Dealing with conflicting business goals

One of the 1st steps in starting a business driven improvement programme is to elicit the business goals. In the ideal(ized) world of improvement theory, standards and models, these business goals are clear, unambiguous and independent. In this idealized world this often boils down to some variation on faster, better, cheaper and depending on what your background is, you want it in a more predictable way or a more agile way.

Over the years, however, it has become increasingly clear to me that in the real and complex world, improvement programmes inevitably start with conflicting business goals. Examples include:

• we want faster delivery but also ever-higher quality,
• we want creativity and innovative products while being compliant to a growing number of standards,
• we want more reliable plans while expecting an increasing flexibility in dealing with changing priorities, etc.

This is the reality where most business are in.

Rather than trying to avoid this conflict, or do away with it as an anomaly, we need to embrace it. The cause of failure of improvement programmes could well be the lopsided view they have on the business goals. When the focus is on higher predictability, conformance, cost-control, the result is a alienation of the part of the business that actually needs more flexibility, resilience, and entrepreneurship. When the focus is on flexibility, resilience, and entrepreneurship it is the other way around.

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