How to Really See What is Going On in Your Workplace | IndustryWeek | Jamie Flinchbaugh

How managers can use the four levels of observation to really see what is going on in their workplace:

      1. Stories and anecdotes.
      2. Data and graphs.
      3. Pictures and diagrams.
      4. Direct observation.”


Michel Baudin‘s comments:
Deep down, I believe I agree with Jamie Flinchbaugh on observation, but I am puzzled by the way he phrases it. He describes stories and anecdotes as “the most abstract level of observation.” I see them as a means of persuasion, not observation, and concrete, not abstract.

I don’t see data as necessarily dependent on assumptions. What assumptions are there behind, say, the number of boxes of Cereal Z you sold last month? It is just a fact. While photographs are a form of data, graphs and diagrams are ways of analyzing data and presenting results, which is also downstream from observation.

For the analysis of a plant, I see three main sources of input:

  1. Direct observation of the operations.
  2. Interviews with key members of the organization.
  3. The organization’s data.

The Lean literature justifiably emphasizes direct observation. You go to where the work is being done, and then apply various mental techniques to help you notice relevant characteristics. You may even gather data in the form of photographs an videos for future analysis.

But it cannot be your only source. You also need to know what the manager’s ambitions are for the organization, what they have tried to realize them, and what obstacles they feel they have encountered. Their perceptions may or may not agree with what you see with your own eyes, but you need to know what they are.

Finally, any business activity leaves a data trail that should not be ignored, including product and process definitions, current status, history, and plans for the near and distant future. All of this also needs to be reviewed and confronted with direct observation and human perceptions.

It’s when you present your conclusions and recommendations that you use stories, graphs, diagrams, pictures, and videos to get your point across.

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