Low-hanging fruit

Post date: July 20, 2017 by Grace Bourke

While I was taking an early morning walk, a patch of ripe blackberries caught my eye – a tasty treat of low-hanging fruit. As I sampled the ripe berries, my thoughts went to a time at work where our team didn’t see the low-hanging fruit.

Years ago, working as a research scientist on a team scaling up the manufacture of an HIV test, I dressed in my clean room “bunny suit” for a day of cutting-edge, geek science with my team. It was my first time performing a process step that challenged my manual dexterity. The process was labor intensive and time-consuming, so a team member also decided to increase the voltage and shorten the time for part of the process. As my impatient colleague piled up the work in process, it aged - waiting for me. Most of that batch didn’t pass quality control. I don’t know if the batch failed because of my ineptness or my colleague’s jiggering with the mechanics. We didn’t train sufficiently, and we didn’t stabilize the work.

For me, it is low-hanging fruit to train people and support them in following the process. I’ve seen good people struggle to do the job because they didn’t know how — training would make the difference. And when we don’t know the best way to do the job, we need to start by stabilizing the work — defining one way to do the work. Let’s help people define the best way and then train to it. We can improve only after we stabilize.