Drag-and-drop Process Improvement

When I was young and naive I used to believe in the  Big Lie of the Best Practice.  That is, if one migrates from one employment island to another, their best practice baggage will be warmly accepted and checked in at the new place.  The only problem is, the Not Invented Here cloud can be thick and forbidding.

I had the good fortune of cutting my professional teeth at an employer that was functionally well ahead of not only its peers but many other industries as well.  But seven years spent at Texas Instruments (TI) were more than enough to brainwash a budding engineer into thinking their robust, proactive approach to arcane arts like configuration management and process improvement represented some kind of norm.

So imagine my youthful surprise at subsequent employers when attempts to share some truly remarkable business practices and experiences were met with high resistance.  “We don’t care how you did it at TI, welcome to Bob’s Amalgamated Lugnuts”. 

A large part of the mental wall erection was my fault.  I didn’t know how to sell outside ideas at the time.  The trick of course is to get your listener to take ownership of each idea.  Some managers feel threatened by Things Not Invented Here.  Your job as a best practice pitcher is to make sure the balls don’t seem to be coming from left field.

An authoritative reputation is the best attribute you can attain for this.  Never propose any big solution until you’ve been recognized as a resident subject matter expert.  It will take more than talk; you’ll have to have established a solid track record of results without attributing them to external sources until asked.

That goes to the next point: never start off saying “here’s how we did it at Company X”.  Once that’s out you have lost your audience.  Propose an idea that can first stand on its own merits.  Be ready with clear cost-benefit figures.  Any manager who argues against obvious bang-for-the-buck is automatically ill-fitted for their position.  Not only that, but they’re likely to be more paranoid than the average.  Bottom line, you’ll be unlikely to find support.

Think of best practice pitching as a layered endeavor.  You typically can’t just toss the proposal out as a big blob.  Instead, open it like the free gift that it is, peeling back levels of intriguing detail until the original source is the last part revealed– if at all.

Of course the ultimate improvements are those quickly developed in-house, with full knowledge and support upfront of immediate managers.  I was once asked by a boss at TI to help a manufacturing team solve a circuit card assembly problem.  Within three weeks I had written a program that automated over 80% of the necessary process.  The impressed team leader later told me that little venture saved the company $250,000 per year.  That covered my salary for quite some time and has helped in numerous job interviews.

It can be extemely frustrating for proactive types to play political games, especially with old pockets full of proven solutions.  But all you need is one big win to build the support you will need for getting future fixes in quicker.  Fail to play by the unspoken rules, and you may find even your best ideas pinging off of deaf ears.


2 responses to “Drag-and-drop Process Improvement

  1. Pingback: Regime Change Management « Tabula Crypticum

  2. Pingback: Workplace Warfare: the Myth of Information Management « Tabula Crypticum

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