Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
— Jonathan Swift
Two essential ingredients of Continuous Process Improvement are
Patience and Observation. You cannot have instant fixes or shortcuts, unfortunately.
And the best people to see opportunities for improvement are the people
who do the job day in and day out!
The best job commute I had in my professional life was at my last job. My offices were
in downtown San Francisco and my home is in Pleasanton, CA. I took the BART Train from
Pleasanton (last station on the line, so you always got a place to sit) and used
the 45 minutes going in and 45 minutes coming back to reading the morning newspaper front to back
in the morning and always some book or magazine on the way back.
Doing this day in and day out, you would be surprised how familiar you become with the sounds
and smells of the various stops on the way. You knew precisely where you were at any time
without looking up from the newspaper or the book!
Now if you apply the same principles to someone on the factory floor or someone processing claims in
an insurance company, the longer they are at their jobs, the more knowledge they have about
exactly how long something takes to do and more importantly, how work gets done, what is wasteful
and stupid and what is truly productive!
They all keep doing their jobs day in and day out the same way they used to, since no one bothers to ask them how it can be done faster, cheaper and better! If only someone did, I bet their processes can be turned into leaner ones.
There is no shortcut to getting this experience and doing it repeatedly to understand fully
how something is done and how it can be done better.
This ties in very well with the Genchi Gembutsu practice recommended by Japanese quality proponents.
Managers who first spend a lot of time doing the work themselves are asked to just go and
observe manufacturing processes. They are instructed that the more they observe, the more
the possibilities for improvement!
With Patience, and with a lot of prior expert knowledge of the manufacturing processes themselves.
They would have spent their formative years as a manager actually doing the work!
Now I wonder how Continuous Process Improvement would work in companies where the turnover
is very high! Not very well, I am guessing.
There may not be the chances to actually do the jobs long enough to think about improvements!
High turnover and Continuous Process Improvements may not be that compatible with each
other, just because of the nature of continuous process improvement.
Something to think about when figuring out why people are not enthusiastic about process improvement or are not coming up with good ideas that make much difference!