‘Face it to Replace it’ and Other Dr. Phil-isms Related to Continuous Improvement

Dr. Phil McGraw talks about acknowledging what needs to be changedDr. Phil has the most awesome one-liners.  “No matter how flat you make a pancake, it’s always got two sides.”  This is so true.  “If you’re gonna debate me, you better not let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass.”  I can’t interpret this one, but I’m sure it was spot on at the time.  Although Dr. Phil’s home-spun one-liners can come across a bit cryptic, sometimes he punches you in the face with a line of truth you’ll never forget.

One such Dr. Phil-ism I will always remember kept running through my mind during my first ever Continuous Improvement Event, and that is, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

Because it’s hard to acknowledge that you are accountable for your own situation, many people remain stuck in a pattern of doing something, says the doctor.  By acknowledging the thing you want to improve, you take the first step towards improvement.  Although the doctor was talking to a married couple when he said it, it also applied to the company and the relationships between us, the team members.  The acknowledgement of that which must be changed is a primary building block of a successful marriage AND a successful business.

Dr. Phil’s words would prove true over and over as we pushed for change from deep inside the company in the aftermath of our Continuous Improvement Event.  Here’s how it all went down:

The Back-Story

Before coming to LeanKit, I worked with a retailer as an E-Commerce Marketing Manager.  The company was conservative in its expenditures and had traditionally taken a slow but steady approach to its growth.  When the executive team committed to “going Lean,” it was no surprise.

So, when I was asked to join a cross-functional team to help improve the company’s Print Ad Proofing Process, I jumped at the chance.  While our print ads generated millions in revenue, we were wasting millions of dollars in overhead producing them.  Those were dollars that the company could have passed along to our customers!

The Event

For four days, representatives from Advertising, Merchandising, Procurement, Store Operations, IT and other departments sat in a room together amongst whiteboards and stacks of post-it notes working to tease it all out.  Each person came armed with his/her special bits of knowledge, and before we knew it, the walls were covered in post-it notes showing dozens of ‘value streams’, or workflows that each represented a part of the larger process.

Here’s an oversimplified account of how we created a new process:

  1. Mapped out the current process using hundreds of sticky notes (this took the entire first day).  Different colored notes and sections of the wall were designated to different sections of the process.

  2. Identified waste in the current process (time spent re-working, correcting, waiting on turn-around, etc.) and grouped together waste items according to different types of work.

  3. Mapped a new process using the discoveries we had made.

  4. Formed action plans for putting the new process into place.

The ‘Ah-ha’ Moment

We knew this thing was huge, but seriously?  We had never visualized the entire process, so it was enlightening to see just how huge it was!  It involved hundreds of people and a tremendous amount of resources from inside and outside the company working for several months just to produce one print ad.  Our company produced dozens of print ads each year, so you can imagine the potential savings.

Mapping, re-mapping and re-re-mapping the process took lots of work, but the savings opportunities we found through our discussions made it worthwhile.

Now, would anyone actually follow the new process?  Would we be able to effectively influence (and manage) this change?

Acknowledging the Need for Change

Many of the changes hinged on the cooperation of other teams – especially those that had been less-than-receptive in the past.  The new process required people to hold others accountable, something many departments had failed to do because it was easier that way.  Rolling out the new process was going to be “like nailing jello to the wall.”

But, like a great marriage, success in business takes a willingness to acknowledge your flaws and motivation to do the work necessary to continuously improve.  The words of Dr. Phil, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge,” makes so much sense in terms of continuous improvement.  If you don’t take the time on the front-end to examine your processes and ask tough questions, you can’t even begin to see what you aren’t acknowledging, much less acknowledge it and take steps to improve.

Now that we could tie the new process back to a number (calculated based on time and money used to produce an ad), even the most resistant teams were forced to acknowledge that a change was needed and actually started to embrace the new process!  Those who were were once our biggest opponents had become our most vocal advocates.

Once everyone saw the benefit in slowing down to go faster, our process improvements began gaining traction as people found the changes actually saved them time in their daily work.  Multiply that across hundreds of people, year after year, and you not only have massive savings for the company, you could also end up with a more fulfilled team and happier customers in the end.

Photo of Dr. Phil from MakeMeLaugh.com

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