Process improvement: avoid complexity and understand the cause.

Let’s talk process improvement. This morning I was in a huff about there being no clean cutlery in the kitchen (only myself to blame). It was all in the dishwasher which, inevitably, hadn’t been run overnight. So immediately resolved to make a trip out to Ikea and bulk-buy cutlery. In fact a week ago, I used a similar approach, and bought 20 identical coffee mugs  just to avoid the same inevitability.

The fact that all 20 mugs are sitting in the sink dirty, queuing for the dishwasher  reminded me of my consulting days. They’re long gone enough to say, in the very early naughties, I was working for Manpower across their business units in Europe. Fascinating stuff as we were in charge of a finance process harmonisation project. That’s consultant speak for making sure that the accountants do the same stuff in all countries. (actually that was a cloak for the real motivator: cost reduction/minimisation).

It was a real treat to see the impact the unique cultural peculiarities of the different European countries affected each of their abilities to adopt a standard finance process. By far, the nordic companies were the most efficient and my time in central Europe showed a hard-working bunch but instead of simplifying a process and really getting to core issues, they would layer complexity over simple problems. As an aside, it also showed me that best practice US process methodology wasn’t entirely appropriate in Europe (will keep that to a future post)

I feel distinctly Germanic in approach this morning. What I should do is ensure the dishwasher is loaded every night and switched on. Then, in the morning, I’d be greeted by gleaming utensils. Buying more cutlery and crockery doesn’t cure the core issue. My natural inclination to buy more cutlery and crockery made matters worse (limited space) so it didn’t cure the problem I faced and only added complexity and cost.

Another thought….Perhaps the nordics would have had me drinking out of environmentally friendly, disposable mugs, at the same time not compromising on design and style too!

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