Those of you who have followed this blog since the Blogger days in the early 2000’s know that there are two topics I have strongly avoided in this space – one is religion and the other is politics. And yet the current political climate provides clear evidence of the dangers of assumptions in our lives. Every protestor must be a paid plant from the other side. Every member of a religious sect must be set in his or her minds to come after us. The problem is that these assumptions can create further problems especially when not based in fact.
The Webster Merriam Dictionary defines an assumption as the act of assuming that something is true or assuming that a fact or statement is taken for granted. We see this occurrence everyday in and out of the workplace. Our political candidates make them. Our media outlets make them. We as individuals make them. The result in many cases is we make policy designs and lifestyle decisions that in the long run turn out to be false because they are based in part on false data or information.
The dangers of assumptions are equally problematic in the process improvement field. We see an organizational problem and we assume we know what the cause is. We feel the affects of that problem on the organization and we assume we understand how the problem affects both the organization and our customers. With these two assumptions in place we assume we know the perfect solution because the solution is how we have always done it in this company. When we assume that the solution is based on the utilization of our human capital assets in a certain fashion only to find we missed something along the way. If we, as some of the politicians have, make generalizations about how certain segments of society will operate we risk the potential for having non-engaged employees.
Like the experiment you did in high school science, the process improvement process only works when we enter the process journey with the realization we cannot assume what the outcome is. We know that the goal is to resolve the problem but we cannot make the assumption we know how we are going to reach that goal. It only works when we realize that each and every human capital asset has a vital part to play as we change the corporate culture. The new corporate culture only works when the new normal becomes the corporate mantra, which is disseminated and believed by everyone involved within the organization via all the stakeholders both internal and external. The Process improvement is founded in the understanding that we are trying to resolve an organizational issue and we do it through experimentation on solutions that might resolve the issue. We do not say here is the problem and based on corporate culture this is the way we will solve the issue. We need to walk through the steps of the experiment to identify how each stage will change the work environment. When trying to implement process improvement do you follow this road map:
- Ask a Question – We know, based on the customer’s feedback to the organization that we are not meeting their needs in some fashion. The process begins then with asking the question of how we are not meeting the needs. (Define the problem)
- Do Background Research – Through the use of the TLS Continuum toolbox we discover what might be causing the obstacles to the customer. Is it product delivery? Is it parts that don’t match what the customer asked for?
- Construct a Hypothesis – From the research (The measurement stage) we derive a potential solution and determine how we might solve the problem.
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment – Once we have done that, we begin to conduct a series of tests to see whether the proposed solutions resolve the issue. If they do not we go back to square one and begin the process over again.
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion – In the next step we analyze the results and take steps to improve the process. (Improve stage)
- Communicate Your Results – In the final stage we create the standard work and discuss with all the stakeholders what we found and why it was occurring. The communication also presents the solutions we are implementing and how they will improve the process that is causing the problem.
To make assumptions is human. It is a natural occurrence in our lives every day. The difficulty is that many times these assumptions are based in inaccurate information or data. Our journey to improve the organizational processes must be based in evidence-based data generated by experimentation. We do not make the decision to resolve an issue in a certain fashion and then generate the data to prove it. That is not the way the world works. I tell my clients that we are embarking on a unique journey because I can tell them where we are starting but never make the assumption that we know where we will end up because we have not conducted the experiment as yet. I have argued with certain colleagues that vehemently disagree with me on this belief. They contend that when you begin the process improvement effort you already know where you are going to end up. However if you follow that logic then you are not following the intent of the process improvement/scientific method process because you have pre-determined the results of the experiment. To do so is not only dangerous but it can have dramatic results for the organization and your human capital assets.