Sunday, July 06, 2003

The "Gee, that seems stupid." Principle

I’m often asked how to see opportunities for improvement. I all-too-often answer in a principle-based way, wanting to force an overarching understanding and clear solid philosophical underpinnings.

Yeah, I don’t know what that means either. Yet, I fight this tendency with little success. Until my colleague Ken described three specific improvements he made to one of his processes last week.

In rapid-fire succession over a couple of days, Ken improved both the accuracy and the speed of a repetitive purchasing task he performs. In describing each, he kept saying "So, I looked at what I was doing and said ‘Gee, that seems stupid’ and so I improved it."

Isn’t that it? Didn’t Ken capture a profound truth simply and clearly? Is it really any harder than looking and seeing those tasks for which we say "Gee, that seems stupid"?

Here are some specifics I've seen around here recently.

  • Ken made up a set form with all the information he needed on it to do one task. He no longer had to look anything up. Instead, he simply checked off the applicable items. Cut his processing time from 5 minutes to less than 1 and assured quality.
  • Another colleague, Randy, found one color-based visual signal to be confusing. To correct it, he redid the visual signal with the specific name of the action to take on each one. Cut errors and made the process understandable to all 20 people who needed to see it, rather than just the three who knew the code.
  • One of our salesmen, also named Ken, asked why we were mailing him reports that were easily emailed. Duh. "That seems stupid." We now email the reports. No paper or postage cost. Quicker delivery. No clutter on his desk.
Can you please try this in the next three hours? Can you look around for something to which you can say "Gee, that seems stupid."? Then, can you change it rapidly?

And, if you do, can you please email me with a summary? I’d like to share it with a wider audience.

I hope you don’t find these weblogs stupid. But, if you do, tell me about it too!!

I hope this is helpful. Ken’s idea was sure helpful to me.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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