Is Decision Fatigue Hindering Your Improvement Projects?

Improvement Insights Blog

Is Decision Fatigue Hindering Your Improvement Projects?

People make 30,000 decisions a day! Too many choices makes decisions even more difficult. Knowing too much about Lean Six Sigma can hinder your success at problem solving. Here’s why:

“Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and QI Macros [software].

“You know, you probably have experienced this, but we all make something like 30,000 decisions a day… a day! Oh my gosh, right? My friend Bob Wendover wrote a book called “Beating Burnout,” how top thinkers overcome overwhelm. He talks about what he calls “decision fatigue,” when you start making poor choices because your brain is overloaded due to the overwhelming demands of modern life.

“Now I’ve also seen this in Lean and Six Sigma where we train people in everything from soup to nuts, so when it comes time to actually make a decision to start a project, they get confused. They just kind of freeze up. It’s odd, right? Because of the QI Macros, I talk to a lot of people that have frozen up and I try and unstick them to get them to narrow their focus, but there’s so many tools.

“Here’s what I’d like you to think about: Would it be possible to start with just three tools? The control chart, the Pareto chart and the fishbone [diagram]. We could put in an XmR chart to track our performance, and then we could use a Pareto chart to narrow our attention to figure out what’s going wrong within that performance spectrum. You kind of take the control chart turn it on an edge and you get… um… you know, like patient falls per thousand patient days, right? Turn it on its edge you find out where all those happen. It might only happen in one unit, it might happen wherever, right? Same thing with manufacturing; it might happen in just one machine or it might happen in just one process, it might… right?

“So when you turn that upside down and let it drop down into a Pareto chart, you discover “Oh, gee… there’s just one thing I might really need to fix here.” And then a fishbone diagram helps you do root cause analysis on that one thing that’s actually broken.

“If you only have three tools, (you know, maybe a wrench, a screwdriver and a hammer) then you can actually start to make some progress. If you have this whole suite of tools and some of them are power and some of them are hand (manual) and other ones are different sizes: pipe wrenches, little wrenches and little needle nose pliers… What? Right? People get confused about what to do, right? They have to make a decision. If you only have three tools in that sequence there’s no decisions to be made.

“You know, I hate to make this sound too simple but if you start doing that, you can make a lot of progress. Then later you can add another tool if you need it, or another tool beyond that. Don’t let this sense of so much stuff out there overwhelm you. You know, that’s why in the QI Macros, I have the Control Chart Wizard. People were getting confused by “How do I, say, divide out into attribute and variable, and then what sample size…?” Too many decisions and people stumble and they balk when you do that, right? If I take all those decision processes away from you and just give you a chart, guess what? You can move on, you know? Let Jay be your guide right?

“People often ask me and I tell them, “You know, if I’m going to do a control chart, I just click on the [Control Chart] Wizard because I know it’ll give me the chart I want and I don’t have to think.” Right? I don’t have to think. I don’t want to have to think, right? I can build that into the software and let that do that.

“I think that’s also things we can do in processes, right? Instead of making people make decisions all the time, maybe there’s a way to automate that decision so it’s all done for them. Think, right? How can we simplify, how can we reduce the amount of decisions we have to make, which will reduce our decision fatigue, which means we will make better decisions when we actually decide to make one?

“Anyway, that’s my Improvement Insight for this week: Reduce yourself to three tools and just use those until you get really good at them, then you can add some more.

“Let’s go out and improve something this week.”