Sometime ago while consulting for a huge call center, I took a group of customer service agents for a little Gemba walk and a quick activity to demonstrate a few Lean fundamentals.
What was scheduled for a 60 minute exercise turned out to be an experience that awakened the agents, several of whom went on to complete their own A3/PDCA that added value to the customer and the company.
Stand in a Circle
I gave each of the customer service agents a pencil and a piece of paper. We then stood in the middle of the center, quiet, no talking, and wrote down as many things we could observe. I only allowed 5 minutes. Go.
With a white board, still in the middle of the contact center, I had one of the agents create a tally of the items observed. I showed the team how to create a simple tick sheet and then I asked them:
What’s a good way to visualize this data?
After considering their responses, I showed them how to create a simple Pareto Chart using the Tick Sheet data. Then, I asked them to consider the categories and the bars:
Is there anything curious about what you see?
Several of them pointed to the highest bar in the Pareto, which was:
There are a lot of people working today
I then asked,
You all mentioned that “there are a lot of people working today”, which is the highest bar in the Pareto. Why?
I then showed them how to conduct a simple 5 Whys (Five Whys). Which went like this:
- Why are there a lot of agents at the call center? Because there are a lot of inbound warranty calls.
- Why are there a lot of inbound warranty calls? Because several products from [company] are confusing or defective, and customers need replacements.
At this point in our 5 Whys, we created another branch which looked at the products that lead to inbound calls. In other words,
Which products are responsible for inbound calls and what is the call volume?
Based on anecdotal data (for the purposes of the exercise), we took roughly 13 products and estimated their inbound call volume. I emphasized to the team that real data should be used, not just their gut or hunch, but real contact volume data.
This product/volume data was helpful in helping us form another Pareto. The highest bar then begged the question,
Why are 56% of the contact volume about Product X?
The Socratic process I took this team through accomplished several things, without them even being aware of it:
- They learned how to use a Tick Sheet for simple data collection
- They learned how to visualize data from a Tick Sheet to show an 80/20 via a Pareto Chart
- They learned how to use the 5 Whys (Five Whys) and simple Root Cause Analysis
- They learned how to be curious and not take things for granted
- They learned how to observe their surroundings and not take what they see for granted
- They learned the necessary interactions between products, customers, the company’s call center activities
- They learned, that although they played a seemingly small role in the company, this 60 minute exercise led them to fundamental issues in the company AND, with little instruction or prodding on my part, they learned on their own.
Small Rocks, A Million of Them
Turning traditional business approaches on its head can be satisfying. Indeed, watching and helping others grow and stretch and contribute is worthwhile to see and experience.
Lean is not about a few big rocks – thought they are necessary; Lean is more about small rocks, but a lot them.
It’s Your Turn
How do you find this approach? How might I improve? A variant of this exercise that I’ve done is to go down the 5S route or the 7 Wastes route. The exercise is effective in either case.
Somewhat Related and Cool
Many know that I’m a martial arts practitioner. The video below is of Chi Sao and Sifu Emin Boztepe. I don’t know him, nor do I endorse him. In fact, many critique him as “sloppy”.
Nevertheless, the video shows Chi Sao and how the knowledge and experience of just a few principles can make even a beginner Wing Chun practitioner a formidable opponent.
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