Do You Really Understand?

A very happy Wednesday to you all. Don’t forget that it is Veterans Day.

I woke up in Reno and it was 25 degrees outside… warm to say the least. We’ve had two snowfalls so far but I’m hoping it continues to pick up. We need it more than ever! One of the amazing and hilarious things about being a dog owner is the interactions that you get to enjoy. Lucy makes the most hilarious face when I ask her if she understands. She perks up her ears and does “the head tilt.” She doesn’t truly understand, just like I don’t understand why she has so much fun in the snow, but she provides a wonderful and charming illusion that she gets me.

I recently sat through a second week of Green Belt training in the Lean/Six Sigma realm, an exhausting and rigorous course that gives you tools and techniques for eliminating waste and variation (Lean and Six Sigma respectively), something that everyone should be educated in. Waste is useless, unproductive, and obviously a poor use of everyone’s time. Variation is straying from the established process or plan, for example, creating blue fire hydrants that aren’t specced out correctly, in addition to being the incorrect color.

All throughout my career, I’ve heard emphasis placed on “the process.” Understand the process. Do the process. Improve the process. Rework the process. What’s crazy to me is that I am only just now grasping the criticality of processes. Processes aren’t some stuffy pieces of paper jammed into a binder to gather dust; they’re the proverbial bread and butter of getting things done.  Small tangent: a personal pet peeve of mine is the ambiguity surrounding and encompassing the terms “getting things done” and “work.”

According to the dictionary, work is defined as “exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil” –or– “productive or operative activity.” Basically, it means putting forth time, effort, creativity, thought, and understanding. It drives me up a wall when someone says well, that will take a lot of work. Uh, hello, that is our job! Our single purpose is to focus on and drive work – being productive, etc. – There’s nothing wrong with providing a Level of Effort or taking a step back to think about what is involved, but if our primary task as employees is to work, and we are all at work working, then it’s expected that our tasks will take work. Ding, ding ding! Everyone is busy and yet the primary expectations placed on us are to work and to get things done. Period.

Now back to my main train of thought…

A process, good or bad, results in outcomes that are equally just as bad or sometimes exponentially better. If you have a widget creation process that results in 10% of the widgets being defective, then you may have a problem. Not only are you destroying the profitability of your business but the process is probably sloppy. There may be a rhyme and reason for the defects in the products, but it is something that needs to be studied if not resolved even. If 10/100 planes crashed every single time one went up in the air, there probably wouldn’t be very many passengers…

The fascinating part of a process is that 1) few people truly understand why they do the process and 2) if they do understand their own process, they rarely understand where their inputs come from and how their outputs are used. Often, they may not even understand the bigger process picture. If you were to find out that your work processes were the most critical piece in life-saving medical technology, how would you work differently? What if you knew slacking off in your process and producing work with only 2% (a seemingly low defect rate) defects cost someone down the line an extra 50% of their time in labor, and that a majority of their duties were cleaning up your mess? Would you change something? I hope so… start asking why is that happening in the first place!

True understanding is not an easy concept. It’s easy to say sure, I get it, I understand, but do you really? My job is to be a professional understander and problem solver, and it is hard! The same business term can mean 13 different things to 13 different people, there may not be a baseline for common goals, processes, or “how we do things,” and worse yet, there may not even be communication between the critical parties needed to come up with those agreed upon business artifacts. “The product isn’t correct” doesn’t really provide me with a lot of information… is it the wrong color? Build? Size? Material? Bad packaging? Does it function incorrectly? What did you really want when you said it should be indestructible?

In conclusion, understanding is not something done simply, easily, or quickly. There is no magic formula. It is the involved process of inquiring, cultivating, iterating, and questioning information. Building a hypothesis, testing, retesting, reevaluating, and baselining. And then we do it again and again and again…

Happy Wednesday and think about your processes and question what you think you understand… you may surprise yourself!

Picture credit.

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2 Comments

  1. As you grow in your career and in in development of yourself, we have more and more in common and have even much more to talk about and share. I can see you get the process, quality, and drill-down in problem solving.

    Look fwd to many more QUALITY times together.

    1. Haha, I see what you did there ;-) I do like the quality/process/drill-down pieces, as infuriating as they can be at times. Fascinating… maybe I should be a cost-consultant-estimating-project-manager-machine for a new career…

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