Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Control Your Message

Control Your Message

We’ve all seen it.  Something happens within an organization: someone leaves under suspicious conditions, plans goes awry, a schedule is missed.  That's life, but what happens next makes all the difference.

Far too often, leaders don’t acknowledge the bad news and get out in front of it.  Instead, they hang back and see if it will go away.

It never does.  Instead, others usurp the right to broadcast the message and "spin" it.  We often refer to these others collectively as The Grapevine. 

A couple facts about the grapevine: 
  1.  It almost always gets the facts wrong.
  2. Its message contains enough truth to seem plausible.
  3. It often twists the facts to fit its own sinister message.
  4. Its message is, with rare exception, unflattering of legitimate leaders. 
So, ask yourself, why would the legitimate leaders allow someone else to control their message?

I had a boss once that used to say, “Unlike wine, bad news never gets better with age.”  He was right.  If you wait until conditions are right, you’ve made two egregious errors.   
  • First, you open the door to the conjecture and speculation. 
  • Second, you give up your right to control your own message.
Lean has deep belief in “Respect for People.”  One of the manifestations of that belief is the act of transparency.  Transparency often translates to telling the truth.

Good leaders get out ahead of the bad news and truthfully state what happened and, often, why.  That is, they control their own message.

And, good leaders do it immediately.  They don’t sleep on it, because once the wrong message is out there, anything new raises the suspicion that someone is lying.  Who do you think will win that battle?

No, the best leaders control their own message and to do it promptly. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Human Capital

Human Capital

You hear the term Human Capital from time to time.  What does it mean?  Is it politically correct jargon for people being sold as slaves?  Hardly.

You may remember the slogan: "Our employees are our most important asset."  Well, look at your balance sheet and see if employees show up there under Assets.  There is no such line item.  Nor do they show up on your chart of accounts.  Where, then, do these terms come from?

They come from people who understand the value (another accounting term) of well-trained, hard-working employees.

Some things to consider:

  • Depreciation:  If you buy a machine, its value as a book asset depreciates over time until gone.  Even with continued maintenance, the best it can do is continue to perform the function for which it was built.  A human, on the other hand, will appreciate in value the more they learn, and the more skilled they become.  Hence, it only makes sense to continue to provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills and knowledge.
  • Flexibility:  A machine is built to perform a select number of functions, humans however, can adapt almost infinitely.  In Lean, we use the term flexing to refer to the ability to move a flexible employee through multiple positions throughout the day.
  • Continuous Improvement:  Employees who perform the same task over and over begin to see ways to improve the task.  Given latitude to do so within prearranged guidelines, these employees can help the organization continuously improve.  Whether they are turning a wrench, inputting data, completing online functions or leading an organization, repetition leads the mind to identify and eliminate waste.  A machine cannot do that.
  • Morale:  Machines are inanimate.  They have no feelings or sentiments.  So long as they are maintained, they will do the same function the same way, leading to the same results, day in and day out.  That's one of the values of a machine.  A human employee, on the other hand, can be led to do better.  Handled with dignity and respect, a human can be led to work longer, faster, harder for the sake of a common good.
In short, if machines are a smart investment, human employees are a brilliant investment.  Why, one might ask, do some organizations treat their employees as if they were less important than their machines?  Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What's a Lean Culture?

What’s a Lean Culture?

When you walk into an organization that has taken lean seriously, you notice certain things immediately.

First, the site is clean ... unusually clean.

Second, workstations are laid out logically, things are labeled and employees are able to work with purpose.

Third, you start to realize that things flow, they move from station to station fluidly.  There’s not a lot of WIP standing around and you may even view Kanban squares on the floor, benches or desks.

Fourth, no one seems to be in charge, but things are getting done.  No one is barking orders or standing over the folks doing the work, yet products and services continue to flow.

You'll often see a profusion of graphs and charts.  If you inspect them, they’re all current and the things they are measuring all seem to be improving.

Despite the fact that things are improving, there are lists of actions below charts; each action intended to improve the performance measured by the chart.  Moreover, every action has someone assigned to complete it by a certain date.

If you spend time actually watching the work, you start to see photos and short instructions at each station that clearly explain how to do that job.

Workers all seem intent on their work and conversations between employees all seem to focus on questions related to the product or service.

Looking more intently you note that it’s been forever since they’ve had a lost time accident or a finding from an OSHA inspection. 

You may not see it taking place, but you shouldn't be surprised to find that the leaders of the organization spend a lot of their day in Gemba (where things are really happening).  

Leaders are reading all those graphs and asking questions, and not just of the managers.  They seek input from the people who actually do the thing that interests them.

Some of the questions they'll ask are: "What would you do to improve this?"  "What can I do to help you?"  "What do you need?"

On-time delivery and quality routinely trend at or near 100%, but perhaps the most telling statistic is the number of implemented suggestions per employee.  In a Lean culture that number is usually at or above five.

When you see these indications, you know what we’re seeing is a genuine Lean culture. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Leading Change: Setting the Vision for the Path Forward

Leading Change: Setting the Vision for the Path Forward

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”
Proverbs 29.18

If you’re like most senior leaders, you’re buried in minutiae: paperwork , eMail, meetings and phone calls.  When you have time, you sift through data to see how things are going.  If they aren’t going according to plan?  Then more meetings, eMails and phone calls.  The question begs to be asked, when do you find time to lead?

If you believe leading is important, I hope I don’t need to convince you that managing is not leading. 

Don't get me wrong, both skills are needed, but without leadership, the organization just bumps along.  It does what it did yesterday, hopefully better, yet never achieving greatness, and sometimes, not even goodness.

And what is it that leaders do?  They provide VISION.  As the quotation from Proverbs states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  And who are the people?  It’s your organization.  Your organization perishes when you don’t have a vision for where they’re going.

How do you change that?  First, acknowledge that if you do nothing, things are likely to get worse, not better.

Next, you need to shed load.  You need to start training those below you to shoulder more of the burden.  

How?  You begin to mentor and coach them.  Explain what’s really important and what is less so.  Using the Socratic method, ask them how they'd resolve the problems they bring to you.  If their answer is good, send them off to execute it.  If not, explain why and ask them for a better approach.  Once they've got an acceptable approach, send them off to execute it.

In other words: don't give them fish, teach them to fish.

As your subordinates begin to shoulder more of what had been your load, you now have time to look forward.  What are you looking for?  Industry trends, technology trends, market trends.  You look over the horizon and plan where to go next.

You now make time to discuss these trends with your colleagues, your staff and with industry experts.  You make time to think deeply about the trajectory of the future and what your organization will need to do to lead it.

When you’re ready, you bring your staff together and conduct a Hoshin Kanri event.  Hoshin Kanri is a process to guide your organization through the determination of its strategic destination, what some call True North.  The result of a Hoshin Kanri is a detailed plan to achieve the breakthrough objectives that will set your organization apart from others in your industry.

Once your plan is complete, you begin assigning people or teams responsibility for pursuing each element of the plan.  They’ll report to you no less frequently than once a month until the plan is achieved.  Each year, you'll conduct a new Hoshin Kanri.  At it, you'll refresh last year's plan, eliminating things you achieved and adding new.

In the space of a few months, you have:.
  • Turned your personal focus from the “tyranny of the inconsequential many,“ to a plan to achieve the “critical few.”
  • Demonstrated to your direct reports how to cascade important decision-making skills.
  • Grew your subordinates' capabilities to make good decisions.
  • Made your organization more nimble by making good decisions closer to the level where they are needed.
  • Developed new capacity in your own day; and, no doubt, grew closer to the image you’ve always had of a great leader.
  • Made time in your day to Go and See for yourself what’s really going on in your organization.
  • Set the expectation that, in the future, your staff and their direct reports are going to move from a model of reactive management to proactive leadership.
All in all, not a bad day’s work.

Keep the faith.  Meanwhile, Get Lean and Stay Lean.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Leadership vs. Management 

Leadership is to management as compass is to stopwatch.  
Both the compass and the stopwatch are important tools, but they perform completely different functions.  So, too, leadership and management.
Let’s start with a discussion of management and how it works.  In a macro sense, managers gather data and make decisions therefrom.  It’s an important skill, but ask yourself, where in time do data come from?  Do data come from the past, present or future? 

If you think in those terms, you realize that data come from the past and that what managers actually do is to look to the past to plan for the future.  Does that seem like a sound practice?  Certainly not for long-term success.

Leadership, on the other hand, looks to the future.  Leaders follow trade journals, industry trends, technology trends and financial trends.  They do their best to understand what the future will look like and how they can best position their organization to be successful in that environment.

Good organizations need both leaders and managers, but ask yourself where each is needed.  Are leaders needed in greater abundance at the bottom or top of the organization?  Area managers needed in greater abundance at the top or the bottom of the organization?

Note that mine weren’t either-or questions.  It’s not that you don’t need leaders and managers throughout the organization.  It’s more a question of where their skills can provide the greatest benefit to the organization.

I welcome your thoughts and would be grateful if you'd provide your rationale.

Meanwhile, Get Lean and Stay Lean.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who Must Lead Lean?

As my knowledge of Lean has grown, I've come to some important discoveries.  First is that Lean was not a collection of tools to eliminate waste.  Later, it became clear that Lean is a business system.  Using the Socratic method, I’d like to walk readers through a process of discovery intended to answer the question: Who must lead a Lean transformation?

Who in your organization is currently responsible for all the business systems?  If your organization were to change to a Lean business system, who could make the decision?

Value Stream Maps (VSM) are strategic tools used for three distinct purposes:
  1.   Capture current (baseline) conditions
  2.   Identify obstacles to flow.
  3.   Establish the priority of obstacle removal and the specific Lean tool to be used for each.
Who in the organization is best positioned to use that information?

The use of Lean tools (most frequently in Kaizen events) requires some very specific pre-work.  Someone has to determine:
·      where to begin the Kaizen (as indicated by the VSM)?
·      what Lean tool to use?
·      what coordination needs to be effected with process owners, suppliers and customers?
·      who will be on the Kaizen team from:
o   the process owners?
o   the customers of the process?
o   the suppliers to the process?
·      how much the value stream needs to build ahead, or offload, in advance of the week-long shutdown of the process?

Who in the organization is best positioned to make those decisions?

You’ll note that, thus far, I’ve kept the discussion to the use of Lean tools, but what about culture?  Isn’t Lean also about changing the culture?  What layer of the organization has the most direct impact on the culture? 

One way of answering this question is to ask, if anyone else in the organization can override the decisions of the person you’d recommend?  If they can, doesn’t it stand to reason that the head of the overriding body is really better suited to change the culture?  Doesn’t it make sense that if you ask yourself that questions enough times, you get to a single entity?

The answers to all the who questions should have been the same.  If yours were not, you need to go back and examine your answers.  In the end, there is only one entity in every organization that can meet all those requirements and that’s the most senior leader.

If you will accept that premise, does it make sense to start a Lean transformation anywhere below that level?  If you think that by demonstrating that Lean works, you can win the hearts and minds of the most senior leader and their staff, it's highly improbable.  In 30 years of practice, I’ve yet to see it happen even once.

Admittedly, some attempts lasted longer than others, but in the end, without the commitment of the most senior leader and their staff, the attempt failed.  As Dr. Deming would have said, “What a waste.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kaikaku - Quantum Change (Part 2)

Kaikaku: How do we do it?  What’s it worth to us?

Let me open with an apology.  Back in December 2013, I promised that my next post would be about how to conduct a Kaikaku event and what you could expect from one.   Then life got in the way.  To keep my word, here is the follow-up post.
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Dr. Deming used to say that 85% of all problems are the result of poor systems (systemic failures).  Three years before his death, he adjusted that figure to 95%.  If systemic problems are so frequent, Lean needs a tool to improve them.  That tool is Kaikaku [radical, or "quantum leap" change].

Because Kaikaku events solve problems with whole systems, they cross-disciplinary lines, so a Kaikaku event must have representatives from the system's process Suppliers, the Process performers, and process Customers.  That usually makes up a pretty large group.  

It's not uncommon for Kaikaku events to take a year or more, but most last 3-6 months.   Before you start thinking “Who won’t I miss?”  STOP!  You want to put your best people on a Kaikaku team, as they will be solving a longstanding problem that spans multiple disciplines. You'll want someone representing you that others will respect and can articulate your discipline's concerns and needs.

The team will first completely document the existing process.  There are a number of useful tools for doing this, e.g. swim lanes, flow charts or, my personal favorite, an adaptation of Makigami. 

Using different colored 3” x 3” Post-It® Notes to represent every discipline involved, we create a single flowchart.  This is far more difficult that you’d think.  The reason is that, while many will assure you they know the whole process inside & out, I’ve yet to find a single person who actually does.  There are often steps performed inside one discipline that those outside that discipline never see.

Modified Makigami example below.

Once we’ve finished the modified Makigami, the team cycles back through to count the number of process steps and the number of times colors change from one process step to the next.  This is critical, since the more process steps, the longer the process Cycle Time; and because color changes represent handoffs between disciplines, and every one represents an opportunities drop the baton.

As the Kaikaku team is eliminating steps and handoffs, they are not only looking to streamline the process, but to make it more robust.

As stated earlier, a Kaikaku event can take 3-6 months; sometimes more.  It’s rare for the participants to be able to quit their day jobs and sequester themselves for that long, so teams usually meet at regular times to report on progress made against assignments handed out at the previous meeting.  

Although long, the results of a Kaikaku justify their expense.  The outcome is a process (system) that has been Beta tested - often more than once – proven to work flawlessly, documented completely, trained to all users and, only then, is it made the new standard.

Kaikaku embodies the meaning of Toyota Principle #13: “Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.”

So, that’s a thumbnail of Kaikaku.  Give it a try.

Meanwhile, Get Lean, Stay Lean.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lean Without Leadership

A few weeks ago I told a colleague that I wouldn’t accept a contract for a Lean transformation comprised solely of Kaizen events.  At the end of our conversation, the colleague gently suggested that I “rethink that position.”  I knew they meant well, but in that instant I realized that we had very different expectations of Lean.

What I had been telling them was that Lean without leadership, i.e. Kaizen only, was a waste of the client’s money.  Why would I say that when Kaizens have the potential to do so much good and save so much money?  Why would I do it when I know that some organizations will look elsewhere for a consulting company that will do Kaizens only?

The answer begins with Toyota principle #1: “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.” 

I assure you that I’m not the least bit hesitant to conduct Kaizen events and save boatloads of money … but, Kaizens alone won’t transform anything for very long.  Whatever the event improves will slowly drift back to where it started, and that will leave a bitter taste in the client’s mouth.  So ask yourself, does it sound as if the Kaizen-only approach starts with a long-term philosophy?

The answer continues in stating that what does transform cultures is top-down leadership of the transformation.  Together these two components: Kaizen & Top-Down Leadership, make up the full transformational package.  Kaizen saves money; Top-Down Leadership makes it possible to sustain those gains and transform the organization into a body that will continue to make gains.

What do I mean by Top-Down Leadership?

It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Those in the top leadership positions will lead the transformation by first living Lean.  Once they’re living it, they get their subordinate leaders to live it.  In turn, the subordinate leaders will get their subordinates to live it, and so on, and so on, until all the leaders are of one mind and share common knowledge.  Just so you know, there is a specific methodology called Hoshin Kanri used to develop top-down leadership and it's not at all hard.

Isn’t expecting top-down leadership a tall order?

Absolutely!  It’s why most stick with Kaizens and why few organizations achieve what they set out to achieve; or become what they have the potential to become.

Those reading who think all is lost, take heart.  Transforming is challenging, but not impossible.  In fact, the hardest thing for leaders to do is to accept the fact that they are going to have to personally change.  If you think you won’t save money until you’re fully transformed, fear not.  You’ll save it and, if you stay the course, you’ll save and make lots more.

Just understand that it will take time, but no more than if you take a Kaizen-only approach.  The difference in outcomes, however, will be huge.