Paris has weeds!

leanHcare @3Cby Tamala S. Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ

Canva - Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

My mother always said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.” But, Paris has weeds! Ok, let me explain. I took French in school, had posters of Paris in my room, and used to fantasize about what Paris would be like. They have mimes, the Eiffel tower, romance and love, croissants, and so much more. OooLaLa!


But when I recently landed in Paris for a connecting flight, I had to take the shuttle to the next terminal. On the way, I saw weeds, graffiti. No mimes acting on the plaza or couples walking arm-in-arm on the street. When I got lunch, there were no croissants, either! Can you believe that?


Taking a closer look, however, I saw chocolates, people eating gourmet bread wrapped in paper, and the smell of perfumes from the stores. And, I wished I could stay longer and experience more of the French culture.


Now, if you are from France, I apologize for my blatant statement and overgeneralization of your country. Stereotypes, or making generalizations, often gets us in trouble. We do this, unfortunately, all the time. We place people into groups based on age, color, which generation they were born in, economic status, and so forth.  When we place them in these groups, we make assumptions on the few and may forget about the many.  We often unknowingly inflict our own biases in how we look at things, make decisions, and even how we interact with our environment and one another.  For example, when we say:

  • “We’ve already tried that, and it didn’t work,”
  • “He will never change,”
  • “I don’t have time,” or
  • “The leadership doesn’t understand,”


We are making assumptions based on past experiences or hearsay. These assumptions often stifle change, innovation, and imagination. Improvement efforts are halted, and the downward spiral cycle continues.


To minimize unconscious bias in quality improvement, we must go to the Gemba! Gemba refers to the place where value is created, or the actual, real place.  We need to complete direct observations, talk with people (lots of people) where the value is created, and get an accurate lay-of-the-land in the real place. Doing this one thing, going to the Gemba, will save you time, lead to better outcomes, and ultimately happy customers! Here are some tools that can be used when completing observations and learning about your current state:

  • Spaghetti Diagram
  • Counting steps
  • Questionnaires
  • Going to the Gemba
  • 5 Whys?
  • Ishikawa Diagram/Cause-and-Effect Diagram/Fishbone Diagram
  • Process Flow Diagram-Current state
  • Your own personal tool - after all, they are your observations! 

If we only go with our first impression or hearsay, we will miss the many wonderful nuggets of information that can improve systems.  At first glance, weeds are thought of as something we do not want, invasive, or even dangerous to our habitat. What we forget, however, is that weeds bring up nutrients and water from deep in the soil, help control erosion, provide information about the overall nutritional balance of our soil, are homes and food for microbes and animals, and some are just downright pretty! Maybe, taking a closer look at where the work occurs, in the real place, could lead to sustaining a culture of high reliability. Maybe going to the Gemba is the first step in creating an environment of openness, respect, and reducing assumptions!


Paris has weeds, but then again, so does my own yard. Aren't we lucky!

I may not always get it right (ask my kids) but that is the beauty of quality improvement!  We take small steps and learn what worked and what didn't and try again.

Failure is an option but giving up is not!  After all, things would be very boring if we were all perfect! 

I share my ah-ha's, oops, and bloopers.  Please laugh with me and let's encourage each other in our journey to great things! 

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