We all do things differently based on our individual experiences and observations. This is where providing a step-by-step guide to performing and checking off a task could come in handy.

After a long day at work, Anna is ready to unwind at home. However, as she enters the kitchen, she finds that the washed dishes are still oily, and some laundry has shrunk because they were put in the dryer when they were not supposed to. Just the previous week, Anna had told her family members to help out with these household chores, and they did… but why aren't they done well?

This is an example of variation occurring when changes occur. In this case, it is change occurring in her family when she asked them to help out with the household chores. Anna even experiences this at work, where there are systems introduced to better organise documents, but it is not always effectively done.

How could she use Quality Improvement (QI) tools to help her family members adapt to the changes and manage variation in their workflows? 

Let's take the example of washing dishes. Here are 5 change concepts that Anna could apply to ensure that everyone cleans the dishes properly:

1. Standardisation

We all do things differently based on our individual experiences and observations. Different family members may have their own ways and standards of washing dishes, resulting in variations. This is where providing a standardised step-by-step guide to performing and checking off the task could come in handy.

An example of standardised steps to clean dishes that Anna’s household could follow.

2. Develop operation definitions

Even with standardised steps, individuals could execute these steps differently because of misinterpreted definitions. If Anna realizes this, she can define specific operational terms. The term ‘clean’ can be defined as ensuring that the dish is free of oil and stains.

Anna could create a list of operational definitions, or points to note for everyone in the family.

3. Stop tampering with the standardized workflow

Reducing tampering of the standardised workflow can maintain high quality results. Anna can ensure this by making it easier for her family members to follow the workflow. For example, to prevent them from placing wet or only partially dried dishes into the cupboard when there is not enough space on the drying rack, she can buy a bigger drying rack. This would prevent shortcuts such as not drying the dishes properly before they are returned to the shelf.

Taking shortcuts and deviating from the standardised route or workflow may be faster, but could cause us to miss important checkpoints in the process.

4. Develop contingency plans

In any process, not everything will always go perfectly. At times like these, Anna will need to come up with a Plan B!

Perhaps there is an occasion she is about to wash the dishes but realises that they have run out of sponges at home. However, sponges in the nearby supermarket have also all sold out. One solution could be to use an alternative item present at home – a washcloth.

Following this, Anna can share this contingency plan with her family members. By doing so, she makes sure that everyone knows what to do and uses this standardised plan when they face the same situation.

Having multiple contingency plans can prevent Anna and her family from being caught off-guard during unexpected situations.

5. Improve predictions

Finally, how could Anna prevent the sponges from running out in the first place? She could predict it! It is common to use data to improve predictions, and she could apply this to the timely replenishment of sponges. If sponges are standardised to be changed once every 2 weeks, this data can be used to predict their replenishment. This may even assist in her budget planning for the family groceries.

Keeping track of when the dishwashing sponges were replaced helps Anna predict when it next needs to be replenished.

Managing change is not as simple as Anna thought it would be. Nonetheless, by applying QI tools such as managing process variation, tasks such as household chores can be done more consistently and effectively. This could create a more pleasant living experience for both Anna and everyone at home.

Perhaps you can think of a similar situation at work where you could apply such tools to make it better for you and your work mates?

We love mail! Drop us a note at lighternotes@sgh.com.sg to tell us what you like or didn’t like about this story, and what you would like to see more of in LighterNotes.