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"Our Process Is Different"

One of the most frequent quotes I encounter when helping people improve their processes is “Our process is different.”

People who have not been exposed to continuous improvement efforts frequently believe that their process is so unusual that Lean or Six Sigma or whatever methodology you are using does not apply.

Normally this quote is verbatim, and it will be followed with a reason why it is, in fact, different.

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After hearing this for a while, I started writing down the reasons. I put them on 3×5 cards, and kept them in my pocket during kaizen events. Over time, I started to hear all of the reasons start to repeat themselves. When I would start a new project, there was a good chance that someone would push back on the changes, and give me a reason. They would be convinced that they were unique in their situation. I would pull out my cards, and tell them that they just gave me #3 or #7, or whatever one it was. I had about 15 or 20 of the reasons on my list. Many times, the reason they gave me would be almost verbatim.

This allowed me to peel back one layer of the onion of their resistance to change, and let them see that they were not in this alone. Other people had felt the same way, and had figured out how to make things better. People are more at ease with change when they know that others have done what they are about to do. It takes away the fear that the task is impossible. They get a little of the feeling that if someone else can do it, then so can they. They realize that they are not entering uncharted waters as they thought they were.

Some of them reasons on the card were:

  1. Our customers won’t let us do it differently.
  2. Our job changes too rapidly.
  3. There are too many variables to standardize this process.
  4. This isn’t manufacturing. (used frequently in office settings)
  5. Our demand is too unpredictable.
  6. Our team is too spread out.
  7. Our process is too creative to standardize.
  8. Our suppliers won’t get on board.
  9. The computer system won’t let us do that.
  10. The boss won’t go for that.
  11. There are too many unknowns.
  12. Our process is too complicated.

Ironically, many of the items on this list are actually the reason that improvement is needed, not a reason that the change won’t be effective.

  • Don’t simply dismiss the reasons. People are not easily convinced when there is a strong emotion behind the logic in use. Instead, validate that someone else had the same concern and was able to overcome the issue. People are competitive at heart, and don’t like hearing that others were able to do something better.
  • If you choose to use a card as I did, have real examples for the comments. If not, the card can backfire. It will seem like the list is just a gimmick with no substance.

  • People are unique, but their situations are probably not as unusual as they think they are.
  • People respond well to knowing that they are not ‘in it alone’.
  • People tend to be competitive, and don’t want to hear about others succeeding more than they did.

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  • That’s a great list. A couple other common ones are “we never do it that way” and “we tried that and it didn’t work.” Your idea of giving an example where others were skeptical but overcame is a great idea.

    Leaders should keep in mind that some people are probably thinking the same comments that are on your list but are not saying it face-to-face.

    I was leading a team earlier in this year that had some interesting behaviors. One mechanic voiced several concerns along the way saying things like “Have you ever worked on an ______ before?” No one else expressed any concerns. When we were done and had exceeded the goals, the critics came out of the wood work. One Supervisor told me, “I thought you were crazy but this works.” Even the manager told me he had his doubts.

    Leaders need to be ready for the resistance when implementing change. Thanks for sharing your list.

    Best regards,
    Chris

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