Studying process excellence, like Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, helps you to contextualize data to solve everyday business problems.
We often hear more experienced professionals complain about how their younger colleagues can be shortsighted or that their lack of industry knowledge leaves them without a complete understanding of the big picture. They aren’t familiar with process excellence.
It’s not necessarily young people’s fault, of course. Our perspectives are a result of training and experience. Especially if you enter the workforce straight from completing your education, there is only so much training and experience you can get.
You may also simply be new to the world of process excellence. Maybe your current role is crossing over into process problem solving, or you’re curious about what process excellence is. Whether you have years of business experience or are fresh out of business school, why should you study process excellence now?
One word: perspective.
It’s not just young people who struggle with perspective – any team member can get entrenched in day-to-day activities and miss the bigger picture. So, how do you gain (or regain) perspective? The answer is simple: study process.
Identifying Relationships Between Processes
Perspective is your ability to see all relevant data in a meaningful relationship to other data. Studying business process, primarily Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, is a way of contextualizing that data.
Think of it like this: Is a process self-contained, or is it merely one piece of a larger process? When you think about a business problem as a process problem, you start considering all aspects of inputs, outputs and transformations to produce a product or service.
Thinking this way allows you to identify meaningful relationships between labor, technology and outputs from end to end.
Solving Real Process Problems
Let’s put ourselves in the thick of a process problem for a moment. Imagine we’re trying to make a decision within a supply chain. We’ll start by looking at the interconnected pieces of procurement and supply chain management.
Let’s say your manager tasks you with lowering costs for a product. You realize you can buy a piece for that product at a cheaper cost at the procurement level. You spring for it, thinking it’s the obvious choice and feel relieved the problem was so easy to solve.
When you present your plan to your team, they quickly point out that the service level agreements make the cheaper part more expensive in the long run. They’re concerned there’s more volatility in shipping dates, and the logistical costs will increase with different vendors or locations in their shipping and payment terms.
By rushing to choose what seemed like the cost-effective option, you lacked the perspective to see how this one process interconnected with other processes. Looking at all the processes impacted from the 30,000-foot level ahead of time helps you see the impact of your actions and make informed decisions.
In this scenario, you need to define how you will prioritize pieces of the puzzle. You could do this by creating a prioritization matrix where you can weigh different variables against each other. In the matrix, you can directly compare the cost of the product versus the quality of the product, versus shipping lead times and more. This weighting tool creates a final scoring while standardizing ways of measuring. With your decisions incorporating more variables, you’ll come to a stronger conclusion and be able to communicate your decision making clearly to your team.
Embarking on Your Journey to Process Excellence
Understanding meaningful relationships makes it easier to spot problems as the gaps between expected outcome and reality become apparent. With time, you will learn to see the issue behind the squeaky wheel. And most importantly, you will learn to see beyond yourself.
Your unique perspective, whether as a young professional or a veteran, is valuable to your team, even as you seek to improve your skills. Learning to see the big picture makes you a valuable team member, and one day you can help others gain perspective, too.
For now, embrace the necessity of asking questions. You don’t have to have all the answers: rely on your teammates and your leaders. Processes are always evolving, so your opportunities to grow your skills will continue to present themselves.