Process How and Why

I recently came across this video and, as many of you did, laughed when I saw the boy retrieve the stick.  I love how the man looks at the boy in disbelief.  My favorite part, however, is how the boy, in innocent oblivion, goes right back to the shoreline ready for another attempt to rescue the flip flop.

After a good laugh I got to thinking, “How often do we see this in business?” We have a business process and we train our team to follow the process: USE A STICK TO RESCUE FLIP FLOPS FROM THE WATER.

Without defining the objective of what we’re doing, our team may innocently believe that the purpose of the process is to use the stick and that rescuing the flip flop is a byproduct of the process. Then when we see our team dutifully using sticks we may have the knee-jerk reaction of “Don’t they have any common sense?” or “It should be obvious!” We often ascribe blame to our team when the fault is actually in us.

As leaders we have a very different view of our processes. It is our job to communicate the WHY of processes, not just the HOW. At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we train you so that you can effectively communicate the how and why of even the most intricate of processes using a variety of tools.  One of those tools is standard work.


Standard work is a tool that identifies the sequence in which a job should be performed.  It may include visual tools such as illustrations of what is good and what is bad.  Standard work may also illustrate how each step relates to other steps.  This gives process operators critical information on how their roles affect or can be affected by others.  You can learn about standard work and many other Lean Six Sigma topics by attending one of our Green Belt courses.  In that class we learn how to use standard work using the classic exercise of drawing a pig!  It’s one of our favorite learning exercises because it’s fun, engaging, and illustrates the importance of standard work.

At Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center we love to teach these and many other concepts.  Register for one of our upcoming classes today to improve you, your organization, or your team.

Base Hits

Base Hits

Admission time.

I’m a superficial movie fan.  In fact, the less I have to think about a plot the better.

I love action-packed sci-fi.  I love it when a movie climaxes in the one gigantic battle and the hero single-handedly saves the day.  Because that’s exactly what happens in real life, right?!

Yeah, no.

In real life victories are made up of many small wins.  One of my mentors called these “base hits”.

In baseball, base hits are often rather routine plays that don’t garner much attention by themselves, especially the first one of the inning.  They are, however, positive plays that affect the outcome of the game, but only if there come in succession.  With each successive base hit, even if there’s an out in between (just not more than two), the potential outcome of those base hits keeps getting higher and higher.  After the first base hit, the next at-bat has the potential for two runs.  After the second base hit, the next at-bat has the potential for three runs.  Eventually, each successive at-bat has the potential of a grand slam!

Out continuous improvement activities are much the same.  Our small victories are what make us successful and will carry our organizations through.  Each successive small victory builds on the potential of the ones that preceded it.  Eventually the cumulative benefits of our wins set us up for major breakthroughs.

As continuous improvement leaders we can’t let ourselves be seduced into ignoring small projects for the lure of potentially huge, but much less likely for success projects.  As always, it’s a delicate balance.  We need to stand ready to support our team by watching out for grand slam opportunities, but also make sure we’re coaching them to take advantage of every success.

Because that’s how we win the game.

Multiple Causes in Root Cause Analysis

Multiple Causes in Root Cause Analysis

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had the kind of job where everything went great and everyone told us how awesome we are all the time? Unfortunately, that’s not how life is. We’re often faced with a variety of speed bumps along the road to success. These speed bumps can be flaws in a business process, a quality defect, an inefficient manufacturing or administrative process, or just about any other kind of problem.

Often when we hit these speed bumps we hear the phrase, “Let’s get to the root cause of this problem!” I love it when I hear that phrase. It means someone in authority has bought into finding what caused the problem rather than just treating a symptom. However, that phrase also makes me cringe just a bit.

Why does this cause me to cringe? It may be somewhat trivial to some, but it’s always been a big deal to me. I cringe at the sound of “root cause” because “root cause” is singular. ONE root cause. Far too often we work hard to define the problem, perform a root cause analysis (using the many tools that you can learn about in the Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center Green Belt course), and then celebrate as we’ve done ourselves the grave disservice of identifying one single, sad, lonely, little cause.

Whether you’re using an Ishikawa (Fishbone) diagram, Five Whys, Pareto charts, FMEA, or any other tool, always be sure to ask yourself these questions: Is that it? Could there be more?

Chances are the answer to those two questions are no to the former and yes to the latter. In the example shown below you can see that the continuous improvement team found multiple causes a couple times when they asked why something happened. Because of their ability to not get fixated on just one cause they were able to identify and eliminate three completely separate causes to their delivery issues! Had they not eliminated all three causes, chances are the quality defects would have continued to plague them and their customers.

Keep coming back for more short messages from Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center!

Root Cause Analysis