Sunday, November 18, 2007

Falling over rocks

A lot of what I know, I learned so long ago, I no longer remember when or how I learned it. When I was in the army (over 40 years ago) we had a label we used to cover make work - painting rocks. This referred to painting the rocks lining the walkways white to both make them look pretty, in the first sergeant's opinion - we could have cared less, and to make them visible. Calling it make work came from the practice of having solders who had no other work repaint the rocks.

Over the years I came to use the idea of rocks in the road to symbolize the business problems that seem to always be there. No matter how hard you try you keep finding the same road blocks and problems cropping up.

My lesson for today is on how to deal with these kinds of problems. Think of them as rocks in the road and either: Mover them out of the road or Paint them white. If you can move them out of the road, you never fall over them again - a permanent solution. If you can’t move them because you don’t have the resources or the authority, paint them white so the rest of your company can see and avoid them.

This helps to create a system that you and others in your company can follow to create to replace the corporate memory that is disappearing from most companies with the change to shorter tenure in specific job functions.

As people shift functions or companies their experience is lost and the person replacing them is fated to repeat the mistakes (fall over the same rocks in the road) of their predecessor. If the the previous worker had moved the rocks or painted them white, the next person would be able to avoid the rocks and move forward more smoothly and quickly.

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