By Bill Flury

“Now Our Work is More Fun”

Work and Fun? – a strange combination, but we keep hearing this from most of the folks who are feeling the effects of their process improvement activities where they work. When we do follow-up visits with our clients, we hope they will say that things are better now than before. They do say that, but the way they say it is that they are having more fun at work. Why do they choose to frame their answer that way instead of the usual business terms? What are they telling us?

Fifty Shades of Fun

In his just released book, American Fun, John Beckman discusses both Fun and Un-Fun related emotions. There’s a long list and a wide range of Un-Fun activities. These include things that are so Un-Fun that they are sad, woeful, disagreeable, or unpleasant. Others that fit in this category are boring, tiring, or just plain unfunny. And, of course, Roget could probably suggest more.

In the Fun category we see things that are; pleasant, satisfying, entertaining and enjoyable. Fun seems to top out at boisterous — the unbridled “Jump in the air and yell WOO-HOO!” Fun.

  • Thomas Edison’s thousands of failed light bulb experiments were enjoyable for him even though they failed to find a working filament. Finding things that wouldn’t work was the kind of thing he enjoyed. But the AHA! Moment when he found the one right element was pure, top level FUN.
  • For a serious runners, running well in a marathon is satisfying, being among the front runners is enjoyable (better than just being satisfying) and winning is top-level FUN!

Beckham’s taxonomy provides a basis for helping us figure out what these people are saying about the benefits of process improvement activities when they say: “Now our work is now more fun”.

Living in an Un-Fun World

Our respondents are people who used to work in conditions one would call chaotic. Their regular workday was filled with unpleasant crises and disagreeable misunderstandings. They frequently had to apologize to their clients for woeful errors and faulty products and often had to work overtime to fix them. They would often fall behind schedules and, when they did, they could not get anyone to help because they didn’t have procedures in place that described things others could follow and pitch in to help. They felt trapped in chaos and their life at work was boring, tiring and a classic example of Un-Fun. Many of their co-sufferers left and hiring their replacements was a big problem.

Getting Rid of Un-Fun

The unhappiness of those who stayed led them to seek a prescription to rid them of all the Un-Fun in their lives. They found and settled on a process improvement program that outlined a set of simple things they could do to find and fix the things they were doing that were causing Un-Fun things to occur. It sounded pretty demanding at first so they retained some coaches to help them get started. They soon found out that process improvement would be easier than they thought it was going to be.

The first thing they learned from their process improvement coaches was that they already had a process. The coaches asked them to do something they had never done before — draw a picture of their process showing what they were doing, exactly the way they were now doing it. Then, they could all look at it and figure out where and how the Un-Fun things were coming from in the process. That first step, drawing a picture of their current process, let them all see many Un-Fun makers.

Then, they began to understand what was going on. Until then, they had been blaming each other for creating the Un-Fun problems. The blame-game stopped. Now, they realized that they all had been trying to make a bad process work but it was their process that was bad – not the people.

They agreed to change their process so the Un-Fun creating activities would no longer occur. Over the next several months they did this a few more times. What happened next?

The Death of Un-Fun

As the Un-Fun things started to go away, work began to flow more smoothly. With the process defined and documented, everyone knew who was supposed to do what and how things should be done. Work relationships among the team members smoothed out and the crises faded away and, along with that, unpaid overtime on nights and weekends also began to disappear. They began to have opportunities to spend evenings with their families and friends.

Those who had been embarrassed by errors before could see where the process they had been following had been causing the errors. They stopped feeling guilty about errors when they could see that their errors were being caused by faulty processes and not poor performance on their part. No longer feeling trapped in chaos, they were beginning to feel empowered to find and fix their most vexing problems.

They had arrived at what might be called neutral territory between Un-Fun and Fun. Things were not yet working completely smoothly but you could hear people say, “It’s not as bad now as it used to be”.

Are They Having Fun Yet?

For these groups, doing the simple basics of process improvement – defining and documenting their processes, following them, tracking results and feeding improvements back into the processes – has eliminated most of their Un-Fun. Having less Un-Fun has also established a foundation for moving up the scale and making their work more satisfying and enjoyable. Here’s what some of them have been doing.

  • With the crisis pressure off, team members now have a chance to slip in a game of Foosball in the company break room from time to time. That’s diverting and counts as a form of Fun.
  • One of the teams has just celebrated completion of 100 days of error-free product deliveries. They had a party and that was Fun.
  • One of the groups used to have trouble winning proposals because of its poor performance record. Their win-rate has improved from 10% to 50% — well above average for their business. That’s very satisfying form of FUN.
  • Another group is now consistently completing projects ahead of schedule and under budget. That’s more than satisfying, that’s really enjoyable – one more step up the Fun ladder.

Top Level Fun

A point that Beckman makes in his book is that top level fun comes when you do something exceptional – something that is particularly difficult or unique or successfully done in the face of great odds.

One of the top performing teams among the respondents has now been performing well for over a year. Nine months ago they took over a project that was running late and was over budget. They re-worked the process and that helped them get ahead of schedule. At the meeting when they delivered the product to the customer a month early and on budget, they all jumped in the air and yelled WOO-HOO! Clearly they were having more FUN.

What Are They Saying?

Today’s technical workforce is very mobile and puts a high value on Fun. They have a low tolerance for Un-Fun and leave when they are having too much of it.

Some organizations try to get rid of the Un-Fun, (e.g., errors, schedule crises) by instituting rigid controls. Those may achieve the basic business goals but are considered by the workers as just another form of Un-Fun. They feel that having no Un-Fun is a prerequisite for what they really want. Fun requires an opportunity to do meaningful and useful work, and a chance to enjoy life outside of work and to do it their way. That combination, for them, is Fun.

Those who tell us that they are having more Fun are those who are following the simple, cooperative approach to process improvement. They work together to draw and share a picture of what they do, share ideas on how to do it better, and do this continually. In addition to curing the business problems, the creativity involved in this process also makes it a form of Fun.

Their message for us is that their simple, self-directed process improvement activities have brought them more of what they value and that is their way to express it – more Fun. Their hidden message is that they would be gone if they were not having Fun.

We presently take and use metrics for cost, schedule and product quality. Perhaps we should consider one more – a metric for Fun.

How do you eliminate Un-Fun from your work environment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

2 replies
  1. Bob Pikul
    Bob Pikul says:

    Bill: My metric for fun on the range is reviewing the results on the targets in a time sequence. Sometimes the results are worse than before and that produces “un-fun”

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