The Pandora’s Box of Service Improvement, Dare You Open it?

At the heart of Lean Thinking is a beautifully simple idea, it is that you should only do things that a customer is prepared to pay for.  Anything else you do is “waste”.

I prefer the word “stupid”.  It is harsher and blunter than waste but gets the point over.  (I didn’t graduate form a Swiss finishing school).

The idea is beautiful because it makes service improvement easy, all you have to do is stop anything that is stupid, and then, by definition, you are left with is the perfect service.  Easy.

This begs the questions: “What do we do that is stupid?” and “Can it be fixed quickly?”

The answer is simple, ask your employees, if you are prepared to listen they will tell you, but it isn’t without risk.

Here is a ten point “how to” plan:

  1. Get a group of staff members together, 6 to 10 should do it, but it is possible with more or less.
  2. Get them to agree what they come to work to do, what is their purpose, their raison d’etre? Write it up on a flip chart.
  3. Ask them to list out on post it notes all the things they do on a daily basis: all the tasks, report writing, activities, spread sheet manipulation, phone calls, trips to the photocopier, the whole nine yards.
  4. As individuals get them to split these post it notes into two categories, stuff that contributes to their purpose and stuff that just gets in the way.
  5. Put the two sets of post its up on a wall and force the debate, are they really sure that task doesn’t contribute, that it just gets in the way?  When everybody agrees you have flushed out the stupidity.
  6. Prioritise the waste, create a group of issues that they can actively tackle, stuff that is in their control, stuff that they can fix, stuff that their manager has the power to approve.
  7. Clarify exactly what needs to be done, what is the issue, why is it causing pain, how do they propose to fix it, what help and support do they need?
  8. Present it back to their manager or director, the person who is in a position to agree or disagree with the proposal.
  9. Get the manager to make a decision, there and then, a “No” is fine, but procrastination will kill the momentum.
  10. Make it happen, there is nothing like a bit of robust project management.

If you do this you will find out a million and one things that you never knew, all of them stupid, and your employee’s eyes will light up at the thought of doing something about it.

But, it can be scary, you are opening Pandora’s box, you never know where it will take you, you are in their hands.  The worst thing is that if you start this and then stop, fail to continue with whatever you uncover you will lose your employee’s commitment altogether.

The alternative is to stick with the status quo, don’t create a change, maybe that is a safer place to be.

Pandora's Box

Image by Mycael

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