Regaining Focus Part Two: Three Ways to Systematize for Focus

In part one of this two-part series, I started the argument that to regain focus, you needed to simplify. I mentioned colleague who described the programmatic junkyard of artifacts strewn about over the years as she and her team pursued various forms of continuous improvement. In this installment, I want to make the case that to systematize is to focus.

Deming was pretty clear on the contribution that the system makes, at least in the negative sense:

“I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management) and 6% special.”1)

If you are experiencing unfocused movement, your continuous improvement efforts may lack systematization. Great, so what is that?


Systems are made up of components, which are parts of the whole by definition. It’s a Latin word that means put together. Components are parts, so they each have a function that serves the whole. Systemized parts – components – won’t function properly apart from the system. Your heart is a pump, but a heart with no lungs doesn’t do much for me.

When you apply this thinking to a continuous improvement management system, you begin to realize that having a standard problem-solving method apart from having a way to prioritize problems gets suboptimal results. You solve problems, but they may not be the right problems. Solving the wrong problems degrades your organizational focus.

Complementary Components

For the components to yield optimal results, though, they have to be complementary: they should have good synergies and blend into one another. Having a problem-solving method that doesn’t mesh with your problem prioritization component just confuses.

I’ve worked with clients who have – in the past – put so much emphasis on what they were calling strategy deployment or hoshin planning, without having a component in their system to aim for the long term or to learn what their annual improvement portions were. They’d plan projects and rapid improvement events – tying up many people and a lot of resources – without knowing whether that specific improvement was needed. Instead of having a long-range plan for improvement and learning what to improve over daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycles, they’d stop once a year, speculate what would be needed the next year, then scramble everyone to do rapid improvement events. The only thing focused about rapid improvement events is the time and attention of the folks working on them…until they’re not working on the rapid improvement and they lose their focus to day-to-day problems that sap their energy.

If components don’t complement one another, they are more like tools in a toolbox. They are helpful at the moment, but like so many other continuous improvement concepts, we use them episodically and for a limited purpose. Limited, part-time, use isn’t focused.

Connected Complementary Components

A socket wrench and a crescent wrench may be complementary, but when they are rattling around in toolbox, waiting for someone to use them, they are hardly connected.

Complementary components have to be connected to gain focus. The walls of my house are incredibly useful, defining the space we live in and protecting from the elements. They provide pathways for wires, and pipes and they frame the windows that let in light and fresh air. I love walls. The roof of my house is useful, too. It keeps us dry and shaded.

At the core, my walls and my roof are entirely complementary. They both are made of the same materials, more or less. They both protect and define the space of our home.

Imagine, though, that my roof was laying in the yard beside my house, disconnected from the walls. It has the potential to protect my family, but because it isn’t connected, it doesn’t.

We can build components of systems that are very complementary, but not connected. Every component in a continuous improvement system obeys four rules: the pdCA cycle, defined responsibilities by role, visual management, and standardization. Each component is related and complements the other. But, when I connect them, the system comes to life to do what it’s designed to do. When I have a daily meeting and limit the conversation to problem-solving, it creates outputs that connect into other components: learning what’s important to solve, elevating problems that can’t be solved, and even learning how to help my team. Without problem-solving, a daily meeting is just another discussion, a transaction amongst thousands that create a cloud of ambiguity and sloppy execution.

Leader: Your Call to Action

Leader: systematized components define world-class operations. Think of a well-oiled machine humming along. Think of a team that’s playing championship ball or an orchestra that’s playing every note correctly. These are examples of many parts working as a whole, systematized components that align and focus your precious time and resources. If focusing better is what you need to reset or recenter your continuous improvement journey keep it simple and systematize.

Until next time, pursue #better and stay excellent my friends.


1. W. Edwards Deming Quotes. (2018). Quote by W. Edwards Deming. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Mar. 2018].