How Early Can You Notice That First Change?

When do you notice a change? Do you notice a change when it occurs? Maybe later? Or, are you sometimes like me, where I don’t notice until too late?

When we notice a change too late, we let problems fester. We missed that first change and now we have a bigger problem. Those big problems require more people and more time to solve.

The earlier we can notice a change, the more options we have to solve that problem. Or adjust to the new reality.

I don’t always notice the change. Or, sometimes, I don’t know if it’s a real problem yet. If my weight goes up by a half-pound, is that a real problem?  For me, the answer is always yes—that half-pound is a real problem for me. (Insert maniacal laughter here.) You might not have that same problem.

However, I’m sure that another small signal warns you it’s time to discover whether or not you have a problem.

Here are signals I see organizations miss too often:

  • People work overtime to achieve a specific goal.
  • They might make that goal, but the work returns because there’s a problem with the deliverable.
  • They feel that they don’t have enough time to fix the work problems. (Or, management says not to.)

When people work overtime, that’s a small signal. Something unexpected occurred. That’s a small change.

If you’re a manager or leader, seeing overtime means you might ask some questions.

  • Do you have all the equipment and tools you need?
  • Do you have access to all the people you need?
  • Would you like to work with other people to reduce your need for overtime?

When I start small with the first signal I see, I can often avoid the next problem, which is larger.

How to Notice a Change

I have trained myself to notice project-based problems, such as these. I work hard to notice small changes all over my life and work. I’m not perfect at noticing, but I’m a lot better than I was.

Here are questions I ask myself:

  • What can I easily measure on a regular basis? Yes, I am good friends with my scale for my weight. For the overtime example, I have two measures: qualitative questions and cycle time. Teams choose overtime when their cycle time is too long. (When the work takes longer than they expected.)
  • How often do I need to check those measures? Daily? Weekly? Maybe both, and track the measures over time.
  • Are there other related qualitative or quantitative measures I could review? Often, one change means there is a related change that might happen at the same time or later. Our bodies and work are both systems.

In general, humans are good problem-solvers. We can also be quite adaptable if we notice a change. When I notice something small, I have many more options to manage the problem. I might not even call it a problem at that point. The smaller the issue, the more easily we can adapt.

That’s the question of the week: How early can you notice that first change?

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