Thursday, May 27, 2010

Transparency = speed

Transparency, the willingness to expose problems when they occur, is an important component of any kick-butt lean enterprise. Unfortunately, most companies have created an environment that fosters problem avoidance, where employees feel compelled to hide problems for fear of reprisal. Conversely, a company that practices transparency, where problems are not only exposed, but are readily discussed with passion and directness, will solve their problems faster and more effectively.

Most information about problems exist as bits and bytes in a database, invisible to most. The trick is to get the problems out into the open, where they cannot be ignored. One of our clients literally puts poor-quality customer returns in red bins on the floor in front of their daily communication boards where people almost trip over them. These returned products get addressed pretty quickly.

Imagine the call center that shows the number of dropped calls real-time on a huge screen for all to see. If the trend gets worse, how long until someone notices? Right away. What if the screen didn't exist and all of the dropped call info was being collected in a database? How long until a problem would be addressed? Who knows.

Imagine the hospital operating room with an "on-time start" percentage posted right on the door to the OR every day, with all of the reasons for starting a procedure late. Would the root causes of late starts get addressed quickly? Probably.

Before embarking on a journey to transparency, it is critical to establish some rules:

1. Blame the process, not the person
2. Don't shoot the messenger
3. Data collection should be simple and fast
4. Use color, red and green, to make hits and misses obvious
4. Reward people for following the transparency process

All companies have problems every day. Do you want to be the company that knows what's going on so you can fix the problems, or do you want to hide the problems and rely on hope and luck. When it comes to business, ignorance is not bliss.