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When Good Processes Go Bad...

I try to live by the words I preach. I keep my office reasonably well 5S’ed, so I seldom have to look more than a few seconds to find something.

I rarely miss deadlines, and hardly ever make promises that I can’t keep (with the exception of two podcasts I will soon be posting. I am a little behind on editing the audio of a pair of interviews with Mike Osterling, a veteran Lean consultant, and Tim McMahon, a fellow Lean blogger whose work is well worth reading.)

I also make ample use of checklists. My wife is actually better at this than I am. She’s got a long list of custom templates that we use for everything from vacations, to camping, to kayaking, to skiing. Of course, I use similar checklists to prepare for Lean training and consulting clients.

So a few weeks back, I was on track for my departure to lead a multi-day training session. I try to plan for a stress-free departure as I walk out the door, but on this day, we had a painter scheduled to add some color to my home office. I was working that morning, but the plan was to pull all the furniture away from the walls at the last minute before I walked out the door.

Now, let me tell you about my desk. It’s a corner setup with a big hutch. It’s pretty beefy, and is made of laminated pressboard. To make it easier to move, I have the legs sitting on plastic sliders. I had no problem getting it the first foot away from the wall. When I gave it a second tug, one of the main supports of the desk gave way. The fasteners just pulled out of the pressboard and the desk split right down the middle. Fortunately, the way I had pulled it, I had a hand on each half. Of course, the hutch was now straddling the two sections and wobbling precariously.

Now, picture me standing in front of my desk, holding up about a hundred pounds of desk and electronic equipment: my monitor, backup drive, PBX (phone) system, wireless router, and more. Letting go meant the desk would collapse all the way. I couldn’t move either hand without dropping one of the halves. So I waited quite patiently, and very soon, quite sweatily as my wife pulled the electronics off the work station and the painter grabbed a few boards to prop the desk up.

Time seems to slow down at moments like that. My wife insists she moved quickly. I was certain I was watching a frame-by-frame slow-motion replay like the ones where the commentators are trying to see if a receiver’s foot was out of bounds. In her defense, I did still make my flight with plenty of time, so I suspect her story is the more accurate of the two.

So the Lean moral? Deviating from my plan without a good process in place had me sprinting to the shower and out the door instead of being able to take my time on a leisurely trip to the airport. It happens all the time in the workplace. The normal process runs smooth, but the decision to deviate from that process creates chaos. It happens when schedulers expedite shipments, and when salespeople do crazy things to attract a last minute client. At the time it sounds like a good idea, and a necessary one, but the costs are often extremely high, and potentially catastrophic.

Anyone have a story they’d like to share about their good process gone bad?

 

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