Quality #4: Simplifying Processes

by Tanmay Vora on November 12, 2009

keep it simpleWelcome to the fourth part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first three posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality

#QUALITYtweet Want to add complexity?

Get obsessed with a solution without

focusing on the real problem.

We love complexity because thinking complex solutions give us a false sense of achieving something worthwhile. Two questions to ponder:

1)      Is your complex solution accurately solving the problem?

2)      Is there a simpler way to solve the same problem?

Consider this story:

One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese Management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soap box that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty.

Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soap boxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but spent a whoopee amount to do so. Now, when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc but instead came out with another solution.

He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soap box passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.

Implementing complex review process or a complex workflow is relatively easy. Picking up an off-the-shelf best practice is easy too. Identifying the simplest solution that best solves the problem is difficult.

When you improve your processes constantly over a period of time, adding new steps to the process, it tends to get complex.  Simplification of process requires you to think with a fresh perspective (and may be a fresh set of people) and ask a simple question: “What problem is this process intended to solve?”

The answer often reveals that there are much simpler ways of solving the problem.

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