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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Hill

Association to Work - Office Improvements

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

As promised, these next blog posts will include basic tips for addressing the main factors that impact results when doing continuous improvement (CI) in an office vs. manufacturing environment:

1. Association to Work

2. Frequency of Work Units

3. Significance of Waste

If you haven’t read the previous three blog posts, I recommend doing so before continuing to the tips. This post will suggest what to do. Prior posts will let you know why you might implement these tips.

Let’s break down each suggestion by factor. In fact, I am going to break down each post by factor. So, this blog will be around overcoming the “Association to Work” difference between the office and manufacturing setting. The following are the main ways I recommend working with individuals likely to have a strong association to their work in the office setting.


I often have brief, one-on-one conversations with project or event team members in advance to gauge their buy-in for change, their previous experience, the barriers they have faced, and to build a relationship of trust before entering a room full of people.

For some, speaking about their process in front of others can feel intimidating and always demonstrates vulnerability. As a facilitator, my job is to ensure emotional safety while creating an open and honest dialogue. And knowing potential barriers in advance can help me offset those in a neutral manner. It also helps me know what questions to ask if key information is not shared.

Roles vs. Names

When mapping or documenting project work, I use roles rather than names. Therefore, when changes are made to the process, a participant can dissociate better from the work and is more likely to volunteer changes. They are also less likely to feel criticized when steps in their process are deemed wasteful, ineffective, or inefficient.

This also is a good practice, since there may be others who are not part of the project team or event who also do the work within that role. This helps them realize that the process changes apply to all of them, not just the individual(s) in the room.

Root Cause Approach

In manufacturing, we hear a lot about using the “5 Why” approach to identifying root cause. I have found this less effective in an office setting for two reasons:

1. Complexity of Office Problems

If you asked five different people in the office “why,” you would receive five different answers, and each may be right! Most office problems result from a blend of issues within the 6Ms (Man/Woman, Material, Method, Mother Nature, Measurement, Machine), rather than a linear path that provides a single discovery.

2. “Why?” Can Prompt Defensiveness

Have you ever been asked why something that you discovered went wrong? It feels like an interrogation. You feel blamed. And you become defensive. Since a person is closely tied to their work in the office, “why” questions around their work feel like a personal attack. In reality, problem-solving is typically about the process, not the person.

Instead, I present the 6Ms and suggest brainstorming what factors might have played a part in the problem occurring. I do this in groups and make it a requirement that everyone come up with at least one idea per “M.”

I let them know no idea is too absurd, and that we will have the opportunity to validate the ideas later. (I also remind them to not use names, but roles… see above.) This generates less of a defensive or closed off response and creates more of a team approach to creativity.

3. Data Still Rules!

Creating a data collection plan that answers: What, When, Where, Who, and How should always be part of uncovering the root cause(s). However, I also like to do the 6M exercise, as it can create additional areas to look for gathering data – especially data that is not readily available.

I like to do a gut check with participants to find out if the data reflects what they already believed, or if it surprises them. Having them weigh-in on the data gathering and analysis validates their own expertise and ensures greater buy-in throughout the project.

Overall, addressing the “Association to Work” factor is about respecting people, honoring their experience, and creating a place of emotional safety and openness.

In the next post, we will go through ways to overcome the “Frequency of Work Units” factor. In the meantime, please share with me situations in which you have overcome the “Association to Work” factor. And if you would like additional support overcoming these factors, please Contact Us at

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