Leadership, how to improve a processWhen business leaders are about to embark on optimizing a system, they initially think of the problems within a process, a limited scope. They do not have the time for system analysis so they rely on recent and anecdotal information from brief visits to local operations who also talk about process. They provide information within the scope of a process which rarely describes a system.

Process thinking versus system thinking is internal thinking. Process thinking leads to underestimating the depth of poor Supplier quality and service. Process thinking, being internal thinking, tends to define value from the perspective of local leaders with minimal encouragement from their customers.

We have all heard of the idiom “a square peg in a round hole.” The expression was originally intended to describe a person who does not fit in within a defined society or culture, a system. The person might meet some of the requirements, enough to get by, but they go mostly unnoticed and unfortunately contribute to system failures. Not at all their fault but an example of one input contributing to a system failure.

System thinking generates realization of only accepting target values.

A square peg in a round hole is also a great expression for what happens within any operational system. If we try to feed materials or information, from beginning steps, outside or away from target values we get a square peg in a round hole. The materials have drifted too close to specifications, resulting in the round peg starting to square. Information that has been embellished for reasons of trying to influence a behavior or the information has been left out of what is needed for quality and speed, resulting in the round peg starting to square. Value streams flow because of their flawless inputs and when drifting from target values start, we not only impair flows, the impairments are illusive.  

In systems thinking, the customer defines value. This key requirement guides us to where value begins. What are the key material and service characteristics, where do they start in our value system, and what are the target values to prevent the forming of square pegs? I once witnessed a company attempting to save costs through lessening the thickness of a heating block, this resulted in increasing the number of defects going to the customer. What I witnessed was process thinking.

Value from one process step must be adding value to the process steps it serves. When one process step compromises target values the negative effect becomes exponential throughout the value stream.  

Let’s summarize in a simple example:

If we want to improve the system of growing a biological plant, process thinking would define the scope of this value stream by starting at planting the seed to the final step of picking the plant. Managers would define value and not the customers or consumers receiving the final products. In systems thinking value starts with the quality of the seeds. Viability, germination and vigor measures can help maximize the understanding of the planting value or storage potential of seed. The mistake made in process thinking is the seed quality is assumed. In systems thinking customers define value, which in turn leads managers to pay greater attention to incoming seed quality. A system derives the final value, not a process, as to what is delivered to the customer. A system delivers to the customer a total scope of value, a seed of poor quality will not deliver a quality plant. A system is value adding to value, ending at what is value defined by the customer or consumer in many cases.

Why thinking within a confined process scope becomes limiting?

Business leaders are mainly expected to stay within the confines of what they control. One more idiom, “Think Outside The Box,” unfortunately leaders interpret this as, be creative within your span of control. This is because businesses define their organizations with too many manager’s, hierarchy only furthers the promotion of limited creativity and areas of improvement. System improvement will suffer with such confinement. The process might improve but how much of the added improvement investment is realized by customers?

As a business leader, become a systems thinker. Collaborate and involve all stakeholders, suppliers, customers, value stream workers, and other departments. Be flexible with how you organize. Everyone wins with the right geometry.

Lean Teams USA  

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