I’ve met the enemy. And it’s me.

It’s embarrassing, really.

I spend a good deal of my time and energy inveighing against waste in individual work habits — I mean, I get paid to teach people how to spot that type of waste, identify root causes, and put countermeasures in place so they can get back to creating customer value. So you can imagine how red-faced I was when I turned the A3 on my own work habits and found enough fat to make me a poster child for American obesity.

I started an A3 because I haven’t been making as much progress as I want on the book I’m writing. I’ve always been very disciplined about my work, particularly during previous careers when I worked in other companies. But working at home has somehow undermined that focus and discipline. Between household chores and work responsibilities, I just don’t seem to have enough time to write. I figured that an A3 might help me identify the root cause of the waste.

I assumed that the root cause of my problem was external interruptions — you know, phone calls, emails, text messages, etc. My life certainly isn’t as interconnected as it is for people who work in large organizations, but still, there’s a fair bit of client and other business-related interaction. So I blamed the outside world.

Then I started my A3. I quickly wrote down the current conditions. Easy.

Then I went back and watched myself work to really get a sense of the actual conditions. I measured everything: how long I spent on each task, how often emails arrived, how many times I got up for a drink. Everything. The results were depressing.

I interrupted myself nearly 80% of the time. Not clients. Not my wife. Not my cat, Pixel. (Though he was responsible for a fair number of interruptions – it’s hard to type when he sits on the keyboard.) Talk about self-inflicted punishment.

I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Gloria Mark, a professor at UC Irvine and a researcher of work habits and environments, realized that people don’t really have work days; they have work minutes that last all day. She also found that people interrupt themselves 44% of the time.

Since I was analyzing my own work habits, discovering the root cause for the self-interruptions required introspection rather than scientific analysis. It forced me to face some unpleasant truths. As Joe Ely wrote about his own root cause analysis,

At that point, I got upset.  I had hit the root cause.  I knew it.  And I didn’t like the answer.  Yet, it was undeniable.  It made incredible sense, explaining both the observed problem and several related issues.  All at the same time.  The fact that I didn’t like the root cause gave it added credence.  It was something I avoided because it was hard to fix.
The A3 revealed some uncomfortable truths about me and the way I work. As I put countermeasures in place, I’ve never realized so keenly that (as Toyota constantly emphasizes) they’re temporary, not final solutions. I’m going to struggle with these issues for awhile.

Lean is about respect for people, even when it’s ourselves. And we’re our own worst enemy.

3 Responses

  1. Dragan Bosnjak says:

    Yeah, sometimes is really hard to see yourself, especially if you are teaching others lean thinking… It requires a big deal of discipline and objective observation, which is very difficult to obtain from ourselves… That is why a second eye is always welcome when I do my job and every critique makes me do it better the next time…
    Really nice post!

  2. John Hunter says:

    Great post. It is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Just like it is important to know the risks in a process and understand what needs to watched most carefully. People often like finding answers to how others need to change much more than they like finding how they themselves can improve. Good luck with your attempts to improve.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ironic, that you agree to the problem, but recommend a technological solution which does not solve the root cause.

    Not very lean

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