Decisions, Decisions

How many “If-Then” steps do your team members have to deal with in the course of their routine work?

Every one of those branch points is a decision. It is a point where the team member must memorize decision criteria and the correct choice(s).

Each “If-Then” in the process flow potentially doubles the number of possible paths the process can take.

Each decision is an opportunity to make a mistake.

The more complex a process, the more time and experience the team member requires to master it.

Mental bandwidth is limited.

The more attention they must expend to do it right, the less they can devote to thinking about how it could be done better.

How complicated a world do you create for people trying to do the work?

The more “flexible” your human interface with the process, the more complicated it is for the person who has to use it.

Do they have to enter ad-hoc query criteria into computers to pull information they routinely need every day?

How many decision criteria are things that people “just know?”

How often does someone encounter a problem or new situation and get a verbal instruction from the supervisor on how to handle it? What happens then? Maybe a general announcement at the next team meeting, if you’re lucky?

Go down to your work area.

Watch how people interact with the routine work.

Each of those decision points is an opportunity to simplify your process flow and make life a little less stressful for all of you.

8 Replies to “Decisions, Decisions”

  1. Mark,

    I fully agree that life is too complex and in many cases we’ve made it that way. One of our Japanese Senseis once told me, “Complex is very easy to do. Simple is very hard to do.” So his challenge to us was always to make things simpler, and thus easier to do.

    I follow a very simple methodology that I developed many years ago for reducing setup / changeover times:

    Eliminate, Simplify, Automate – Only in that order.

    This would say that for every process step I see, the first thing I look to do is eliminate the need for it. If we absolutely have to do it, then simplify it so that it happens easily and perfectly every time. (Poka Yoke works great here.) Then and only then should one consider automating anything. Oddly enough, my experience has shown that at least 80% of the benefits are in the first two steps and we rarely have to automate something. The bigger challenge comes when somebody has done it incorrectly and automated things that we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. You’d be surprised how often I run into that one!


  2. Eliminating decisions is so important that I have experienced significant improvements by purposely making some things worse in order to treat all the things equally within the same process. For instance in a chemistry-test-procedure I would add impurities to all the samples, bringing all the samples to the same dirty baseline. This eliminated the decision making steps: if it behaves like x1 do y1&z2; if like x2 do y2&z2; etc.

    Now I have a powder-coating company…. I look forward to having the right equipment to treat many samples equally from pretreatment to final step. For instance this would involve “degreasing” parts that don’t need degreasing etc. On the surface it sounds like waste (inefficient) to me.

    1. A caveat, I suppose, is the quote attributed to Albert Einstein:

      “Everything should be made as simple as possible; but no simpler.”

      One of the things to recognize when there are branches in a process flow is when you actually have TWO process flows that are actually intermingled.

  3. I’m reminded of Gall’s Law – A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

    1. I like that. TPS itself is a complex system that emerged from simple principles. Successfully putting it into place means following the same path – start simple, and evolve your system as necessary. You can’t succeed by copying a complex system that evolved in another company. You can only apply the foundational elements.

      Boeing’s moving assembly line is a great example as well.

      I often encounter teams struggling with trying to plan out every detail of a complex system. My coaching is “Get a simple version working first, then expand from there as you need to.” That is also a foundational element of 3P.

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