Lessons Learned From Rob Base

Rob Base Flow Chart
Project planning is tough. But I Love Charts’ “Are You Rob Base?” flow chart has taught me a lot about simplicity.

I have an awesome manager. She values creativity, integrating ideas from every member of the team, acknowledging challenges upfront, and promotes open dialogue. She’s also a pretty masterful teacher.

In my new role, I manage a pharmaceutical reimbursement team. As it exists now, I am part of a leadership team of four that oversees a team of seven. That seven will very quickly explode to fifteen as one of our value-added reimbursement solutions expands and we add in new business. My manager asked me to create workflow diagrams and estimates that could be followed. I created them over a day or two and turned them in ready to rock and roll and continue project planning. She sent them almost immediately back to me with a note saying “We should discuss these.”

One of the skills my manager has that I really admire is her ability to empower everyone she works with. She has always has time to walk through a problem, but she turns the tables of the problem into the power of finding a solution. My manager never outright tells me or my colleagues what to do or how to do it but she asks guiding and leading questions to help us figure out on our own how to fish rather than feeding us. This situation was no different.

Instead of telling me to re-do my workflows, my manager sent me here. She asked me to compare that flow chart to mine, which looked something like this one. She asked me to write down the differences between the two and set a meeting in our Outlook Calendars to discuss the differences. Here’s what I noticed about my original flow chart:

1. I used jargon and didn’t note my audience- This was a big mistake. The flow charts I made used terms and slang that would limit the readability and completely negated the fact that the two main groups who would be reading these, systems estimators and new hires, would  have no idea what I was talking about. How I corrected this: In this case, it was helpful to speak in generalities until I was asked to explain further. I had to remember that while I was not giving step by step instructions, the Devil was not yet in the details. If there was a need for complicated language or flows, it can always be blown out on a separate flow chart, with symbols indicating that step appears in further detail on other pieces.

2. There was too many lines – In short, my first attempt looked messy. Really messy. There weren’t lines crossing lines, but there were several steps that had and/or options that were too detailed to be on the initial diagram. How I corrected this: There is a reason Keep It Simple Stupid is said – it works. I expanded the detailed pieces in their own separate work flows and kept the overview simple, in one vertical piece like the Rob Base flow chart.

3. It flowed in a Z – Humans read things, including advertisements, in a Z pattern. I accidentally created a Z-reading flow chart. I thought it was neat until I compared mine and the Rob Base flow chart. This would have been horror for any new hire who is struggling with insider terms to follow. It would have been a horror for systems estimators to follow. How I corrected this: I limited the initial overview to 7 unique pieces. When a workflow within that overview required detailed explanation, I identified it with a different color and the flow chart object letting the reader know it is detailed on a different piece of the flow chart. Most importantly, much like the Rob Base flow chart, I made it vertical, straight up and down, and prominently identified the 1.) starting point and the 2.) solution.

4.) I used all kinds of flow chart shapes – Variety is great for flow charts, so long as you don’t haphazardly use shapes. My manager, who gives me the benefit of the doubt on a lot of things, was unsure if I was being creative or simply did not know that there is actual meanings behind shapes of a flow chart. The true answer was somewhere in the middle. This was the only area that the Rob Base flow chart did not come into play. How I corrected this: The Office suite will identify the shapes if you hold your mouse over them (in some versions). I, however, used this.

The Rob Base Flow Chart provided a teachable moment and a lesson I will never forget about flow charts. It was fun, engaging, and made me think critically by connecting a common interest (early hip-hop) at work. When you’re surfing the internet and come across something something clever, keep it in your back pocket. You never know when it will come in handy at work.

And now, we groove.

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