The “Improvement Map”

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A strategic initiative requires orientation

Strategic initiatives are often focused on internal improvements to organizations. This article develops a mapping analogy recognizing the landscape for improving performance.

All maps serve the same basic purpose: to orient the user to the surrounding “landscape” so that the user can identify routes and select the one that best meets their requirements for speed, safety, ease, and cost, among others. Good maps have a number of common features: they use consistent names of landmarks so that users can communicate effectively, and the scale of the map is clear. Maps can be simple schematics or more dynamic to allow the user to zoom into the details.

An improvement map depicts the terrain that the organization must navigate to get from “here” to “there.” A good improvement map will help the user see the big picture, but also show a suitable level of detail. A good improvement map will help the navigator recognize the numerous potential routes of improvement, and select the optimal one. Thus, it is an orientation tool, rather than a set of instructions. Finally, a good map will enable the management team to “zoom” into a selected element, and consider details about what decisions and actions are most appropriate. Continuing the analogy, your coach is your guide who holds and reads the compass for you, until you are ready to go solo.

Rather than seeing the improvement map as a tool, my experience shows that most people prefer to use it as a guiding metaphor to stay oriented to the critical work.

Here is a list of important improvement map elements :

  • Understandable assumptions
  • A vision of ‘the destination’
  • Sustained leadership
  • A supporting coalition of stakeholders
  • Identification of problem boundaries and root causes
  • Routes to a solution
  • Recognition of barriers and dynamics
  • Learning-as-we-go outlook
  • Relevant and timely metrics

In your experience, which of these are the most important? What are the benefits of an integrated approach to organizational change?

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About Greg Githens

Thought leader who helps others think strategically, make strategy, and turn vision into action. Coach, advisor, board member, and hands-on leader. Seminar leader and speaker of popular offerings "How to Think Strategically & Apply Business Acumen" and "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)." Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation.
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4 Responses to The “Improvement Map”

  1. Shakeel Akhtar says:

    Greg,

    The “improvement map” is a good analogy for a company to look into the future to understand where the destination is and what hurdles need to be overcome before reaching there.

    The elements you listed out are excellent and I was wondering whether all these elements are critical or some more critical than others. My question is inline with the Map analogy where if you start on a journey then you need to have certain “must to have” and some “nice to have” items.

    • I think that many would argue that leadership is the most critical of the elements, but I think that there is a good case for each of the others. My experience is that they are all “must have” items, but I agree that the definitions of each might be a little slippery and subjective. Hence, the importance of leadership.

      Let me clarify that am using the word “leadership” to mean that capacity that each individual has to show courage and to influence. I don’t necessarily mean the top executives of an organization.

      Of course all of this must be done in the context of a given organization’s culture. Some large established organizations have considerable formal structure, and the concept of removing barriers would probably mean disassembling parts of the bureaucracy. On the other hand, a smaller firm my find that the barriers are lack of knowledge and self discipline; they need to act less impulsively to make improvements.

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