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Learning is Frustrating

Last week Jamie Flinchbaugh posted a blog entitled “If you’re not frustrated, the you’re not working on the right problem”.  I even posted a comment about it.

The timing of this post was perfect.  A couple of nights later, I was working with my daughter on some reading homework.  There was one section of work that completely frustrated her because she couldn’t get the right answer easily.  So far, almost everything in school has come naturally for her.  She picks up and she gets it.  So when she has trouble with something and can’t get it after the first try she gets very frustrated and upset.

That is when I realized, her limits are being stretched for the first time in a very long while.  What was important was re-enforcing that it was alright to make mistakes.  When mistakes are made, we learn from them and our limits/knowledge expand.  We were trying to show her the goal wasn’t perfection, but learning.

When I have been learning something that stretches my limits I know it can be frustrating, but once I get over that proverbial hump, I feel great about the learning that has occurred.  Because of going through that frustration, the learning is internalized better and I don’t forget it.

This is another cultural aspect of lean that can’t been seen as easily as 5S or visual management or quick changeovers.  But if you see people getting frustrated with problem solving and learning then you are probably learning about the things that will make your organization much stronger.

Standardized Work Instructions – Not a Replacement for Skill & Knowledge

I am continuing to reflect on some of the thoughts and principles from the Lean Experience presented by the Lean Learning Center.  This one centers around standardized work instructions (SWI).  Most people are aware of the benefits of having standardized work instructions:

  • Provides a baseline to improve upon
  • Reduces variability in the process
  • Increased predictability in the output of the process
  • Reduces ambiguity in what is expected
  • Enables troubleshooting when there is a deviation from the standard
  • Etc..

I can’t say that any of this was a new epiphany to me, but the quote from Jamie Flinchbaugh that really sunk in was “Standardized work instructions are not a replacement for skill and knowledge.”

I have always taught that SWI is not meant to turn people into robots.  It is there to free up the person’s mind from thinking about the routine, repetitive tasks and let them think about how to improve the process.  No matter how I explained it, I always had a hard time getting people to buy in that have great skill and knowledge in the area.

A great example Jamie used was an airplane pre-flight checklist.  I might be able to go through the checklist (which is a form of SWI) and complete, but there is no way you would want me to fly the plan.  I do not have the skill or the knowledge to do so.

To me just saying the words, “SWI does not replace your skill and knowledge,” would seem like it would engage the employees more.  It can reassure them that we aren’t trying to replace them by creating standardized work instructions.  It is there to help apply that skill and knowledge in a consistent and effective way.

This was a point that really resonated with me.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Qualities of a Good Process Improvement Person

A few weeks ago there was a great discussion in the AME Group on LinkedIn.  The question asked was, “What are good qualities to have in a process improvement person?”  This is a great question as more and more companies are looking for process improvement people with the change in the business climate.

Based on my experiences, here is what I look for in a process improvement candidate.

A thirst for knowledge – a person who is also looking to learn.  Learn about a process, learn about the business, learn about themselves, learn about new techniques/concepts/tools that can help with process improvement.  A true learner does not use the phrase, “I already know that.”  They may know the concept backwards and forwards and have applied it in several places, but no one place is the same so they will learn about the situation that they believe the concept/tool needs to be applied before applying it.  The person will take time to reflect upon what worked and what didn’t work.  They never stop trying to improve themselves.

Ability to think and push outside the norm – It is not enough to just think outside the norm or “what they have always done”.  The person has to be able to influence ideas that are outside the norm.  The only way to get things to change is to get the idea out in the open and start to challenge people’s thinking.

Fortitude – Once the new idea is out in the open, there may be push back against it.  The person has to be able to present the idea in many different ways in order to get many different people to see and understand the idea.  The person also has to be ready to have their idea completely shot down, but not let that deter them from bringing up a new idea.  No matter how many times ideas are shot down or ignored, they have to keep presenting them.  Eventually, one will break through.  When that happens the next idea will be easier to breakthrough with and so on.

While, it might be good to have someone that already knows the tools and concepts, it isn’t high on my list.  If a person exhibits the first trait (thirst for knowledge), then they will learn the tools and concepts while they are doing the work.

What are some of the qualities that you look for in good process improvement person?

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