Ambiguity of expected outcomes generates unneeded waste

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on January 22, 2014 · 2 comments

“Clean your room”

“I did”

“It doesn’t look like it”

Did they or did they not accomplish the task? It depends on who you ask because there are differences in the expected outcome. One person’s version of “clean” and another’s version are different.

Ambiguity in outcome expectations, whether for a small task or an entire process, leads to waste generation.

Here’s an example. As many of you know, I travel a lot. I’ve achieved some level of preferred status in 3 or 4 different hotel chains, and as a result I get to see a lot of the differences in how they operate. Most chains have clearly defined expected outcomes for processes such as room cleaning and check-in. As an outcome, I get the same result at a Courtyard in Oregon that I do at a Courtyard in Florida.

PhotoRecently, in a non-chain hotel, I had an experience that was both unique and baffling. First, I noticed that the glass of water I almost finished wasn’t discarded. Instead, they left the last sip of water and just put a coaster on top of the glass as a form of cap. I was confused. Then I turned around and saw my running shoes which had been thrown in the corner. Not only were they placed neatly side by side, which I understood, but the laces had been tied. They tied my shoes…without my feet in them. Now I was baffled. How did this benefit me? What kind of standard would have the housekeeping crews tie my shoes?

But then I realized…there was no standard. There was probably an ambiguous statement, something like “provide each guest a level of service above and beyond their expectations” or something that sounds really, really good. But at the same time, that so-called standard provides no clarity for what successful accomplishment looks like. If you asked someone “how do you know that you’re doing a good job?”, could they answer that question clearly?

I was observing a team clearing brush away from a railway line. There was a standard, or expected outcome, of how far back they should clear. However, there was no means to compare the result to the expected result. If you look back across their work, sometimes they were too close, likely leading to future rework, and sometimes they cut back far too much, which greatly reduced their productivity. Having a clear expected outcome is not enough. You also have to define a means to evaluate whether or not you are successfully meeting that expected outcome. To my opening room cleaning example, this would be the equivalent to “I’ll tell you when you’re done” because the person can’t self-evaluate successful completion.

The lack of clearly defined outcomes generates tremendous waste. How often have you put time into a report or presentation only to find out it didn’t meet the expectation? Maybe you didn’t do enough, and now you have rework. Possibly worse, you did more than was expected, and the extra invested time cannot be reclaimed.

Every process needs a clearly defined outcome. Without it, you cannot manage and you cannot improve.


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