Life Lessons from an Engineer #9
At any given point in our lives, we are all striving to be better in some way. Whether that be a promotion, more meaningful relationships, or being able to run a fast 5km race!
You see the notion of continuous improvement is ingrained into us from a young age. Now sometimes this is done due to our egos and the desire to be better than others, that is one yardstick you could use. But I prefer to think about it in the context of being better than you were yesterday. You see we are all a work in progress, and so we should be running our own race!
In industry, continuous improvement has many names (Six Sigma, Black Belt, the Toyota Way, Lean Manufacturing) but the basic premise is root cause analysis and a structured approach to making things better. I have seen these processes time and time again in my engineering career, whether it was applied to high volume manufacturing and reducing costs on a production line, or understanding a customer fault out in the installed base.
These processes work well, and the interesting this is that they can be applied to your personal life too. In this article, I will share some tips on how you can apply the mindset of continuous improvement to your personal and professional lives.
Throughout 2020 we have lived through periods of uncertainty, fear, and doubt as a result of COVID-19. One way I found to get around that was to optimise my life in the spirit of continuous improvement. I have found this was a great way to “feng-shui” my home office, de-clutter and just to get on top of those “niggling” issues which we all too often leave for another day.
- Sell what you don’t use — eBay is great for this!
- Change the layout of your room — optimise it for home-working and keep items that you use regularly at arm's length
- Location blocking — allocate different areas of your living space for different tasks. This way even if you spend the majority of your time indoors, you have areas for working, leisure and reading, etc. It really helps you to have more headspace and feel more relaxed.
In Your Career
There are so many opportunities to apply the mindset of continuous improvement to our working lives. I would encourage you to set a target of running 3 of these activities yourself, it works best if they are “pet-hates” or issues shared by a few people which you feel strongly, that way you are more motivated to make a difference. You can expect to be met with some resistance, but don’t worry about it — this is normal. I would also advise that you get a sponsor either via line management or someone senior to you so that people are in the loop.
A few examples which have worked well for me include:
- Introducing risk assessments throughout a company
- Setting up monthly knowledge share sessions over a lunch break
- Managing and owning a spreadsheet to track issues for a given lab, test area or a piece of expensive equipment
- Running a STEM event and encouraging colleagues to get involved
- Thinking of ways to reduce cost in a process
Being able to express your creativity is important wherever you are in your life or career. You should be engaging in activities that allow you to express your creativity, and one such method is continuous improvement. This process allows you to come up with ideas and initiatives to improve some aspect of the company or organisation that you work for. I have alluded to a few examples in this article and I am sure you can think of many more.
I encourage you to engage in this process as you think about your career and lives in 2021. I have found it to be a useful strategy for optimising your life and making sure that you are always on top of that old “life admin”. In terms of your career, few people engage in this kind of activity, so you will be noticed for your efforts and you will learn a lot in the process.
So go out there and create! 😇
Thanks for reading.
Take care and Kind Regards,