The only easy day was yesterday - this is a message of hope

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on October 14, 2014
Stats
At my current "client" we have been employing a lot of activities to increase the number of customer we serve per day. I've blogged about this before.
Now it turns out that we have succeeded. The customers are pouring in. And the staff finds themselves with much more work than they have experienced in about 5 years. Yesterday was our best day so far and it was amazing to see the difference from a normal day;
  • Everyone was moving fast - compared to sitting around waiting
  • Everyone was focused - compared to not really knowing what to do
  • Everyone was excited - compared to disillusioned and bored
  • Everyone was tired after the day - compared to feeling tired of boredom
From Wikipedia
In the daily morning meeting the day after (today) we saw that people was tired and thought it was very stressful yesterday. I was reminded about the Navy Seals motto:
The only easy day was yesterday
In this post I wanted to describe why this is true for everyone embarking on continuous improvements and why this not is a problem, but rather a message of hope.
Under one condition...

At my current "client" we have been employing a lot of activities to increase the number of customer we serve per day. I've blogged about this before.
Now it turns out that we have succeeded. The customers are pouring in. And the staff finds themselves with much more work than they have experienced in about 5 years. Yesterday was our best day so far and it was amazing to see the difference from a normal day;
  • Everyone was moving fast - compared to sitting around waiting
  • Everyone was focused - compared to not really knowing what to do
  • Everyone was excited - compared to disillusioned and bored
  • Everyone was tired after the day - compared to feeling tired of boredom
From Wikipedia
In the daily morning meeting the day after (today) we saw that people was tired and thought it was very stressful yesterday. I was reminded about the Navy Seals motto:
The only easy day was yesterday
In this post I wanted to describe why this is true for everyone embarking on continuous improvements and why this not is a problem, but rather a message of hope.
Under one condition...

What does "The only easy day was yesterday" mean?

From Wikipedia
First of all the Navy Seals is an elite military unit in the US Navy. They are famous for one of the hardest and toughest training programs in the world. Part of it is referred to as "Hell week", and that goes on for 10 days... 

"The only easy day was yesterday" simply means; "things will just get harder from now on". Never has this been more true since you at any time during the 8+24-week training period will be expelled if you fail a test. 

WHY?! Why do they do this? Why so hard? Why so focused on the problems?

It's simple; they want only the best. Best in this case means the people that can endure this training, the physical constraints and the mental pressure. (Just as a side note I have a bit of a problem with them training killers basically since that's really what they excel in but let's put that aside for now).
The trainers want people to fail because they only need the few that can take this. 90% drop out rate is not uncommon. And that's a good thing.  

What does it mean to us?

Let's leave the military elite and bring this back to us again. Or my client from above as an example. What does "The only easy day was yesterday" mean to us? That's not very hopeful at all... Will things always get worse, harder, tougher? Can I please change company?

Let me first say that my economical skills are limited. This might brush on finance ideas such as if we always need to do better and better and maybe there are other theories about this. I don't know. Please enlighten me. 

But for this particular client we have had a trend of running the company at about 40-50% of the levels we needed to even cover our costs. For several years. External input of funds and simply not paying all our debts has been the solution for quite some time. 

Now that we are pushing more customers to the company there will, for the foreseeable future, be more and more to do. Before 80 customers per day was "a lot"... yesterday we had 145 and I would think that the new "normal" will be around 130-180 maybe. 

The thing is; we put things in motion now that we cannot reverse. Customers will come to us weather we want or not. I believe this is a common situation for when tides turns for a company, or when you get the big break. All of a sudden things are moving faster and faster.
To paraphrase what my friend Anders Löwenborg said to me describing working for a startup;
It was like riding kayak in a white water river. All I could do was trying to paddle along and steer... there was no use trying to turn the kayak around.   

That sounds horrible... please bring some good news

Basically this is what we want. But once we get it... the situation might prove to be more work, require more of us than expected.

But that's no problem.

As long as you devote yourself to two things;
improve continuously in small steps
Yes - it's just one sentence, but it contain two very important things.

Improve mean change

I tweeted something the other day that I is very important to understand, I think:
I have met so many people that want to improve - but they will not change. That's a false statement. Improve means change. Not changing means not improving. It also means not getting worse, of course, but everyone else is improving so ... you're losing anyway.

Please note that just changing is not improving, but improvement means changing.

Small steps

By Roland Urbanek
used under Creative Commons
Now you say; 
Aaaaah ... if we're going to change continuously ... how do we know that it's improvements? Or just change?
First of all; most of us know. At least in the early stages of the improvement journey. After that we need a true north, that a lot of Lean literature is talking about.

Secondly; if we take a wrong steps it's not a big problem. Unless we do big changes. Which brings us to the second part of my "improve continuously in small steps" statement above.

Change is no problem as long as you do small change often rather than big changes seldom. Most people that I encounter that resist change (all kinds of change as general rule of thumb) do so because the changes are too big. And quite often we do "rewamps" of entire organisations, or "roll-out" of the new method etc.

But if we do tiny, tiny changes it's no problem if we go the wrong way. It was a tiny change - if it proves to be wrong we just go back.

Necessity: the mother of innovation

One final comment. Why do we want to have more and more to do? Or move faster and faster? 

Because that's where innovation happens. Why? Because with small load, less things to do we don't need to be effective, we don't need to think about quality etc. Under small load we can manage anyway. 

So quality is bad. Who cares? I have so little to do that I have time to fix my bad quality too. 
This process is very ineffective. So what? We have nothing better to do - we can take our time filling these forms out, or do this things twice etc. 

When we increased the number of customers in our current client we saw all kinds of spontaneous improvements spring into action. Just because we had to. 

Summary

"The only easy day was yesterday" - from now of we need to improve. This is a message of hope since this will make us better and better to handle this load. 

And you know what; pretty soon we will find that we can handle the higher load without being stressed out, without feeling rushed. Because we have improved our environment, our processes and services into something better. Something better than we even knew was possible. 


Published by Marcus Hammarberg on Last updated