The Possibility of Perfection Is in the Details, Details, Details
“Perfection is in the details” – Leonardo daVinci
Perfection may be unattainable, yet perfection must be the goal we all strive for in our operations. Not 99% accuracy, or even 99.99966% accuracy (Six Sigma’s goal), but 100% accuracy.
Setting unreachable goals isn’t an exercise in futility. It’s a proven method for raising performance to a new level of excellence. Becoming a fanatic about details will help you achieve more.
To effectively use a detail-oriented approach in management, a manager must take on the role of a leader who:
- understands that details are about more than measurement;
- is willing to acknowledge mistakes; and
- has a penchant for action.
More Than Measurement
Accurate measurements are important. Operations should develop and use systems that track all aspects of performance, including speed, throughput, error rates and costs. And while what you measure is what you manage, detail-oriented managers go beyond mere statistics.
Automated systems can collect data and perform complicated calculations. But they won’t differentiate which job is more complicated, or the cleanliness of the shop, or the morale of the staff. Yet those factors, and other intangibles, are key components to success.
Management teams should create checklists and other tools to track those intangibles. Use some imagination when assigning values. One client assigns a weather category to describe the overall mood of the shop. A great day is “sunny and blue skies.” If there’s a lot of work, but it’s manageable, it may be “partly cloudy.” When an unexpected mailing hits at the same time when operators are out due to vacations and sickness, it may be a “Category 3” or even a “Category 4” storm.
Develop charts and logs to identify trends. Look at the timing of volumes, errors and morale. Identify potential causes and effects. Whenever possible, attempt to modify the causes and see what impact it has on the rest of your operation.
Apply this same logic to non-production events like projects. Break down tasks to the lowest possible level. Add checkpoints not just for progress towards completion, but include the team’s confidence level. And again, record the information, tracking all events and checking for correlations.
No one wants to admit they’re wrong. Whether it’s ordering the wrong supplies, incorrectly estimating time to complete a task, or choosing the clothes we wear. Yet despite our best intentions, the wrong supplies are ordered, some projects are late and many of us wore bell bottoms with platform shoes in the 1970s.
To improve, we must admit to errors. Fight the natural urge to be defensive when someone points out something wrong. Especially when the criticism is coming from someone we don’t like.
Managers must create an atmosphere where employees are comfortable admitting errors. If employees are afraid of the consequences, they’ll hide errors and hope no one catches them. When workers understand that fixing errors will help them improve, they’ll understand the importance of correcting defects.
A Penchant for Action
Measurements, reports, and graphs are only marks on paper until someone does something. The goal of paying attention to details isn’t to prove that the operation operates at a 99.99% efficiency rate. The goal is to discover how to correct the 0.01% deficiency.
My friend Tim McKeon ran my mail operation at State Street back in the 1990s, and later worked with me at The Berkshire Company. Tim was a meticulous individual. His desk and his shop were neat and organized. Tim tracked all sorts of information on the jobs processed by his workers and was constantly looking at the data to find ways to improve. He was manager who strives for perfection.
Tim told his employees, “An error is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.” His statement sent two distinct messages to his employees. First, it lets them know that Tim understood that errors will occur. Just as important, he made it clear that he expected his workers to take the necessary steps to prevent the error from recurring.
Follow Tim’s example. Pay attention to details while focusing on the big picture. Use tools to measure and track performance and take the time to go beyond the figures. Treat mistakes as opportunities to learn, and then make sure steps are taken to continue improvements in your department.
Some people may say “The devil is in the details.” They’re wrong. It’s not the devil, but the possibility of perfection.
Input for this piece was provided by Lois Ritarossi, president of High Rock Strategies:
Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross-functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation, and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and enabled sales teams to effectively win new business. You can reach Lois at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.