The Shocking Truth About Your Improvement Project


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Yesterday I read that only 5% of the changes we make at work are changes for the better. Only 1 in 20 improvements actually improve things.

Allegedly everything else we do is ineffective or, worse still, counter-productive.

Ungrounded statistics

I thought that sounded horribly harsh. Only 1 in 20 improvements are really improvements? It sounded more like a management consultant trying to make a point and drum up some business than a grounded statistic.

So I wrote a list of knock out questions to check the statistic. A way of separating the real improvements from the false ones, then tested a list of improvements against it.

Was my improvement really an improvement?

Did my actions make the world a better place?

  • Was I really clear what the problem was before I started fixing things?
  • Was I sure who it was a problem for and did they agree it needed fixing?
  • Did I get at the root cause of the problem and tackle the real issue?
  • Were there any side effects that muddied the waters?
  • Was I really better off after the change? Could I measure a difference?
  • Was I positive that the problem didn’t just go away by itself?
  • Was the person with the problem happy with the fix, or were they being polite so I would go away?

That knocked out a false improvement or two

Of the twenty improvements I started with more than a handful hit the dust. But I still had a few dubious improvements left. So I asked myself a final question…

If, in my heart of hearts, I know that the improvement didn’t make any positive difference at all, did I admit it and learn from the experience? Or am I still swearing blind that it was a success?

Is the statistic still ungrounded?

Perhaps 1 in 20 isn’t such an unfounded allegation after all. Not all changes are improvements.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


  1. While reading your post I immediately went to “Cool ideas” around the office that we implement but the excitement fades and we realize no one wants to maintain it. That being said, it’s so important to continue to try new things if your intent is on making a difference and bringing about real improvement. The learning aspect in success and failure is the most important part. Great post!

  2. Thanks for your comment Jeremy, I couldn’t agree more with your last point. Even if your project is an abject failure and you learn from it it will have been far from a waste of time.


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