Business Center

The Twin Pillars: What Lean Has Taught Me about Organizations and Myself

By Alex Blum, Process Improvement Extern
Posted: October 11, 2018

Alex Blum

Alex Blum
Process Improvement Extern

When I was first approached by my supervisor at Prosci if I had any interest in pioneering what would later be coined the first “externship” within CDOT’s Office of Process Improvement, I have to admit it was more than a little overwhelming. A full-time job is enough to put stressors on anyone and working for two successful organizations simultaneously was daunting. But in the same breath, being offered an opportunity to learn about process improvement principles, apply change management in a large organization, and to bring all that experience back to my company would benefit both Prosci and CDOT and give me a chance to grow personally.

Change challenges us, rubs like sandpaper against our comfort zone, and forces us to consider our priorities and values. But it is in those moments where we experience real growth- when we are faced with a choice between what is comfortable and what is going to make us better. This was absolutely true in my experience throughout my time as an extern.  I was challenged to learn things I had very little exposure to prior to joining this team, was given the opportunity to develop new skills and even more importantly put those skills to the test. While change can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming to be transformative. No example highlights this for me better than CDOT’s investment in lean process improvement and its foundational principles: Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.

There is an obvious connection between continuously looking to make your work safer, easier, cheaper, and more efficient with a business or state agency like CDOT. Who doesn’t want to spend less time doing the work they don’t enjoy, doesn’t add value, or is unsafe? But the connection I didn’t anticipate was the effect continuous improvement would have on me. As is the case for everyone, it can be intimidating to think about all of the changes you would like to make in your life, both personally and professionally. Taken all together and it can become difficult to make any changes at all. However, after learning and practicing these lean principles I was reminded of the Mark Twain quote; “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” and that seemingly small, simple insight has allowed me to make intentional changes to my own life in ways that have proven to be hugely beneficial to my wellbeing and career. Getting just 1% better at one thing every day turns into exponential growth over the course of a year, let alone the entirety of your life. Taking projects and even established tasks and looking for ways that we can make small but meaningful improvements have taught me how to produce great work and how to eat an elephant- one bite at a time.

As much as I have learned from continuous improvement, I have gained an even deeper appreciation for the people side of any initiative. Indeed, any change that doesn’t respect the people it is impacting likely won’t meet the desired improvements that the change set out to accomplish. Given my situation as an extern, this concept was imperative to my own success as well as for the work for which I was tasked. Beyond the workplace benefits of respect, I again found myself reflecting on my own personal growth. Engaging with people where they are at, being open to feedback, and constantly asking the question, “ How can I help?” provided me the chance to establish new connections and created a sense of reciprocity with my relationships, both new and old. I know it seems obvious, but treating people with deference opens an opportunity for others to do the same, and this powerful cycle of support begins to pull us all through the times that can be overwhelming.

My time at CDOT has taught me so much about myself and I look forward to continuing to learn new things in the professional sphere that I can apply to my working life, but I will never forget the impact of getting 1% better every day and the power of treating people with respect. This externship not only pointed me toward new areas of growth but more importantly how to grow and implement those changes in a positive, productive way. As I transition to new challenges, I will always remember to not let perfection get in the way of improvement, and never pass up an opportunity to ask, “How can I help?”