You can't improve a cog

I was advising somebody who had been tasked with improving a single process. I said that without a systemic improvement of all the processes and the technologies and the people around it, trying to improve one process is like trying to improve one cog in the machine.

You can polish a cog or change its colour or perhaps optimise the angle of the teeth or even put in a new low friction bearing, but really you can't change a cog in isolation.
This is one of the mistakes that undermined so many ITSM projects: the idea that you can improve incident management one month and problem management the next.

My analogy is not perfect. Human processes are much more forgiving than machine technology: we can leave connections dangling for future implementation; or we can even have errors and inconsistencies and gaps; and humans will deal with it.

Nevertheless the basic concept applies: it is a bad idea to try to improve small pieces of the system independently. What we end up with is local optima: we optimise only to the local goals and not to the overall goals of the system. Potentially such a local improvement can even degrade the overall performance of the system. This has been true of many so-called improvements to change management in the past.

So the next time somebody asked you to improve the procedure for registering an ERP or some other isolated piece of the entire IT system, ask them exactly what improvement they expect to see in one cog in a larger machine.

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