Quantum Changes

When must managers think in terms of quantum changes rather than continuous improvement?

Although continuous improvement methods are useful innovations in many of our organization, they generally focus on incremental change. Such action – a constant and permanent search to make things better – is intuitively appealing. Many organizations; however, operate in an environment of rapid and dynamic change. As the elements around them change so quickly, a continuous improvement process may keep them behind the times.

Work process engineering: Radical or quantum change in an organization.

The problem with a focus on continuous improvements is that it may provide a false sense of security. It may make managers feel as if they are actively doing something positive, which is somewhat true. Unfortunately, ongoing incremental change may allow managers to avoid facing up to the possibility that what the organization may really need is radical or quantum change, referred to as work process engineering. Continuous change may also make managers feel as if they are taking progressive action while, at the same time avoiding having to implement quantum changes that will threaten organizational members. The incremental approach of continuous improvement, then, may be today’s version of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Aren’t these authors contradicting what they said a few paragr6aphs ago about quality management? It may appear so, but consider this: Although continuous improvement can often lead to organizational improvements, it may not always be the right approach initially. That’s the case if you are producing an improved version of an outdated product. Instead, a completed overhaul might be required. Once these changes are made then continuous improvement can have its right place. Let’s see how this process operates.

Assume that you the manager responsible for implementing design changes in your electronic organizer. If you take the continuous improvement approach, your frame of reference might be an electronic search capability for names and addresses, calendar of tasks, an expanded key board function, and the like. Your continuous improvement program may lead to focus on innovations such as more memory, larger storage capabilities, or longer lasting batteries. Of course, your electronic organizer may be better than the one you previously made, but is better enough? Compare your product with that of a competitor who reengineers the design process. To begin your competitor poses the following question: How can we design an electronic organizer that is more useful and expandable and provides greater mobility? Starting from scratch and not being constrained by her current manufacturing process, your competitor, your competitor completes her redesign with something she calls a wireless personal data assistant. Instead of larger and faster capabilities, you are now competing against a technology that may make your product obsolete.

In this theoretical example, both companies made progress. But which company do you believe made the most progress given the dynamic environment they face? Our example demonstrates why many leading Indian banks like BOI, SBI, Syndicate Bank, and others are opting or work process reengineering rather than increment change in order to remain competitive in India after the re-regulation of the banking industry. It is imperative in today’s business environment that all managers consider the challenge of work process engineering in their organizational processes. Why? Because work process engineering can lead to major gains in cost, service or time, as well as assist an organization in preparing to meet the challenges technology changes foster.