Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Workaround – Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?

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An interesting perspective on workarounds pops into view during a recent discussion of frustrations surrounding an ERP software implementation.   
During the conversation mentioned above, a National Account Manager employed by a company serving the construction industry mentioned the term “workaround.”  As the discussion continued, it became clear to me that he saw the term workaround as having a completely positive connotation.   
When I explained how people like myself, who work with concepts of Lean and Six Sigma, usually apply a negative connotation to the term and associate it with “waste.”  He looked as if he didn’t believe me.  In an animated and slightly high-pitched voice he responded, “Really!  I would have thought you technical people saw it as just the opposite – a creative way to improve on a bad situation!”   
Days later, just to make sure he didn’t think I was the only person with a strange negative perception of workarounds, I sent him a link to  “Beware the Workaround” (you’ll l have to scroll down to the December 2009 posting).  In this humorous blog entry, the improvement specialist author, describes a bathroom workaround which at first glance seems smart, but on further review, just looks like it will lead to more waste.         
For an interesting take on how an impending crisis can make a workaround start to look just fine, please also visit Dean Willson’s blog posting Workarounds - Dreaded or Welcome?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lean is Like my Neighbor’s Beloved Lawn Tractor

iStock_tractor5 I have a friend who loves his lawn tractor second only to his family. He talks about this grass cutting machine like it’s so much more than I would ever think of it being. He washes it, waxes it, and keeps the blades sharpened, ready to do their best work. Now this guy doesn’t cut grass for a living - he’s an assistant police chief in a large town nearby. So his reverence for the machine isn’t based on the fact it’s providing for his family; it’s based on something else.
When he talks about mowing he will tell you how it feels to sit in the seat, what it’s like to make the turns, the sound of the engine, and finally he will tell you about the great job it does cutting the grass. He talks about the lawn tractor the way other people I know might speak about a car they’ve always wanted and finally were able to buy.
It’s interesting. To me, from my individual point-of-view, it seems funny to talk about a lawn tractor in such a personal way but perfectly reasonable to talk about a car in that manner. Is it because we sit inside the car that we see the human perspective as so central to the quality of a driving experience? Could it be that the simple shift from inside the car, to on-top of the tractor, makes us think of the tractor as more of a “tool” and therefore less accountable for delivering a high quality human experience?  Does it matter?  Or is it simply important to recognize that not everyone feels the same way about things?  How does this affect collaboration and teamwork?
How does this relate to technical business improvement? Are methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma more like a tool designed to complete a chore, or should they be accountable for delivering a high quality human experience? And how would you define that kind of experience for each of the groups involved?  For example:
  • executives who launch the initiatives
  • technical leaders who drive them
  • managers who oversee adoption of the various functional changes
  • ground-floor personnel who make the changes work in the day-to-day business
How would you define a high quality experience for the people in operations, the people in purchasing and supply, the people in product and service delivery, the people in marketing, sales, engineering, IT and HR…? Can the idea of a high quality experience be used as common ground for planning and agreement?