The Psychology of Quality and More
Whilst I was writing my book 'A Toolbook for Quality Improvement and Problem Solving', I noticed a few things that set me thinking.
The first observation was that there are two types of data in problems: some problems have numeric data available, whilst others are more qualitative. Numeric data can, with reasonable ease, be charted and calculated, helping clear decisions to be made. Qualitative data, on the other hand, is much nastier stuff: it is difficult to usefully chart customer comments or problem causes. Unfortunately, qualitative problems appear quite frequently.
There are quite a few tools for working with qualitative data, but they largely do the same thing, gathering and grouping the information into structures that help the problem to be better understood. These tools tend to have impressive-sounding names, although their operation is usually quite simple. This plethora and lexical complexity of tools can result in busy managers (and others) being dissuaded from using them.
So. We have qualitative problems and complex tools and people not using the tools. So what did I, as a consultant and author, do? Write at book, of course! It is called 'Rapid Problem Solving with Post-it® Notes' (plug: Published by Gower, ISBN 0-566-07836-8) and describes six simplified and generalised tools for doing just what the title describes and what I (and, probably, others) have being doing with teams for some time.
In this column, I shall continue to describe the more traditional quality tools, but will also throw in an occasional Post-it® Notes tool. This month, it is the turn of the Post-Up.
How does it work?
Collection of information about a problem or ideas for its solution is often done as a set of bullet-point sentences or phrases. You can see this in Brainstorming, when a person at the front of the room writes down ideas on a flipchart as the people in the team call them out.
But when you look at a Brainstorming session as a fly on the wall, what do you see? There is one person writing, one person talking and everyone else is thinking about their idea, waiting for their turn or daydreaming. If this was a process to improve, there is an obvious waste that can be removed by making the process more parallel.
The Post-Up works by getting everyone to write down their ideas simultaneously, on Post-it® Notes, of course, and sticking them up on the wall. There is a danger with this of it becoming like the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) and losing the synergy of groups. This is remedied by ensuring people read each other's ideas, using these to trigger additional thoughts.
You can do a Post-Up by yourself, but it works best in a group. The size of the group is ideally between about four and ten: enough to synergise, but not too many to stand in front of the work area.
How do you do it?
1. Write the objectives, any constraints and additional triggers on a Flipchart page and display this prominently. The objectives and constraints will help guide the overall session. The triggers should help you to think of new ideas. For example, 'Reduce' might trigger a thought for a minimal chair, with various parts reduced, like a low back or a minimalist overall design.
The objectives and constraints can be as tight or loose as you like. You can seek creative ideas, gather opinions or collect proven facts.
2. Stick up a couple of extra flipchart pages side-by-side on the wall, using masking tape. The ideas will be posted up here.
3. Give everyone a pad of 3" x 5" Post-it® Notes, plus a marker-pen each. Explain the rules and let them loose! The rules are as follows:
(a) Read at the objectives and constraints.
(b) Think of ideas that fall within the problem space.
(c) Write one idea per Post-it® Note and stick it up immediately (no writing lots of ideas by yourself in a corner then posting them all up at once). Try to ensure that what is written can be understood by other people. Words and phrases like 'Open space' and 'Wood' may mean something to you, but might be too ambiguous or obscure for the other people in the group.
(d) Everyone works together, in parallel. Keep reading other people's Post-it® Notes, aiming to let them trigger off additional ideas.
(e) No talking, other than to clarify ('What does that mean?'). This prevents criticism and sidelining and also helps the creative right brain come into play.
This should result in an amazing number of ideas being created in a very short period. If necessary, tape up another flipchart page or two.
4. When you are done, you can rearrange the Post-it® Notes as appropriate. For example, you may move them into groups to find patterns, building a bigger picture to understand the overall situation.
(Post-it® Notes is a registered trade mark of 3M Corporation.)
Next time: The Activity diagram
This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance
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