Originally Published on LinkedIn, December 26, 2016

Anyone who oversees operations that are subject to surprises, problems or daily changes, knows the concept of a fresh set of eyes. The fresh set of eyes is the fresh perspective, the outsider who can view the problem as a newcomer and analyze the situation without prejudice.

It seems like a silly question, and once you answer it you’ll want to kick yourself, but how many often have you produced the same frustrating results day after day because you failed to adapt to the new challenge? Why?

“Because we’ve always done it that way.”

That’s what we call “tunnel vision.”

Blushing? Good! Kindly read on…

It’s possible you’re in that tunnel so deep, and the daylight so far off that you can barely keep up – or perhaps you’ve simply accepted the scenario and slip a little more behind each day.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a multi-million dollar operation drowning in its own inefficiencies. In the ages of limitless wireless computing and communication, information was being relayed on bits of paper. Not just any bits of paper, not typed prints outs, or note paper, or legal pads but scrap paper – the backs of torn quartered computer print outs or the thermal printer roll paper.

Now, I’m as keen on recycling as the next guy – more, really. I take recycling seriously in the home and office, but there’s a time and a place.

This communication was within a small team environment. The notes had legs, they lived sometimes overnight and they traveled back and forth between members of the group.

Progress reports penned by different members of the group cluttered up these roughly 4 x 5 inch scraps of paper, and there was no system for sharing these beyond the physical moving of the scraps around – what we used to call “sneaker mail.”

The format of information added to the scraps varied from team member to team member. Though the goal was the same, the result was confusion. Add the variable of handwriting and you can see the sort of mess they had on their hands.

After quickly assessing the needs the scraps had been used to fill, I proposed we developed a short form with much of the information that has previously been penned on the scraps pre-printed.

So used to doing it the old way, “the way we’ve always done it,” they didn’t immediately embrace the idea of standardization.

However, once a draft had been created, I can happily share there was an “a-ha,” or “by Jove’s,” moment.

Full digital implementation of this sort of process streamlining is still on the to-do list. Large companies such as this one are nowhere as nimble as small entrepreneurs can be, and the possibly modest investment in the paperless solution will need to be evaluated further.

Meanwhile, the use of the standard form – stored and shared via a preexisting central server, is certainly a giant step in the right direction.

I learned after our time together on this micro project, that the process we had worked on had been identified as “needing improvement,” as long as two years ago if not longer.

A revolving door for team members, more pressing higher-profile concerns, and perhaps a bit of the not-my-job/problem mindset had permitted this process to go “unimproved,” for too long. The result? Inefficiency, frustration and poor customer service prevailed.

Today, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. This particular tunnel at least. This small team has a process they can use. They have a form that meets their needs, and way to track project elements that feels more businesslike and less frustrating for team members.

Sure, there is still much work to be done elsewhere within this company, but then Rome wasn’t built in a day. While this form is an improvement, if it’s still in use two years from now without modification and greater digital implementation, we will have at least partially failed.

Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” or some would say “change for the better.”

In business, this refers to efforts that improve processes, flow and functions at all levels. On the manufacturing floor, it can mean improving ergonomics of workstations, to reduce movement and even risk of injury. In an office setting, the improving the flow of information, and the integration of departments toward a common goal.

Many believe in its purest form, Kaizen is ongoing or continuous. Because things change, needs, wants, products and demands evolve, it’s not enough to simply “fix it once and forget it.”

The New Year is a chance to chart a new course. The same could be said of any given Monday, the first the next month, or the start of the quarter. But the New Year, if the start of your fiscal year, is a good launching point because it is also an opportunity to plan and possibly budget to make a change.

The first step is admitting you have a problem! The next is finding that fresh set of eyes that can look at your operation from outside. I’d love to take a look. Isn’t it about time?

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