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  • Writer's pictureChris Butterworth

Understand Your Processes

I think this advice is pretty obvious but I don't see it being employed often enough. Many of us are tasked with improving a process (solving a problem) and we're usually part of a team so there are lots of ideas and discussions. The process we are trying to fix has some shortcoming and many of us head straight for the solution.

The thing with these problems is that they're usually not that easy to resolve. If they were, they wouldn't have grown to the point where they're known to management. Someone would have fixed them long before. So if your process problem is serious enough that it becomes a project, you can expect that the solution is going to be more complex than turning a dial.

Before you think about solutions, listen to your process. Take as much data as you can get your hands on and mine through it. Look for patterns, clusters, structures, outliers, etc. Look at charts of your process when the problem exists and when it does not. When you spend time trying to understand your processes through data analysis, you greatly increase your chance of determining the root cause. Be dilligent and take several samples. Don't let small sample sizes convince you of anything. Record your results and share them with others. View the data.

Process improvement is a scientific endeavour and so it requires data and analyses. Your processes consist of people and equipment doing things. There are variables in the process such as wait times, queue size and buffers. If your process is in manufacturing you have a large list of process parameters. Get to understand how these parameters vary, how they interact, where they sit when the problem appears and where they sit when the problem goes away.

Think of yourself as a detective solving a crime. Spend most of your time understanding the problem and eventually the solution will be a simple matter.

Once you have a root cause, a solution, prove it to yourself by turning it on and off three or four times. If you can demonstrate control like that, you've succeeded.

Quote - “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein

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