Last Sunday we were searching mushrooms in a forest. We parked our car and started walking, unfortunately the forest there was full of undergrowth and difficult. I knew that somewhere to our left was a small lake surrounded by a marsh which we needed to avoid. I decided that our best option was to walk round the lake as I knew there were better mushroom places on the other side. The problem was that we could not see the lake because of the dense forest. The day was mainly cloudy so it was not easy to see where the sun was. Finally we arrived on a hill and could see that we had reached the far end of the lake.
Working with ITSM improvement is sometimes like that. You start with something but see that it does not work, then you may need to change plans but it is quite common that it is hard to see the whole picture. Losing the direction is far too easy and the work may start wandering in a wrong direction.
We followed a path for some time but soon realized that the path was not going where we wanted. We left the path and started walking in the forest in what I thought was the right direction. The terrain was not easy, there were small hills that had steep sides so we needed to go around obstacles and find easy places to get up and down on those hillsides. The forest floor is uneven, this is no park but real forest where fallen trees lie where they have fallen and thick moss covers rocks. We are both over 60 and the hike was getting longer than planned and we both were pretty tired.
My wife started losing confidence in me, she thought we were lost. At one point she said we are going in circles which is a real danger in a forest. I kept telling myself that I know how to do this, I just need to let my feet direct us and we well get out of the forest. There was no real danger as we just needed to hit the road and then we could find our car. I actually had GPS on my phone and a compass in my backbag but did not want to use those unless in real trouble.
Losing confidence is a big risk for the improvement activity. If the team loses confidence, they may stop following you. You need to have some success on the way to keep up the spirit. When you work with a living organization, there are no maps, compasses and GPS devices to help you. It is quite natural that people grab tools and frameworks in the hope that they will help on the way but what you need most is leadership. A tool will not make a smooth path, but it can help you on the way.
I once heard the late Stephen Covey speaking at a HDI Conference in Nahshville and what I remember from that presentation was the True North part. He asked the audience point to north and soon people were pointing to all directions. Then he showed where true north was. That is one of the dilemmas in improving things. In many situation you need to make choices, select one direction and keep to it. Sometimes you see organization going in circles, not trusting its earlier decicions. Sometimes they let a tool or framework lead them to a bog. There is a difference in following the right direction and doing it with you eyes closed. What you need to be able to do is keep the goal in mind but not get stuck in obstacles on the way.
We walked nearly three hours before we saw the small road and then I saw a familiar looking car right there. I could not believe my eyes first but my unconcious sense of direction had worked perfect.
The ability to lead improvement comes from practice, several successes give you confidence and a few failures teaches you thing to avoid. Quite often the starting point is a failure, the organization has tried something which did not work and they need help. What they need is a direction and some encouragement to go there.