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Anecdotes, Evidence, Process Improvement

Thursday, August 20, 2009 by Slaughter Development

One of the most inspirational sources of workflow improvement is medicine. Yet, what makes doctors effective are not good outcomes, but understanding why good outcomes actually occur.

A fantastic summary about the role of science in medicine recently appeared from writer Harriet Hall. The article states:

How can you know whether a medical treatment really works? If everybody says it works, and it worked for your Aunt Sally, and you try it and your symptoms go away, you can pretty well assume it really works. Right?

No, you can’t make that assumption, because sometimes we get it wrong. For many centuries doctors used leeches and lancets to relieve patients of their blood. They KNEW bloodletting worked. Everybody said it did. When you had a fever and the doctor bled you, you got better. Everyone knew of a friend or relative who had been at death’s door until bloodletting cured him. Doctors could recount thousands of successful cases.

All those people got it wrong. When George Washington got a bad throat infection, his doctors removed so much of his blood that his weakened body couldn’t recover, and he died. We finally got around to testing bloodletting and found out it did much more harm than good. Patients who got well had been getting well IN SPITE of bloodletting, not because of it. And some patients had died unnecessarily, like George Washington.

The story of the development of medicine is the story of testing. Researchers have learned that results are not as important as the actual underlying scientific phenomena. Just because some action appears to lead to a positive outcome does not mean there is any actual connection between the two.

Businesses can learn a great deal from medicine. Are workflow patterns actually effective, or are they just traditions we’ve always done? Do software systems collect useful data, or do they just make people busy with data collection and useless analysis? A critical issue in any organization is determining what work actually matters and what is merely distraction.

When Slaughter Development conducts its own form of medicine, Workplace Diagnostics, we try to help organizations recognize that every element of work should be open for discussion. A great employee, like a great doctor, is not just one who follows the procedure, but one who is willing to try and understand what makes the procedure work. It’s not wise for anyone to improve on business process without understanding true business value. For more information on how to work smarter, contact Slaughter Development today.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Process Improvement Failure - Millions of companies have pursued major business process improvement projects. Some new evidence reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, shows that most of these endeavors fail. Read on »
Under the Weather - We’ve all been subject to falling ill at work at one point or another. When it happens, most often we head home for some rest and recuperation. Yet, there’s one occupation where more than half of its professionals stick it out and work while sick. Read on »
Summit: Continuous Improvement Primer - The final session at the Indianapolis Productivity Summit last Monday was an overview of popular approaches for “continuous improvement.” Read on »
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