Dr W. Edwards Deming was adamant the people have a right to enjoy their work. They have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Point 8 of his 14 points: Drive out fear.
Whether you are a school leader, classroom teacher, support staff member or student, you have a right to a fear free school. Easier said than done.
Systems and processes can create fear
The systems and processes in many organisation increase fear and anxiety. These include:
Blaming and punishing individuals for deficiencies in the system
Leaving people out of decision-making
Criticising people in front of others
Failing to give people access to the information or resources needed to do a job well
Ignoring suggestions or treating them as criticism
Offering critical feedback on performance without a simultaneous, genuine offer of support
Requiring people to undertake tasks that are unlikely to be completed successfully.
Fear has a way of creeping into organisations, even those that seek to expunge it. Vigilance and effort are required.
Our challenge is to create schools and classrooms where people feel safe and secure. This is not to suggest creating an environment free from responsibility or accountability, rather an environment of respect, dignity and professionalism.
You can begin by asking your staff (if you are a school leader) or your students (if you are a teacher) what causes them to feel anxious or fearful in your school / class? Then work with them to remove these barriers to joy in work and learning.
What systems and processes in your workplace give rise to fear?
How do these get in the way of your ability to do a good job?
What practices do you participate in that could promote fear in others?
During the first half of the last century, Joseph Juran undertook studies at Western Electric to examine production defects and nonconformities. Who was to blame for these defects and nonconformities?
He analysed the causes over a defined period of time. Each of the causes were categorised as “management-controllable” or “worker-controllable”. Worker-controllable defects and nonconformities resulted directly from the actions of the worker. Had the worker been doing his job properly these defects and nonconformities would have been prevented. Anything outside the control of the worker was categorised as management-controllable. This included factors such as inadequate training, poor machine maintenance, sub-standard materials, and equipment deficiencies. In other words, anything that is outside the control of the worker is caused by other factors within the system (or the containing systems), which is the domain of management, not the worker.
Don’t blame people; improve the system
Juran’s research led to the often quoted 85/15 rule:
Wherever there is a problem, 85% of the time it will be the system and not the fault of an individual.
In order to bring about improvement, this finding requires us to turn our attention to the system, rather than focus upon individuals.
In social systems, such as schools and classrooms, behaviour and performance are dominated by the impact of structural factors rather than the actions of individuals working within the system.
Peter Senge observed that:
When placed in the same system, people, however different, tend to produce similar results.
Peter Senge, 1990, The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, Crown, New York, p. 42.
Working on the system
In most schools, the distribution of student performance from one year to the next remains fairly constant. Students in any chosen year level tend to perform similarly to the students that went before them. Teachers’ mark books from year to year look remarkably similar, only the names are different. This is an excellent example of the system producing the results, not the people.
In order to improve performance, we must understand the nature of the systems in which we operate and focus our efforts on working on the system to improve it.
Exhortations, rewards, blame and punishments do nothing to improve the system.They upset people, interfere with relationships and make things worse.
A colleague of ours, Lynne Macdonald, observed:
In schools, parents blame teachers for their children not learning; teachers blame parents; students blame teachers; teachers blame students; principals blame teachers. Where does it get us? Nowhere. So we have to eliminate this blame game.
Lynne Macdonald, retired principal, Plenty Parklands Primary School, Victoria, QLA Case Study 3 DVD.
Most organisations’ problems derive from the system, not the people. Our best efforts cannot compensate for a dysfunctional system.
Joseph Juran, a highly influential American quality specialist, defined the term “breakthrough” (which was very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s) as “an improvement to unprecedented levels of performance”. He pointed out:
All breakthrough is achieved project by project, and in no other way.
Joseph Juran, 1988, Juran’s Quality Control Handbook, fourth edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 22.
To achieve significant improvements in capability and performance, in line with the priorities in a school plan, improvement projects are needed.
Improvement plans need to be broken down into finite, definable projects that can be managed over the life of a plan.
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to meet specific goals and objectives with a defined beginning and end.
Projects and processes
Projects contrast strongly with daily routines. Daily routines involve the ongoing enactment of an organisation’s processes.
Projects are temporary endeavours to improve an organisation’s processes, to create new products, services or processes, or to build infrastructure.
In short, working in the system is accomplished by process; working on the system is accomplished by project.
Project teams, not committees
This presents a challenge for schools, which are accustomed to establishing committees rather than project teams.
Committees are a common feature of schools. They usually carry responsibilities associated with management and improvement in specific areas of school endeavour but are problematic in that they have an ongoing role and can easily be distracted from improvement efforts.
Project teams are formed for specific, defined timeframes and purposes. Guided by a precise purpose and structured processes, such as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, project teams usually realise greater success. They stay focused and can maintain the energy necessary to see through the improvement, due to a tight, defined timeframe and an effective progress reporting approach.
Our study of schools, in Australia at least, reveals that schools in general, have neither well-developed project management methodologies, nor the management structures and disciplines to execute their improvement plans in this manner. This is a significant capability gap. Until these structures and disciplines are more strongly established, school improvement efforts are likely to continue providing disappointing results.This is not a criticism of schools or those that work within them, rather it is an observation of a systemic failure, which needs to be addressed by senior administrators and policy makers.
In this post, we seek to clarify the concepts of accountability, responsibility and authority. These terms have specific meanings; the concepts are frequently confused. Lack of clarity can result in micro-management.
In the next post, we will explore challenges related to making school leaders accountable for school performance.
Let’s begin with a definition.
Accountability: the collection of outcomes that an individual is charged to produce and for which the individual can be held to account
Most individuals in organisations are charged with achieving certain outcomes, their accountabilities.
The outcomes for which an individual is held to account are usually determined through a process of negotiation. The head of a government agency negotiates with their respective government Minister. A chief executive negotiates with their Board. A principal negotiates with the district superintendent, or equivalent.
Outcomes are monitored and reported
Once agreed, progress towards the agreed outcomes is monitored and reported. The most senior people in organisations are held to account for the outcomes achieved by their organisation. This does not mean they are expected to achieve these outcomes on their own; they must work with others in the organisation to achieve their accountabilities.
Cannot be delegated
In a corporate context, a chief executive can negotiate with the chief financial officer, for example, the range of outcomes for which the chief financial officer agrees to be held to account. This is likely to include an accountability that the financial accounts are kept in accordance with relevant laws and accounting standards. The chief executive officer is not absolved from her accountability to ensure that the organisation complies with all relevant laws. The most senior executives remain accountable for the organisation’s performance. This is true even when failure to meet agreed outcomes is the result of someone further down the organisation failing to meet their accountabilities.
In a school context, principals are frequently held to account for student learning outcomes. This accountability is negotiated with their line manager and cannot be delegated. The principal must work with teaching staff to achieve this accountability.
In practice, the negotiation of accountabilities is frequently lost to the history of an organisation. The accountabilities associated with particular roles in the organisation were negotiated long ago and are now accepted as part of that job description. Under these circumstances, there is no fresh negotiation with a new incumbent for a position, rather, the accountabilities are accepted with the job.
Can be accepted
Achievement of outcomes, and thus achievement of accountabilities, is contingent upon the quality of the organisation’s systems and process, as was described in detail in chapter three of our book Improving Learning. The senior executive of the organisation is thus accountable for the performance of all the organisation’s key systems and processes. To manage this accountability in a practical manner, she negotiates for others to accept accountability for specific organisational processes. For example, a principal may negotiate with a deputy for the deputy to accept accountability for the student discipline and welfare processes. Similarly, the school leaders negotiate with classroom teachers the outcomes for which the teachers will be held accountable.
Accountability defines who is to be held to account for the achievement of outcomes.
Accountabilities are achieved through meeting responsibilities.
Responsibility: the work activities and outputs an individual is charged to complete.
The outcomes for which an organisation strives are achieved through enacting processes. Individuals within the organisation complete their work activities, which, in turn, link together as the organisation’s processes. These processes may be documented as deployment flowcharts that make explicit the responsibilities of those charged with enacting the process steps.
Can be delegated
Responsibilities can be delegated. The principal may, for example, ask the deputy principal to run a staff meeting. A teacher may ask an aide to prepare learning materials. The office manager may delegate responsibility for stationery supplies to an assistant.
When a responsibility is delegated, the accountability for the outcome is not.
Distinct from accountability
At senior levels of an organisation, accountabilities and responsibilities may be significantly different. Senior executives remain accountable for many things upon which they take no action on a day-to-day basis. A school principal remains accountable for the safety and wellbeing of all students in the school, yet has little day-to-day responsibility for sickbay, for example.
At more junior levels, the division between accountabilities and responsibilities becomes less distinct. A classroom teacher is typically responsible for the learning and teaching programs of her classes; the teacher is also accountable for the outcomes of those programs.
Responsibility defines who will undertake specific processes and actions.
Documenting Accountability and Responsibility
A Process Accountability Matrix may be used to document agreements regarding accountabilities and responsibilities. Key processes are listed in the rows of the matrix and roles identified in the columns. Within each cell of the matrix, the role may be listed as:
Accountable for outcomes of the process.
Responsible for performing actions within the process.
Consulted or informed during execution of the process.
A Process Accountability Matrix can be used to ensure there are no gaps or overlaps in accountability, i.e. each process has one and only one role Accountable for the process. The matrix can also identify roles that have little or too much responsibility and accountability.
Any discussion of accountability and responsibility is incomplete if it does not also discuss authority.
Authority: the delegated right to make decisions
It is important to be clear who is accountable for outcomes and who is responsible for actions. It is equally important to ensure that appropriate authority is delegated; who is authorised to make decisions?
Governments define the structures by which decisions will be made and disputes settled. These delegations are detailed in legislation and regulations. Law enforcement agencies, such as the police, are established to enforce the determinations. Courts are also established to adjudicate disputes.
Governments also delegate specific rights to manage and regulate public institutions, including schools. These rights can be delegated to government agencies, and they can also be delegated to non-government agencies such as religious authorities. These agencies and authorities, in turn, delegate specific rights to officials, including school leaders. Through this process of delegation, school leaders have rights to make defined determinations for the school. The specific rights delegated to school leaders vary by jurisdiction. In some cases, school leaders have the right to hire and fire; some have the authority to manage the whole-of-school budget. In other cases, the school principal has significantly less authority.
Authority can be delegated.
Supports responsibility and accountability
Responsibility must be accompanied by authority to make decisions and take action. The school principal can authorise the bursar or business manager to keep financial records and to pay accounts, which is consistent with the bursar’s responsibilities. The office manager may have the responsibility and authority to enrol students. Teachers have the authority and responsibility to report on students’ progress.
Similarly, the negotiation and acceptance of accountability needs to be accompanied by the agreement to delegate the necessary authority to meet those accountabilities. For example, if a deputy principal accepts the accountability of ensuring that school programs comply with the requirements of a national curriculum, they will also need the authority to establish school policies and procedures to ensure this accountability is met.
Where authority is not aligned with accountabilities and responsibilities there will be frustration and wasted effort.
Where there is a failure to clearly delegate authority, organisations can become paralysed. If an officer is unsure if they have the authority to make a decision, they will push the decision ‘up the line’. This results in delays and frustration. It also frequently results in more senior leaders’ time being taken up with decisions that could and should have been made at more appropriate levels in the organisation.
Micro-management is a failure to effectively delegate authority.
As is the case with accountabilities and responsibilities, the establishment of delegated authorities is also frequently lost to the history of the organisation, and simply accepted as inherent in the job description.
Authority defines who has the right to make decisions.
The work of every organisation is accomplished through processes.
Process: a sequence of actions that are enacted to achieve a purpose.
A process consists of actions that are completed in sequence. The sequence of actions comprising a process can be documented, as illustrated in Figure 1.
The actions are activities or tasks: things that are done by people, computers and machines.
Getting up in the morning and going to school is a process. It includes actions such as waking up, having breakfast, taking a shower, getting dressed, packing a school bag, and walking to school. These actions are completed in sequence.
A process is, then, a way of doing something: a method.
Key Characteristics of Processes
Processes are means by which the work of an organisation is accomplished. Nothing is achieved without taking action. A sequence of actions is enacted in order to meet some purpose.
Consciously designed… or not
Processes may by consciously designed, defined and documented, or they may be informal and made as needed. Either way, a sequence of actions comprises the process.
Regularly repeated… or not
Most processes in everyday life tend to be repeated on a regular basis.
Processes are usually repeated, in sequence, time after time.
Schools routinely report to parents in a formal manner twice per year, for example. Home learning (homework) process cycles around most days after school. The morning process, such as illustrated in Figure 2, occurs every school day.
A few processes may occur only once. A special centenary celebration of a school’s birthday will come around only once. Even so, the preparation, implementation and evaluation of the celebration still comprise a process: it has a sequence of actions that are enacted for a purpose.
Processes are central to improvement
Processes create outputs and deliver outcomes.
If we wish to improve an outcome, we must turn our attention to improving the processes that produced the outcome.
It is important to work on the process that produced the fault, not on him that delivered it.
Edwards Deming, 1994, The New Economics: For industry, government and education, MIT, Massachusetts, p. 39.
This leads to a change of questioning when things don’t go as desired. Instead of asking “whose fault is this?” we can ask “how did our systems and processes allow this to happen?”
If things aren’t going well, fix the process not the blame.
There are many types of systems. Social, mechanical, biological, and ecological systems are examples. This post explores the key features of social systems and their implications for leaders of organisations of all types.
Let’s start with a definition.
A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.
Edwards Deming, 1994, The New Economics: For industry, government and education, MIT, Massachusetts, p. 5
A key feature of systems is interdependence among the elements comprising the system. Another key feature is that systems can nest and be contained within other systems.
To illustrate, the human body is a system of interdependent components. Within the containing system of the human body there are systems such as the nervous, respiratory and circulatory systems. These systems are clearly interdependent.
Social systems are a specific type of system that exhibit four unique characteristics:
A social system can choose its purpose.
A social system can choose the methods by which it will seek to achieve its purpose.
Elements within a social system can also choose their purpose.
Elements within a social system can choose the methods by which they seek to achieve their purpose.
These characteristics explain why organisations are such dynamic and complex systems to manage and lead.
Consider a school, for example. A school is a social system. Within the context of the local education system and its community, a school chooses both its purpose and how it proposes to achieve its purpose. Figure 2 shows the purpose statement for Wanniassa Hills Primary School in the ACT. The school consulted extensively with parents, students and staff over the past few months to discover and document this purpose statement.
Within a school, the various faculties and teams also choose their purposes and methods to achieve them. For the school to optimise its efforts, the aims and methods of the individuals and teams need to align to those of the school as a whole.
Many teachers and school leaders can share stories of individuals and groups within a school not being aligned with the aspirations of the school community as a whole. It can be very frustrating for everyone.
Similarly a class is a social system. The class can choose its purpose, like that shown in Figure 3. The class can also choose how it will seek to fulfil its purpose. Within a class, individual students and groups of students choose their purpose and how they wish to go about it. This is evident from moment to moment as students may choose to ‘tune in’ or engage in disruptive behaviour.
The system as a whole chooses purpose and methods, as do elements within the system.To optimise the efforts of a school, the purpose and methods of the individuals and groups within the school need to align to that of the school as a whole. The same applies to classrooms.
A key reason organisations are such dynamic and complex entities is the impact of interactions among the elements. The interactions among members of a class and the interactions among teachers and groups of teachers are two examples of these interaction effects.
As the number of people in an organisation increases, the number of potential interactions increases exponentially. In fact, the impact of interaction effects becomes way more dominant than the impact of individuals within the organisation.
The interactions among individuals and groups can be positive and add to the performance of the whole. They can also be negative and detract from performance.
Interactions can lead to harmony, and they can lead to discord.
This is self evident to most teachers and school leaders who have worked in a variety of schools, from those with a tired and cynical culture to the vibrant and collaborative team.
Interaction may reinforce efforts, or it may nullify efforts.
Edwards Deming, 2012, The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality, edited by Joyce Orsini, McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 78.
Interactions dominate the behaviour and performance of social systems. Consequently, the behaviour and performance of a classroom, workgroup or organisation is much more heavily influenced by the interaction among people than by the direct impact of each individual. This is why creating a school climate that promotes caring and productive relationships is so important.
Schools are complex, dynamic and highly relational social systems. The interdependence among the individuals and groups within schools and the interactions among them, are key determinants of the culture, behaviour and performance of the school. The same applies to classrooms.
It is incumbent on leaders, therefore, to ensure that system and processes promote positive interactions with purposeful and harmonious relationships.
In 1993, Myron Tribus proclaimed: The job of the manager has changed.
People work in a system. The job of a manager is to work on the system, to improve it, continuously, with their help. Myron Tribus, 1993, “Quality Management in Education”, Journal for Quality and Participation, Jan–Feb, p. 5. Available at http://www.qla.com.au/Papers/5.
What did Tribus mean?
Firstly, we need to understand what he meant by system. Dr Deming defined a system to be:
A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. Edwards Deming, 1994, The New Economics: For industry, government and education, MIT, Massachusetts, p. 50.
Because Tribus is referring to managers, we understand him to be speaking of organisations. Organisations are systems comprising interdependent components working together towards some aim. A school is a system. A classroom is a system. A school district or region is a system.
A way of thinking about systems, in this context, is to think about how all the elements work together, as a whole, to get things done. How do school policies, procedures, facilities, committees, teams, classrooms, parents, leaders, teachers and students, for example, all work together to achieve the purpose and vision for the school?
Secondly, we need to understand whom Tribus is referring to in saying the job of the manager has changed.
Management is the ability to organise resources and coordinate the execution of tasks necessary to reach a goal in a timely and cost effective manner. Kovacs and King, 2015, Improving Learning: A how-to guide for school improvement, QLA, Canberra, p387
Managers therefore are those seeking to reach goals, by working with tasks, resources, systems and processes. Under this definition, it’s hard to identify individuals who are not managers. Everybody in a school is organising resources and coordinating tasks to achieve goals, even students! For this conversation, however, let us limit our discussion to adults. Principals, teachers and support staff are all working with their colleagues and students to achieve the goals of the school and classroom.
Working in and on
Thirdly, Tribus makes the distinction between working in the system and working on the system.
Working in the system is doing the daily work of the system.
For a teacher, this usually means managing the daily routines of learning and teaching in the classroom: planning, programming, instruction, assessment, reporting and so on. For school leaders this includes: meeting with parents, providing support to school staff, attending meetings, managing the budget, responding to emails and phone calls, and so on. This is all the daily work – working in the system.
Working on the system is improvement work.
Working on the system comprises two types of activities: improvement projects and innovation projects. Both involve making changes to the existing system.
Improvement projects focus on making the existing system more efficient and/or effective.
This is achieved by improving how the elements of the system work together, usually by making changes to the processes and methods by which the work is done. Refining the enrolment or reporting process in a school would be examples of improvement projects. Improvement projects build on existing approaches to make the existing system work better.
Innovation projects are about creation of new systems, processes, products and services by the organisation.
In a school context, innovation projects are about new technologies, new programs and system reforms. Replacing parent-teacher interviews with student-led conferences would be an example of an innovation project. Innovation projects are about new approaches that prepare or position the organisation for the future.
Given this, Tribus is telling us that all mangers within an organisation have an obligation to contribute to improvement efforts. But there is a subtle twist in the last three words of his proclamation: with their help.
…with their help
Finally, Tribus is explicit that managers should not unilaterally impose changes upon those working in the system. All managers need to be involved in projects that work on the system, but these projects need to engage those working within the system. After all, it is those doing the daily work of the system that know most about how it is done and could be improved.
Students know best the barriers to their learning; teachers know best what gets in the way of their teaching.
Within a school context, Tribus is saying that all adults need to be engaged working on the system to bring about improvement. They need to be participating in improvement and innovation projects, as project leaders in their own areas or team members with others’ projects. Students also need play an active role, contributing to improving their school and classroom.
Continual improvement is derived, in large measure, from the efforts of individuals and teams working together to bring about improvement. For example, many schools have introduced professional learning teams (PLTs). PLTs usually involve teams of teachers working together on agreed improvement projects aimed at improving classroom learning and teaching practice.
Sadly, ‘how’ we work on these improvement efforts is frequently left to chance. The result is valuable time and effort wasted as sub-optimal solutions are derived. So how can we make the most of these rich opportunities to improve?
The answer lies in applying a scientific approach to our improvement efforts – a structured learning and improvement process. Many know this as action learning or action research. We call it PDSA: the Plan-Do-Study-Act improvement cycle.
The history of PDSA
The PDSA cycle is attributed to the work of Walter Shewhart, a statistician working with the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York during the 1930s (although it can be traced back further to John Dewey’s profound writings on education in the 1800’s).
Shewhart was the first to conceptualise the three steps of manufacturing — specification, production, and inspection – as a circle, rather than a straight line. He observed that when seeking to control or improve quality, there must be reflection upon the outcomes achieved (inspection) and adjustments made to the specifications and production process.
He proposed the move from this:
You may notice similarities with the traditional teaching methods of plan, teach, and assess.
In recent times there has been a focus in schools on “assessment for learning” (in contrast to “assessment of learning”). It parallels Shewhart’s observation of the need to close the loop in manufacturing.
Shewhart went on to identify the three steps of manufacturing as corresponding to the three steps of the dynamic scientific process of acquiring knowledge: making a hypothesis (or theory), carrying out an experiment, and testing the hypothesis (see Figure 4).
Source: Adapted from Walter Shewhart, 1986, Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control, Dover, New York, p. 45.
With these thoughts, Shewhart planted the seeds for W. Edwards Deming to develop the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which was published as the Shewhart cycle in 1982. Deming taught the Shewhart cycle to the Japanese from 1950 who picked it up and renamed it the Deming Cycle.
The PDSA Cycle
Deming published the cycle in The New Economics in 1993, as the Plan–Do–Study–Act (PDSA) cycle. He changed “check” to “study” in order to more accurately describe the action taken during this step. PDSA is the name by which the cycle has become widely known in recent times. (Figure 5.)
Source: W. Edwards Deming, 1993, The New Economics: For industry, government, education, MIT, Cambridge.
The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle is a structured process for improvement based on a cycle of theory, prediction, observation, and reflection.
There are, of course, many variants of the improvement process, with many and varied names. In overview, the concepts are the same.
There is a strong tendency for people to want to race through the “plan” stage and get straight into the “do” stage. Schools in particular find it difficult to make time for the reflective step of “study”. Many individuals and teams just want to get into the action and be seen to be making changes, rather than reflecting on whether the change has been an improvement, or just a change.
A detailed and structured process
Where an improvement opportunity is of a significantly complex nature, a comprehensive application of the PDSA process is necessary.
Our work in industry, government and education over the past two decades has shown the nine step PDSA process, illustrated in Figure 6, to be particularly effective. This nine step process has been compared with dozens of alternate models of PDSA and refined over the past two decades.
In developing such a process, there is a balance to be struck between the technical considerations of having a robust process that will deal with diverse contexts and issues, and the simplicity that makes the improvement process accessible and practical for busy people. Over the years, we have continually sought to simplify the model to make it more accessible. For nearly a decade, the nine steps have remained constant, but the specific actions and tools comprising each step have been progressively refined.
The process has beed designed to ensure it meets the criteria necessary to achieve sustainable improvement, namely:
Be clear about mutually agreed purpose
Establish a shared vision of excellence
Focus upon improving systems, processes and methods (rather than blaming individuals or just doing things)
Identify the root causes of dissatisfaction, not the symptoms
Carefully consider the systemic factors driving and restraining improvement, including interaction effects within the system and with containing systems
Identify strengths to build upon as well as deficiencies to be addressed
Identify the clients of the improvement efforts and understand their needs and expectations
Achieve a balance in addressing the competing, and sometimes contradictory, needs and expectations of stakeholders in improvement efforts
Be clear about the theory for improvement, and use this to predict outcomes
Reflect on the outcomes of improvement efforts, in the context of the selected theory for improvement, in order to refine the theory for improvement
Use operational definitions to ensure clarity of understanding and measurement
Not copy others’ practices without adequate reflection about their proper implementation in a new context — adapt not adopt.
These requirements have been reflected in the nine step PDSA improvement process shown in Figure 6.
To provide clear guidance, we have developed a comprehensive PDSA chart (Figure 7). The PDSA improvement process is framed as a series of questions to be answered by the improvement team (or individual). These questions address the considerations necessary to achieve sustainable improvement as detailed above. The process also refers the user to specific quality learning tools that can be used to address the questions, promoting collaboration and evidence-based decision-making.
This is not a perfect process for improvement — there is no such thing. It is a process for improvement that can be adapted (not adopted), applied, studied, and improved. It can be used as a starting point for others, like you, who may wish to create a process of their own.
There are enormous benefits to applying a standard improvement process: an agreed improvement process that everybody follows. This can be standard across the school or whole district. Everyone can use the same approach, from students to superintendent. The benefits, apart from maximising the return on effort, time and resources, include having a common and widely used model, language, set of concepts, and agreed tools. It also establishes an agreed process that can itself be reviewed and improved, with the contribution of everybody in the organisation.
The assessment dimensions of Approach-Deployment-Results-Improvement (ADRI) can be very helpful for self-assessment. ADRI provides a structure under which the activities and results of an organisation can be broken down to identify, quite specifically, where the strengths and opportunities for improvement may lie.
ADRI provides a structured approach to organisational self-assessment. The ADRI dimensions help you to analyse how your organisation goes about: thinking and planning (Approach); implementing and doing (Deployment); monitoring and evaluating (Results); and reviewing and improving (Improvement).
It is a feature of the Australian Business Excellence framework and underpins many other performance excellence frameworks around the world.
Source: Adapted by QLA from the Australian Business Excellence Framework, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards Criteria and the European Foundation for Quality Management Excellence Model.
The ADRI assessment dimensions
Approach relates to the thinking and planning behind the area of endeavour – how it has been designed.
Considering an Approach leads to an examination of:
clarity of purpose
clients, key stakeholders and their respective needs
desired outcomes – the vision of excellence
design of strategies, structures and processes to meet the desired outcomes
identification of measures of success.
In most organisations the senior leaders, sometimes with the support of content specialists, determine the approach.
For example, senior leaders of a school, frequently with the help of a specialist curriculum committee, usually lead the approach to curriculum. It is the responsibility of these leaders to identify and make clear the purpose of curriculum in the school, the desired curriculum outcomes for the school, and to understand the needs of key stakeholders (including teachers, families and curriculum regulatory bodies). Armed with this understanding, the structures and processes (including documentation) necessary to meet the intentions of the school can be designed. It is during the design stage that the measures of success are also determined from the desired outcomes (the vision of excellence): what data will be used to monitor progress over time? Senior leaders do the thinking and planning – the design.
Deployment relates to implementing and doing – how the design is put into effect.
Considering Deployment leads to an examination of:
the degree to which the designed strategies, structures and processes have been implemented across the organisation and down through the organisation
the extent to which staff understand and have embraced the organisation’s approach
how well the strategies, structures and processes have been integrated into the day-to-day operation of the organisation.
Those doing the daily work know most about how the daily work is done. Those that are expected to implement an organisation’s approach know most about it has been deployed. The school curriculum committee may have designed an excellent approach, but it is up to each classroom teacher to implement it. If classroom teachers are not adhering to the agreed school curriculum approach, it has not been deployed well.
Results relates to monitoring and evaluating – how success is gauged.
Considering the Results dimension leads to an examination of:
how performance is monitored
how the data relating to the measures of success (determined as part of the Approach) are collected, collated and reported
the degree to which trends of improvement are evident in these data.
Monitoring and evaluating is a management responsibility. School leaders are responsible for monitoring and evaluating the data used as measures of success for their approach to curriculum. Unless these data are collected, collated and reported, the effectiveness of the approach and its deployment will be unknown.
Improvement relates to the processes of reviewing and improving the approach and its deployment.
Considering the Improvement dimension leads to an examination of:
the process by which the appropriateness and effectiveness of the approach and its deployment are reviewed
how these reviews have led to improvement
how the lessons learned are captured and shared.
Improvement is a management responsibility. Continuing the school curriculum example, a school’s senior leaders are expected to regularly review and refine the school’s curriculum. This assessment dimension examines the process by which that is undertaken, the improvements that have resulted and how these improvements are documented and shared with staff and other key stakeholders.
Why ADRI is useful
The assessment dimensions are useful for two purposes: diagnosis and design.
When something is not working well in an organisation, ADRI provides a lens for examining activities and results to determine why it isn’t working and then to determine what to do about it.
When things aren’t going well, it could be because:
the Approach is weak
the Deployment is poor.
If the approach is weak, attention must be paid to reviewing and improving the design. Deploying a poor approach will not deliver good results.
A sound approach, poorly deployed, will not deliver good results either. If the approach is well thought through but is not being applied, then attention needs to be paid to ensuring people know about and implement the agreed approach.
Note that these two causes – a weak approach and poor deployment – have the same effect: disappointing results. Yet the actions required to address the disappointing results are quite different. ADRI can assist in determining which cause is more significant.
For example, a school may identify parent dissatisfaction with student reports. Firstly, knowledge of ADRI would lead the school leadership team to seek clarity and reflect upon the school’s design for assessment and reporting. Which assessments are to be undertaken? What is the schedule? What is the agreed process for reporting? Is the approach appropriate? These are questions regarding the approach. Secondly, they would explore the extent to which the approach is being applied in practice. Do staff understand and follow the agreed procedures? Are timelines being met? These are questions regarding deployment. Actions required to address parent dissatisfaction will be quite different depending where the opportunities for improvement lie: in the approach, or more to do with deployment.
ADRI is also useful when designing organisation’s systems, structures and processes. In thinking about how to pursue any area of endeavour, ADRI provides useful guidance to ensure key considerations are not overlooked. If you look back over the considerations associated with each of the dimensions, you can easily identify key questions to be answered when determining how to design processes that will achieve an organisation’s goals. These questions could include:
Have we clearly articulated our purpose, desired outcomes and a vision of excellence?
What are the needs of our clients and key stakeholders?
What strategies, structures and processes are required to achieve our aspirations?
What data do we need to measure effectiveness and track progress over time? How will these data be collected, collated and regularly reported?
How will we document, train and coach people to adopt the new approach?
How will we monitor the acceptance and application of the new approach?
How will ongoing performance data be monitored and evaluated?
What is the cycle of review and improvement for this approach and its deployment?
How to use ADRI
The assessment dimensions of ADRI can be used in many ways. Typically, they are used as:
a checklist for reflecting upon the activities and results of an organisation
a framework for describing the activities and results of an organisation
an assessment model to evaluate the activities and results of an organisation.
ADRI is commonly used as a checklist to think about what is happening in an organisation. For example, thinking about whether observed difficulties are due to a deficient approach or poor deployment is a common application.
ADRI can provide a structure for describing how an organisation goes about its business. This use of ADRI is common in performance excellence awards processes such as those based on the Australian Business Excellence Awards, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards in the USA, and those of the European Foundation for Quality Management. Organisations describe explicitly how they go about each assessment dimension for each area of endeavour. The areas described are usually the categories or items of these specific frameworks (for example, Leadership, Strategy and Planning, Customers and Other Stakeholders). The use of ADRI in this way is applicable to any area of organisational activity.
A school (or district) could use ADRI as a structure to describe any program, initiative, project or other area of endeavour. For example; a district could document its thinking and planning (approach) to community engagement, how that has been implemented across the district (deployment), how data demonstrate effectiveness in community engagement (results), and the process by which the district reviews and improves community engagement (improvement). The act of documenting the activities and results in this structure usually leads to the identification of strengths and areas of opportunity for improvement.
ADRI can also be used to evaluate or rate the organisation’s activities and results. The figureabove, ADRI Review Process Poster for Self-assessment, which you can download free of charge from our website, provides a structure for such an evaluation. Each of the four dimensions, ADRI, is evaluated and given a rating, which leads to identification of strengths and opportunities for improvement.
How does ADRI relate to PDSA?
The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, provides a step-by-step process to bring about improvement over time. ADRI provides specific dimensions to reflect upon the activities and results of an organisation at a specific point in time.
Both PDSA and ADRI are based on the learning and improvement cycle, also known as scientific method and action research. PDSA provides a method for realising improvement. ADRI provides a structure for identifying where improvement may be required.
At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, “What do we want to create?” Peter Senge, 1990, The Fifth Discipline, p206.
A shared vision is a mutual agreement as to the desired future state key stakeholders are working together to create. It helps to align effort, optimise contribution, and to maximise organisational performance and improvement.
Many organisation improvement models recognise the importance of establishing a shared vision. The National School Improvement Tool (ACER 2012) describes the need for; ‘an explicit improvement agenda’. The Australia Business Excellence Framework (SAI Global 2011) defines an excellent organisation as one that; ‘defines its purpose, vision and values for organisational success and ensures it is understood and applied across the organisation’.
How to create shared vision
So, if stakeholder commitment to a shared vision of excellence is critical to organisational wellbeing, how do we make it happen?
Christie Downs Primary School in South Australia has done so – to great effect! The school, of 270 students, includes 90 learners with special needs supported by an integrated Disability Unit. The current school was established four years ago through the merging of two sites, an existing primary and special school. Two different cultures and organisations needed to come together to work as one. The school engaged key stakeholders in creating a shared school vision. The vision would also inform the new school’s four-year strategic plan.
Every student and staff member took part in at least one of a series of workshops to provide their ideas. Parents, families and other community members were invited to attend either a student or after hours workshop to have their say. Students with special needs were interviewed using creative one-on-one techniques that gave them a ‘voice’. Stakeholder input was then collated and a vision drafted by a team comprising students, parents and staff. Students were allowed to lead the team to ensure the crafting of a simple, jargon-free, to-the-point guiding statement. The resulting draft was communicated to all stakeholders, agreed, and used to inform the school strategic plan.
The vision has guided improvement activity and decision-making across the school for the last four years. Leadership and staff attribute the positive culture the school enjoys today to the ownership and commitment generated through this visioning process.
Earlier this year, the fourth in the school’s planning cycle, stakeholders were invited to reflect on achievements and again have input to the school vision to inform the next strategic plan. A refined school purpose, values and behaviours, and graduate profile were also agreed. The process was very similar to that used four years previously with all students, staff and families inputting their ideas. However, this time the school team (again comprising students, parents and staff) chose to summarise and communicate the revised school direction by way of an image: that of a tree (pictured below).
All stakeholders are really excited about their tree metaphor! The tree roots are the school’s purpose. The supporting trunk of the tree are the key elements of the school vision – ‘learning, innovation, diversity, and environment’, these underpin the strategies of the school plan. The values of the school are in the hands of the stakeholder who stands beneath the tree branches and leaves – the graduate profile – the skills and capacities, attitudes and behaviours developed by the students of the school.
Congratulations Christie Downs!
So what is different about this approach?
This collaborative process:
involves all key stakeholders of the school community – everyone has a ‘voice’
celebrates diversity, allowing for a richness of ideas to flourish (this is not possible when only a few in the organisation are involved)
builds shared understanding, ownership and commitment.