Seeing the Invisible

Improvement Insights Blog

Seeing the Invisible

Absence blindness means that you can’t see what isn’t there. The tools of quality can help you see the invisible so that you can do something about it. Here’s how:

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

“There’s a concept called “absence blindness,” and basically what that says is you can’t see what isn’t there. That’s why it’s kind of difficult to see things that are working well, because they just work well, but a defect or some sort of complication or issue raises this ugly head and you can see that one. It’s not invisible.

“I have found that the great thing about a control chart is it helps reveal what’s invisible: the process is stable or the process is going out of control. It’ll do that before your vision can see or detect that change.

“Same thing with the Pareto chart. Pareto charts help you narrow down your focus to get to the one thing that really needs to be fixed; it helps cure absence blindness.

“The same thing with pivot tables; I find that a lot of data is hidden in all these event-driven errors. In hospitals, it could be things that you don’t want like medication errors or something like that. So when it happens here and there and every so often [it’s invisible], but when you take that and summarize all the data you pull it down you can figure out exactly where medication errors are occurring, and it’s probably just in one place. It’s probably just one type of patient or whatever, right? So we can narrow that focus down. Pivot tables can help us summarize data so we can put them into a Pareto chart so that we can reveal what we can’t see.

“I want you to get this idea that control charts, Pareto charts and histograms reveal the invisible… reveal the invisible. You know, what I call “the invisible low-hanging fruit.”

“So that’s my Improvement Insight: Let’s start using the tools of Quality to make everything visible so we can do something about it.

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