You cannot solve a problem until you define it, and you cannot test a solution without analyzing the results. The key to both of these processes is observation. The traditional tool belt for process improvement has long included a stopwatch, pens, paper forms, and calculators. In recent years a smart phone or tablet has replaced that tool belt for many people, but they are essentially using the same techniques. There is, however, one useful tool that has been woefully overlooked or misused by improvement experts and consultants over the years. That tool is movies. You don’t have to be a Hollywood director, or even an amateur videography buff to take advantage of video as a recording and observation technique. You just need to take a few important considerations into account. Do this, and you can get an incredibly vivid perspective of your process. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth that same amount 30 times a second (or 24 times if you’re going for that film look).
Despite the current buzz over compact and easy to use video cameras, moving pictures have been used for work observation and scientific management for over 100 years. The pioneers of motion study, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, used film for their observations when the technology was still in its infancy. Around the same time the first silent film stars were establishing careers, the Gilbreths used a simple hand cranked camera to capture the details of motion in a variety of work processes. Their ground-breaking motion studies can now be easily viewed online. With this sort of history, it’s surprising that video is not more commonly used by businesses today to analyze their processes. In looking at some of the barriers that hold this technique back, it becomes clear that successful video analysis is more a matter of interpersonal interaction than of technology.
Though organizations have been slow to adopt video for process improvement, they adopted the technology for another purpose early on. You’ll find video cameras in many places of business. They are usually tucked away in high corners and often covered in mirrored domes or flanked by grainy monitors. Security has become the most common use of video across many industries, and this is a problem for anyone who wants to use it for current state analysis and process improvement. Unfortunately, when you put a camera on someone at work they tend to think they are being spied on. They think they aren’t trusted let alone respected. Anyone can capture a video on a cellphone, but doing it in a way that is productive and unobtrusive can be a challenge. The key to overcoming this challenge lies in one of the fundamental principles of process improvement. Called Kaizen in Japan, this principle states that the people who actually perform the work should implement improvements to processes on an ongoing basis. In other words, its about autonomy, responsibility and ownership. Instead of observing the people you lead, let them observe themselves.
The process of using video for current state analysis must be one of empowerment rather than criticism. As much as people tend to object to being “recorded” without permission, they are eager to record themselves and share it with the world. How do you use this Instagram and Youtube culture as more than self-indulgent vanity? In our next article, we’ll talk about the specific video equipment you will use to capture your processes. Later, we’ll show you ways to get people using video to analyze and improve their own processes.