Category: Contingency Planning

Don’t Panic – When Bad Things Happen

WordPress dashboard interface
WordPress dashboard interface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t Panic

Although the situation I am about to describe was successfully resolved, I felt compelled to share this event with you. Times like this expose our vulnerabilities and reinforce the adage to “expect the unexpected”.

The Situation

Imagine the shock and surprise followed by the deep, sinking feeling that set in when an unexpected notice suddenly appeared on my screen stating that our site was suspended effective immediately for failing to comply with WordPress.com’s terms and conditions. An attempt to visit our site from another computer confirmed it.

While you may not have noticed, I’m quite certain many others were wondering what was going on – especially first time visitors or recent subscribers. As our site often appears at the top of most Google searches – depending on the search term used – I can only imagine what was going through the minds of those who were attempting to visit.

After contacting WordPress, we learned that our site was subject to a spam detection error and suspended by the “system” in error. The fact that you’re reading this means the problem was successfully resolved by the great people at WordPress – apologies for the inconvenience included.

Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst

While I am more than happy to have our site restored to full service, we needed more than just a simple backup of our data to preserve our blogging ecosystem. Our contingency plan included setting up a self hosted site and this event served as the trigger to make it a reality.

1617 A. SWETNAM School of Defence 56 He is a fool which will adventure all his goods in one ship.

Fortunately, WordPress.com provides several means for transferring or downloading a copy of your pages and posts. The suspension notice advised that the data for “your site” will only be available for a limited period of time.  Eventually all data will be completely removed from the system.

In other words, act quickly and methodically because the clock is ticking. Unless you’ve done this for yourself, there are a few items worth noting.

  • Although it’s possible to export the  entire site in a single XML file, the size of the file may exceed the import capacity of the new host.  Free XML import tools seem to have a limit of 1MB.   Our file exceeded this limitation.
  • The XML file does not include current subscribers or any of the data in your media gallery.
  • The current theme may not be available at the new host site and some of the functionality you may have expected has been lost.
  • Conversely, some themes offer more and better features than you may have expected.
  • Six (6) years of blogging creates a relatively large digital ecosystem with roots deeper than we first thought possible.

Corrective Actions

Setting up a self-hosted site may seem like an over-reaction to this situation, however, this event was very disturbing and quite unsettling, especially when we consider the number of visitors we receive over the course of a given day. Fortunately, this event occurred on a weekend when traffic volume is typically lower.

Since we already own several top-level domains, finding a hosting service was our next challenge.  We purchased our top-level domains from NameCheap.com and decided to pursue our hosting services through them as well.

We found two (2) excellent services that offer a variety of WordPress themes, set up our domains, and began the process of transferring a copy of our blog over to the new sites.  It is possible to upload themes directly and there a numerous themes to choose from.

Although we found a site that offers the same “Inove” theme we are using here, we noted that this theme has not been updated for the past two (2) years. We selected the Responsive theme for our new site as it offers new functionality and features that includes mobile platforms.

Lessons Learned

WordPress.com supports millions of bloggers and losing one – for whatever reason – is not going to have a significant impact on their continued and ever-growing success. This experience helped us to realize just how vulnerable we are when we trust our property, intellectual or otherwise, to an independent entity.  To circumvent the possibility of yet another catastrophic blogging event:

Statues of Don Quixote (left) and Sancho Panza...
Statues of Don Quixote (left) and Sancho Panza (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.”—Sancho Panza—Don Quixote (Part I, Book III, Chapter 9) by Miguel de Cervantes [1547-1616].

In simpler terms:  “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

  • Have a contingency plan that includes creating a second, self-hosted site.  Note that it is possible to transfer your blog to a number of venues.  We successfully uploaded our XML data to several different platforms.
  • Prepare and Execute your contingency plan to determine and mitigate any risks or other consequential losses.
  • If you are presently blogging on WordPress.com, be aware that a complete XML copy of your site data may exceed the import limits of the receiving host – at least for the tools that are offered free of charge.
  • To minimize the size of the XML file, Pages and Posts can be exported separately.  You can also specify a date based range of posts to export. As such, you can create several smaller files that will contain all of your posts for a given period of time.
  • Perform regular exports of recent posts for importing to your self-hosted site and to serve as a local back up.
  • Transferring your site is not that difficult, however, WordPress.com will transfer your site for you for a fee.
  • Don’t be too naive. You are the only one who really cares about YOUR property – intellectual or otherwise. Although your subscribers and followers will be devastated, chances are you won’t be missed by the WordPress.com team unless you’re as big as the Huffington Post or some other notable blog venue.
  • When forced to look for options, there are better, feature filled alternative WordPress themes and options to be found. As we’ve said many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution!”

Going Forward:

We recently celebrated six years of blogging on WordPress.com and plan to do so for many years to come.  While this experience has cast a shadow on our overall experience, we have learned yet again that we need to preserve and protect our own interests.

With over 218,000 page views from virtually every country around the world, we are doing something right. Our visitors and views continue to grow with each passing year. The top five countries that contributed to our Top Views this year are:

  1. United States
  2. India
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Canada
  5. Australia

On behalf of the Lean Execution Strategy Team, I appreciate and thank you for the privilege of serving you – our clients, subscribers, and visitors.  We wish each of you a happy holiday season and look forward to serving you in the new year with the best of successes in 2015.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Versalytics-Logo

VersAlytics

Goals Without Means Are Meaningless

English: Everything starts from needs or desir...

The new year is upon us and, as is typical for this time of year, resolutions are one of the primary topics of conversation. With just over a week into the new year, it is very likely that the discussions of resolutions and goals have already begun to subside.

Unfortunately, for the many who do make resolutions, very few ever manage to achieve them. The reasons for failure are many but, more often than not, we either set the wrong goals or we fail to identify intermediate performance goals for the range of activities required to reach the final goal.

Where do you stand?

Setting the Right Goals

The diagram suggests that goals are determined by reviewing our needs and desires. However, what we desire most is often what we need least. For business leaders, strategy, goals, and objectives stem from a vision statement that reflects our purpose for being, our WHY. We are, in essence, Driven by Dreams and Powered by Goals.

What do the “right goals” look like? The John Whitmore model offers the following three (3) acronyms to help us discern the value and sustainability of our goals:

  1. SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Phased.
  2. PURE: Positively Stated, Understood, Relevant, and Ethical.
  3. CLEAR: Challenging, Legal, Environmentally Sound, Agreed, and Recorded.

To be successful, resolutions, much like goals and objectives, require more than a simple statement of intent. We need a plan that describes how we’re actually going to achieve them. In other words, we need to define “the means to an end.” As suggested by the Whitmore model, the expression, “Fail to Plan – Plan to Fail”, is only partially true when we consider that our success also requires us to be sufficiently motivated and challenged to embark on, and endure, the journey.

What if …

Clearly, not everything goes as planned. There are risks and obstacles that must be considered and, where possible, addressed as part of the planning process. Contingency plans are as much a part of planning as the “master” plan itself.

While it seems impossible to “expect the unexpected”, black swan events do occur. How we respond to these events is often the “make or break” point of our journey. During this time, our commitment to our goals and perhaps even our vision will be tested. For this reason, our core purpose or “why” must be of sufficient value to sustain our efforts and give cause to overcome the distractions and setbacks that are sure to occur.

The Plan

Goals without dates are merely dreams and, likewise, goals without a means to achieve them are meaningless. Motivate your team by instilling a vested interest through the development of a detailed plan that will be sure to inspire the team to not only follow up but to follow through on their commitments.

The scope and scale of a plan is dependent on the goals we are striving to achieve. We tend to underestimate the resources and effort required to accomplish the tasks at hand. The ability to identify detailed actions or tasks, required resources, responsibilities, and realistic timing will help to create a plan that leads to a successful conclusion, avoiding much of the confusion and frustration that poor planning can bring.

Execution

After all is said and written – it must be done. Execution of the plan – putting words into action – is how our goals become a reality. A variety of tools are at our disposal to manage our activities and progress ranging from simple white boards to professional project management software. However these activities are managed, we must ensure that we don’t get caught up in the management “process” itself and focus on the immediate tasks or actions at hand.

Additional learning occurs with every change or transformation process. As such, I prefer to use an “agile” approach that offers flexibility to change or evolve our “means” or “methods” without compromising the goal we originally set out to achieve.

Practice proves theory every time and the real proof of wisdom is in the results. We wish you all the best of successes to achieve the goals that you may have set for yourself and your team in 2013.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Versalytics’ show_count=’yes’]

Vergence Analytics

Sustainability or Meltdown?

Created in Photoshop, based on "Sustainab...
Image via Wikipedia

For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.

The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered.  How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.

I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.  I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.

Sustainability requires us to continually and rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment.  In this context I again find myself turning to the wisdom of Toyota.  “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence To Achieve Superior Performance” by Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz is one such resource that is the most recent addition to my library of recommended lean reading and learning.

The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable.  Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.

We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide.  As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward.  We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.

Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality.  Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Versalytics’ show_count=’yes’]

Vergence Analytics

Critical Process Triggers

Critical Triggers

It is inevitable that failures will occur and it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with their effects.  Our concern regards our ability to anticipate and respond to failures when they occur.  How soon is too soon to respond to a change or shift in the process?  Do we shut down the process at the very instant a defect is discovered?  How do we know what conditions warrant an immediate response?

The quality of a product is directly dependent on the manufacturing process used to produce it and, as we know all too well, tooling, equipment, and machines are subject to wear, tear, and infinitely variable operating parameters.  As a result, it is imperative to understand those process parameters and conditions that must be monitored and to develop effective responses or corrective actions to mitigate any negative direct or indirect effects.

Statistical process control techniques have been used by many companies to monitor and manage product quality for years.  Average-Range and Individual-Moving Range charts, to name a few, have been used to identify trends that are indicative of process changes.  When certain control limits or conditions are exceeded, production is stopped and appropriate corrective actions are taken to resolve the concern.  Typically the corrective actions are recorded directly on the control chart.

Process parameters and product characteristics may be closely correlated, however, few companies make the transition to solely relying on process parameters alone.  One reason for this is the lack of available data, more specifically at launch, to establish effective operating ranges for process parameters.  While techniques such as Design of Experiments can be used, the limited data set rarely provides an adequate sample size for conclusive or definitive parameter ranges to be determined for long-term use.

Learning In Real-Time

It is always in our best interest to use the limited data that is available to establish a measurement baseline.  The absence of extensive history does not exempt us from making “calculated” adjustments to our process parameters.  The objective of measuring and monitoring our processes  and product characteristics is to learn how our processes are behaving in real-time.  In too many cases, however, operating ranges have not evolved with the product development cycle.

Although we may not have established the full operating range, any changes outside of historically observed settings should be cause for review and possibly cause for concern.  Again, the objective is to learn from any changes or deviations that are not within the scope of the current operating condition.

Trigger Events

A trigger event occurs whenever a condition exceeds established process parameters or operating conditions.  This includes failure to follow prescribed or standardized work instructions.  Failing to understand why the “new” condition developed, is needed, or must be accepted jeopardizes process integrity and the opportunity for learning may be lost.

Our ability to detect or sense “abnormal” process conditions is critical to maintain effective process controls.  A disciplined approach is required to ensure that any deviations from normal operating conditions are thoroughly reviewed and understood with applicable levels of accountability.

An immediate response is required whenever a Trigger Event occurs to facilitate the greatest opportunity for learning.  “Cold Case” investigations based on speculation tend to align facts with a given theory rather than determining a theory based solely on the facts themselves.

Recurring variances or previously observed deviations within the normal process may be cause for further investigation and review.  As mentioned in previous posts, “Variance – OEE’s Silent Partner” and “OEE in an Imperfect World“, one of our objectives is to reduce or eliminate variance in our processes.

Interactions and Coupling

When we consider the definition of normal operating conditions, we must be cognizant of possible interactions.  Two conditions observed during separate events may actually create chaos if the events actually occurred at the same time.  I have observed multiple equipment failures where we subsequently learned that two machines on the same electrical grid cycled at the exact same time.  One machine continued to cycle without incident while a catastrophic failure occurred on the other.

Although the chance of cycling the machines at the exact same moment was slim and deemed not to be a concern, reality proved otherwise.  Note that monitoring each machine separately showed no signs of abnormal operation or excessive power spikes.  One of the machines (a welder) was moved to a different location in the plant operating on a separate power grid.  No failures were observed following the separation.

Another situation occurred where multiple machines were attached to a common hydraulic system.  Under normal circumstances up to 70% of the machines were operating at any given time.  On some occasions it was noted that an increase in quality defects occurred with a corresponding decrease in throughput although no changes were made to the machines.  In retrospect, the team learned that almost all of the machines (90%) were running.  Later investigation showed that the hydraulic system could not maintain a consistent system pressure when all machines were in operation.  To overcome this condition, boosters were added to each of the hydraulic drops to stabilize the local pressure at the machine.

To summarize our findings here, we need to make sure we understand the system as a whole as well as the isolated machine specific parameters.  Any potential interactions or affects of process coupling must be considered in the overall analysis.

Reporting

I recommend using a simple reporting system to gather the facts and relevant data.  The objective is to gain sufficient data to allow for an effective review and assessment of the trigger condition and to better understand why it occurred.

It is important to note that a trigger event does not automatically imply that product is non-conforming.  It is very possible, especially during new product launches, that the full range of operating parameters has not yet been realized.  As such, we simply want to ensure that we are not changing parameters arbitrarily without exercising due diligence to ensure that all effects of the change are understood.

Toyota Update

After a 10 month investigation into the cause of “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, the results of the Federal Investigation were finally released on February 8, 2011, stating that no electronic source was found to cause the problem.  According to a statement released by Toyota,  “Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i) and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review.”

The findings do,however, implicate some form of mechanical failure and do not necessarily rule out driver error.  It is foreseeable that a mechanical failure could be cause for concern and was seriously considered as part of Toyota’s initial investigation and findings that also included a concern with floor mats.  While the problem is very real, the root cause may still remain to be a mystery and although the timeline for this problem has extended for more than a year, it demonstrates the importance of gathering as much vital evidence as possible as events are unfolding.

A Follow Up to Sustainability

When a product has reached maximum market penetration it becomes vulnerable.  According to USA Today, “Activision announced it was cancelling a 2011 release of its massive music series Guitar Hero and breaking up the franchise’s business unit citing profitability as a concern.”

I find it hard to imagine all of the Guitar Hero games now becoming obsolete and eventual trash.  The life span of the product has exceeded the company’s ability to support it.  This is a sad state of affairs.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

Camera captures grey smoke emitting from the r...
Image via Wikipedia

Although this event happened twenty-five years ago today (28-Jan-1986), it seems like only yesterday.  This tragic event serves to remind us that humans can make mistakes and errors in judgment do occur.  In this case, history is our greatest teacher.

Follow this link to CNN’s “Challenger disaster remembered“.  CNN was the only network covering this event as this would be just another “routine” flight.  If the above link doesn’t work copy the link below into your browser:  http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2011/01/27/natpkg.challenger.1986.cnn?hpt=C2

If we have learned anything, it is this:  “Nothing in this world is routine.”

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

The Face of Manufacturing in 2011

Lotus 60th Celebration
Image via Wikipedia

Happy New Year! Another year begins with the confidence that the manufacturing sector will continue to recover from the crash of 2008-2009 that continued its unrelenting grip well into 2010.  There is little doubt that the face of industry in North America and around the world has changed but is it really on the rebound?

I am of the opinion that the manufacturing sector will continue to be redefined by companies that are capable of extending and adapting their technologies to a more diverse range of product applications.  In other words, the industry will shift from traditional product specific expertise to those companies that offer technological expertise to multiple market segments.

An example of this diversification shift is already evident as companies pursue products in new markets such as construction, appliances, wind and solar energy.  Automotive companies here in Ontario (Canada) have certainly learned that technologies such as stamping presses, plastic injection molding machines, and various joining technologies (welding, brazing) can be used to make products that are in demand by other market segments.  Our ability to seek out new industries to complement our existing technologies is perhaps just one of the strategies worthy of consideration to ensure a business remains sustainable well into the future.

The sharp decline in the automotive industry resulted in a significant loss of real manufacturing jobs here in Ontario and certainly extended well beyond our borders.  The strength of the banking industry and business in general does little to appease the unemployed, however, I am encouraged if this cascades into more jobs.

I remain hopeful that 2011 will be the year of transition into prosperity for all – business included.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

OEE: The Means to an End – Differentiation Where It Matters Most

A pit stop at the Autrodomo Nazionale of Monza...
Image via Wikipedia

Does your organization focus on results or the means to achieve them?  Do you know when you’re having a good day?  Are your processes improving?

The reality is that too many opportunities are missed by simply focusing on results alone.  As we have discussed in many of our posts on problem solving and continuous improvement, the actions you take now will determine the results you achieve today and in the future. Focus on the means of making the product and the results are sure to follow.

Does it not make sense to measure the progress of actions and events in real-time that will affect the end result? Would it not make more sense to monitor our processes similar to the way we use Statistical Process Control techniques to measure current quality levels?  Is it possible to establish certain “conditions” that are indicative of success or failure at prescribed intervals as opposed to waiting for the run to finish?

By way of analogy, consider a team competing in a championship race.  While the objective is to win the race, we can be certain that each lap is timed to the fraction of a second and each pit stop is scrutinized for opportunities to reduce time off the track.  We can also be sure that fine tuning of the process and other small corrections are being made as the race progresses.  If performed correctly and faster than the competition, the actions taken will ultimately lead to victory.

Similarly, does it not make sense to monitor OEE in realtime? If it is not possible or feasible to monitor OEE itself , is it possible to measure the components – Availability, Performance, and Quality – in real-time?  I would suggest that we can.

Performance metrics may include production and quality targets based on lapsed production time. If the targets are hit at the prescribed intervals, then the desired OEE should also be realized.  If certain targets are missed, an escalation process can be initiated to involve the appropriate levels of support to immediately and effectively resolve the concerns.

A higher reporting frequency or shorter time interval provides the opportunity to make smaller (minor) corrections in real-time and to capture relevant information for events that negatively affect OEE.

Improving OEE in real-time requires a skilled team that is capable of trouble shooting and solving problems in real-time. So, resolving concerns and making effective corrective actions in real-time is as important to improving OEE than the data collection process itself.

A lot of time, energy, and resources are expended to collect and analyze data. Unfortunately, when the result is finalized, the opportunity to change it is lost to history.  The absence of event-driven data collection and after the fact analysis leads to greater speculation regarding the events that “may have” occurred versus those events that actually did.

Clearly, an end of run pathology is more meaningful when the data supporting the run represents the events as they are recorded in real-time when they actually occurred.  This data affords a greater opportunity to dissect the events themselves and delve into a deeper analysis that may yield opportunities for long-term improvements.

Set yourself apart from the competition.  Focus on the process while it is running and make improvements in real-time.  The results will speak for themselves.

Your feedback matters

If you have any comments, questions, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to leave your comment in the space below or email us at feedback@leanexecution.ca or feedback@versalytics.com.  We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for visiting.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Versalytics’ show_count=’yes’]

Versalytics Analytics
 

Foundations of Failure

The problem with many of the problems we find ourselves having to contend with at any given time is that we learn of their existence after the fact (when the damage is done) or after discovering that the results we were looking for simply didn’t materialize.  As we learned from Michael A. Roberto’s book, “Know What You Don’t Know“, there are a number of reasons why problems don’t surface until after the fact.  I highly recommend reading “Know What You Don’t Know” as well Steven J. Spear’s “Chasing the Rabbit” as both books present numerous examples and extensive research that span across a wide variety manufacturing and service industries.

In many cases, the pathology of a given problem reveals that much of the information surrounding a given failure, or series of failures, is “common” knowledge.  In isolation, many of the contributing factors appear to be insignificant or irrelevant.  However, when we review all of the “insignificant” bits and pieces of evidence as part of the whole, we discover that it is these “pieces” that make the puzzle complete.  This was certainly the case with 9-11, Three Mile Island, The Challenger, and perhaps even the most recent economic collapse.

The expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, comes to mind as I think of problem solving in the general sense.  Even today, we find this philosophy is embedded deep within the culture of many corporations.  In some cases, the designs are so fragile, that any deviation from normal or intended use may result in failure.  Broken plates and glasses remind us that they are not intended to be dropped – either intentionally or by accident.  We are also painfully aware that the absence of past failures does not automatically exclude or make the process or product immune from future failure.  There are too many examples of failure where past successes are suddenly shattered by a catastrophic failure.

Of course, many products are subject to numerous hours of testing in varying degrees of severity and exposure limits.  Yet somehow, these tests still do not capture all of the possible failure modes that are observed in practice.  Too many product recalls are evidence of our inability to anticipate the vast array of problems that continue to haunt manufacturer’s around the globe.  Just maybe the the “If it ain’t broke” expression needs a little rework itself.  If it ain’t broke please break it – or at least try!  Computer hackers around the world having been giving Microsoft and other major corporations their fair share of problems as they continually find and develop “new” ways to break into very sophisticated and high tech systems.

Our Foundations of Failure model is based on the premise that every failure has a known and identifiable root cause.  The challenge for today’s companies is to learn how to identify problems before the product makes it to market or the process is released to manufacturing for production.  The objective is to instill an innate ability to constructively critique your concepts and designs to identify and anticipate the “What if …” scenarios that your product or service may be subject to.

Perhaps an even greater skill to be learned is to identify and anticipate how the product or process may be used or abused – with or without intent or malice.  From this perspective, lean manufacturing principles and standardized work can certainly help us to map our road to success.  Technically, if the ideal process and it’s inherent steps are performed as specified, then any deviations from the prescribed process or design are subject to a system breakdown or product failure.  As discussed in “Chasing the Rabbit“, this was (and is) certainly the case for the US Nuclear Submarines.

Are your system, process, and product specifications documented to the extent that deviations from their intended purpose or function can be, or are, readily identified?  Is it even possible to forecast or anticipate every possible failure mode?  Is it fair to suggest that prescribing a solution to a problem suggests that the original scope of the problem was or is fully understood?

As we have learned from the numerous failures in our financial markets and the collapse of many high profile businesses and companies around the globe, common symptoms and effects of failure may be the result of radically different root causes:  ignorance, negligence, willful misconduct, and even fraud.  We need to implement systems and processes that are robust and assure our future successes are built on solid fundamental business practices.  When the foundation is faulty, the entire business enterprise is at risk.

In summary, the first step is the most critical step.  The first few steps of any new initiative, process, product, or service, form the foundation of all decisions that follow.  Just as a building requires a solid foundation, so do our future successes.  I recall a little sign that was posted in a retail store that read as follows:

Lovely to look at,
Lovely to Hold,
But if you drop it …
Consider it Sold!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Lean Recalls – Compromising Safety?

Is there ever a time when risk outweighs the real fix?   As we are quickly learning from the latest news regarding Toyota’s proclaimed “savings” through limited safety recalls, the answer is “NO”.  The details of the story surrounding Toyota’s knowledge of the mounting safety concerns and the Toyota’s defense is very disturbing.  Toyota has responded by stating “Our first priority is the safety of our customers, and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong.”

Are Toyota’s actions aligned with this statement? According to the news we’ve been reading, the answer again is “NO”.  We would suggest that Toyota’s attempt to downplay “one” internal presentation is extremely weak.  Why?  Simply because that one internal document happened to be presented by Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s top North American executive, and as such the content becomes much more significant and relevant.  An executive presentation is expected to be factual and with purpose.  To suggest otherwise and relegate this to the category of ‘discussion topics” and one person’s opinion is a real stretch.  If this is indeed the case, then there are real concerns within the leadership ranks of Toyota.  When the president speaks, people listen for a reason.  What they say affects in some way – good or bad.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, and other executives are on the firing line as they present their case in the US congressional hearings.  In Akio Toyoda’s own words, “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization.”  As we have mentioned in previous posts, Toyota’s communication strategy has been lacking as this crisis continues to unfold.  We would suggest that this is indicative of the underlying problems that Toyota is experiencing.  Effective communication was once at the core of Toyota’s culture and to this end, we would agree that Toyota’s culture has been compromised.  What is debatable is whether this is strictly due to growth.  Is this a factor that is attributable to the sheer size of the company?  Is this the result of an evolution in culture that lost it’s roots?

As size increases, so do layers of management and the number of “gatekeepers” that attempt to filter out the critical information.  Whether or not the original message remains intact is one the faults of bureaucracy.  While Toyota traditionally has managed to “keep it real” and encouraged forward thinking and free dialogue, layers of management may have eroded this once highly characteristic trait of the Toyota culture.

Is Toyota solely to blame?  It appears that the government Safety Regulators have some explaining to do as well.  Surprisingly, the scope and extent of recalls can actually be negotiated.  The short lesson learned is that we cannot knowingly compromise human safety in our products and services.  In simpler terms, when human lives are at risk, there is no such thing as a LEAN Recall.

As we have emphasized through our many pages and posts, the culture is the company.  In our post, “Lean Execution:  Competing with Giants – It’s all about speed“, we featured two video clips of Domenic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks, who discusses the rapid growth of his company.  “Thoughtful Speed of Execution” and learning to recognize Boulders, Rocks, and Pebbles, and teaching our gate keepers to do the same are two steps more than may have been taken already.

Related links:  Toyota vows shake-up, lawmakers seek more reform (Reuters), Toyota’s latest apology, Toyota apologizes for handling of safety issues,

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Lean Resources On Demand

On Demand

As people we have grown accustomed to service on demand.  The internet, fast food, service stations, 24 hour convenience shopping, medical services, video on demand, and so much more are available almost instantly.  Of course much of this is made possible by the latest technologies and electronic gadgets that bring the world to our finger tips at the push of a button.

Imagine if your business could experience the same level of accessibility to resources as we seem to have with the outside world in our personal lives.  Perhaps 2010 is the year to redefine how the systems and processes in your organization can emulate the “on demand” level of performance we have become accustomed to in our private lives.

Lean Resources

We predict that the year 2010 will see more specialization of service providers as companies continue to review their essential functions and resource requirements.  Although outsourcing has been a topic of discussion over the past few years, it is now becoming more prevalent as companies continue to review their organizational structures in light of declining sales and diminished profits.

The economic downturn did not limit its impact to the manufacturing sector or, more specifically, the automotive industry.  An article was recently published in our local news papers announcing the layoff of several news anchors and support staff from various television and radio broadcast stations.  Of the reasons mentioned for the restructuring, reduced advertising revenue was among them.

The Next Step

What are these people going to do?  Where will they find gainful employment in a declining market?  Are these skills no longer required?  The short answer is that their services are still required.  The problem is that one single company cannot afford to retain their services on a full-time basis.

As people affected by restructuring efforts, the best solution may be to start your own company and market your specialized skills or services.  While your former company may become one of your clients, it is possible that other companies are also in a place where they simply cannot afford to keep full-time staff to support their current needs.  Companies typically do not share resources with other companies; however, they do contract services to common service providers.  Syndication is widely used in broadcasting.

Using our personal lives as an example, we do not have our own full-time doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, and so on.  We simply hire these services on demand – only when we need them.  The focus of re-organization strategies today is to decide what services are essential to protect the proprietary nature of the business and those that could be outsourced as an on demand resource.

For the entrepreneur, as an individual entity serving multiple companies, your area of specialization can be developed and refined beyond the limits that may have been imposed by your former employer.  To explore this further, we will discuss several examples to develop the application of this concept.

The Possibilities – Examples

We all use computers in our daily lives just as you are while reading this article.  Clearly, someone was responsible for creating this wonderful technology and is presently working on the next generation computer or software program – whether we think we need it or not.  As individuals, we are immune to the multitude of tasks that this may entail.  We simply continue to enjoy the results.

Microsoft and Apple are continually developing new software capabilities and applications.  It’s common to hear, “There’s an APP for that.”  Even as these new products are released, areas of specialization evolve.  The next time you are browsing your way through a book store, look at the number of books written on Excel alone.  Books are available to teach you how to perform a variety of tasks including Dashboards, Business Applications, Charting, Pivot Tables, and even customization and advanced applications using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).  The specialization model is further supported by the number of applications that have been developed using Excel as evidenced by the thousands of products and services available on the internet alone.

Although most companies may have a self-proclaimed Excel expert, most do not keep a full-time Excel specialist on staff.  It would not be uncommon to hire an Excel specialist to develop an application for your company.  As an independent solution provider, the Excel expert can continue to develop and hone their programming and development skills above and beyond what any person or company may need.  This in turn will result in more efficient and advanced functionality than any one company would be willing to afford.  Click here to visit our trusted Excel Web Resources.

One of the concerns at Research In Motion (RIM), creators of the BlackBerry, is finding the talent required to support their current technology.  The advancements and specialization required is beyond that taught in our universities and colleges.  This area of specialization has reached such a level, that only RIM is able to manage their product line.  It is expected that these essential services must be developed and retained internally and further enforced through their hiring contracts that are most certainly rife with non-competition and confidentiality clauses.

The medical field presents another excellent example of how increased specialization has evolved over the years to offer solutions, or cures, that otherwise would not be available today.  Today, the family doctor may just as readily refer you to a specialist and not fully diagnose your condition personally.  Even the field of dentistry has an evolved hierarchy of skills and specialization as do many legal practices.

Affordability

While we continue to enjoy ever-increasing enhancements and benefits to the products and services available to us, innovative ideas continue to surface into unique niche markets.  Because of the mass market appeal, products and services that are available to us as individuals could not be afforded otherwise.  Naturally, the same can be said for business.

We also recognize that one of the impediments to change is the significant investment that is already committed to support the processes and systems that define the current infrastructure.  Secondly, the funds to upgrade to an entirely new process or system are likely not available, especially in today’s economy.  Lastly, not all business need advanced levels of support or services and in some cases could never afford the level of performance they provide.

The price of upgrading is clear even in the simplest of operating environments.  Even today we continue to find older versions of Microsoft Office products such Excel 2000 or Excel 2003.  Although it took a while to adapt to the Microsoft 2007 environment, the enhancements and added capabilities were well worth the effort to upgrade.  Legacy software versions actually complicate the process of software development due to the programming overhead required for version specific compatibility.

As areas of specialization increase, products and services are becoming more affordable.  Companies that offer these services are creating unique venues to deliver their products or services with continually improved capabilities and options.  Even companies that could never afford an in-house ERP system may find a cost-effective solution using on-line services.  Some of the latest versions of major ERP systems provide all the amenities of real-time reporting, telecommuting, remote access, supply chain management, purchasing, on-line support, and so much more.

Summary

Clearly, using outside services that specialize in a complementary area of ability to your business can only result in a win-win outcome.  The specialist provides more knowledge and experience than your company could ever afford to learn and, as a company, you are able to focus on your own areas of expertise that in turn can only improve the products and services you provide.

As individuals – professional, skilled or otherwise – you may find that your talents are required and still very much in demand.  While companies must keep essential resources to protect the proprietary nature of their business (intellectual property and tangible assets), they are still able to use external resources to support their efforts.

From this perspective, we can learn a lot from small businesses that do not have the luxury of hiring full-time staff.  They may never afford to support traditional infrastructure often found in larger companies.  Small business entrepreneurs focus on their core areas of expertise, their essential products and services, and retain the services of outside specialists on demand.

Companies will continue to look for opportunities to embrace outside services – on demand resources – allowing them to focus on their core business activities.  While this may seem contrary to the traditional lean tenets, we would argue to the contrary.  Professional and skilled resources can save your company a significant amount of time and energy and will substantially reduce the learning curve required to integrate system and technology solutions into your organization.  Their experience is priceless.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!