Reduce Variability | Attack Your Management System

The most variable processes in your organization are the ones in your management system. Let me start by defining a management system: it is the set of processes and logic your leaders use to make decisions, influence your team and navigate obstacles to produce whatever it is you produce for your customers.   The problem with approaches that I’ve seen to continuous improvement is that leaders think the thing to do is to attack processes to reduce variability.  Lean practitioners attack the waste in a process (often without addressing the uneven demand on the process first).  Six Sigma practitioners root out variation in production processes.

Why don’t we attack the variability in management processes first?  Well, for sure, it is the tougher road to hoe.

Here are a case and point.  How does your organization manage meetings?  Is there a standard for planning the meeting?  For agendas? For record-keeping?  If any of that is standardized, does it apply to all your meetings or just project-based meetings?  Imagine implementing a standard for all your meetings – what kind of push-back would you get?

What is the effect of variability in your management system?  I’d hazard a guess that if you did some time-based cost analysis that your non-standardized management processes cost you a heck of a lot of money.

The countermeasure, at the macro level, is to standardize your management system.

Lean thought leaders have pointed out to me over the years that our system – the one that places cultural transformation by creating a standardized management system ahead of team-based problem solving – lacks attention to “standardization.”   They suggest that the origins of lean thinking require standardization early in the transformation citing “without a standard you can’t have improvement.”

I don’t disagree: our approach is to standardize the management system first. Many look past the management system to the process because that is what the current take on continuous improvement would have you do.  Some look at the management system and accept that it is necessarily variable.


Do you want a transformed culture? Attack the daily experience found where your management processes intersect the people trying to make or deliver for your customer.

You may even find that a significant amount of the variability that you see in your production process has its root in your management system.