Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Low Hanging Fruit" - Don't Buy IT!


The first time I heard this term was in 1990 when I met with representatives of Florida Power & Light who had won the Deming Prize in 1989 for Quality Excellence. FPL was the first company outside of Japan to win this prestigious award. Meeting with members of the FPL Team on a continual basis for a couple of years was truly a lesson in learning how to apply Total Quality Management.

In 1990, I thought this was a great buzzword to describe quality efforts to those who were not yet on the quality bandwagon. In 2007, there still must be a lot of people not on board because it is still used quite frequently by a number of consultants and consultant wannabees.

Everyone can pick low hanging fruit, even those that fall to the ground. It takes an experienced fruit expert to get to the higher more complex fruit that is out of reach of the common every day cherry picker (in my neighborhood a cherry picker stood for a punk who stood in front of the net or basket and let everyone else do all the work before he was passed the ball or puck for an easy score).

A fruit expert must be able to use more sophisticated tools and see the whole tree before just taking the easy route and picking those that look ripe at the bottom or the rotten ones that have fallen to the ground. In order to not disrupt the tree’s lifetime growth and optimize its potential, it is sometimes required to make tough decisions and analyze the process from an end-to-end approach (this often takes time and patience if the process is complex).

Quality consultants (Today they are called Six Sigma, Lean, Six Sigme Lean and Lean Six Sigma)are always the first to take a quote or concept and turn in into a moneymaking effort by deleting off their previous buzzwords in their presentations and documentation. CEOs like these phrases because there catchy, easily understood and can bluff most people by acting like they know what quality is all about to their employees and customers.

Beware of quality consultants and Internet wannabees that tell you they can help you get that “low hanging fruit”, make rapid gains in process improvement, and save you money fast.

qualityg says… “Charlatans, Carpetbaggers, Money Changers, Ass Holes!!!!!

Sorry, ever wonder why quality consultant firms want you to get low hanging fruit? It is because they convince leadership that by doing this method you will get “immediate” results (fast), save money “quickly” and then move on to the higher branches (choice fruit) after you clean up the rotten ones on the ground.

Don't believe me? Put Process Improvement Low Hanging Fruit in your search engine and read how many Consultant Firms and Compamies who use those forms use this term.

The problem is the “best” fruit is hidden high in the tree between the leaves and the never ending crossing branches that go from one side to the other and up and down, well it gets kind of complex. Getting at this fruit will require an experienced fruit picker with more sophisticated tools so that a “method” can be developed and implemented to get the fruit in a systemic manner as to not disrupt the overall growth of the tree and sub-optimize its growth for many years to come.

Do you think there is a correlation to the fact by the time a company gets done with picking the low hanging fruit and they start in on the more complex issues the external consulting team have been long gone and left you with some in-house trained experts and documentation on how to pick low hanging fruit and how to identify those on the ground are rotten. It would have cost a fortune to keep the external consultants around and it will cost even more to bring them back because your contract has run out and it will require more time and dollars this time.


Now you are left with a Quality Staff Group that is now fighting for their survival and reputation by working with any department that will buy their bushel of goods. They will go on looking for more low hanging fruit to prove they are contributing to value-added work. By this time quality consultants have moved on to the latest improvement effort with the promise they have new – “fast and cost effective” methods for improvement. So now you go out and hire a quality expert that works “solo” (no more external teams they cost too much) and he tells you have been doing it all wrong, but can help you with a new method of getting to the choice fruit and beef up your in-house quality experts with some new training.

Is this a coincidence? Not really, complex problems in antiquated complex systems/processes require complex solutions. This will take time (which we don’t have, because we never “monitored” in the first place), money (which is rapidly be depleted by supplier and customer turnover as well as a fall in stock price), and manpower (which is now gone because leadership took the easy road and got rid of most of our experts that worked with the antiquated systems as well as the new systems).

For years now some new CEO or Quality VP gets convinced at the country club that by implementing the latest quality panacea will lead them to the promise land. Many decide again to go after the low hanging fruit (it never really went away) and quickly dispense of it without having any idea how this effort fits into their overall system. In other words, employees have been tampering and sub-optimizing processes with best efforts (management owns the system).

There still is a chance if you have not gotten rid of your most reliable and valuable asset and that is the people who work on these processes every day. They will need strong leadership (understands systems thinking), enablement (proper training & tools), empowerment (with appropriate parameters) and encouragement in order to implement lasting improvements.

If you do need an outside consultant firm/person to help, take your time with your selection, interview the best, get many quotes, visit companies where they have improved processes and systems (not low hanging short term results) that are like your own. I would suggest those trained by the masters (i.e., Deming). They take no short cuts, they will tell you what to expect and what you need to do in order for your company to improve.

Note: – qualityg is NOT affiliated with any consulting firm, and is NOT a quality consultant (generally I don’t even like consultants). Some Consultants don't like me either.


Ruth said...

Nice analogies, always wondered why our Quality Staff used the term LHF.

Thanks for the lesson,


Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone finally has written about this cliche of a word that is nothing more than a quick fix that means nothing.


Anonymous said...

You are right, when I found your write-up (search engine - low hanging fruit) it was surrounded by six sigma, lean... that promised quick results and saving money fast.