We frequently ask people in our workshops and webinars to tell us about the challenges they experience from day to day.
This is done using a non-technical audio measurement system of our own invention which we call the ‘ugh-ometer’.
We simply ask people to provide us with an “ugh” if they experience any of the following things in their work. The louder and longer the “ugh”, the greater the feeling.
You might like to “ugh” along, silently or otherwise, as you read.
Frustration – not being able to do things easily. This generally encourages a loud “ugh” that grows more confident when people realise that they’re not alone. Why aren’t things right first time? And why do they take so long?
Confusion – people not really sure of what is going on. This conjures a thoughtful “ugh” as people start to consider what might have happened to certain pieces of work after they’ve been handed off, and if their teams are really aligned with what matters most in their organisation.
Hassle – fires to put out. A big, strong “ugh” is usually the response to this one.
Overload – too much to do. And again, though possibly a bit louder.
Complaints – spending too much time dealing with unhappy customers. A higher pitched, thoughtful “ughhhmm”, and often the admission that the hassle and overload is brought about in an attempt to deliver the right thing to customers, to prevent the complaints from happening.
And on top of all of that, people also then tell us that they’re being asked to do more with less.
Barriers to progress
Digging a bit deeper, as we always do, we find certain themes below the surface of the “ughs”.
Among these is a lack of clarity about customers’ requirements. What aspects of processes, services or products do customers really value? When was the last time that this was considered? Where offerings and ways of working are shaped around assumptions, or what is easiest to deliver, we often find that the measures and metrics being used to understand performance are not focussed on the aspects that matter most to customers. How well are the most critical aspects being delivered? And it gets worse – activities aimed at improving the delivery of products and services to customers can only fail to hit the mark if the mark has not been clearly defined!
A lack of definition and clarity around those ways of working is also found to be a problem – the outputs of processes are not consistent or take too long to deliver, or the work itself feels inefficient and frustrating. We’re not just talking about the core, front facing or ‘money making’ processes either. Processes such as the recruitment process, the expenses process, the board papers process, the complaints process etc often feature in our discussions. And since these aren’t the raison d’etre of most of the organisations we come across, the situation is more frustrating still!
And while we’re on the subject of frustration, data and information are a significant source. Organisations are certainly not short of the stuff – as the saying goes, “Data, data, everywhere, but no one knows a thing!” Despite the surfeit, people in organisations still admit to making decisions based on gut feel and opinion where they find they don’t have the data they need. They also admit to using bad data – which may be worse.
Improvement itself is not easy, people have told us. Solutions that have been implemented have not been effective, as problems resurface over time instead of going away. And projects themselves can be too big and take too long to deliver. Improvements have been unfocused, and it has been hard to pinpoint their impact.
A further theme is that people in the organisation aren’t getting involved and engaged in shaping processes or there is a lack of acceptance for change.
Be glad to know there are alternative ways to approach things. “There’s a way to do it better”, Thomas Edison once observed. “– find it”. Well we can certainly help to shed some light on another way of working!
The extract from A.A Milne about Pooh Bear, who initially went by the name of Edward, puts it very sweetly:
“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
So, like Edward Bear, start by recognising, talking about and challenging the bumps, the “ughs”, frustrations, hassles, overload and confusion. There really are other ways of working that are smoother, easier and better for the organisation, its customers and its people. The thing is, it’s those who need it the most that find it most difficult to step back and consider them.
About the authors
Jo Dowdall and Martin Brenig-Jones are at Catalyst Consulting, a consulting and training company that specialises in Lean methodology and Lean Six Sigma training. They have also written a book to give leaders insight into the basic principles and key points of Lean Sigma Six, Lean Sigma Six for Leaders.
To hear more from Jo and Martin, listen to episode 95 of LID Radio’s Podcast.