It seems that “direct observation” has become more fashionable in the lean community. I don’t mean to sound cynical but I’m always concerned when a lean practice or principle seems to takes on a life of its own or is considered the “next best thing”. Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced of the power of direct observation and it deserves the recognition. However, we are cavalier in our discussion of direct observation and seldom realize that it’s a skill that few possess and is not easy to master. The Lean Learning Center and I have been working with organizations over the last few years to help their employees develop and hopefully master the skill of direct observation. I have learned that the most important element of any process to observe are the connections; people connections, information connections, product connections. It is also the most difficult element of a process to observe. The importance was further reinforced recently when I watched a very interesting TV show on advertising. I must admit that I am fascinated by the psychology of modern advertising and couldn’t turn away. This show focused on how technology is affecting customer expectations and likely changed advertising forever. In today’s hi-tech world, both good and bad customer experiences are shared with hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. I was struck by 2 companies in particular who were featured; Zappos, who do not do any traditional advertising; and Virgin Airlines, who does less traditional advertising than their competition. Their “advertising” is driven by one powerful principle; “we will diminish or demolish every negative customer experience”. They look to improve every connection with their customers. Just think of how much better your company would be if you diminished or demolished every negative customer/supplier connection in your processes. I believe this is one of the underlying themes in Steven Spear’s book, in fact, it’s in the title: “The High Velocity Edge-How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition”. I have come to believe that designing excellent connections is a critical operational success factor. Just look at your Value Steam Map. It’s the information connections on that map that have the biggest impact.
Coming soon to my website is a new 3 column feature: What’s Good? What’s Bad? and What Do I Think? The purpose is to promote dialogue on what’s working well, but more importantly, what we in the lean community should be doing better.
It is the unfortunate truth we often have an extreme problem accepting, that today there are no real secrets, all your interactions ultimate get reflected in some type of social communication. And today much of that communication is instantly shared globally in plain public view. How you handle the negative occurrences (and there will always be some) can make or break even extremely large companies. Virgin works hard to handle those that occur so that people will not only share the bad, but will also see that they have dealt with the issue quickly.