Improvement Insights Blog
My Apple Tree Reminded Me About Low-Hanging Fruit
My apple tree had hundreds of apples this year. I invited people to pick some and leave some. Soon, all of the low-hanging fruit was picked, but there were still hundreds of apples in the tree. Maybe you need a fruit picker to get to the rest of the fruit in your company.
“We have an apple tree in our front yard (I think it’s Jonathan apples), and this year in an unusual fit of luck, we got a giant crop. I bet we had a thousand apples on that tree. There were too many for us to eat, and so I put a little sign out that said “Free Apples – Take some, leave some.” People started coming around, they were picking them all off, but at some point it got too tall for them so you know and I had to go get an apple picker or fruit picker to be able to get down the rest of the apples, and then I gave those away in bags of six or whatever, because [there were] just too many apples. If we come to a big snow it might break the tree.
“One of the things you notice about that is people got to the low hanging fruit pretty easily. If you’ve ever talked to a consultant talking about Process Improvement and Lean And Six Sigma they all talk about “low hanging fruit.” Guess what? The low hanging fruit has all been picked; it has all been picked.
“That’s why I talk about what I call “invisible low-hanging fruit.” Buried in your data about mistakes, errors, waste, rework, lost profit, there’s things that say, “Well, on such-and-such a date in such-and-such a location or on such-and-such a machine we have a certain amount of scrap” or patient falls or whatever the heck it is, right? When you have the “when,” the “where” and the “what” of each event; the raw data. I call this raw data.
“I want you to go on a raw data diet. All this other stuff that’s all summarized, it’s not going to help. It’s like processed food, it’s not going to be as good for you as fresh food. Here’s what happens: in that data… and you don’t need a gazillion records to do this. Within the sample there’s going to be Pareto patterns so you don’t need all the data on the planet. You don’t need big data because small data will help you find ways to pinpoint and fix whatever’s bugging your company.
“This is a different approach to things than we have had, right? We talk about low-hanging fruit, but I tell you when we started nobody could find it; nobody could find it when I started doing this in the phone company. It was only when I started looking into this raw data and analyzing that and using pivot tables and control charts and Pareto charts I could narrow down and figure out exactly where things were going wrong. Everybody had hallucinations about what those things going wrong were, but they were all wrong. When the data led you down this path you [say], “Oh dang it, we forgot (whatever that was).” All right?
“This is, I think, the secret sauce of low hanging fruit: that it’s invisible and it’s buried in individual records. What you can do is analyze that with the QI Macros Improvement Project Wizard and it’ll pinpoint all the improvement projects that are in your data.
“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. I’m Jay Arthur, and I’ve written books on all of this and you can download my new free book “Agile Process Innovation: Hacking Lean and Six Sigma for Results.” I’m a results guy, right? If I could use magic wands and stuff to get results I’d go do that, but that doesn’t work, all right? So we need some data and some raw data to find the invisible low-hanging fruit.
“Let’s create a hassle free America; hassle-free healthcare. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”