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The Persona in a CI Project
By  Alvin Villegas|Jan 17, 2018|


I was standing in front of an operator, observing the process improvement implementation that we did for a production module (TV Line), the project was for a huge Japanese Consumer Electronics company based in Jakarta, Indonesia.  While observing the production process, the operator in front of me started to murmur words in Indonesian Bahasa.  Apparently, he was complaining about the new production line configuration / set-up that we’ve implemented, and he was not the only one that’s making such noise. For me it was nothing, just shrugged my shoulders and told myself “Why should I be concerned?”  We’ve achieved 20% productivity improvement in that project and delivered the savings as promised…. The CEO of the company is happy!  But looking back, is there anything else that should’ve done to ease the ranting of the workers while still delivering our promise to the CEO of the company, better yet go beyond the target productivity gains?    

The management consultant in me focused too much on one persona that time… no brainer, it’s the CEO of the company. We’ve designed the processes to achieve the cost savings and productivity improvement targets. We used Industrial Engineering Tools and Techniques (including Human Factors Engineering / Ergonomics), Statistical Analysis and the Lean Approach to get to our goals. In the process we relied heavily on our engineering design, and project management / implementation prowess, with the belief that everything will work our way.  We likewise piloted our solutions with not much indignation from the control group. We did everything by the book?  Fast forward several years after that project, I encountered Design Thinking in Big Blue (IBM), back then it was a new comer in the field of “Innovation and Product / Process Design”.  I didn’t pay too much attention to it as I was busy spreading the gospel of Six Sigma, Lean, Automation, and Quality Improvement in the company.  In one of my down times (Yes, I did have one!), I chanced upon an article by Tim Brown on Design Thinking, and voila! the answer to the million-dollar question “What else should’ve been done?” was staring at me.

Design Thinking originally was developed as a product design and innovation process.  It is hinged on the principle that design of products and processes should be Customer/User-centric, or in the Design Thinking lingo it should be “Persona” based.  The starting point of the Design Thinking process is the discovery phase where deeper insights about the persona must be unearthed.  There are a variety of processes that can be utilized to have a deeper understanding of the persona that you are designing a product or process for.  The more popular and structured approach is the Empathy Mapping process.  It is a collaborative tool used to organize and synthesize the insights on the persona’s pain points regarding the identified problem. Below is the construct of a typical Empathy Map:    

Like any collaboration tool, a team will be convened to discuss and populate the chart above with sticky notes (post-it notes) reflecting answers to questions such as:

·       What is the persona saying about their work or process?

·       What do they think about the problem?

·       How does this persona feel about his/her process?

·       What are the steps does this persona do to handle the process problem?

Key pain points shall be surfaced after the Empathy Mapping that will help in the ensuing activities of the Design Thinking process, particularly during the “Ideation” (Idea Generation) phase.  For the discovery phase to be more effective, the final Empathy Map should be validated through actual observation and interview of the persona. If and when possible, the team should conduct a DILO (Day In the Life Of...) of the persona to concretize the inputs in the Empathy Map. 

My earlier projects focused only on what we perceived as effective in the achievement of the business objectives.  Just like the Consumer Electronics project I managed, the solutions were all based on what we know as engineers.  We also used Human Factors engineering in that project, still it was all based on prescriptive standards not on the day-to-day circumstances of the operators. Worse, we didn’t consider the operators as an important persona in our solutions formulation process. Perhaps by using the Empathy Mapping process, and surfacing the pain points of our persona (operators) we could’ve generated more ideas that would’ve combined improvements that will require technical/technology changes while maintaining acceptable operators’ processing experience.  This could’ve minimize the ranting from the line as the manufacturing design has an element of user-centricity, and could’ve yielded better results in productivity / efficiency. 

As change agents, we need to be creative and exhaust all possible avenues to drive process improvement.  I’ve run and completed successful business process improvement projects, including the one in this article, but I can’t claim that all of it were seamless and problem-free.  My serendipity moment on Design Thinking was too late for me to rectify decisions on previous project, just a matter of acceptance that there’s always a better way.              


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