The Decision Making Mindset for
Lean Six Sigma
Are decision making delays hampering your business progress?
I do a lot of Lean Six Sigma process improvement kinds of work. Sadly, I can tell by how long it takes a company to decide to hire me just how long it will take to make any of the changes. Slow decision making begets slow implementation begets slow results. Delayed decisions keep companies from making rapid progress toward performance and profitability goals.
The June 27th, 2005 issue of Fortune magazine has a great selection of articles about decision making. Here are some of the highlights.
Decision Making Mindset
Rapid decision making requires the right mindset. Here's a test:
- Are your ultimate outcomes in life:
- determined by external events and environments?
- ultimately up to you and within your control?
- Do you believe that:
- you need all of the information before making a decision?
- 70% is enough to make a decision?
- Do you believe that:
- decisions are based on facts?
- Gut feel and intuition play a big part in decision making?
Internal Vs External
In Jim Collins article on making tough calls, he argues that the best decision makers believe that how life turns out is ultimately up to them. If you think that everything is outside of your control, you won't even look for answers or solutions. Your own thinking becomes a trap.
Lately, I've been working with hospitals to accelerate the patient's experience. The biggest roadblock to this is the limiting belief that nurses can't influence the doctor's behavior or the family's behavior. (Discharging patients and getting them picked up by the family often determines the hospital's ability to accept more patients.) Once we ask, "If you could influence doctor or family behavior, what would you do differently," creative suggestions begin to surface.
The biggest barriers aren't out there, they are inside your mind.
In Michael and Jerry Useem's article on Great Escapes, they point to the wisdom of the Marine Corps to prevent analysis paralysis. The Marine Corps teaches that "if you have 70% of the information, have done 70% of the analysis, and feel 70% confident, then move. A less than ideal action, swiftly executed, stands a chance of success."
In my own office, if I can try something easily with minimal risk, I just do it. It sometimes shocks my staff because it's so fast. I put one of my staff in charge of improving the standing of our web pages in the search engines. She was worried about making a mistake, so I made a backup copy of the entire site that would allow us to put back any pieces we screwed up. No risk, get going.
The worst decision is to make no decision at all.
Everyone has an intuition, but our society discourages the use or trust of our intuition. One therapist I know says that everyone has a "voice of intuition" located somewhere above their shoulders.
I get a feeling that my whole brain is glowing which I interpret to mean that I've got complete agreement and a soft voice from below my right ear says something like: "Good choice."
Remember a time when you intuitively made a decision that was right in spite of the lack of supporting information. It might have been accepting a job or meeting your spouse for the first time. How did you know it was the right choice? What did you hear? What did you feel?
Also learn the signal for "NO." My internal signal is a knot in my solar plexus. Remember a time when your "gut" told you not to do something. What did that feel like?
Billion Dollar Decisions
Another article covers billion dollar decisions like Intel's move to drop memory chips and start making processing chips; IBM's move to the 360; Boeing's move to build the 707 jet.
Big decisions often require plenty of debate and conflict to haggle out all of the issues. So let the debate rage, but then it's time to make a decision. GE's Workout methodology is one technique for compressing the debate and decision making into a one-to-two day window. Billion dollar decisions might take a little longer, but the first one to market usually wins.
Fear of Making Mistakes
Most people are afraid of making a mistake. Commodities trader Simon Yates calls this "caveman brain", the sort of fight-or flight feeling that is designed to stop you from being eaten by a sabertooth tiger. In the modern world, maybe this comes from our educational system where every mistake means that you are less likely to get an "A". But life and business aren't multiple choice tests. Sometimes you have to guess and test.
Make some mistakes. Learn from them.
The obsession with perfection stops too many people from making decisions.
Break the Loop
Every once in a while, I find myself grinding on a decision. In software we used to put loop counters into the code so that if we got stuck in an infinite loop, the code counter would cause a break. I've learned that grinding on a decision means that I'm stuck in a loop. So I've learned at that point to give myself three more loops before I decide one way or another.
Faster decision making means that you'll make greater progress more quickly.
How will you change your decision making strategy right now?