Quick Wins

Demanding progress is not the same as demanding quick wins. Progress is measurable against a metric. There’s a start, an end, and steps in between, milestones, points on a graph that can point out progress between the start and the end.

Quick wins are not the same. When leadership wants a quick win they generally desire to see things go from the TO DO list to the DONE list. They care little for what it takes to move something to the DONE column, and a great deal about how long it takes to get there… It must be quick.

At a high level and in the simplest of business terms, to “win” is to complete a project or reach a goal. It implies improving the business in some way; like reducing financial or physical risk, saving time or eliminating unnecessary steps in a process (reducing waste), or completing a project that will make more money (introducing a new product or service).

In terms of process improvement what is the real value of the quick win? What are the pros and cons?

PROS

A) “Progress” can be seen and documented. Items are moving from the TO DO column to the DONE column. Modest financial savings usually accompany quick wins and these add up over time.

B) Completing tasks can provide a confidence boost to individual or company morale. Seeing items moving to the DONE column is inspiring and creates momentum toward reaching additional goals.

C) Quick wins are normally not associated with large problems, so the wins are the equivalent of whittling away at a company’s problems. If budgets are too tight to go after large scale wins it’s a good idea to make minor improvements where and when possible.

CONS

A) Continually pushing for quick wins leaves little time to measure or analyze a problem or process thoroughly. In terms of process improvement this may mean the supporting business case for the improvement is a rough estimate and knowing what potential effects the improvement may have on other processes is unknown.

In other words the Return On Investment may be negligible or even negative considering the business plan was vague to begin with. Also, the follow-up reporting will not accurately measure the improvement since a baseline was not established up front.

B) There’s a false sense of importance assigned to quick wins over fixing the larger, more expensive problems.

C) Focusing on quick wins is a short-sighted business plan. Solving small problems only nudges a company forward. It may hurt financially in the short-term to invest in capital projects, but if they solve larger problems the business should see more sizable benefits.

D) Lastly, in my personal experience, pushing for quick wins prevents people from utilizing their entire skill set and arguably creates a frenzied, unfocused work force. If budget cuts occur every year perhaps the business strategy is wrong… Why worry about saving nickels and dimes with the left hand when the right hand is hemorrhaging dollars?

The true benefits of the quick win are modest at best. Other than a brief feeling of euphoria for the accomplishment and relief from knowing the heat is off for another week or month, there’s little value in constantly pushing for quick wins over tightening the company belt and diving in to solve the big problems. 

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