Updated: Jul 15, 2021
When training for an Ironman Triathlon some years ago, I recalled advice given to me by Meaghan, Director (and major shareholder) of Anywise some years previously. We had been competing in numerous multisport and ultra endurance events and I was nervous about the shift to Ironman.
"your performance on the day is likely to reflect your preparations before. So you should control the things you can control, and improve those areas you that can improve on."
It sounded so simple. Pulling apart the advice though, it makes deep and meaningful sense to me now as a business owner.
"Your performance is likely to reflect your preparations,"
These days, I don't expect anything to come to me because we have a great team, outstanding culture, are ethical and cost competitive. We win work because our customers know us, trust us and chose our relationship over similar relationships they have with other companies. They do this because we have consistently prepared for future work by successfully delivering on our commitments.
Measure and manage the important things
"Control the things you can control,"
Attempting to control or manage anything in a VUCA environment can be a challenge, but if it can not be observed, measured or sensed, it is unlikely to be able to be controlled. Even if it can be, we may not have the ability to control it. So we should focus our management functions on those elements that we can control. Doing so improves our overall consistency and sets the scene for continuous improvement. It also helps to define and remove distractions from those things that are outside control.
"Improve those areas that you can improve on,"
Simple advice, spend time and resources on those areas that you can improve on. This is also a measure of the bang for buck of training. While the pursuit of incremental gains is a fine use of time, often there are significant gains that can be made in some areas, with a different point of view or an improved focus. Some years ago we wrote a post about how we stopped watering the concrete - a metaphor at the time for inefficient business development approaches - it is equally relevant when training for an Ironman as when innovating a company during a pandemic.
Of course, this isn't all new. Neither are the principles of continuous improvement. Some years ago, we delivered a large training remediation work-package in support of Engineer training in the Australian Army. Fundamentally, it followed a well worn path of continuous improvement.
Naturally, it was wrapped up in the new terminology of the day - the Systems Approach to Defence Learning (SADL) but the principles are the same.
Whether training for an Ironman triathlon, building a successful agile consulting firm, or designing military training - the systems approach is a good foundation.
The Systems Approach to continuous improvement - a variation on a Plan Do Check Act theme
A continuous improvement system’s five interdependent component phases are undertaken and assessed within a framework of continuous improvement, as follows:
• Analysis This aims to determine the individual and collective outcomes required, based on the capability demanded, the tasks involved and the improvement that is required.
• Design Objectives are designed to support each of the tasks identified during analysis. These objectives are described in terms of tasks, conditions and standards.
• Development Objectives are sequenced to meet the outcomes while environments and working scenarios are confirmed.
• Implementation This involves the delivery of development events, including the preparation, ongoing programming, administration, conduct, assessment and recording of training and development. It also includes an ongoing review processes.
• Evaluation This phase determines whether improvement objectives have been achieved and how well the new state has met workplace needs.
Continuous improvement - the system is designed to enable change and improvement. The inputs and outputs of each phase are reviewed, evaluated and revised as necessary. This process allows changes to be made to training as a result of internal or external evaluation, lessons and force modernisation activities.
Those of us that are fluent in ISO 9001:15 also read a lot of cross over to the way that these standards are now implemented and improved over time.
Any good process deserves a lot of steps, definitions and workflows, but for me, the lessons learned early on, and the sound advice of robust and committed supporters simplifies it all to some key themes.
Control what you can control, improve what you can, and manage your expectations.