Have you ever noticed an energy surge at the beginning of a new year? It’s not necessarily an individual energy surge, but a collective one. Experts have speculated that this energy surge is generated out of an emotional state called hope. Perhaps we are hoping to leave the things that didn’t work for us in 2011, in the rear view mirror. Perhaps we are hoping for something brand new to materialize. Many of us turn our hopes into what is commonly called a New Year’s resolution. At the turn of the 19th century, it was projected that 10% of the population made these resolutions. After the Great Depression, that number jumped to 25%. This year, it is projected that a whopping 55% of us are expressing some sort of a resolution as we jump in to 2012. I could theorize as to why that number is growing but it would just be a guess. What I am more interested in sharing is how we can succeed in making the improvements at the root of our hope.
For the last 15 years, I have worked on projects geared towards process improvement. I have used the concepts of both Lean and Six Sigma to help identify and execute the factors that create defects and damage results. I have an unwavering confidence in these concepts. Not only have I used them to make improvements to results at work, I have used them to make improvements in my personal life.
There is a popular quote that says the definition of insanity is doing the same things the exact same way while expecting the results to change. That is what tends to happen when we have hopes without a plan. It would be like a farmer expecting to reap a harvest without planting anything.
Your plan should clearly state what it is that you want to change. For example, many people resolve to lose weight in the New Year. That’s a good start but things go south quickly when they try the same tactics that they’ve tried in years past, expecting different results. There is a statistical expression that you probably learned at some point of your educational journey that states y = f (x). If you were like me, you quickly forgot this expression because you had no idea how important it was to problem solving and goal fulfillment. So allow me to convey that this simple statistical expression is a key part of improving results.
As a quick review, y is the statistical symbol for an output. It is something measurable that you want to change. In our weight example, the “Y” would represent weight loss. X is the statistical symbol for inputs or factors that generate the “Y” output. In our weight example, the factors are going to be things like caloric intake, exercise and water intake, just to name a few. So the first step is to identify all the factors that impact the result. Think of these factors as the seeds that must be properly planted in order to grow the harvest or result you are looking for.
For example, I once ran something called a Design of Experiment (DOE) to determine what the correct factors and levels of those factors are to help me lose weight. I learned that my optimal recipe (pun intended) for weight loss is to eat 250 calories, five times a day, and drink no less than 64 ounces of water daily. Additionally, I have to walk and jog in intervals for 30 minutes per day – five days per week. For me, that results in a 2-3 pound weight loss per week. I don’t share this with you because I expect it to be your optimal recipe. The levels of these factors might be different for you but you could easily identify your own factors and levels by learning to run a DOE. This means experimenting with key factors in a controlled environment and measuring the results.
Knowledge is the power we need to accomplish our goals. Measurement is a great way to gain that knowledge. What things do you measure in your personal life? I know someone who sets a goal to read a certain number of books each year and keeps track of how many he reads. I once had a student who decided to measure all the factors around his family’s consumption of gasoline for their cars. He tracked how often they purchased gasoline, the number of miles per gallon they were getting, the number of times they drove somewhere per week, and where they drove and why. You are probably rolling your eyes and perhaps the word anal is coming to mind. But let me tell you that the information he uncovered from his data collection helped his family reduce their gasoline expenditures by $1,000 that year.
If your goal is to save more money this year, the first things to evaluate are the factors that will allow for this. The obvious ones are to reduce expenses or increase your income. Whichever one you chose should be broken down into the factors that will drive that result. In the previous example, they decided to focus on the reduction of gasoline expenditures. Others may focus on reducing food expenditures. There are many paths to the same result and each of us has the freedom to choose our own path. If your goal is to increase your income, what are the factors that will drive that result? Is this the year to get your PMP®? Maybe this is the year that you’ll go after your Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification. What are the factors that will increase your value proposition? So many times we set a goal without evaluating the factors that will lead us to success. If you remember nothing else from this article, I hope you’ll always remember that Y=f(x). In order to accomplish a goal (Y) you need to identify and measure the factors (X) within that goal.
Another goal of the Lean Six Sigma Methodology is to reduce the amount of time wasted in trying to fulfill an objective. By reducing the waste, you speed up the process. This too, can be applied to your personal life. Who doesn’t want more personal time? Maybe you want to speed up the process of preparing a tax return. Maybe you’d like to spend less time looking for things in your garage or basement. One of my favorite techniques from Lean is utilized to create better organization in your life. It is called 5S.
- Sort. Take a look around your home. Do you see anything that is outdated, broken, or just collecting dust because you never use it? Get rid of it.
- Set in Order. Once you remove all the waste, evaluate what is left and find a place for each item. That place should be clearly labeled and arranged in the order of use. If the extension cord for the snow remover is located across the garage, behind the stack of boxes, rearrange the garage. The point of this step is to promote the most efficient flow, with the things that are used most often, located in an area that is easily accessible.
- Shine. This is also known as systematic cleaning. At a pre-determined time – daily, weekly or monthly depending on what space you are in, clean out the space. If you notice that inventory is low, follow the process to refill. Things that you frequently use should be inventoried. These can be anything from batteries or light bulbs, to printer cartridges for your home printer. There are two goals for this step. First, to ensure that the space is kept clean and free from things that could cause problems. Second, to ensure that you can clearly see when you are low in inventory so you can restock.
- Standardize. Make it a point to put things back in the same space after each use. The rest of the family needs to do this too. That means labeling spaces, and making sure everyone knows where the most commonly used items, belong.
- Sustain. Schedule a 5S review on a regular basis. Most people do some sort of spring or fall cleaning and it’s a large undertaking. If you do this on a more regular basis, those types of full day cleanings can be spent doing something more enjoyable.
If you are feeling hopeful about 2012, take advantage of the energy surge and dramatically improve the likelihood of meeting your goals. These concepts work and I encourage you to apply them to your personal goals. Imagine if all 55% of the people who made a New Year’s resolution this year, achieved it! Now that really is something to hope for.
© allPM 2012
Anne F. Foley, PMP, MBB, CSSBB has been leading projects for 15 years. As the Director of Lean Six Sigma for International Institute for Learning and a PMP, Anne has been working in project management for fifteen years. Anne is also the author of The Passages to Peace (a novel) and a frequent contributor to Project Management, Lean Six Sigma and other various publications. Anne has a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University.