Common Principles on Which Improvement Framework’s Are Built

Over my years in the performance improvement business, I’ve worked with many frameworks and methodologies.

Improvement frameworks

Improvement Method Memories

Back in the day, it was Total Quality Management (TQM). Then ISO 9000 gained favor. Re-engineering showed up, but didn’t last long when everyone equated it will firing people. Six Sigma, Lean, and Lean Sigma have had some good staying power. These days it’s everything Agile. In the change world, Prosci gets all the buzz.

I always chuckle a bit when fights break out over which framework is best. These fights aren’t so much about how to do the work, but rather the language used to describe the work.

Change Management for restructuring

I understand how someone trained in one of these methods may appreciate the program’s tools and techniques. When I learn something new and useful, I want to put it to use.

People who are certified also have an interest in helping others see the value of that certification. So they evangelize their favored methodology to anyone who will listen.

Maybe I’m getting old (hopefully not jaded), but I’ve seen a lot of programs through the years. I liked most, if not all, of them.

While each had a slightly different focus and significant differences in the language used, I noticed a lot of similarities among all of the programs. You can find them by examining the principles on which the frameworks are built.

Now whenever a new and cool improvement methodology hits the bookshelves, I check to see whether it adds to or changes the principles I’ve come to rely on when working to improve my clients’ businesses.

Most of the time they don’t, but instead reinforce the principles I learned in the frameworks that came before them.

8 Improvement Principles

I can think of at least eight that most improvement frameworks have in common. Perhaps you can think of others.

Focus on the customer

Whether external or internal, you are doing something that should make life better for your customer. Add enough value, and they will continue to rely on you. Miss the mark, and they will seek what they need elsewhere.

Voice of the customer, user stories, journey mapping, user-centered design, personas, focus groups, and surveys are some of the techniques associated with this principle.

Involve employees in changes that affect them

Employees have opinions about the way things ought to be, especially when it directly affects what they do or how they do it. They do the work every day, and during their time on the job have learned a lot. Whatever change you are thinking about, they’ll likely have to implement it.

Here’s a simple idea to keep in mind: People don’t mind making changes in their lives. They just don’t like being changed by someone else. Work together so it can be everyone’s change.

Collect data and analyze it before acting

Some of us fancy ourselves to be gut-level leaders with terrific instincts. Maybe that’s true, but for the rest of us, our decision-making gets much better when we use data to make our decisions. Checking the facts is the perfect way to overcome assumptions that could seriously derail you.

These days there are powerful data analysis tools that can help you make sense of the world, and if that world is just a little too complex, we now have data scientists who live to help make it more understandable.

Measure results and make adjustments

The improvement never stops with the action you took. You need to answer the questions, “What effect did the action have” and “Are there adjustments we need to make?”

Dashboards, retrospectives, after-action reports, and surveys are just a few of the tools used to fulfill this principle.

Document processes

Even when one person is responsible for a process, a simple checklist can be handy to ensure that a critical step is not forgotten. If you’ve ever loosely followed a recipe, you know how easy it is to skip something.

When multiple people are doing the same thing, and you’d like them to be doing it the same way, it’s essential that those steps are written down.

Eliminate activity that doesn’t add value

There are at least three reasons people do things they no longer need to do:

  1. Tradition: I do it because my predecessor did it, and their predecessor did as well. Nobody ever stopped to ask, “is this necessary?”
  2. Assumptions: We think someone expected something of us, but never confirmed. Perhaps that person didn’t want to tell you that your effort was wasted, so the assumption goes unchecked.
  3. Preference: We do things we enjoy doing…which is all good and fine in our personal lives, but at work someone is paying for that activity and one needs to make sure they are getting something of value for their money.

Keep improving

This principle is at the heart of the matter. It’s why all these programs exist in the first place. Make things better. Sometimes the goal is transformational change. At other times it’s about incremental improvement.

I really like the idea of a minimal viable product. It’s good enough to add some value for some people. So put it out there, learn from the people using it, and keep making it better.


People need to know what’s going on. Problems need to be raised. Conflicts need to be worked through. Expectations need to be established. People need feedback on the work they’ve done.

All of this happens through communication, both interpersonal and organizational. It should be clear, timely, and effective.

Focus on the Principles

While I’ll do my best to stay on top of the latest and greatest, learning the key concepts and knowing the jargon; I plan on remaining methodology agnostic and instead focus on these principles throughout a project.

If you need my help and want to know if I’m familiar with a framework, the answer is yes. With Google’s assistance, I’ll know the language before our first meeting. And then we’ll apply the principles that actually matter.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.