What's Your White Whale?

Improvement Insights Blog

What’s Your White Whale?

Are you afraid to tackle the biggest problem facing your company? Don’t be. Here’s why:

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

“I have to admit I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve never gotten beyond ‘My name is Ishmael,’ but I think each one of us in our organization has a white whale. There’s some big hairy pressing problem that is so scary that we’re afraid to tackle it… afraid.

“Now, I’ll never forget when the head of Finance called me in and said “Postage costs have gone up $20 million this year.” I worked at US West, the phone company. That’s a lot of money, right? Why are postage costs going up? That was the pain, all right?

“So I had to go out and started digging around and looking for data. Eventually, we had all these returned bills that came back – 150,000 returned bills a month – because the address was wrong. That’s another whole problem, all right? That’s another huge story right there which we eventually started to fix, but you get the idea.

“I took all these bills apart and found out why some of them went over a 1 ounce postage rate. It turned out there were multiple bills for multiple long distance services (that was a recent thing that had come along) which were driving up postage costs. I’ll tell you what, when I started that, that was scary… but we found ways to solve that problem by redesigning the bill and doing some other things.

“When I went to the hospital and they said “We have $12 million a year in denied insurance claims.” Well, that’s kind of scary. I started drilling down the data and I eventually pinpointed exactly what was causing that problem. I got people together, we did root cause analysis in a couple hours, they implemented process changes on Monday and started saving $5 million a year.

“Don’t be afraid of the white whale! Very often, there’s more data about the white whale than there is about some minnow that’s swimming somewhere in a stream. Don’t be afraid to tackle big things, because there’s more information, more data, and more people [who] want it solved.

“What’s your white whale? Why don’t you go out and tackle that one this week? That’s my Improvement Insight for you this week.”