We have received many responses to our blog on paving over cow paths. It appears that there is a missing piece in understanding how all of this “lean" or “Six Sigma” works. I asked Kristin Parshay, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, to help me with a simple example that anyone would understand. Here is what she came up with:
My husband and I have three active kids, two careers and very busy lives. You get the picture. Every week it is the same story. School, sports, after school activities, doctors, parties, overnights and the last minute crisis at work that will throw off all of our planning.
I look at our schedules for the upcoming weeks and cringe at all of the possibilities. And when the unexpected (or at least unplanned) happens, we will be running around looking for someone, anyone, to help get the kids where they need to be.
One evening I was telling my husband how frustrated I was about the time and effort it takes to keep the calendars, rides and chaperoning organized. He listened as I rattled off the 25 steps that I had to go through to make sure everyone gets where they need to go – gathering, sorting, scheduling, calling, confirming, adjusting …
His response? “Why not just call a cab?” This is what we call the “aha moment” in a Six Sigma conversation. Suddenly the simplest answer just appears. Focusing on what the bottom line needs are and encouraging an open thinking environment gets us to places we otherwise would ignore.
Time and time again this happens in the companies that I work with. A process is built by a person or a group of people with the best tools and understanding of what was required at some past point in time. Then things change (such as twins who are entering middle school), and the process does not keep up. Competing interests, reduced time and many other factors get in the way.
Companies need to take a step back, focus on what you are trying to accomplish, who you are accomplishing it for and even ask outsiders – people who are not invested in the day-to-day operation – for ideas on how to meet those needs at the simplest level.
Since my evening of epiphany on the back deck, the logistics of getting our family to where they need to go have gotten much better. When last minute changes turn a well-prepared schedule upside down, we call a cab. It is simple, gets the job done and reduces the stress level for everyone involved.
I thought that was a perfect example. It is really pretty easy when you get used to thinking in terms of overall systems and what bottom line results are required. It is sometimes difficult to see the forest due to all of the trees, but when it gets done, everyone benefits.