Setting up “Bumpers” on Your Process

If you have young kids and/or have ever been bowling, you know all about “bumper bowling”. In an effort to provide an opportunity for even the most inexperienced bowler to have some form of success, bumpers can be placed on the sides of the lanes to keep the ball from going in the gutter. With three young kids (two who are old enough to bowl and enjoy bumper bowling) I’ve had the pleasure of watching this play out over the past couple of years.

After several times taking my kids bowling I began to think about the parallels bumper bowling has with processes. And ever since it’s served as a nice analogy to describe what firms should be striving to create with their own process improvement initiatives. We have always been big advocates on stressing “consistency” over “standardization” in a professional service organization. The bumper bowling analogy allows us to explain this by using a very simple example. Let me explain…

Consistency strives to limit wildly inefficient variation and personal preferences in a process. Many personal preferences are truly non-value added and cause layers of complexity, low value to clients, internal frustration, and poor process efficiency. While some parts of a client service facing process can be “standardized”, you can’t completely standardize a professional service process. This is why we stress consistency. Professional judgment can’t be standardized; but personal preferences can be positively improved. We have to allow a certain amount of flexibility in the process to allow for uniqueness, complexity and professional judgment – but still get to the same place at the end. Striving to set consistent expectations of each level / step of a process – even the newest, most inexperienced person – allows a greater ability for both internal process success and external client satisfaction.

Isn’t that what bumper bowling allows us to do as well by putting up the bumpers? We may have different levels of experience, ability, and to some extent professional judgment; but at the end we can all get to the end of the lane without going into the gutter. And even knock down some pins!

What “bumpers” are you putting up on your process(es) to set up your colleagues and service teams for success? We may all have a slightly different way to get there, but we can all be successful in the end if we take the time to set up the bumpers (consistency points). And then watch your processes improve, client service and satisfaction increase, and internal happiness rise dramatically. It’s nice to have expectations and be set up for success day-in and day-out.

About the author

 Dustin Hostetler, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

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