Home > Management > “If we don’t have a clear picture, then we don’t act!” ** – Organizing Product and Process Knowledge

“If we don’t have a clear picture, then we don’t act!” ** – Organizing Product and Process Knowledge

May 22, 2020

For centuries, people took for granted that the sun and heavens moved around the earth. Against that night sky was the surprising, independent and often retrograde movements of the planets. How does one make sense of that? How does one grasp, in principle, that contrary movement?

Of course you know the answer, as does every child who grew up with a ceiling-mounted mobile of our solar system. We now think of the (1) sun as stationary. We (2) imagine circular motion around the sun, and then refine that new conceptual model by adding more knowledge. We learn that those planetary orbits are (3) elliptical. Then, we discover that (4) not all planets orbit in the same horizontal plane. (Mercury and “sometimes-a-planet” Pluto are tipped a bit.)

As we learn more,  the mental picture does indeed become clearer. If our job is to launch a spacecraft to another planet, this clear picture is vital. We need as complete an inventory as possible of what is known about the solar system and its moving parts. We don’t stop at four metrics. Organized Knowledge is power.

Businesses can often make quantum leaps in their ability to deliver value, if someone takes an independent and  objective look at how workers and managers think about their jobs. If product and process learning has slowed or stopped, you may need a fresh approach that “puts the sun at the center” of your thinking.

Take a look at the difference a clear picture makes:

  • A tech support team dreaded every phone call. A fresh look at their processes led to change, and they were confident in their job after a week!
  • A metal machining operator reduced job setup time from four hours to 15 minutes when a fresh look at the process reduced the setup of hundreds of parts to just a dozen or so basic configurations.
  • The wrong mental picture caused a service desk to deliver worse performance while their metrics showed improvement! A fresh look at their metrics turned this around immediately.

It is hard to make things easy.

Your high school English teacher probably warned you about too long sentences. Many people will not get a clear picture unless you break ideas down into manageable sentences with nouns and verbs. Product and process knowledge should be organized in absorb-able chunks for similar reasons.

We often say that properly organized process and product knowledge is a mechanism to learn, share, teach and improve. It documents dependencies between ends and means – what are the prerequisites for successful results.

We call this approach to improvement: factoring. We have been coaching, teaching classes, writing books and running on-site improvement projects based on these methods for over two decades. If you see opportunities to apply this in your operation, we are here to help.


** “If we don’t have a clear mental picture, then we don’t act!” This is one of the most memorable gems from Dr Charles R. Hobbs, but there is more to unpack than the surface meaning.

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