Marc Strohlein

Kaizen, Fitness, Agile, Simplicity, and The Energized Enterprise

by Heather Hughes on September 6, 2012

ME Interview with Marc Strohlein

Marc Strohlein is Principal of Agile Business Logic, and has been a COO, CTO and CIO at companies including Gartner Group, Dataquest and Outsell Inc. His passion is unlocking energy and growth in individuals, teams and organizations. I worked for Marc at Outsell, where, among many other things, he led a diverse team to launch a wholly new and innovative website and CMS in eight iterative weeks.

Maybe he never called it excellence, but it sure seems that Marc Strohlein’s journey is all about just that. When I recently asked Marc how he defines excellence, he paused because it’s not a word he regularly uses. Perhaps because the word can imply an end state, and Marc is all about how to do things better.

This practice of doing things in a better way started for Marc with his Navy dad who “was passionate about doing things right.” White glove inspections demonstrated that there are “right ways to do things and less than right ways to do things.” This idea stuck with Marc.

Fast forward to the 80’s, when Marc became interested in the kaizen concept. To Marc, this “notion of a worker coming into work every day and wondering how they could do their job better” not only resulted in better training, customer support, software and tools, but also added meaning to that person’s job.
Kaizen’s theme of continuous improvement evolved for Marc to iterative improvement and his commitment to “fitness”. Fitness to Marc is not just creating an excellent product or service, but creating it to fit its actual purpose. This fit-for-purpose concept centers on the customer and leads to another very important tool: agile.

According to Marc, “Agile is a great tool to create excellence because it involves the customer” and defines, through iteration, making something better while incorporating the idea that you can go too far (or lose sight of fitness).  

Fitness and agile dovetail nicely with Marc’s commitment to simplicity, which makes the creator’s job much more difficult. I love this, from one of his blog posts:  

“In my long career in technology I developed a law that states that the simpler an interaction with a computer application is for a user, the harder it was for the creator to create.”

Today, Marc is focused on igniting energetic performance in individuals and organizations. His forthcoming book is called The Energized Enterprise and presents eight engines of energy, one of which is organizational purpose. Understanding and caring about one’s organizational purpose is vital. Marc says, “When you go to work you want to feel like you are working on something that matters, to you and on a bigger scale.”

But of course, limiting one’s role to organizational purpose won’t do for Marc. There is something more – the very practice of doing things in a better way. Practice for Marc is both a noun and a verb. And so, in closing, here’s Marc’s advice to us on practicing excellence:

1) Set standards higher than your boss*.

Decide, “I want to do something better than that.” This leads to job satisfaction.

*I might add your competitors and the industry itself.

2) Don’t get dragged down by mediocrity.

Don’t settle. Get energized. Set standards where you think they should be.

3) Do what is right for the business, not for your boss, not for the CEO, but for customers and stakeholders.

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