Saturday, April 15, 2017

Return to Kaizen

Today being Saturday, my morning walk with the dog is a much longer affair than during the week; I let her off the leash when we are just outside of the kibbutz so that she can run free, allowing me to think. Almost every week, my thoughts turn to my thesis, and today was no exception. I'm not sure what I was thinking about at first - maybe it was change management as described in the thesis which I mentioned the other day - but suddenly the name of a book which I once valued highly popped into my head: 'What you can change, what you can't change", by Dr Martin Seligman.

After thinking about this for a few minutes, I realised that I was really thinking about another book which I own, whose name escaped me at first. I remembered that I so much enjoyed the book, I bought a copy in Hebrew for my wife. When I came home, I found the Hebrew copy, but it took me a few hours to find the English book, which ironically was right by my computer chair - on a shelf which is rarely disturbed. The book is called "One small step can change your life" (aka "The Kaizen Way"), by Dr Robert Maurer, and I see that I have written twice before about this book: once in general terms, and once about ERP enhancements. The second blog was written eight years ago almost to the day: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The 2004 edition which I own opens with the following statements: Most of psychology and medicine is devoted to studying why people get sick or don’t function well in life. But throughout my career as a psychologist, I’ve always been intrigued by the opposite of failure. When a dieter loses ten pounds and keeps it off, I want to know why. Reading those words now, I am tempted to paraphrase them as most academic research into Information Systems in general, and ERP systems specifically, is devoted to studying why companies implementing such systems never extract the value that they had expected. But throughout my career as a systems implementer, I've always been intrigued by the opposite of failure: when a company extracts full value (or more) from its ERP system, I want to know why. Maybe I can add this to the introduction of the thesis somewhere.

I thought that my second kaizen blog would mention something about how small enhancements to the ERP system get adopted almost immediately whereas large ones don't always succeed, possibly because of user resistance (reconstructing my thought processes from this morning, I was considering user resistance to large changes, when I remembered small changes and kaizen). Looking back on what I wrote eight years ago, it seems that I was mistaken to some extent when I wrote unfortunately, changes in usage of ERP programs require that everything is changed at once; if one changes only a little bit, it can be worse than not changing. That's certainly true about inventory maintenance, but not necessarily true about other things. This is another element which has to be added to my analysis of case studies: was the enhancement a 'small' one (localised to one process) or did it apply to several processes?

My task, then, for the next few days, is to read the book once again, and consider how its lessons can be applied to my thesis. An alternative way to state my task with business speak is to view ERP enhancements through the lens of Kaizen. Don't laugh: for a few minutes' entertainment, I considered how I can write a Marxist view of enhancements, in which how the proletariat (i.e. workers) empower themselves against management by self-improvement, suggesting enhancements which ease their labour. Instead, management depresses the workers by insisting on practices which improve management's view of the business whilst making the workers' job harder.

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