Thinking about “improvement”

It’s tempting to see improvement as a progressive path. This works, for example, with time: an email is quicker than a carrier-pigeon and a carrier-pigeon is quicker than a postcard, and therefore an email is quicker than a postcard.

But transitive comparisons don’t always make sense when we’re creating stories and opportunities for stakeholders.

A self-service option is cheaper than a call centre agent, which is cheaper than a dedicated private banker. But that doesn’t mean that self-service is an “improvement”. It simply means that it’s cheaper, which is just one of the many things that a stakeholder might care about.

Costs might be easy to measure, but it’s never clear-cut that less of them always means better.

What about more intangible benefits like “easy to use” or “increased job satisfaction” or “better management information”. These are not easy to place a value on.

What improvement means is quite subjective.