I think it is a fantasy that every improvement project will come in a neat and tidy package. That might be what we want, and what they look like to the spectators of the project, but the reality is that an improvement project may go through many iterations to achieve the final result (whilst still staying within the scope of the project). Using the ‘blurry start’ method can be really helpful if you are finding yourself feeling unsure about how to approach a project within your own business.

One of my clients needed help with their line balancing activities within their factory. The problems they were facing were clear. The deliverables that were needed were less clear; the approach we took was to undertake a few days of exploratory work, so that a crystal clear outcome could be achieved. This is the ‘blurry start’ in action. Allowing a small amount of time to explore, to articulate, and to define an outcome that is worthy of investing the time to do the remainder of the work.

You might recognise this as a re-working of the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) approach. Start with a smaller bite of the perceived project (Plan), get some information (Do), see what you’ve got (Check) and then decide on your general approach (Act). You then run through this cycle again to undertake the actual project. It is a subtle re-working, but the results can speak for themselves.

Another example was when a client of mine knew that there was a problem with one of their business processes. No one would agree on what the precise issue to be resolved was. It was difficult to get everyone together to run a workshop, but the business was feeling pressure to make changes immediately. The blurry approach was used to set up a handful of short meetings to let people get their views heard, the undertaking of a few experiments within the business and to analyse some data. A week later not only had the business made tangible progress as a consequence, but the project was now clearly defined, communication had improved through this exercise, and the ultimate changes were both swift and sustainable.

Perhaps a blurry start requires confidence to tell colleagues that you don’t know the answer at the outset, that you don’t know the ‘five steps’ you need to take to resolve the situation. The confidence that comes from having this information, after the slight delay to the official start to the project, can really make a difference to the results. If you are struggling to get a project off the ground why not try a ‘blurry start’?


Giles Johnston

Author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the Making It Happen course.

Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their on time delivery performance, ERP system performance and deploy Kaizen / Lean production methods. Giles is also the author of 'What Does Good Look Like?'.