Are You Dancing the Quantum Leap?

Deming Cycle. An alternative to dancing the Quantum Leap

Today, I want to bring to your attention a problem that many organizations and people have: “quantum leaps.” You surely have heard it often that people said “This is a quantum leap!” or “We need a quantum leap!” What people mean with “quantum leap” is a major positive disruption. You could also say a paradigm shift in the approach to a subject matter in discussion.

After that introduction you may expect that I am going to nag about the incorrect use of that physical term. Which is not what I intend. Others have done that time and again, and I cannot contribute to the debate more than has already been said.

On the contrary, the metaphor of a quantum leap is perfect to describe a real phenomenon in the world of improvement processes. That is, if you understand it more or less verbally.

A quantum leap is

  • the movement of a very tiny particle (an electron)
  • over a very short “distance” (from one energy level to another)
  • involving the consumption or absorption of an extremely small amount of energy
  • in a very small context (an atom)
  • in a very short time (nanoseconds).

Besides, if a physical quantum leap is caused by the absorption of energy, it can be followed by a leap back by which the energy is released again and the atom and its electrons are in the same state as before.

Imagine you want to tidy up your desk. You take a pencil and put it into pencil holder — and then the phone rings. You answer the call, take the pencil, write a note and put it – yes you guess it – not into the holder but just somewhere else. Voilá: a quantum leap just happened. You did not even notice it, like you do not see quantum leaps in the sub-atomic world.

Another example: you decide to lose weight. The first days of your diet are fine. You lose even a little weight. Then there is a party and it ends in a binge. The day after you have gained a lot of weight. You reduce your food intake again, until the next weekend, losing weight. Then there is the next party, followed by the next weight gain. Congratulations: you have learned to dance the quantum leap.

Here is an example from the business world: your company introduces a new procurement process to gain control over buying small office items (like those pencils that populate your desk). The process is so shoddily designed and so badly enforced that a month after the roll-out everybody goes to the next stationery, buys their stuff and hands in the receipt. Of course, such a quantum leap would never happen in your company. Or would it?

Last example: your company wants to become a Lean organization, but they do it without fully adopting the principles and applying the cherry-picking approach. That means, they only pick some ideas and tools. A year from now, your company is still the same bureaucratic monster it has been before or ends up on the dark side of Lean. That organization has danced an advanced version of the quantum leap.

All these examples have something in common:

  • When you do not put enough energy into a change,
  • when you do not address all issues you need to cover,
  • when the change is too tiny,
  • when the success of the change is not measured,

the change is doomed to fail. Everything falls back into the state it has been before. It can also become worse after such half-hearted changes.

If want to change something, avoid the quantum leap. Use a systematic improvement process. Plan your change, do it, measure success and act up on failures. With other words, apply the Deming Cycle/PDCA (as shown in the image above). Using A3s (or in the world of Lean Self: A6s) is also a good idea.

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