Archive for August, 2012

What happens when you get too focused on details

It is easy to get excited when you think you have found something in the data.  Make sure you are not getting myopic.  I would not count on being this lucky.

Goals Gone Wild


During the quality craze of the 90s I got to witness the dangers of setting goals.  Our company wanted to start utilizing the tools associated with the quality process, so teams were given freedom to assemble and search out problems to solve.  One team decided to tackle a cost reduction opportunity by solving coffee waste.  It was clear that gallons of coffee were being poured down the drain because it sat too long on the burner.  After all of the Ishikawa diagrams were drawn and costs analyzed, they arrived at a solution.  They replaced all of the existing coffee makers with commercial vending machines that would dispense single cups of coffee (this was before the development of the Keurig).


  1. The new machines drastically reduced the cost associated with providing coffee. (+)
  2. All waste was virtually eliminated. (+)
  3. No one would drink the awful tasting coffee (-)
  4. Morale dropped (and therefore productivity) as people complained incessantly about the coffee. (-)
  5. People spent more time away from their desks searching for coffee outside the building. (-)
  6. The quality improvement process was ridiculed and dismissed. (-)

Was the goal to reduce costs a good one?  Sure!  But since the goal was so narrow and the team may have been too focused on the process and success, some common sense questions may not have come up (like what does this machine coffee taste like?).   In this case they ended up taking out the new machines and bringing back the old ones, so the temporary cost savings were overrun by the efforts required to re-instate the old coffee making process.


  1. Make the goal concrete but make sure you are clear of its value and the potential consequences.  If there is any hint that a cost reducing effort looks like a benefit reduction to the employee, it will be very hard to achieve a net cost reduction.
  2. By all means, tackle issues in your business but always be asking if what you are working on is the most important thing to solve. (“Why are we doing this?”)
  3. Have a sense of humor about it.  Blaming people in this instance will kill any hope you have of engaging your work force.  They will wait for your instruction and not take any initiative going forward.

Business Goals

Do you have goals for your business?                                                              Image

On the surface this seems like an easy and obvious thing to develop.

If I asked all of your employees what they thought the number 1 goal for your business is, could they tell me? Would they all have the same answer?  If I went to your customers and asked them what was most important to them would any of them match the goals for your company?

It is certainly important, but can be trickier than it looks.  In the coming posts I will share some real life examples how seemingly well intentioned and thought out goals ended up in unexpected places with unintended consequences.  Stay tuned.

Funny thing about “religious debates” over work place issues and approaches

Why do we get angry about what we believe? Because we do not really believe it.  Or else what we pretend to be defending as the “truth” is really our own self esteem”.  Thomas Merton

I thought this succinctly captured the truth about a lot of work interactions.  Whether we are debating a technology approach or the root cause of a problem there is always a danger in making the discussion about being right  and losing sight of what is actually true.  Even when we have the data, the way we organize and present the data determines the story we tell. Are we sure we are telling the truth?

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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