Process Perspective

A View of Improvement from the Pavement

August 20, 2015

The other day I parked in the middle of a huge parking lot outside a conference center, and as I walked in I thought about all the problems that I need to solve. In the process improvement business, you always start with an honest critique of the current situation. That can feel like an exercise in negativity, and it can be a little disheartening at times.

Then I looked down and saw an earthworm on the pavement in the middle of the parking lot. He (although earthworms have no gender, we'll refer to him as a male since he was lost) was at least 50 meters from any earth.

This was an existential problem for the worm. He was truly and utterly screwed up. It was also a useful metaphor for some of the process problems we encounter. Ever wonder "how in the world did we get into this mess?" The worm actually had to do a lot of work, crawling in the wrong direction, to get into his situation. Sound familiar?

But here's where the worm's reality diverges from our own — maybe. The worm's central problem was that he had no visibility to a solution. He had a method that could solve his problem — crawling — but he had no vision of where to crawl. All he could do is crawl in a random direction and hope. And he'd probably pick the wrong direction.

We have the benefit of perspective if we take the trouble to use it. We can look up from our day‐to‐day struggles and make sure we are moving in a direction that makes sense. That made me feel better. At least I can know where I'm going, even if it's going to take a while to get there.

Now if I could just get everyone to crawl in the right direction together — that's another problem.

Bill Hathaway