Take a minute and think back……
Take a minute and think back, when did you learn continuous improvement? When was the first time you thought a bit about it and started to develop a system and method to drive continuous improvement? Was it PDCA or DMAIC or were you led by reducing waste and serving the customer, the guiding principles of lean? Or to be honest none of these?
A conversation with two old fishing friends now continents apart reminded me of where a lot of my skills were founded. They were formed and honed by fishing…Yes fishing, not in the offices or factories of late twentieth century industry but on the lakes and rivers of the Midlands around our home town of Burton-on-Trent. Our guide and mentor was not Demming or Juran but more often than not Richard Walker. For many years Richard Walker held the British record for the rod caught carp. At 44 pounds the record stood for twenty eight years from 1952 to 1980. How to catch carp and other freshwater fish was documented in his authorative book “No need to lie”, one of the books that guided us to angling success. What did we learn; Understand your quarry, where do the fish live, what do they eat, when do they feed. Then practical observation…. can we recognise these situations on our rivers and lakes. We caught trout on the fly,chub in the winter, carp and barbel in the summer. To trick the trout we would make our own flies adjust the patterns until they worked. A blue dun hackle on Oliver Kites Imperial worked on our river, the original ginger hackle did not. Our own shrimp patterns were based on the contents of trout’s mouths and stomachs proved more successful than those we bought. One local caught fish on the scruffiest looking of homemade flies…I never could tell why but I suspected they trapped air … so we copied them and called it a “scruffy fly”. It worked. We weren’t even time rich , we had studies, Saturday jobs so we learned to optimise our time … fish an evening rise rather than during the heat of the day when the fish were lethargic. To catch chub and barbel we learned how to drift bait down between weeds in fast water, under trees and in tangledroots. We developed techniques to fish where the fish lived not where we wanted them to live.
Without really trying I think we learned plenty of useful skills. Observation, data collection, experimentation, benchmarking, optimisation, team building,problem solving. Were we unique? I really don’t think so! I am sure others learned the same things doing DIY, organising drama clubs, learning musical instruments or whatever floated their boat.
So let’s move to the world of work. When we pull people together to learn about problem solving or continuous improvement is it any surprise that they can be singularly underwhelmed and unimpressed. They rightly believe they have been doing this for the last twenty years or more. One man’s Pareto is another man’s histogram of costs. One man’s “plot it out” is another man’s trend chart. In the early stages of continuous improvement we should recognse that very often the skills are already there.What we really need to be doing is focusing these skills with a common language, ensuring the projects are sized so they can be completed and then getting out of the way and letting the teams use the skills they they have been polishing for decades.