9 Blind Men and an Elephant

Jitendra Badiani

Have you ever heard of the ‘Nine Blind Men and the Elephant’? This parable originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent and has become widespread ever since. It is about a group of men who had never come across an elephant and were asked to describe it by touch. Each blind man touched a different part of the elephant – the leg, the tusk, the tail, and so on.

Someone asks each of the blind men in turn “What’s an elephant like?” The blind man holding the elephant’s tail says, “An elephant is like a rope.” The man holding one of the elephant’s ears replies, “An elephant is flat, like a pancake.” The third blind man, with his arms wrapped around one of the elephant’s legs, responds, “An elephant is shaped like the trunk of a tree.”

Now, each blind man is right, but from the big picture perspective, they are all very wrong

Businesses run in a similar fashion. Each department is familiar with its part of the process but is ‘blind’ to the rest of it. Without this ability to see “the whole elephant,” as it were, they can’t ever correctly understand how what they do affects other processes or people involved. This inability to see the entire process is why some businesses run at a sub-optimized efficiency.

There are Lean Six Sigma tools that help see the ‘big picture.’ Mapping out the current process helps identify opportunities for improvement and to develop an optimized future state as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Developing a SIPOC is an excellent way to look at the overall business to understand other parts of the process as well. SIPOC is a tool to document the Suppliers, Inputs to the process, Process itself, Outputs of the process, Customers (internal or external). It is also essential to conclude the process boundaries before beginning to have a clear understanding of the scope of the exercise (Figure 2):

Figure 2

After completing a SIPOC diagram, top-down charts, process maps, swimlane charts, and value stream map can aid in developing a deeper understanding of the process. 

Takeaway: Process mapping breaks down the barriers between process steps/departments with a better understanding among people of how changes they make can impact other areas of the business. This process mapping will help identify improvement opportunities, leading to better teamwork and a ‘waste free’ organization.

At Focused Improvement Consulting, we recognize all the challenges that are faced by companies looking to implement operations excellence measures and specialize in getting our clients to tackle these challenges head-on and achieve operations excellence. For more information on how we can help your business achieve operations excellence, please get in touch at info@focusedimprovement.ca.

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