October 28, 2010

The Common Sense Approach To Process Improvement

This is an outcome of a discussion I was in yesterday; a discussion that I would classify as one of the most interesting discussions in my recent past. It all started with just one statement one of the people made in the room –
I’ve been wanting to do a certification in LEAN and Six Sigma as I feel that will help me bring about a lot of improvements in the way my team and my organization works.
Soon enough the room witnessed some decent knowledge sharing; LEAN, Kaizen, Six Sigma and someone also brought in Agile. Quiet keen on listening to what each one had to say, I kept my views for the end. Then came my chance, when one of them asked if I had used any of these at work or elsewhere. I thought for a moment and said –

Yes, I’ve used all of this at different points in time – both, at work and back at home. And to my mind, all of this is no rocket science but sheer COMMON SENSE.
What happened later in the room was a different story. But I thought of sharing this with the world too, rather than letting the intense discussion and the outcome die within the four walls of the room we were in; hence this post.
While the human being is the most magnificent creation of the Creator, we tend to lose the sheen and the gloss as we grow up. If you have ever tried observing a child for over a period in time (anywhere from a few tens of minutes to hours together), you would perhaps get the clue.
A child learns to see, assimilate, recognize, differentiate things from a world it is introduced to. It has never been told what is going to happen when it opens its eyes for the first time. It never knows what the images that it sees really mean. Over time, the child learns – it understands who its parents are, and what its supposed to do when it needs attention.
A newborn child is introduced to a large process called life. It isn’t aware of what it’s supposed to do, until things start happening. As this newborn child starts to see more of the process every second, every minute and every day, it starts to do things better and slowly starts participating in the process. Observing that the mother would feed when it cries, it starts to understand that crying is a sign to get food. This also helps the mother as she would get to understand her child’s language, thereby improving the small process of feeding.
Did the child use a tool? Or was the child aware of the LEANs, Six Sigmas or the Agiles of the world? Never! It was nothing by a Creator-given tool called Common Sense. Breaking down larger problems into smaller indivisible units, listening before talking, observing the process before participating, are the fundamentals of any of these modern age tools.
That said, I have great respect for these tools for whatever they are worth, as they do make an attempt to massage our brains and make them work the way they are meant to work – Like how it did when we were a kid!
If you would agree with this, but wondered how you can consciously start practicing this, here is a tip to get started –
The next time you wanted to improve a process or do anything, just ask yourself these six questions –
  • Who? Who was involved?
  • What? What happened (what's the story)?
  • Where? Where did it take place?
  • When? When did it take place?
  • Why? Why did it happen?
  • How? How did it happen?
This reminds me of a lovely poem from one of my favorite poets of all time – Rudyard Kipling. These are the lines from his poem “The Elephants Child” where he tries to etch the above six questions quiet well into literature books. Here is how it goes –
I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine till five.
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men:
But different folk have different views:
I know a person small--
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends 'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes--
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!
There is a story of “The Elephants Child” accompanying this poem. If you are curious, you can find it here (or just Google for “The Elephants Child”). Below is an animated cartoon of this story too (just in case you are running short on time). For my RSS feed readers, here is the link to the video.
If you haven't done yet, try showing this to your kid too. I bet it's going to be worthwhile!
Hope this was a useful read! Keep your comments / mails coming in as usual. Till I get back next time, Stay Inspired! Stay Tuned!
PS: Phew! I just realized this was long one. My apologies folks - couldn't manage to keep it any shorter :)
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