Companies’ use of sophisticated Six Sigma tools and similar improvement activities often creates information overload for workers, writes Satya S. Chakravorty, the Caraustar Professor of Operations Management at the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Chakravorty’s article “The Trouble With Too Much Information,” in the Fall 2011 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, gives a particularly vivid example from one company, where people had to process all this material at once:
- new product designs and an accompanying 47 pages of instructions and drawings;
- implementation of a total productive maintenance program, with 69 pages of text;
- an 23-page updated safety manual from HR;
- a 42-page plan and 31-slide PowerPoint training program for a new sustainability program; and
- an enterprise resource planning implementation manual — complete with over 200 pages of instructions and reports.
This amount of change is dizzying. In many cases, writes Chakravorty, it creates “brain overload,” particularly if the changes come when workers are simultaneously dealing with complex daily operations.
His suggestion: Fewer changes at a time. “Executives need to simplify or consolidate their improvement initiatives into one or two at a time,” he writes. “That will create a process simpler to understand and easier to drive from the bottom up.
Chakravorty also lists some of the best ways for companies to pursue improvement programs in his 2010 article “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong” from the MIT SMR archives. “Understanding where the stress and strains are offers managers an opportunity to avoid them,” he says.