Improve your process with these two questions

July 7, 2008


In “The Leader’s Handbook,” Peter Scholtes suggests asking internal and external customers two questions:

What are you getting that you don’t need?

What do you need that you aren’t getting?

Several years ago, I asked similar questions of team members on an e-learning project that I managed. One of the things that the team clearly did not want was a detailed work breakdown report. Instead, they wanted an individualized report that indicated how much time each team member was allowed for each task in the upcoming week. As a result, I quit wasting time on reports that were not being read, and instead focused on a more useful tool that helped the team budget time spent on their tasks.

Try it yourself. Pick any ID or other process you are working on this week or, better yet, today! Now figure out who the customer is. Customers can be the team member that you hand your part of the process off to (such as when you hand a storyboard off to a programmer) or the final users of the product. They might be your manager, or your direct report. Whoever it is, ask them Sholtes’ two questions.

If you ask sincerely, you may be surprised at just how readily an answer comes. The hard part is to actually do something about it.


Rapid e-Learning Challenge: Day 3

July 2, 2008

Since my introduction to lean management began over the past year, I have come to realize how dreadfully lacking in documented standards and procedures most training and e-learning groups are (and most all administrative functions!). I’m trying to change that for my immediate work environment by establishing not just some best practices around e-learning, but also baseline processes and a structure for kaizen (continuous improvement). I have a lot of learning (and unlearning) to do.

In his book “Workplace Managment,” Taiichi Ohno, co-founder of the Toyota Production System, wrote: “…it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve ‘the best way.’ This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now.”

It’s easy to state the ideal way, the way it is “supposed” to be done, and call that “our process.” Think ADDIE, fellow designers. But the reality is we don’t always follow it. We usually add all sorts of other non-value-added steps. Or we do the steps out of order, which causes another kind of waste. By following the TPS way, we instead start with listing the actual steps. Then we can more accurately observe waste and work toward improvement.

My storyboarding process was supposed to look something like this:

  1. Storyboard each screen on a slide in PPT
  2. Find graphics
  3. Develop screens

Instead, it looked more like this:

  1. Storyboard a few screens
  2. Look for cool graphics on-line
  3. Put cool graphics on screen to see how they look
  4. Change graphic to gray scale and see if it looks better
  5. Storyboard another screen
  6. Etc.

Can you see the extra steps there? These out-of-order, extra steps add to the time line and the cost. If I had been doing this for a client on a fixed fee basis, it would have reduced my profit margin. And if I were charging per-hour, I should be asking, “Is the customer willing to pay for this?” But that’s another post.