Nov 3, 2011

Be the product in the process

Pigs with room to move around
When she spoke at the 2011 AME Conference, Temple Grandin did not talk a lot about engineering process flow in the livestock industry, but it would have resonated with the process improvement zealots at AME's conference. 

As a visual thinker and someone who felt that animals a processed experience the same way, she was pained and distressed to see how they were treated as they moved from pasture to meat market. It wasn't that they were destined for death that bothered her. It was the suffering and fear they were experiencing along the way.

She went on to study the process and product through detailed direct observation --go and see, gemba walk). She noticed little things that caused sensory alarm to the animals, and believed that it mattered. This was in part because a symptom of her autism was great sensitivity to sensory input -- light, noise, motion, abrupt change.

The right way to unload cattle
from trucks
As she watched cattle and other animals moving from truck, to disinfecting baths, to that ramp, to the stun gun, she saw every little detail. She was able to walk the process in her mind as though she was the product. She may even have walked through the process as though she were one of the animals.

At one site, the proud American flag waving in the air was spooking the cows, but who knew that it was part of the process as far as the cow was concerned. An unnoticed detail interrupted process flow. Besides slowing down movement through the process, floods of fear hormones in the animal weren’t going to improve the quality of the meat. Neither would bruises sustained by the animals bumping into barriers or being prodded by workers. Unnoticed factors like the flag were introducing defects as well as slowing flow. 
Other factors she noticed included a difference between the animal's reaction to being made to turn a corner or a circular path, whether people were moving around in their peripheral vision, or whether they saw reflections on pools of water. If they could walk into a bath sure-footedly they would remain placid, but balk if they were caused to slip and slide. Shouting disturbed them. 


After decades of persistent work, Temple Grandin has seen her process design principles transform an industry. All because she could imagine herself moving through a process.

How often do we think of ourselves as a piece of metal moving, waiting in line, or dropping on the floor? Or an invoice being filled in, waiting in digital darkness to be electronically stamped, pushed, cursed at, until finally being paid and payment accepted by the customer? We do become the material in the process when we shop or go to the hospital. When we are made to move through a system that was not designed for flow.

Maybe we can try visualizing ourselves moving through the process we want to improve and see what we learn.

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