Four life lessons learned from Process Excellence

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PEX Network Editor Diana Davis reflects on 4 years at PEX Network before heading on maternity leave

"Process" was an entirely new language to me when I first took over as editor of PEX Network back in 2010. I could understand the basic concepts – who wouldn't want to continuously improve the way you do things – but what the heck was Kaizen, poke-yoke, regression analysis, and the all important fishbone diagrams? What was the difference between Six Sigma, Lean, BPM, TQM, BPR and all these other improvement methodologies? And why were there so many different names for what seemed like the same thing?
It took several months and conversations with many patient process practitioners along the way before I finally felt that I had found the Rosetta Stone and started to understand the world through the lens of process. All of a sudden I would find myself in a long queue at the supermarket trying to figure out what had gone in the process and exploring ways to improve it. I also started to understand that the different methodologies were all slightly different means to achieve a similar aim.
It’s been an incredibly rich learning experience. But much of the insight in this field extends far beyond the rarified discipline of process improvement. As I head off on maternity leave, I thought it was a good time to reflect on how what I’ve learned about process improvement applies to life more generally.
Here are a couple of lessons:
Lesson #1: Change always takes longer than expected

Whether it’s changing business processes or making a lifestyle change it always takes a while to break old habits and develop new ones. Things feel strange and difficult at first. You might find yourself slipping back into your old ways. Stick with a change and don’t get (too) frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as you expect. As long as you’re moving in the right direction you’ll get there in the end.
Lesson #2: To make progress, maintain a "constancy of purpose"

Lurching from one idea to another is not a recipe for achieving sustainable results. I’d expect that most of us are guilty of trying to do a million different things and then changing our minds when the going gets difficult or something else that’s new and shiny comes along. You’d never learn to play the guitar well if you never bothered to practice or if each week you decided to take lessons on a different instrument. Commit to something that’s worth doing and master it.
Lesson #3: Excellence comes from getting the small details right

All too often we can agonize over the big picture and get caught up in doing lots of things, that we forget about the importance of all the small details. It’s those details that mean the different between something that’s average and something that’s truly exceptional.
One of our columnists, Jeff Cole, put it in a wonderful way in an article last year on the importance of getting the basics right:
"It’s getting the simple tasks right every time that enables stability and excellence. It’s that level where we often lack a focus. People worry about the 30,000-ft direction being correct, but forget the ground level details that make it happen. Organizations that can’t even play their scales right are attempting to play Beethoven."
Lesson #4: No matter what you’re doing, people are what count

You can have the most perfect things in your life - perfect processes, perfect clothes, a perfect house and the latest gizmos and gadgets - but nothing functions well without the right people on board. Make sure that you're not focusing on things at the expense of people in your life.
I’d love to hear what other lessons people think Process Excellence has to teach us about life in general. But meanwhile, I'd be grateful if anybody has some suggestions on how to "Lean out" to the process of changing diapers or getting a baby to sleep...