Improvement Insights Blog
Airing Your Dirty Laundry
Have you ever noticed that no one wants to admit the problems in their life or work? It’s time to start airing our dirty laundry and here’s why:
“You know, I grew up in Tucson, Arizona and I think Tuesday was wash day. We had this washing machine that sat out on the back porch because it never got cold enough to freeze the hoses for the thing. It was a roller washing machine, so you had a big tub about the size of a keg of beer and it would do the wash, but then there was a set of rollers on top. I remember my mother pulling our clothes out and running them through the roller to squeeze out the water and then once she was done with that she would take them out to a clothesline.
“Now, our clothesline looked a little bit like a little tiny football field, except the uprights didn’t have an upright; it was just a T-bar, right? There were wires that were strung in between the two sets of T’s and that was where she would hang all of our laundry. She’d get it up there and clip it on with clothes pins and stuff, and a couple hours later in the Tucson sun it would be dry. She would take them down, fold them up and put them away. That was kind of how that was done.
“Then every night my mom, who was such a gadabout, was always talking to all the neighbors. My dad would come home from work and she’d say, “Well, I think so-and-so is having trouble with their son or their daughter or their marriage or something,” and my dad would kind of ask her a little bit about it and she’d say, “Well, I’m not really sure because people don’t really want to air their dirty laundry,” right?
“So this is kind of one of those things where you don’t want to hang up dirty laundry on the line and let it blow dry or just blow, you know… that’s not a good thing. You don’t want people to see your dirty laundry. Well, I believe in Quality Improvement, I keep looking at all the quality magazines and journals and everything else for case studies about improvements. I see long written things about how you should do Quality Improvement, I see pundits talk about all kinds of nonsense, but do I see case studies? No, because nobody wants to air their dirty laundry. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person, a manager or a company: they don’t want to show you. They don’t want to open the kimono and show you what’s going on. It’s very difficult sometimes when you’re the change agent to get people to give you the data so that you can analyze it, so you can figure out what to fix that you can make it better, because they don’t want to air their dirty laundry.
“I go to these conventions and there’s all these improvement posters, but most of them just have line and bar charts, and I’m not sure they actually succeeded at making an improvement. They just have useless trend lines on there they don’t tell you anything about whether it was actual improvement or just a crappy fit of a line across something that made it look like it went up or down or something.
“So I’m going to encourage you, if you really want to get on the side of quality, start to air your dirty laundry. Get those case studies out there so that people can see how it’s done, see how you’ve saved millions of dollars. I was on a conference doing a webinar for ASQ Phoenix, and one of the people there said their company had documented $1.2 billion in savings. Have we ever seen a case study from that company? No, because nobody wants to air their dirty laundry. I don’t think your competition is going to pick it up and say, “Oh, look! They did such a terrible job!” No, because they have their own dirty laundry.
“All right, so that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s start airing our dirty laundry so that we can create a hassle-free America, hassle-free healthcare. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”