One of the more famous tools taught by Chihiro Nakao of Shingijutsu fame is to direct the learner to observe an operation and “sketch the flows.”
Another Time Ideas article by Anne Murphy Paul, How to Increase Your Powers of Observation, validates Nakao’s instinct.
She makes the distinction between casual observation that we all do, and scientific observation.
[…]scientists train their attention, learning to focus on relevant features and disregard those that are less salient. One of the best ways to do this is through the old-fashioned practice of taking field notes: writing descriptions and drawing pictures of what you see. “When you’re sketching something, you have to choose which marks to make on the page,” says Michael Canfield, a Harvard University entomologist[…] (bold emphasis added)
The common factor here is that, like scientists, we don’t want to simply watch a process, we want to observe it. We want to predict what we think will happen, and then observe to confirm or refute our predictions.
While casual observers simply sit back and watch what unfolds, scientific observers come up with hypotheses that they can test. What happens if a salesperson invites a potential customer to try out a product for herself? How does the tone of the weekly meeting change when it’s held in a different room?
The next time you are in your work area, rather than simply watching, bring a bad and pencil, and sketch out what is happening.
How does the material actually flow through the process? Where does it pause, stop, get diverted?
How to people flow, move into, and out of, the process?
Where does the information come from?
Does the layout support, or get in the way of, smooth flow?
How about the tools, equipment, machines? Do they help the worker get the job done, or make it awkward?
And finally, what actually happens when there is a problem of some kind? How does the team member indicate this? What is the response?
By sketching, you force your eye to see the details that you might have missed. You force yourself to actually see, and might be surprised when that is different from what you assumed was happening.
Sharpen your eye – learn to observe like a scientist.
No question… sketch!