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Everything Continuous Improvement


A Life Hack Born of Continuous Improvement

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Jan 13, 2016 7:00:00 AM

autumn-212733_640.jpgIn my line of work, I'm lucky enough to get to connect with tons of clever people from all areas of the improvement space. One such contact is Sam Turner of Baldrige Success Strategies, a consulting firm that provides "unique business and professional resources to Baldrige-based organizations which create a strategic advantage through their development, deployment, and continued use."

I got a fantastic email from Sam a couple of weeks ago, and he's been gracious enough to permit me to share it with you. Here it is:


From the Desk of Sam Turner:

We are surrounded by processes daily, but few of us consider them in a way that would lead to us improving them; we simply accept our lot in life and our role in the process and go about doing them. 

Yesterday, I learned that an emerging key customer requirement at my home was raking leaves.  We were having guests over for the weekend and the yard was looking a bit unkempt with small limbs, twigs and leaves adorning our yard.  As I began the mundane task, I began to think how a Baldrige Practitioner would approach this process.

Identify Key Customers and Key Customer Requirements:

  • Wife: Leaves, twigs, and sticks removed from front and back yard
  • Fire Department: No burning inside the city (Dad used to burn the leaves off our lawn but what with global warming and fire regulations, it isn’t acceptable anymore.)
  • City of Jackson: Leaves, twigs, and sticks placed in piles within 4’ of street with no limbs longer than 3 feet long
  • Workforce (Me): Maintain a safe work environment

This wasn’t the first time I raked leaves this year, so prior to beginning, I reviewed the processes for efforts that had worked well and those that had opportunities for improvement.

Key Process Requirements:

  • Leaf blower and cords of suitable length and amperage for the job
  • Rake and a tarp to rake distant leaves upon for transport
  • Frequent breaks to ensure repetitive movement does not lead to muscle strain
  • Gloves (a key learning from a previous effort that led to blisters on my now tender hands)
  • Mask (another key learning that the dust and leaves caused me to get sick after raking)
  • Lawnmower to mulch any stray leaves after the process

Key Measures:

  • In-Process Measures:

    Visual inspection to ensure process is effective and areas cleared are suitable for final mulching

    Self-evaluation of hands and muscles to ensure they are being operated within tolerance
  • End Product Measures:

    Work process delivers leaves, sticks and limbs to the desired location meeting all Key Customer Requirements

    Wife Satisfaction

    City of Jackson capable of picking up and disposing of leaves, sticks and limbs

    Fire Department not required to respond to a residential fire

    Workforce (Me): No blisters, muscle aches, or respiratory issues


  • Work from back yard to front to ensure leaves falling from tarp do not create re-work.
  • Check all equipment to meet requirements and ensure that it's in working order
  • Back yard: Pick-up sticks and place on tarp. Blow leaves in piles close to tarp then rake leaves onto tarp, moving tarp to empty at street repeating as needed. Take stretch breaks and evaluate progress.
  • Front yard: Take limbs to the street. Blow leaves in piles close to street then rake them into piles within 4’ of street. Take stretch breaks and evaluate progress.
  • Use mower to mulch any remaining leaves.
  • Informally poll wife to acquire levels of satisfaction.
  • Have a cup of coffee and sit and hold an after-action review to capture lessons learned which may improve the process in the future.

Opportunities for Improvement:

Although I have improved the process to a very systematic and repeatable level, the process; the process is not well deployed.  I may want to consider deploying this process to my Grandson who slept throughout the process.  Further, while I am able to demonstrate cycles of learning and this process has been improved to meet my own levels of execution, there may be best practices used by others within the community.  Perhaps I could offer the city employees picking up my leaves a cup of coffee and discuss best practices they have witnessed across the city.   

Now that you are aware that there are people in the world that think like this, perhaps you can sleep more peacefully knowing that thanks to Baldrige, many processes in the world are more repeatable and, therefore, more predictable - certainly focused on continuing to improve daily.

Merry Christmas,

Sam Turner
Baldrige Success Strategies, LLC


I bet you've never thought that hard about raking leaves, have you? I certainly haven't (though admittedly, I haven't touched a rake since high school. My parents didn't make Sam's mistake of failing to enlist the younger generation). From applying a process improvement approach to a task in daily life, though, Sam comes up with all kinds of ways to improve a process that he's going to repeat several times a year (or more - I have no idea how often people rake) for the rest of his life.

Like raking leaves onto a tarp to transport them, or doing the backyard first so as not to create rework. That would never have occurred to me. I think kids these days refer to tricks like this as "Life Hacks." What Life Hacks have you found in your attempts to continuously improve your daily processes? Leave a comment and share it with us. 

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