This morning as I read Sue Kozlowski’s blog about her husband and the “common sense” factor of lean six-sigma process analysis, I decided to apply this thinking to a recent experience at work. Are there work environments where process analysis should not be applied? Where common sense is the standard? Here is my thought process.

I recently participated in a collective bargaining negotiation in a public sector organization. I was on the team representing a class of employees who were requesting a reclassification of their pay scale. The process moved from opening statements by each side, directly into negotiation when management made a request to discuss a settlement compromise. Since the arbitrator is hired by both sides to resolve the conflict with a decision based on the evidence presented or some other resolution, he facilitated this mediation process. This certainly was lean thinking at first. If an agreement could be reached we would reduce the time muda that hours of testimony would take up. However, the result was quite the opposite. The management team left the room and the arbitrator volleyed back and forth between the conference rooms we each occupied carrying offers and counter offers. After six hours, where testimony might have taken only three or four, we had a agreement that could be presented to membership for a vote. Now the vote will take a few weeks and if rejected we are back at the hearing with no result and lots of time wasted, but if it is accepted time is saved. Common sense might have motivated the arbitrator to still take testimony, but how much time might that have taken? The final outcome in any deliberation can not be easily predicted or measured as is possible with finite quantifiable processes.

I wondered… what other work environments is the human interpretation element an integral part of the work? Congress, medicine, education? Can lean thinking be applied to the legal or other professional systems of work? Can careful deliberation be quantified, time limited or standardized? Can the professional judgments made by judges, lawyers, doctors, counselors or teachers be standardized? My prima facie conclusion is no. Certainly much of the administrative process can be standardized, but analyzing data from human interpersonal behavior and related biological or psychological function is subject to multiple factors and may not be easily quantified or standardized. As trainedprofessionals gain experience their decisions come quicker as various familiar senarios appear. That timely critical analysis skill is an importantfactor in assessing professional competance and value. How do you measure that experience?

That being said… I have some measurable chores to do at home today and the deliberation required to write this column is using that precious time. Hm… choice, creative activity or necessary survival tasks? Balance is the key. Have a great Saturday.

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