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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Escape the Improvement Trap: Five Ingredients Missing in Most Improvement Recipes by Michael Bremer and Brian McKibben (Productivity Press, CRC Press)

Despite performance improvement initiatives such as Lean, Six Sigma, and Supply-Chain Management, only a handful of companies actually break out of the pack to transform their enterprises. This problem is not unique to today's improvement methodologies; the same issues existed when organizations first adopted TQM, re-engineering, and other popular improvement methodologies. Providing methods and metrics for effecting true change, Escape the Improvement Trap highlights how to avoid common improvement traps that inhibit many organizations from rising above the rest.

Written by two experts who have dedicated their careers to quality improvement, Escape the Improvement Trap separates itself from other improvement books by looking at why most companies rarely achieve anything more than an average level of improvement maturity. Michael Bremer and Brian McKibben identify five critical ingredients required for successful improvement:

  1. A meaningful business value proposition and strategy that drive key improvement actions.
  2. An engaging environment where people can do their best work.
  3. A focus on meaningful metrics while avoiding irrelevant details.
  4. Process improvement efforts that maximize cross-functional process performance and foster deeper process understanding, innovation, and execution of best work practices.
  5. An executive mindset that focuses on customer value, people development, process performance, and business improvement outcomes, not solely on savings.

Bremer and McKibben consider a variety of situations at Independence Enterprise, a fictional company, based on their own real experiences. They elaborate on the principles that should come into play, look at what Independence Enterprise is doing right and wrong, and suggest deployment actions to help readers apply the principles to their own organization. Bremer, who lead the creation of a company-wide improvement initiative for Beatrice Companies, has served as a Senior Engagement Manager for Motorola University and McKibben, a founding partner of the Cumberland Group-Chicago, has held management roles at several manufacturing companies.

Each chapter of Escape the Improvement Trap begins with a situation at the fictional company. The next section within the chapter begins to outline some basic principles for that particular ingredient. The principles are not a recipe, but are intended to push readers thinking about that ingredient. For example, how can they look at this in a more holistic way? Bremer and McKibben then come back to Independence Enterprise to share how that company has begun to deal with some of the issues for this ingredient. Finally, they close each chapter with suggested deployment actions to help readers apply the principles covered in that chapter to their own organizations.

Bremer and McKibben begin the book (Chapters 1 and 2) with a detailed description of why most companies are average in terms of their improvement maturity. Chapter 3 provides a more detailed summary description of the five critical ingredients that are either missing or weakly applied in most business performance-improvement recipes. Entire books have been devoted to each one of the ingredients. They say they tried to stay focused on how each ingredient impacts an organization's level of maturity for performance improvement. Based on their experience, Bremer and McKibben conclude that many organizations do not do these activities well. The five ingredients that go missing or are significantly underutilized in most improvement initiatives include

  • Chapter 4, Customer Value.
  • Chapter 5, Engage People.
  • Chapter 6, Key Metrics.
  • Chapter 7, Process Thinking.
  • Chapter 8, Executive Mindset.

Several different assessment tools are offered. They close Escape the Improvement Trap in Chapter 9 with a more formal assessment instrument and process for looking at how effectively the five missing ingredients are woven into readers improvement activities.

My cynicism of the quality field is based on hundreds of theoretical books on the subject. They seem to serve little purpose other than the authors pontification of what they think they know, or perhaps serve as a platform for the speaking circuit. Mr. Bremer brings an exception to this otherwise commoditized quality industry. He provides a practical, how-to guide for the organizations improvement all the way to the all important bottom line. His concepts, told through the parable of a real life situation, Independence Enterprise, Inc., give it a feel of a modern day The Goal, the epoch bible of efficiency by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Mr. Bremer elaborates on RELATIVE gains whereby one compares oneself to their competitors, industry, and even global economy vs. the all too popular ABSOLUTE measure where one measures oneself against oneself. Finally, an author that gets it the ever elusive it. Donald R. McNeeley, Ph.D., President and COO, Chicago Tube and Iron Company

Escape the Improvement Trap is a must read book for all senior executives seeking to change the culture of their organization and drive it to a level 4 or 5 on the Improvement Maturity Curve. We have all suffered from the difficulty of sustaining improvement, and this book lays the sustaining process in a simple common sense way that is easy to read. Basem Hishmeh, Chairman, Sigma-Netics, Inc.

We are entering into a Reset global economy, where a New Normal has clearly been established, filled with much peril and much opportunity, yet with an uncertain path forward for all. Now along comes a book focused on Improvement that can help you avoid the Trap, and develop a path that avoids peril, takes advantage of opportunity, and drives Twenty First century success. Dan McDonnell, Lean Initiative manager, General Electric Transportation

Escape the Improvement Trap is a practical, how-to guide to performance improvement for senior management. It is easy to read, explains concepts simply and provides concrete examples.

The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems by Tom Devane, Steven Cady, and Peggy Holman (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) is the most comprehensive guide available to methods of organization and community change. It's designed for quick and easy access to information about high leverage change from today's foremost practitioners. This new edition is updated to describe more than 43 additional change methods and includes new chapters on selecting a method, mixing and matching methods, and responsibilities of the people involved, conditions for success, and more. This tremendously expanded second edition--400 pages longer, nearly twice the length of the first edition--will undoubtedly become the definitive resource in this rapidly expanding area.

This book offers practical insights and how to affect systems in positive ways to make them do the things we wish them to do and to mitigate the harm caused by some systems.  Anyone who is interested in social change and personal change at any level will find the practical suggestions for intervention in this book to be positively enlightening.

Simply put I cannot find enough superlatives for the utility of this volume when it comes to explaining the practical steps necessary in systems change. The book is so comprehensive that many of the chapters could actually be books themselves.  What is useful here is that one finds the boiled down essential information in one place.  By offering potpourri of possible strategies group facilitators and therapists do not become overly committed to only a few strategies, but can find new ways to do old things better and with less effort and ways to evaluate old efforts that may have been well-intentioned but the intervention was misdirected. The book is a wonderful reference to the important evolving field of systems analysis and change.  You overlook this volume at your peril.
In 1999, the first edition of The Change Handbook provided a snapshot of a nascent field that broke barriers by engaging "whole systems" of people from organizations and communities in creating their own future. In the last seven years, the field has exploded. In this completely revised and updated second edition, lead authors Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady profile sixty-one change methods--up from eighteen in the first edition. Nineteen of these methods are explored in depth, with case studies, answers to frequently asked questions, and details on the roles and responsibilities of the people involved, conditions for success, and more. This tremendously expanded second edition--400 pages longer, nearly twice the length of the first edition--will undoubtedly become the definitive resource in this rapidly expanding area.

Features descriptions of sixty-one change methods--up from eighteen in the first edition--and new chapters on selecting a method, mixing and matching methods, and sustaining results

Describes every change method's essential concepts and processes and provides advice on when to use each

Including ninety contributors, with many of the originators of the change methods described

Table of Contents

Introduction and Essential Fundamentals

Part I: Navigating Through the Methods
1. The Big Picture: Making Sense of More than Sixty Methods
2. Selecting Methods: The Art of Mastery--Steven Cady
3. Preparing to Mix and Match Methods--Peggy Holman
4. Sustainability of Results--Tom Devane

Part II: The Methods
Adaptable Methods
5. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change--David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney
6. Collaborative Loops--Dick Axelrod and Emily Axelrod
7. Dialogue and Deliberation--Sandy Heierbacher
8. Integrated Clarity: Energizing How We Talk and What We Talk about in Organizations--Marie Miyashiro and Marshall Rosenberg
9. Open Space Technology--Harrison Owen
10. The Technology of Participation (ToP)--Marilyn Oyler and Gordon Harper
11. Whole-Scale Change--Sylvia L. James and Paul Tolchinsky
12. The World Café--Juanita Brown, Ken Homer, and David Isaacs

13. Ancient Wisdom Council--WindEagle and RainbowHawk Kinney-Linton
14. Appreciative Inquiry Summit--James D. Ludema and Frank J. Barrett
15. The Conference Model--Dick Axelrod and Emily Axelrod
16. Consensus Decision Making--Tree Bressen
17. Conversation Café--Vicki Robin
18. Dynamic Facilitation--Jim Rough and DeAnna Martin
19. The Genuine Contact Program--Birgitt Williams
20. Human Systems Dynamics--Glenda H. Eoyang
21. Leadership Dojo--Richard Strozzi-Heckler
22. Evolutions of Open Systems Theory--Merrelyn Emery and Donald de Guerre
23. OpenSpace-Online Real-Time Methodology--Gabriela Ender
24. Organization Workshop--Barry Oshry and Tom Devane
25. PeerSpirit Circling: Creating Change in the Spirit of Cooperation--Sarah MacDougall and Christina Baldwin
26. Power of Imagination Studio: A Further Development of the Future Workshop Concept--Petra Eickhoff and Stephan G. Geffers
27. Real-Time Strategic Change Robert 'Jake" Jacobs
28. SimuReal: Action Learning in Hyperdrive--Catherine Perme and Alan Klein
29. Study Circles--Martha L. McCoy
30. Think Like a Genius: Realizing Human Potential through the Purposeful Play of Metaphorming--Todd Siler
31. Web Lab: Small Group Dialogues on the Internet Commons--Steven N. Pyser, JD, and Marc N. Weiss

Planning Methods
32. Dynamic Planning and the Power of Charrettes--Bill Lennertz
33. Future Search: Common Ground under Complex Conditions--Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff
34. Scenario Thinking--Chris Ertel, Katherine Fulton, and Diana Scearce
35. Search Conference--Merrelyn Emery and Tom Devane

36. Community Summits--Gilbert Steil, Jr., and Mal Watlington
37. Large Group Scenario Planning--Gilbert Steil, Jr., and Michele Gibbons-Carr
38. SOAR: A New Approach to Strategic Planning--Jackie Stavros, David Cooperrider, and D. Lynn Kelley
39. Strategic Forum--Chris Soderquist
40. Strategic Visioning: Bringing Insight to Action--David Sibbet
41. The 21st Century Town Meeting: Engaging Citizens in Governance--Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer and Wendy Jacobson

Structuring Methods
42. Community Weaving--Cheryl Honey
43. Participative Design Workshop--Merrelyn Emery and Tom Devane

44. Collaborative Work Systems Design--Jeremy Tekell, Jon Turner, Cheryl Harris, Michael Beyerlein, and Sarah Bodner
45. The Whole Systems Approach: Using the Entire System to Change and Run the Business--William A. Adams and Cynthia A. Adams

Improving Methods
46. Rapid Results--Patrice Murphy, Celia Kirwan, and Ronald Ashkenas
47. The Six Sigma Approach to Improvement and Organizational Change--Ronald Snee

48. Action Learning--Marcia Hyatt, Ginny Belden-Charles, and Mary Stacey
49. Action Review Cycle (ARC) and the After Action Review (AAR) Meeting--Charles Parry, Mark Pires, and Heidi Sparkes Guber
50. Balanced Scorecard--John Antos
51. Civic Engagement: Restoring Community through Empowering Conversations--Margaret Casarez
52. The Cycle of Resolution: Conversational Competence for Creating and Sustaining Shared Vision--Stewart Levine 53. Employee Engagement Process--Marie McCormick
54. Gemeinsinn-Werkstatt--Project Framework for Community Spirit--Wolfgang Faenderl
55. Idealized Design--Jason Magidson
56. The Practice of Empowerment: Changing Behavior and Developing Talent in Organizations--David Gershon
57. Values Into Action (VIA)--Susan Dupre, Ray Gordezky, Helen Spector, and Christine Valenza
58. WorkOut--Ron Ashkenas and Patrice Murphy

Supportive Methods
59. Online Environments for Supporting Change--Nancy White and Gabriel Shirley
60. Playback Theatre--Sarah Halley and Jonathan Fox
61. Visual Recording and Graphic Facilitation: Helping People See What They Mean--Nancy Margulies and David Sibbet

62. The Drum Café: Building Wholeness, One Beat at a Time--Warren Lieberman
63. JazzLab: The Music of Synergy--Brian Tate
64. The Learning Map Approach--James Haudan and Christy Contardi Stone
65. Visual Explorer--Charles J. Palus and David Magellan Horth

Part III: Thoughts for the Future from the Lead Authors
66. The Emergence of Inspired Organizations and Enlightened Communities--Peggy Holman
67. High-Leverage Ideas and Actions You Can Use to Shape the Future--Tom Devane
68. Hope for the Future: Taking Our Field to the Next Level--Steven Cady

Part IV: Quick Summaries

Part V: References Suggested by Multiple Contributing Authors
About the Lead Authors


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