Still Settling In After Moving; Not Blaming People for Their Best Efforts


The past two weeks have been very busy, to say the least. Thanks to the guest bloggers who contributed posts to help reduce my personal overburden (this particular overburden, of course, being a “First World Problem,” as they say).

My wife and I relocated from San Antonio back to the DFW area after four years down there (she was transferred down and then transferred back).

This week, by the way, I'm back on the road and I'm very happy to be in Indianapolis this week at Franciscan St. Francis Health, working with my Healthcare Kaizen co-author Joe Swartz, to host our second “Kaizen Live!” workshop and event. I'll be tweeting about it and probably blogging about the insights, lessons, and stories. We have 24 people attending from Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, New Jersey, and The Netherlands.

Not the Most Moving Story about Moving? On Forecasts, Delays, and Blame

Back to my moving story. Thankfully, with the work I do, it doesn't matter where I live. That said, flying in and out of DFW will reduce my personal “waste of transportation” as I can now my direct to most of North America and many cities internationally. I had been making many connections in DFW… which means the “waste of motion” (walking or taking a train between terminals) and the “waste of waiting” when delays ensue.

Relocating like this involves many processes, many different companies (sometimes too many points of contact at these companies), and many opportunities for process problems, errors, and delays. As I try to do at work and while traveling, I try hard not to blame individuals for systemic problems.

For example, our movers took longer than estimated to pack and clear out our San Antonio condo. They missed the estimated completion and departure time by a few hours. It wasn't a big deal. But, the lead mover was telling me up until 10 am Wednesday that they still expected to be done and on the road by noon or 1 PM, their original estimate. By noon, it was very clear that estimate wouldn't be met. I wasn't upset about the delay, but more about the lack of communication from the lead mover about their progress and delays. That's probably true with many patients in many healthcare settings – delays aren't great, but a lack of communication about the current status makes things worse.

One reason for the delayed departure is that our condo building had a policy that the service elevator was always unavailable from noon to 1 PM each day. I didn't know that. The lead mover didn't know that… so he was surprised and frustrated by that cause of delay (as was I). Ah, the waste of waiting. Downtime, if you will.

It turns out that moving companies have many people involved… and what I'm guessing is a lack of standard process leads to miscommunications. Somebody at the moving company signed an agreement with our condo General Manager about the elevator hours. That information was not passed along to the lead mover, for some reason. I couldn't blame him for a systemic problem.

At about 1:30 PM, the corporate relo coordinator asked me how the move was going. I stated, pretty matter-of-factly, that the movers would probably need until the end of the day instead of being done by “noon or 1 pm” as they had been expecting since Monday, when the job started. This was being communicated via text message, which removes all emotion from the equation (or it makes the recipient guess the level of anger or frustration felt by the sender).

The corporate relo coordinator, who I'm sure thought she was doing her job and doing her best, called the moving company to let them know about the delay. This could have also been just a factual update, or she might have thought I was upset because I had a five-hour drive ahead of me, to start when the movers were done.

Then, the lead mover's phone started ringing off the hook (a phrase that's nonsensical to digital natives)… first it was the president and owner of the moving company checking in (and, I guess, chewing him out for the delay, even though I wasn't that upset). Then, the phone rang again with a call from the owner's son. There was a third phone call.

The irony of these phone calls was that they weren't really doing anything other than slowing the lead mover down! But, I guess executives thought they were being helpful. I see why Dr. Deming warned us against “everybody's best efforts” not helping improve a system.

But, the movers did a great job. They seemed to put a high priority on safety and quality. I didn't see anybody working in an unsafe matter. They weren't rushing. Nothing got broken and nothing was damaged (no wall or door dings) at the old home or the new home. I told the lead mover that I thought it was better to do the job right instead of rushing to hit some arbitrary deadline.

It also goes to show how difficult it can be to make forecasts or estimates. Manufacturers have trouble forecasting demand. Hospitals and operating rooms make estimates about how long different procedures will take for scheduling purposes (as do primary care clinics and other settings).

Contrary to what this professor once said, Toyota wouldn't “kick a patient out of the exam room when time is up” nor would they arbitrarily end a surgery because time is up. Toyota allows people to take the time it requires to do the work properly – putting safety and quality first, and also engaging everybody in the improvement process if there are recurring problems (and preventable problems) that lead to work taking longer than expected. You can eliminate some waste to make things run more predictably or sometimes you need to adjust the scheduling templates to be more realistic.

As my mother in law comment, “Movers always underestimate the amount of time it takes to do a move.” If that's the case, the ideal condition would be moving companies (or surgery departments) learning over time… comparing scheduled times to actual times. They wouldn't do this to pressure people to hit the scheduled times, but to better understand the system and how it performs, again, making safety and quality a priority.

Moving and Protecting the Lean Leaper

One other funny thing that happened during the move… this might have been the “waste of overprocessing” or wasted packing paper. There were many non-breakable objects that had a lot of paper wrapped around them (such as the rubber piece of a toilet plunger).

One item in my office is a “Lean Leaper” given to me during my time working at the Lean Enterprise Institute. Here's a picture of the Leaper (I almost said “him,” but I don't think the Leaper has a gender) at my old condo in San Antonio, which had a nice view of downtown (although you mainly see parking lots in the foreground).


The second picture is how the Lean Leaper arrived in the DFW area at our new home… wrapped in a lot of paper. The Leaper wouldn't get broken and it likely wouldn't damage anything else in that box.


But, the movers are doing what they're told, I guess, which is to wrap everything in paper. I wonder how much judgment they're allowed in their form of “standardized work?”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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