer-aided design and development tools, stage-gate product development processes, and improved customer service systems. The inability of most organizations to reap the full benefit of these innovations has little to do with the specific technique. Instead, the problem has its roots in how the introduction of a new improvement effort interacts with the physical, economic, social, and psychological structures in which implementation takes place. This article presents a framework to understand how these failures arise and illustrates strategies for overcoming the pathological behaviors through case studies of successful improvement.
... Indeed, path dependency can result in firms' rigidity and be detrimental to performance, especially when fast environmental changes shift rationality, leading to the so-called lock-in effect. Scholars have investigated this effect under different names, such as the architecture of simplicity (Miller, 1993), core rigidities (Heracleous et al., 2017), strategic inertia (Slagmulder & Devoldere, 2018), capability traps (Repenning & Sterman, 2001), competency traps (Ramachandran et al., 2019) or adaptation traps (Rahmandad & Repenning, 2016). Such issues thus imply impelling decision trade-offs between short-or long-term strategies and the allocation of organisational resources into different operating and process improvement activities (Li et al., 2017;Rahmandad & Repenning, 2016). ...
... To fill those two main gaps, in this study we adapted the wellestablished capability-trap model developed by Repenning and Sterman (2001) and the DCs model developed by Romme et al. (2010) to develop a conceptual system dynamics (SD) model for investigating the intertwined relationship existing between a firm's knowledge stocks, capabilities (ordinary and dynamic), and performance when ED is present. Based on systems thinking principles (Ricciardi et al., 2020;Senge, 1990), SD is considered a suitable vehicle to help understand how strategies perform over time (Kunc & Morecroft, 2010;Rahmandad, 2015;Torres et al., 2017). ...
... Third, this study contributes to the SD research stream aimed at synergistically combining the well-established deliberate organisational learning model proposed by Romme et al. (2010) and the capability trap model developed by Repenning and Sterman (2001). Indeed, the former investigated the relationship between ED, knowledge, and DCs but did not distinguish between the impact of ordinary and dynamic capabilities on performance, whereas the latter proposed such a distinction but did not consider the impact of knowledge management initiatives or ED on performance. ...
Article
In order to face increased environmental dynamism (ED), firms are increasingly called on to leverage deliberate learning processes that make dynamic capabilities emerge in a path-dependent way from the conversion of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. Moreover, to mitigate the effect that ED can play in eroding a firm's capabilities and subsequently its performance, managers need to effectively align short-and long-term strategies, which in the literature have been addressed as 'capability traps'. Although these two processes are strictly interrelated, to date they have been treated in quite an isolated way and usually through the development of linear approaches. To fill this gap, leveraging the knowledge-based view and dynamic capabilities theories, a conceptual system dynamics model was developed in this study to reconstruct the causal intertwined relationships existing between ED, capabilities development, and a firm's performance. Moreover, by building a stock and flow diagram and simulating different scenarios, it was found that the most effective way to cope with ED is to dedicate efforts in both knowledge stocks' development and process improvement. The paper thus offers theoretical contributions to each of these three literature streams (i.e., knowledge-based view, dynamic capabilities, and system dynamics) and provides a framework to guide managers and decision-makers into arranging deliberate organisational learning processes and fostering organisational alignment between short-and long-term policies.
... At an organizational level, strategic management of organizational resources including the tangible and intangible ones (Dierickx and Cool, 1989;Hayes and Pisano, 1994;Repenning and Sterman, 2001;Sterman, 2001;Repenning and Sterman, 2002;Warren, 2005), inventory management and control (Strohhecker and Leyer, 2019), capacity planning (Sterman, 1989a(Sterman, , 1989b, and management of waiting lines and queuing systems all require a good understanding of stock-flow systems. Organizational resources are stocks that accumulate through continuous learning and improvement (Repenning and Sterman, 2001). ...
... At an organizational level, strategic management of organizational resources including the tangible and intangible ones (Dierickx and Cool, 1989;Hayes and Pisano, 1994;Repenning and Sterman, 2001;Sterman, 2001;Repenning and Sterman, 2002;Warren, 2005), inventory management and control (Strohhecker and Leyer, 2019), capacity planning (Sterman, 1989a(Sterman, , 1989b, and management of waiting lines and queuing systems all require a good understanding of stock-flow systems. Organizational resources are stocks that accumulate through continuous learning and improvement (Repenning and Sterman, 2001). Regular time allotted to the continuous improvement of organizational capabilities in the form of accumulated stocks results in more competent and higher-quality organizational resources (e.g. its human resources and machines) over the long run. ...
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Stocks and flows are the foundations of dynamic systems. Most people have difficulties inferring the behavior of a stock from its flows. Recent studies have argued that understanding of stock-flows can improve if individuals engage in analytical thinking. In this study, we examine the effect of analytical thinking and the mediating effect of Little's Law understanding on stock-flow performance. Little's Law is one of the fundamental laws of queueing systems. Queueing systems are made of stocks and flows and their components, including arrivals, departures, and queue are the inflow, outflow, and accumulation in stock-flow systems. Thus, it can be predicted that grasping Little's Law can mediate the effect of analytical thinking on stock-flow performance. In order to examine the research hypotheses, two empirical studies were designed. The results supported our hypotheses in both studies. Analytical thinking had a positive effect on stock-flow performance. Little's Law understanding partially mediated this effect. © 2021 System Dynamics Society.
... Managers responsible for preparing the required evidence and supporting documents for award entry are presented with a novel, stimulating challenge to get creative, improve their own understanding of their business and shore up their organisation's chances of winning a business award (Ghicajanu et al., 2015;Schonberger, 1992). Nevertheless, some loathe the preparation and drafting of a successful entry and perceive BEAs in general as more effort than they are worth (Repenning & Sterman, 2001). In this regard, although context-specific circumstances may encourage an organisation to enter a business award, it is the managers' attitudes towards awards in general that facilitate (or impede) an organisation's potential to win (Anas, Rashid, & Annuar, 2015;Choi & Behling, 1997). ...
Article
Business excellence awards (BEAs) have become all too commonplace. Entering and winning one has now become part of contemporary organising. However, scholarly work examining these awards remains scattered, with the dominant narrative focusing on what could even be described as the intense obsession with award ceremonies. In this paper, we articulate the mechanisms through which the dual demands for managing competitive pressures and achieving competitive advantage drive organisations to enter these awards. In doing this, we integrate and expand upon prior work to explicate an integrative framework for examining how the interactions between various contextual and environmental factors may induce organisations to enter BEAs, and the potential outcomes, particularly for those who win or are shortlisted for these awards. We go on to present a set of propositions constituting a contribution, after which our study’s implications for the theory and practice of BEAs are outlined.
... However, tools are a necessary but insufficient way to solve problemsproblem-solving depends on a HO capability and willingness to resolve issues (Taylor et al., 2014). HOs at the beginning of their QI journey resolve problems in a reactive (and product focussed) way, rather than in a root-cause (process-based way), typical of mature QI organisations (Worley and Doolen, 2015;Repenning and Sterman, 2001;Bortolotti et al., 2015). Mature organisations create a standard problem-solving process that is adopted throughout the supply network and focussed on root cause analysis (MacDuffie and Helper, 1997;Bortolotti et al., 2016). ...
Article
Purpose The various quality improvement (QI) frameworks and maturity models described in the health services literature consider some aspects of QI while excluding others. This paper aims to present a concerted attempt to create a quality improvement maturity model (QIMM) derived from holistic principles underlying the successful implementation of system-wide QI programmes. Design/methodology/approach A hybrid methodology involving a systematic review (Phase 1) of over 270 empirical research articles and books developed the basis for the proposed QIMM. It was followed by expert interviews to refine the core constructs and ground the proposed QIMM in contemporary QI practice (Phase 2). The experts included academics in two academic conferences and 59 QI managers from the New Zealand health-care system. In-depth interviews were conducted with QI managers to ascertain their views on the QIMM and its applicability in their respective health organisations (HOs). Findings The QIMM consists of four dimensions of organisational maturity, namely, strategic, process, supply chain and philosophical maturity. These dimensions progress through six stages, namely, identification, ad-hoc, formal, process-driven, optimised enterprise and finally a way of life. The application of the QIMM by the QI managers revealed that the scope of QI and the breadth of the principles adopted by the QI managers and their HOs in New Zealand is limited. Practical implications The importance of QI in health systems cannot be overstated. The proposed QIMM can help HOs diagnose their current state and provide a guide to action achieving a desirable state of quality improvement maturity. This QIMM avoids reliance on any single QI methodology. HOs – using the QIMM – should retain full control over the process of selecting any QI methodology or may even cherry-pick principles to suit their needs as long as they understand and appreciate the true nature and scope of quality overstated. The proposed QIMM can help HOs diagnose their current state and provide a guide to action achieving a desirable state of quality improvement maturity. This QIMM avoids reliance on any single QI methodology. HOs – using the QIMM – should retain full control over the process of selecting any QI methodology or may even cherry-pick principles to suit their needs as long as they understand and appreciate the true nature and scope of quality. Originality/value This paper contributes new knowledge by presenting a maturity model with an integrated set of quality principles for HOs and their extended supply networks.
... Hence, if GoToED could be reduced, a chain-reaction of positive effects could be expected such as 1) queueED would be reduced, 2) lesser assessments at the ED (assessmentsED) would be needed, and 3) fewer people would need hospitalization and specialist care (hospitSpC), which would increase the accessibility of hospitals (accessibilitySpC) and potentially improve the quality of the discharge planning (qualDischargePlanSpC) leading to better care. However, the opposite is also considered to hold true, i.e., lower accessibility affects time invested in discharge planning leading to a cutting-the-cornerbehavior (Repenning and Sterman, 2001). ...
Conference Paper
The expected demographic changes, and especially the rise in life expectancy, will considerably increase elderly patients’ demand for healthcare. There are different strategies that can offer better care for these patients, reduce their unnecessary visits to the emergency departments, and in consequence, reduce the number of hospitalizations and days at the hospital. This study employed system dynamics to analyze the economic and quality-related effects of different closer care strategies such as investments in care coordinators and mobile health clinics, as well as to offer proactive care in the primary care facilities for elderly patients. The results indicate that a combination of the different strategies will support better care for patients, will reduce hospital costs and will reduce the existing pressure on the emergency department. The paper also reflects on the process followed to conduct the study and the lessons learned.
... Critical areas of translational medicine have been examined from the perspective of systems thinking [e.g., [13]]. Systems thinking provides opportunities for understanding how human health may be improved, and related tools have been used successfully in health care [14][15][16]. The current areas of interest in translational medicine include health systems research [17]. ...
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Translational health technology and design schemes reflect certain themes in systems approach and its dynamics. This paper discusses these aligned ideas in view of their value to translational design processes. The ideas embedded in these two approaches are considered in the light of critical questions associated with the development of health informatics. Health care processes for patients might be very fragmented. Synergy thinking is required in all areas of design: it is crucial to understand the theoretical frames and issues associated with focus environments, administration, and cost policy. By internalizing common nuances in these approaches, designers can ease the interaction and communication between experts from different backgrounds. Synergistic thinking aids designers in health informatics to produce more sophisticated products. Maturing in recognizing the whole aids to take into account “the very essentials” more easily. These skills are very vital in prioritizing development substances in health informatics area.
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