As I traveled for the Christmas Holiday this year I was in Seattle, near where I grew up. It is a long ways from Texas where I currently live. All of the people I saw were living their lives with very little conception of the world outside of their hometown, possibly just what can be seen in the news. As I talked with friends, I found that my information on the current issues in Seattle and Washington State were far different than I understood as I read things in Texas. My friends had the same understanding of the Texas issues, such as the drout and the fires. This realization led me to think about Lean Six Sigma projects, yes it really did.
Most of my LSS projects have been in areas of my business outside of the areas that I had ever worked. I have been assigned a contract project with a client where I have little understanding of the issues that they face every day in their business. A good Black Belt faces this issue in nearly every project. It is an exact analogy with the Washington vs. Texas differing views on issues. As a Black Belt begins every project, it is very important that they do not apply their biased view of the business issues. Any insight that an outsider gains of a business organization is biased, just like all benchmarking efforts. We only see what we are allowed to see and most of that is crafted and adjusted before it is released to outsiders. Before the Black Belt starts working in the analyze and improve phases, they must place them selves in the same place as the process users and managers. Until you can see the process in their view, you may be at risk of pushing for solutions that are not best for the organization. Recognize that all processes are being executed in a method that the workforce believes is “best.”
What is “Best?” That is the real question. It is some type of balance between best for the workers and best for the company. You will not recognize where the workers are unhappy or where the company is not getting their best performance. If you believe that the workforce is always subordinating their needs to help the company, you are delusional. Each employee is doing their best for the company without causing too many problems for themselves. If your project is to make a true improvement in a process you must learn about the process in both the eyes of the workforce and of the company. Gain an understanding of the balance and you may be able to craft a better improvement plan at the end of a project. Your improvement plan must create a new balance between the workers and the business that provides the business with better output without creating more issues for the workers. Which is tough at times.
- Take time to sit with a few process workers and do their job with them. Talk with them and understand what are the little things that make their work life easy and difficult.
- Take time to sit with the management and leadership and view their job. Talk with them and understand what are the little things that make their work life both easy and difficult.
- If possible, talk with a process customer to find what their issues are with the process output and support staff.
The combination of these three actions will be able to provide you with a view of the process as a local person so that your improvement plan will be able to balance the workforce and the business in a good way.
Try it some time.