The Oxford Dictionary defines discipline as
- [noun] The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience
- [verb, as in discipline oneself to do something] train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way
For the purpose of operational excellence the second definition rings true to my ear. To espouse discipline is to be habitual in what you do and hence it can take many forms whether that is brushing your teeth each evening or replying to query emails no later than 24 hours after receipt. In effect, when discipline is applied to everyday life, we are talking about following a standard method though nothing may have been explicitly written down.
Now why would we not write these (good?!) habits down and make a standard work method? I can think of the following reasons:
- Writing down standardised work methods, as oppose to remembering them or teaching by word of mouth requires energy. Considering that we all seek the path of least resistance we avoid writing the method down because it requires effort.
- Writing standardised methods requires no small amount of skill considering that the author seeks to break down a seemingly continuous action into a discrete number of steps and that the implicit is made explicit.
- The author of the method must strike a balance between detailed yet simple, rich in content but clear.
- By committing a standard work method to paper we might as well as caste it in iron, forever to be as such. Of course this is not the case as the standard work method is just a stepping stone to continuous improvement but it can not be denied that the instinctive beast within us views the written word as gospel
- How many standard work methods have you seen that were put neatly into a plastic pocket, filed in a fresh binder and stored on a shelf somewhere only for it to collect dust and take up space? After taking the energy to make a standard work method it somewhat defeats the point if it is not referred to frequently and hence discourages any future efforts to create any more.
Yet, I argue, that adherence to standardised work (or more generally a routine) is the manifestation of discipline (note that standardised work by itself means nothing) and hence is a course that must be taken before a change towards operational excellence can be even considered. Of course there are popular formats of standardised work used in industry which may not apply to the task in question but if standardised work is generalised as being the written/pictorial form of a routine then it is not difficult to choose an appropriate format.
This leads me to the observation of the worrying trend in industry that we are inclined to make standard work methods for others to follow whilst not even considering to apply the standard work method to ourselves. One may argue that positions or authority/responsibility are non-routine and hence can not be standardised but this is a false notion. Yes, the higher you climb the organisational chart the more of your responsibilities becomes less standard but this is not to say that standard work method can not be applied. It is only a question of choosing the right format on how the standard method is presented which can be as simple as a checklist for your weekly report or a monthly agenda of required actions.
Therefore the commitment to discipline requires that we, with positions of responsibility/authority, first standardise our own routines before anything else. Note down on a notebook what you do on a daily basis and standardise elements of your day which you see as routine or remotely administrative. By doing so and by adhering to the standardised method I believe that waste would inevitably be reduced freeing up more of your time and energy to do other things. Also it will double up as a valuable lesson to how to create useful standardised work methods which is a skill you will need in your arsenal for later.