You Need to Consider Second, Third and Fourth Order Consequences

Improvement Insights Blog

Second, Third and Fourth Order Consequences

Ever noticed that when someone takes a knee-jerk reaction to solving a problem that it often causes more problems than it solves? Here’s why:

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

“When I was in college there was a pool hall in the basement of the student union at the University of Arizona. We used to go down there and shoot pool sometimes for hours, killing time between classes. (I don’t know why I had them booked them so far apart…)

“But if you’ve ever played pool, you know when you break the rack, balls just go every which way. Sometimes one falls in and sometimes it doesn’t. Other times you line up a shot, you make that shot and you may or may not have left yourself in the best position; there might have been a better shot that would have left you in a better position for the next shot. As one of the guys on my staff says, “Make all the easy shots first, because [sometimes] when you’re done there’s no difficult shots left.” But sometimes, you go to make a shot and you sink the cue ball and you lose your turn and that ball comes back out.

“So this is kind of a simple example of the things of first, second, third, fourth degree consequences of the choices that you make along the way. So when you’re doing countermeasures, you need to think about not just what it’ll fix, but what it’ll break or what other kind of [problem] it’ll cause, right? Because you have to be anticipating. Does that make sense?

“Now one of our long time customers, they have a company that has, like, 200,000 [employees], and guess what? Their CIO decided he’d save a little money on his bottom line by simply shutting down Microsoft Office and making everybody use a Google Workspace. Well, as you can imagine, that’s going to look good on the bottom line of the CIO because they saved a bunch of money on PC software. Now what it doesn’t say is how much is it going to cost to retrain those 200,000 people? How much is it going to cost to convert millions and millions of Microsoft Office files into Google Workspace [files] and what’s the cost of all those bootleg copies of Microsoft Office they’re going to be running on because people simply have to get their job done, right? [The employees are] going to go buy their own copies of Office put them on their home computer or do all their work at home (because they’re working from home anyway). Does that make sense?

“You can save money one place and lose a ton of money someplace else, but if it’s not in your budget it doesn’t matter, right? The fact that all those other people are non-productive is not your problem; you saved millions of dollars. No!

“So when it comes down to it, think about “What are the consequences of those countermeasures you put in place?” If Lean is going to reduce the number of workers you have by 1/3 because it just speeds everything up and you don’t need all those people, what are you going to do with those [employees}? Well I can tell you in a very short time, customers will notice that you’re wildly faster, better, cheaper than other [businesses] and they’re going to buy more stuff from you, and you’re going to need all those people to produce more stuff.

“So you have to think about “What are these consequences?” If you’re not thinking about the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, guess what? You’re going to be sorry.

“So, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and QI Macros [software]. That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Think about those second, third, and fourth order consequences when you break the rack on the pool [table]. Guess what? Balls are going to fly everywhere, and you need to be prepared for what they do. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”