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Know what you do before you set a new goal

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Know what you do before you set a new goal

Scott Miker

One aspect of self-improvement that often gets overlooked is to understand what you currently do.  What is the current process?

We tend to get so excited about the future and what we hope to achieve that we don’t accurately assess where we are.  So we assume we can set big goals since others have achieved similar results. 

In the systems and habits approach to improvement we shift this.  Instead of a sole focus on the end result we hope to get, we focus on what we have to do in order to improve.   

This puts the emphasis on the process and the steps we take.  It can be very helpful when starting out so you can start to form the right habits and structures in your life to then take you to your goals.

We work hard to get better and in doing so we adjust the recurring behaviors and routines.  We optimize what we do. 

A first step, that too often is missed, is to understand what you are currently doing.  This can be through observation and formal documentation or simply thinking through the current process.   

In Business Process Improvement Toolbox by Bjorn Andersen, the author says, “A general rule if wanting to improve something is that it is necessary to know in advance how the current state of things are.  This is highly true for business processes as well.  If you do not know how the process looks and works today, it will be very difficult to know which improvement initiatives can be started and whether they will work at all.  Documenting one’s own process should therefore always be the first step in any improvement activity.”

I have seen this first-hand in my role as the director of operations for a medical repair business.  We notice a problem and everyone sees that we need to fix the problem, but then we realize that nobody really knows what the process is. 

It might be that someone always took care of the activity and never documented it.  It could be that we never really had that specific scenario come up so we just ignored it.  It could be that there are many cross-functional aspects so nobody really looked at the whole picture.  Whatever the case, we don’t have a good understanding of what it is we do in this scenario. 

So we set out to investigate.  We talk to people involved to get their perspective.  We try to piece together the general flow.  We try to see how it works. 

We look for data that can give us even more understanding of what is occurring.  We measure aspects of the process.  We track certain elements.  We try to gain an understanding and follow a similar pattern like a detective on a crime show going through the evidence and digging around until they discover the answer. 

It is through this investigative process that we start to see how we can improve.  With understanding of the system we can see where adjustments can be made.  Without this understanding any suggestion becomes shortsighted. 

Similar to the difference between being innovative and being random, the understanding is what leads us to innovations.  We don’t just start changing for the sake of change; we adjust based on an assumption that doing so will improve something. 

Then we measure and investigate the impacts of this change.  We follow a similar pattern as we did when we first started to investigate only now we already have the foundational knowledge and can use that to determine if the change we made did make things better or not. 

If they did make it better, we standardize the new process.  If they didn’t, then we go back to the old (better) way of doing things. 

When you hear about continuous improvement in a business, this is the process that they are likely using.  It comes from Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  It is referred to as the Deming cycle, or the Deming wheel.  It follows the pattern of plan, do, check, act and repeat. 

Most people understand the concept of setting goals and ambitiously chasing our dreams.  But they have no idea how to actually improve.  For some, this prevents them from ever reaching their goals and becoming the person they are capable of becoming.  For others it becomes a frustrating journey where they have to work five times as hard to get the results they are after. 

If you want to succeed and you want to improve, start to focus on the things that you are doing.  Follow the process and then determine ways to make this process better.  Do this over and over again and you will certainly be able to reach new heights and achieve greater success.  But make sure you start by understanding what it is that you currently do.