The SixBoxes Blog Banner Image
Apr 28 2023
Improving Human Performance in Processes


I’ve been working as a consultant in organizations for over 40 years. For part of that time, I was intimidated by process improvement specialists because they have a lot of data and a lot of tools.  Whether Six Sigma, Lean, Total Quality, or any of the other approaches for improving the efficiency of, and quality produced by processes, there is a lot of power in many of the methodologies used by process experts.

At some point, I began to look at processes, and how our expert colleagues design, document, and improve them, through the lens of Performance Thinking® models and logic.  I soon realized that Performance Thinking can add value, even for the most sophisticated process improvement methodologies.

­I worked on some big projects alongside process specialists to see what I could offer.  This was when I was still doing big, hands-on performance improvement projects in Global 1000 companies, before I started teaching others how to do Performance Thinking, and coaching them through projects of their own. 

In one highly visible project at a medical products company, I got to work with some especially skilled Lean and Six Sigma practitioners.  We learned some things together, and the robust set of recommendations we made to senior management at the end of the project benefited from their expertise, as well as from my application of Performance Thinking. We had lots of conversations during the project in which we shared data, suggestions for what to do next, and what we were discovering. It was a lot of fun, and we did great work together!

In the end, I think the most important things that I had to offer from Performance Thinking for process improvement can be summed up in two parts – by applying two essentials of Performance Thinking, the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes® Model.

First, we always insist on defining the work outputs, or milestones produced by each step, by each task or sequence of behavior. Not all process professionals do that. They often conduct detailed “voice of the customer” analyses to be sure they know what is expected at the end of the process. But it has been my experience that many of our process improvement colleagues do not identify the things (countable nouns) that each step produces. And they do not always crisply define “what good looks like” for each work output (milestone) in the process.

The Performance Chain model guides us to the work outputs, or accomplishments.  When we identify the work outputs, it is easier to determine where things go wrong inside the process, and to monitor and measure performance at a more detailed level, by counting milestones that meet criteria, and those that do not.  This is usually obvious to the process specialists I have worked with, once stated. But it is not always practiced. The simplicity and care with which we Performance Thinkers define work outputs is helpful. We are very disciplined about that.

Second, when a milestone/work output in a process is deficient, we examine the behavior at a more detailed level for producing it. We can sometimes identify exemplary practices (bits of behavior) that enable "star" performers to produce outputs with greater productivity or quality. Such exemplary performer analysis, inherited from our mentor and predecessor, Dr. Tom Gilbert, offers that powerful performance improvement strategy. 

We can then use the Six Boxes® Model as a framework for analyzing and optimizing factors that influence the behavior, instead of merely tossing it in the bucket of “human error.”  In effect, we use the Six Boxes as “bones” in Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams often used in the analysis process by process specialists.

We Performance Thinkers have some things to add to process improvement, and are happy to work with process experts collaboratively. Of course, we're even more excited to welcome expert process improvement colleagues into our growing global community, since we find that the models and logic of Performance Thinking can work well with what they know and do.

- Carl Binder, CEO







Share: '

Content Summary

To learn more call 206.780.8578