Tag Archives: improvement

Yes, You Do Need to Write Down Procedures. Except…

近代工芸の名品― [特集展示] 

A 棗 from http://www.momat.go.jp/cg/exhibition/masterpiece2018/ — I saw this one in person!!

Several weeks ago we went to an art exhibit about “tea caddies” at the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art. Although it might seem silly, these kitchen containers are a fixture of Japanese culture — because drinking green tea is a cornerstone of daily life.

It was about 2 in the afternoon, and we’d had to check out of our hotel at 11. While wandering through the center of the city, we stumbled upon the museum, and since we didn’t have to meet our friends for several more hours, we decided to check it out.

Confession: I’m not a huge fan of art museums. Caveat: I usually enjoy them to some degree or another when I end up in them. But I didn’t think tea caddies could possibly reveal anything useful to me. I was wrong!

One of the features of the exhibit was a Book of Standard Operating Procedures for creating a new lacquered tea caddy from paper. Photography was prohibited for this piece in particular. The book was open, laying flat, showing a grid of characters on the right page representing a detailed description of a particular process step. On the left page, there was a picture of a craftsman performing that step. The card describing the book of SOPs explained that each of the 18 process steps was described using exactly the same format, so that the book would help accomplish certain things:

  • Improve Production Quality. Even masters sometimes need to follow instructions, or to be reminded about an old lesson learned, especially if the process is one you only do occasionally. SOPs promote consistency over time, and from person to person. 
  • Train New Artists. Even though learning the craft is done under the supervision of a skilled worker, it’s impossible to remember every detail (unless you have an eidetic memory, which most of us don’t have). The SOP serves as a guide during the learning process.
  • Enable Continuous Improvement. The SOP is the base from which adjustments and performance improvements are grown. It provides “version control” so you can monitor progress and examine the evolution of work over time.
  • Make Space for Creativity. It might be surprising, but having guidance for a particular task or process in the form of an SOP reduces cognitive load, making it easier for a person to recognize opportunities for improvement. In addition, deviations aren’t always prohibited (although in high-reliability organizations, or industries that are highly regulated, you might want to check before being too creative). The art is contributed by the person, not the process.

Over the past couple decades, when I’ve asked people to write up SOPs for a given process, I’ve often run into pushback. The most common reasons are “But I know how to do this!” and “It’s too complicated to describe!” The first reason suggests that the person is threatened by the prospect of someone else doing (and possibly taking over) that process, and the second is just an excuse. Maybe.

Because sometimes, the pushback can be legitimate. Not all processes need SOPs. For example, I wouldn’t write up an SOP for the creative process of writing a blog post, or for a new research project (that no one has ever done before) culminating in the publication of a new research article. In general, processes that vary significantly each time they’re run, or processes that require doing something that no one has ever done before — don’t lend themselves well to SOPs.

The biggest reason to document SOPs is to literally get everyone on the same page. You’d be surprised how often people think they’re following the same process, but they’re not! An easy test for this is to have each person who participates in a process draw a flow chart showing the process steps and decisions are made on their own, and then compare all the sketches. If they’re different, work together until you’re all in agreement over what’s on one flow chart — and you’ll notice a sharp and immediate improvement in performance and communication.

 

 

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How to Assess the Quality of a Chatbot

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to meet stated and implied needs.” (ISO 9001:2015, p.3.1.5) Quality assurance is the practice of assessing whether a particular product or service has the characteristics to meet needs, and through continuous improvement efforts, we use data to tell us whether or not we are adjusting those characteristics to more effectively meet the needs of our stakeholders.

But what if the entity is a chatbot?

In June 2017, we published a paper that explored that question. We mined the academic and industry literature to determine 1) what quality attributes have been used by others to determine chatbot quality, we 2) organized them according to the efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction (using guidance from the ISO 9241 definition of usability), and 3) we explored the utility of Saaty’s Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to help organizations select between one or more versions of chatbots based on quality considerations. (It’s sort of like A/B testing for chatbots.)

“There are many ways for practitioners to apply the material in this article:

  • The quality attributes in Table 1 can be used as a checklist for a chatbot implementation team to make sure they have addressed key issues.
  • Two or more conversational systems can be compared by selecting the most significant quality attributes.
  • Systems can be compared at two points in time to see if quality has improved, which may be particularly useful for adaptive systems that learn as they as exposed to additional participants and topics.”

Deming’s 14 Points Revisited. Twice.

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

After responding to the December 2014 discussion question to the Influential Voices from ASQ CEO Bill Troy, I’m thinking more about the question “Is Quality Ambitious Enough?” that he posed. In particular, I’m thinking about an article that was published in the December 2014 issue of Quality Progress.

The subtitle for the article, called “Whole New World,” is “Seasoned quality professionals rethink Deming’s 14 points for a new generation.” Certainly, rethinking tenets of a quality philosophy that has shaped our profession for the greater part of a century would be ambitious. However, I find that the “rethinking” done by these authors falls into the same trap that Brooks Carder did when he questioned whether the ASQ mission statement is ambitious enough: it assumes a capitalist society composed of products, services, employees, jobs, and customers. I’ll step through each of Conklin et al.’s 14 revised points, and share what I think the new points for management REALLY should be.

But first, a caveat: with the utmost respect for the experiences and credibility of the authors of this article, I was disappointed to see that all of the contributors were older white men (that is, clearly in their late 40’s or beyond… with varying shades of gray hair). With a sample size of 3 contributors, it’s easy to lack diversity, so I won’t hold it against them. But when embarking on a task as significant as reimagining Deming’s 14 points – we need the representation of women, minorities, and for goodness sake – the young people who are the gurus of the modern startup. They know things that the old “seasoned” guys won’t even be able to see. We need to know what those insights are too.

We are missing the opportunity to envision the practice of quality outside the bounds of the consumer mentality. 

So, point by point, here are my thoughts about Conklin et al.’s reimagining of Deming’s 14 points in the December 2014 Quality Progress. (Recognizing, of course, that attempting to do this on my own is limited from the start : )

Original Point 1: Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services.

Conklin Point 1: Increase value through products and services that delight customers.

Radziwill Point 1: Create constancy of purpose for identifying and delivering value. (I think Deming had it half right, but was too focused on the commercial aspects of driving quality. Conklin, on the other hand, focuses on increasing value — which is still important, but not as significant without constancy of purpose, which can get you through tough times.)

Original Point 2: Adopt the new philosophy.

Conklin Point 2: Connect customer requirements to key process variables.

Radziwill Point 2: I’ve never really understood Deming’s 2nd point, probably because I didn’t live in the 1940’s and can’t possibly emotionally intuit what the “old philosophy” was. But I think this point has something very important to say about innovation that Conklin’s revision doesn’t address: We must always be ready to adopt new ideologies and approaches that support our ability to thrive and sustain ourselves, both as individuals and organizations. 

Original Point 3: Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.

Conklin Point 3: Prevent, where possible; inspect where necessary; implement process management. 

Radziwill Point 3: I like Conklin’s point here, mainly because I think en masse, industry is not as dependent on inspection as it once was. Most efforts are much more naturally tuned to prevention and process management, backed by decades of evidence that document the benefits of such efforts.

Original Point 4: End the practice of awarding business based on price alone; instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier.

Conklin Point 4: Pick the vital few suppliers based on total cost and fit with the organization.

Radziwill Point 4: Cultivate relationships with other organizations so that you can authentically resolve issues and pursue opportunities that would provide mutual benefit.

Original Point 5: Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production, and service.

Conklin Point 5: Improve processes now; find those that will need it later; sustain gains over time.

Radziwill Point 5: I don’t see how you can improve upon Deming’s original point here — all it says is GROW. Grow, people. Grow in your understanding of what you need to produce, and how you can produce it, and how you can produce it effectively, and how you can improve the quality of life in doing so.

Original Point 6: Institute training on the job.

Conklin Point 6: Build training into jobs so employees can improve their performance.

Radziwill Point 6: Because you learn more deeply when you teach something, everyone should have the opportunity to share what they know, and learn from others. A productive organization is a vibrant learning community.

Original Point 7: Adopt and institute leadership.

Conklin Point 7: Know employees, listen to them, and give them what they need to excel.

Radziwill Point 7: Let leaders emerge. As a community, support the emergent leaders that champion collective values and goals.

Original Point 8: Drive out fear.

Conklin Point 8: Set clear expectations for reasonable standards, and hold all accountable.

Radziwill Point 8: (Come ON Conklin!! Accountability, if not implemented well, can have the unexpected consequence of creating even more fear. This point is about as pure and generalizable Deming as you can get. And we haven’t been able to do this systemically yet – if it’s happened in our organizations it is far from happening in our institutions and systems of governance – so we need to keep trying to do it.) Drive out fear.

Original Point 9: Break down barriers between staff areas.

Conklin Point 9: Build cooperation from the top down by reducing barriers between departments.

Radziwill Point 9: Build relationships with one another – inside the organization and between organizational boundaries – to grow more authentic partnerships from which quick and effective resolutions to issues might be possible.

Original Point 10: Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce.

Conklin Point 10: Connect targets and metrics to customer needs; train employees to understand them.

Radziwill Point 10: I actually like Conklin’s 10th point. I’d take out the word “customer” and just leave the needs. I’d train everyone involved – regardless of who they’re getting paid by – if they want more insight into how to solve the problem (sense the opportunity for social innovation here?)

Original Point 11: Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management.

Conklin Point 11: Avoid arbitrary goals; prefer ones in which metrics encourage “right the first time”.

Radziwill Point 11: Avoid arbitrary goals in favors of those that will have meaningful impact on individuals and groups of people.

Original Point 12: Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship and eliminate the annual rating or merit system.

Conklin Point 12: Measure employees against their personal best; use metrics they can track.

Radziwill Point 12: Help people contribute according to their greatest skills and abilities. Collectively celebrate each others’ successes, and constructively assist each other in the improvement effort.

Original Point 13: Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.

Conklin Point 13: Help leaders model the right behaviors, and support the firm’s goals for training.

Radziwill Point 13. I don’t like how Conklin makes education and self-improvement something that needs to be judged against a standard (“right” might be different for everyone) nor do I like how self-improvement must be aligned with the firm (supporting the “firm’s” goals). What about the individual’s goals? Helping them achieve their goals for self-improvement will ultimately benefit society. So let’s help make that happen, and keep Deming’s original point.

Original Point 14: Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation.

Conklin Point 14: Align employees with jobs, suppliers and the firm and the firm with the future.

Radziwill Point 14: Everyone should provide opportunities for others to participate and contribute according to their current skills and talents, and those they would like to develop. We all help each other transform to meet new challenges and opportunities.

Also see “Are Deming’s 14 Points Still Valid?” — a post from November 2012.

What I’m Doing for my December End-of-the-World Improvement Challenge

nichead-oktI’m going to update this every day or two with the excellent improvements I’m seizing the day and making — as part of The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE!

Monday 12/10: I helped students with their statistics projects. I had a difficult time thinking about any improvements that I’d made today, but then I realized I’d spent several hours in the lab helping students interpret data, use the R statistical software, and draw conclusions based on the results. I do this ALL THE TIME so it didn’t even hit me that I’d actually spent several hours adding value to others. The lesson here? Sometimes you might not be aware of what you’re improving. Pay attention! You might be adding value all over the place and not realizing it. (I also went to my FOURTH yoga class, ever, in my life. I’ve dropped 6 lbs over the past week, and I can easily put my socks on standing up without falling over, so I guess those are improvements too.)

Sunday 12/9: I started writing my GOOD AT/NOT GOOD AT list. After a video chat with a friend, we decided that in the new year, we want to spend lots of time doing things (at work) that we are GOOD AT and ENJOY, and less time doing things that we are NOT GOOD AT and don’t enjoy. If there are things on one of our GOOD lists that also sits on the others’ NOT GOOD list, then we’ll help each other out. So this is an improvement that should last all year.

Saturday 12/8: I did nothing. What? You mean it only took a week for me to stop improving things? NO! I actually did nothing today on purpose. It’s very difficult for me to stop thinking, or doing, or planning for what needs to be done next. So after my plans for the day were unexpectedly called off, my purpose for today became improving my own state of mind by choosing to do nothing, and enjoying that feeling. It was a wonderful choice.

Friday 12/7: I sent $20 to replace a friend’s stolen laptop. One of the women in our community is self-employed, and starting up a venture that many of us think is pretty admirable. When her laptop was stolen from her car the other day, she posted her anguish to Facebook. Within minutes, people started chipping in $20 each to the cause. Within about an hour, a “leader” had been self-appointed to find a new laptop – and he also agreed to front the money to get it. Within 24 hours, she had a replacement laptop thanks to the help of her community. THIS IS WHAT COMMUNAL EFFORT IS ALL ABOUT. You take care of your community, and when you’re in need, your community takes care of you. In other news, I went to my SECOND yoga class ever today. I am disappointed that I won’t be able to go tomorrow. (Anyone want to babysit for two hours?)

Thursday 12/6: I went to my first yoga class EVER. Sure, people have been telling me for years how much I would love it, how beneficial it would be for me, how they’re so surprised I’ve never done it. Well, I always thought “doing one of those yoga videos” was doing yoga, and quite frankly, it was one of the most boring things I’ve ever attempted in my life. I just didn’t see what people were getting out of it. So on Monday, I was thinking “gee, maybe I should try that Bikram yoga place people have been talking about, since I’m doing the End-of-the-World Improvement Challenge.” I know one of the instructors, and he is a great guy, and I know he wouldn’t be doing something for work that was terrible. A couple hours later, my friend Meredith said “let’s go to hot yoga” and I realized this was my push – OK, we’re going. Well, we WENT! And my friend Angela was there too, surprise! And it is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I’m going to go back tomorrow. And soon, I’m going to do gymnastics again. (Not the serious stuff, but you know, back walkovers and other “slower” gymnastics that I haven’t been able to pull off since I was 14. I’m on my way!!)

Wednesday 12/5: I took the trash out. And I made some in-roads into revising a course for Spring 2013 that will involve cohorts of students across multiple topics and class levels. You might think the first improvement is not that interesting or remarkable, however, the back story is that I’ve forgotten to take out the trash for three weeks now. It’s been safe in the garage, but it’s been steadily piling up due to my convenient ignorance of remembering when it’s Wednesday. So it was a HUGE improvement to remember, this morning, that it was trash day – and take immediate action! My second improvement was more of an “aha” moment to plan for my spring classes, but it’s one I’ve been waiting for since October. It really made me feel great to see how the pieces will fit together.

Tuesday 12/4: I learned a very interesting and useful new skill today! It was something new I learned that made someone else REALLY happy. But I can’t talk about it on the internet because it’s just so personal, and so edgy!! But it was super fun to learn, and it’s one of those things that will be able to make me and others extremely vibrant on (hopefully) several more days in the future. (Of course I kind of like the way this sounds too: it was SO exciting I just can’t tell anyone about it. Follow this with a really sensual and secretive laugh. Yeah, that’s the mood I want.)

Monday 12/3: I played with fire in front of experts! This might seem like a weird improvement, but it’s a really significant self-improvement for me. Today I spun fire poi with/in front of a group of experts. It’s really unnerving when you’re doing something for the first time in front of people who REALLY know what they’re doing. But I DID IT. And I am more confident as a result. Go me!!

Sunday 12/2: I fixed the Internet! We’ve had horribly slow internet access at our house due to the slow, slooooow, slloooooowwwww death of our old DSL modem. Today, I got all the devices in the house routed through the NEW one that’s much sleeker and faster. Everyone who lives in my house is MUCH HAPPIER with faster internet.

Saturday 12/1: I improved someone’s ability to handle stress! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?

The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE

lucy-dec3(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco CA. Used with permission.)

Hey everybody, remember last month when everyone was posting things they were thankful for in the twenty-odd days leading up to Thanksgiving? (They might still be doing it… I don’t know.) I thought that was a great idea. So I started doing something similar this month that I’ll tell you all about now!!

But as many of you know, the Mayan Calendar is coming to an end, and we’re moving into a new world of completely undetermined proportion. Some predict a doomsday scenario, which means it will be very easy to see what’s changed. Others predict a BIG NOTHING, a non-event kind of like Y2K (well… that one actually had some ripple effects for me. But that’s another story that I’ll post later. I diverge.)

A non-event means IT’S UP TO US TO CHANGE THINGS. So my challenge to all of you for December 2012 is: let’s get in the habit of improving a least ONE thing a day between now and the much hyped “end of the world”. If the world does end, it will end being just a little better than it was at the beginning of December. And if it doesn’t end, we might have 1) developed a new habit or mode of self-reflection that will serve us well moving ahead into 2013, and/or 2) built some very useful social capital that will enhance the resilience of our individual communities.

(Disappointed that you didn’t get to the party on December 1st? Don’t worry! Make your improvement for today to START IMPROVING ONE THING A DAY, starting NOW!)

I’ll toss out some ideas for your own DAILY IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE at the end of this post.

But in the meantime, let’s broadly consider what would happen to our sociotechnical systems (composed of people, products, processes, and projects) in the event of a massive shift or change (of any variety, “new age” or “old age”!) The products will change. The projects will change. The processes will be adapted to make projects to create the new products, and since we don’t know what the environment will be like, or what the new products we’ll need will be…

… the only STABLE element in this mix is the PEOPLE.

When the world disruptively changes around us without killing us, we’re still left behind. Which means our personal capabilities and our capabilities working together in groups and communities – our social capital – becomes increasingly more important.

My friend Daniel Aldrich, who’s been seriously researching this for several years, has determined that social capital is the number one thing that helps communities revitalize after disasters. So if you think there’s a possibility of a major change, you could prepare by stockpiling food and fuel, or you could just work on building your own self-reliance and the social capital within your community.

So I challenge you to DO ONE THING EVERY DAY between now and December 21, 2012 to accomplish one of the following improvement goals, all of which are related to increasing positive feelings:

  • improve how YOU feel
  • improve how someone ELSE feels
  • improve something about your ENVIRONMENT, as long as it make YOU or someone else feel good/better
  • do something courageous to improve your SELF-CONFIDENCE or self-image (or someone else’s!)
  • improve your AWARENESS of other peoples’ beliefs, situations, circumstances, or beliefs
  • improve your BURDEN by getting rid of a grudge or negative feelings… even if only for a day

Think about the many sources of waste, or maybe read about 5S, to get you started with ideas for where you might begin. Scott Rutherford (@srlean6) also recommends this post  as well as this one for some background on 5S.

(For example, yesterday, I decided to improve someone’s day! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?)

The world changes when we change. So let’s go!! Let’s start some improvement habits that will spread good feelings and inspire ourselves and others. Let’s use this time to learn how to make it a daily practice.

And post in the comments – tell us what you have chosen to improve from day to day!

Decidere: The Power of Decision

(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco, CA)

I committed to a decision today. It was a big decision — one that’s been hanging over my head for many months. I am certain that this decision will impact the rest of my life, and it’s so personal, I can’t even reveal to you what it is! But let me just say that it was a very difficult decision to make, mainly because it requires me to accept that other people are not going to change their behavior for me to get what I really want. All I can change… is me.

My ego had to get out of the way. I have to be selfless to pull this off, and I had to be selfless to say “I’m making this decision!” in the first place. My ego’s been scared.

In fact, I thought I got rid of the need to make this decision in the spring. I was wrong. It came back to me, like a boomerang, saying “You can’t do that! You’re going to have to deal with me.” Sigh… back to the drawing board.

“There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster, and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority.” – Shigeo Shingo

The word “decision” comes from the Latin decidere – to “cut off all other options.” This might seem drastic, but once you cut off all potential for doing or thinking or being any way that does not align with your DECISION, your life instantly becomes easier – the first and most significant element of Shingo’s conceptualization of improvement.

Decisions make things easier. Even the Harvard Business Review recognizes that “making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy.”  In their September 19, 2012 post entitled “Boring is Productive,” Robert C. Pozen notes that President Obama wears the same suits and eats the same breakfast to “routinize the routine” and give him more energy to make more significant decisions.

Being submerged in a continual stream of decisions not only weakens mental energy, but depletes emotional reserves (and willpower) too. I’m tired of being continually depleted of my emotional reserves. I had become so tired, that I had to make a decision about who I want to be. I’ve been afraid of getting hurt. I’ve been afraid of being abandoned. (And a lot of these feelings are rather tangential to the actual issue at hand… everything’s just all conflated inside of me.)

I’ve been worried about making the wrong decisionabout settling for something that’s less than what I know I really want, deep down on the inside. That’s why I’ve kept my options open… whyI haven’t cut off other options… so if a new opportunity comes around, I’m poised to capture it. I am not one to wait for the dandelion promises of an uncertain future, especially when those promises are made or implied by other people. All I have to depend on, really, is what’s inside of me – my state of being right now.

Part of me has been hesitant, thinking “if I make this decision, I’m accepting the things around me that I don’t like.” But then I realized that the decision and the external circumstances are not quite as entangled with one another as I might think. By making the decision, I’m changing everything around me, because I’m changing me.

“For so long most of us have used the term ‘decision’ so loosely that it’s come to describe something like a wish list. Instead of making decisions, we keep stating preferences… Making a true decision means committing to achieving a result, and then cutting yourself off from any other possibility.” — Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

Is there a decision hanging over you that’s sucking up your emotional energy? If you’re afraid of making the wrong decision, choose a “set point” in the future where you will allow yourself to revise your decision, to change the contract – and adjust, if appropriate. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get completely into the feel of your decision. And to watch the world around you adjust to your decision.

Make the decision.

Cut off any other possibilities.

Move forward and don’t look back.

Be IN the decision. Be a part of it. Invite it to become part of you…

…at least for a while, until maybe your “set point” date in the future.

But I guarantee you, when that day comes, the external environment will look so different that the reason you had to make the decision in the first place could have evaporated completely. The scene will have changed, along with the scenery, and perhaps even the actors.

And then you’ll probably be faced with another decision : )

There Is No Process Until It Is Observed

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

I realized today that there’s a little bit of a quantum effect in quality management:

There is no process until it is observed.

Here’s what I mean. In the August 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Lynne Hare writes about how simple flow charts can be useful diagnostic tools. Just ask multiple team members to describe or characterize a process they’re familiar with… and see if they come up with the same thing! He says:

“My opening gambit was to ask each of the six team members to separately draw a process flow diagram. How many of you think I got six different flow diagrams? In fact, I got seven: One person wasn’t sure, so she drew two.

Clearly, the flow diagram exercise underscored the fact there had been no common understanding of the process; therefore, there could be no process control, no variation reduction opportunity and no path to improvement.”

I’ve seen this first hand! Most recently, it happened in our Spring 2012 “Quality and Process Improvement in Action” class at JMU. One student team was trying to document the process used by a community agency to link small businesses with resource providers who could help them develop their products, services, and marketing. After interviewing each of three stakeholders, the team ended up with exactly three vastly different process flow diagrams!

They were confused and dismayed. “What can we possibly do now?!?! We’re stuck!”

Fortunately, we (their professors) had seen this sort of thing before. When all of the stakeholders have a different sense of the process, this provides a pretty strong clue that they have never contemplated the steps of the process before, and how those steps are interrelated. More significantly, they have never shared an understanding of the process. Even though they have all been doing work, playing their roles, and serving a purpose, they have not been working together as part of a process – even if it seemed like they were!

Because the process has not yet been consciously observed by the group of participants, there is no process!

And as Lynne Hare points out in his article, without a common understanding of the process there can be NO process control — NO opportunity to reduce variation — and NO way to improve. If you find yourself in this situation, make it a point to get those participants and stakeholders together and consciously observe the process.

Once you do this, you make it real, and end up with a basis for moving forward.

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