The time between Christmas and New Year’s eve is one of transition as we consider the events that occurred over the past year and prepare for the new year ahead. Experts are sure to present their annual summaries and will also attempt to “predict” what may be in store for us in the year to come. As lean leaders we also recognize the necessity to make and take the time for introspection and hansei (reflection).
Lean is by definition a perpetual transition from the current state to an ideal future state as we understand it. As our culture and technologies evolve, we continue to open doors to more opportunities and perhaps an even greater potential than first imagined. As such, we seek to advance our understanding as we pursue our vision of lean and it’s scope of application.
Lean is often described as a journey. While the vision is clearly defined, the means for achieving it continue to evolve and, as we’ve stated many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From a lean perspective, the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle challenges us to consider every change as a temporary state where each subsequent iteration ultimately brings us closer to realizing our vision.
Recognizing that we are in a continual state of transition should give us cause to embrace the ideology that the nature of change can only be viewed as a temporary condition. True resistance to change should only occur when the vision itself is compromised. Similarly, the absence of a clear vision is also cause for resistance. We contend that where the purpose or vision remains constant, the means or the methods of achieving it – incremental or disruptive – are more readily adopted.
The “Change Curve” presented in the diagram above clearly suggests that the commitment to change progresses from Leadership to Change Agents and finally to the End Users with each “group” requiring an increasing span of time to absorb and embrace the change accordingly. A potential for frustration and resistance to change occurs when the next iteration is introduced before the change that precedes it has been adopted and “experienced”. For this same reason and as suggested in our post, “Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy“, companies (including Apple) must be careful to manage the frequency at which change occurs to avoid frustrating employees and potential customers in the process.
The absence of change or lack of evidence that change is coming is and should be cause for concern. Research In Motion’s (RIM) continued delays in releasing the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) resulted in lost confidence from investors and share prices dropped sharply in return. RIM’s attempts to “talk” through the company’s strategy and the future of the BlackBerry could not sustain their one time dominance of the smart phone market. Thankfully for RIM, the BlackBerry, slated to launch on January 30, 2013, is receiving raving reviews as a high quality next generation smart phone. Only time will tell if too much time has passed to win people over.
Lean leaders recognize that real change begins in the hearts and minds of every stakeholder and is a pre-requisite before any physical changes can occur. A learning organization embraces the concept of “transitional” thinking where each change represents the current level of knowledge and understanding. Where perpetual learning occurs, transitional thinking ensues, and subsequent changes mark our progress along the journey.
As we look forward to 2013, we thank you for your continued support and wish you the best of successes in the New Year ahead.
One of the roles of leadership is to instill and foster a culture that embraces change and empowers the team to improve. This call for change is also echoed in the Plan-Do-Check-Act or PDCA cycle that serves as a typical model for driving continuous improvement in many organizations. In this regard, Apple has clearly demonstrated their commitment to develop and improve their existing products.
As I’ve written many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From the outside looking in, Apple appears to embrace this thinking too, as evidenced by the unveiling of the new and much rumoured iPad Mini as well as announcing a number of significant upgrades to their existing product lines.
However, as the late great management guru Peter Drucker stated, “There is no business without a customer”. When we consider the numerous and diverse range of brand advocates a business may have, we also realize and understand that customers are very much a natural extension of the business itself. In this context, I contend that Apple’s best kept secrets may just be their own worst enemy.
Timing is Everything
From a leadership perspective, transparency, respect, accountability, integrity, and trust are just a few of the defining traits of a lean organization. The vision must be clear and understood to ensure that decisions, goals, objectives, and actions are aligned accordingly. Unfortunately, as customers, we can only rely on “leaks” and “rumours” to learn of Apple’s hidden agenda and attempt to plan our purchases accordingly.
While Apple may be lean at its core, I can only wonder how much waste is generated at the consumer level. Each new product introduction is met with a host of people ready to replace their existing devices with the latest and greatest technology Apple has to offer. It begs the question, “How many people can actually afford to keep pace with the current rate of change?”
In this regard, continuing to release new products at an ever-increasing frequency is quickly becoming a deterrent for people to “buy now.” The decision to purchase is offset by the potentially greater benefit of waiting just a little while longer. I contend that this is where Apple’s strategy may soon fall short. I’m not endorsing Samsung here, however, this Samsung Galaxy S3 ad has captured the point we’re making here:
Effective leadership understands that the timing for change is as critical as the change itself. If change occurs too frequently, people will abandon their efforts to embrace any of them knowing that another is already in the making.
Chasing the Dream
As a public company, Apple is subject to tremendous market pressures to maintain its record-setting trend of higher returns for shareholders and also serves to fuel a shorter cycle of new product introductions and upgrades. This rapid injection of perceived “new” technology is equally offset by higher rates of planned obsolescence.
While some of the changes announced were much-anticipated, especially the iPad Mini, the 4th generation iPad was a complete surprise – at least it was to me. Was the release date of the 4th Generation iPad so obscure that a 3rd generation product release was required only seven short months ago?
I have become increasingly concerned over the frequency that change occurs, especially when they directly affect my pocketbook. Frequent changes leave consumers little time to absorb them and their significance is rapidly diminished by the next generation of products that follow. From a lean perspective, the PDCA cycle encourages incremental improvements to – or within – an existing process or system and this is the consistent, fundamental flaw in Apple’s product development cycle:
Existing devices cannot be upgraded.
The majority of recent changes introduced by Apple are hardware related including the release of iOS6 as a necessity to support the new offerings. The new A6X chip, an integral part of the new iPhone 5 and the recently announced 4th generation iPad, offers twice the speed and twice the graphics performance over its predecessor, the A5X chip. Hardware changes of this nature are rarely an after thought and keeps me wondering why Apple was so compelled to release the 3rd generation iPad only a few short months ago.
Loyalty, Trust, and Making Amends
Many consumers are advocates of the Apple brand and their loyalty implies that a certain element or level of trust exists. With this in mind, the changes introduced by Apple carry an even greater significance as this trust is tested with each step that Apple takes. The decision to purchase an Apple device is as significant as the price tag it carries – they are expensive. Apple clearly understands this and created the new iPad Mini to bridge the price gap in kind, although it too carries a hefty price tag.
For Apple, change may be the norm but, for consumers it’s not always that simple. Apple clearly recognizes that consumers want the latest and greatest product offering available. The questions to be answered here are two-fold:
How much are consumers willing to pay for a new device? and,
How OFTEN (or how soon after) are they willing to purchase its successor?
In light of these recent announcements, a third and perhaps even more important question begs to be asked, “What is the relevant lifespan of my new device after purchase? The 3rd generation iPad’s core chip technology became obsolete in as little as 7 months from the date it was introduced and the relative value is sure to decrease even more rapidly with each generation that follows.
As mentioned earlier, the A6X chip was an integral part of the iPhone 5 and it is highly likely that integrating it into the 4th generation iPad was a known “next step”, long before the 3rd generation iPad was even released. I would suggest that the new iPad Mini, also built on the A5X platform, will also be short-lived as an A6X upgrade or even a retina display can’t be too far behind.
A company as large as Apple must have a product development plan and I challenge the ethics of a company that would knowingly lead consumers to purchase a “new” device that will become obsolete before they even take it out of the box. To make amends with recent buyers of the 3rd generation iPad, it has been suggested that Apple plans to offer free upgrades if their product was purchased within a certain time frame prior to the announcement of the 4th generation iPad.
I’m not opposed to any company that can make a profit, especially in today’s economy. However, Apple’s profits are borne by consumers who remain hopeful that Apple may actually provide a product that can deliver real value. It is peculiar and concerning that consumers are almost too anxious and willing to abandon their current devices for the “next best thing” as though their existing devices fell short of meeting expectations.
Now Serving … Shareholders
I am convinced that Apple’s primary interest is shareholder satisfaction at the expense of consumers by convincingly giving cause for consumers to part with their hard-earned dollars in pursuit of the “Next Big Thing.” In summary, the secret to Apple’s fortunes lies in ever shorter product cycles and even more frequent changes that give rise to increased product turnover, increased revenues, significantly higher profits, and ultimately higher returns for shareholders.
As we pursue our own lean efforts, we must be cognizant of the perception created when the need for change is driven by an agenda that is contrary to the vision of the company, namely, that of the shareholders themselves. You may recall the “noise” surrounding the valuation of Facebook’s IPO and shareholder concern over the process of creating and generating revenue. Even more profound (and to be applauded) was Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook intended to make money through the IPO to make Facebook even better – it was never Mark’s intention to make shareholders rich at the expense of FaceBook users.
I am always more than a little concerned when the influence of the stock market is greater than the vision that brought the company there in the first place. RIM serves as an excellent example of a company that has managed a fine line with shareholders to make leadership changes while still pursuing the release of the much-anticipated next generation BlackBerry 10 Operating System. While the changes announced by RIM were very well received, failing to provide a release date caused stocks to decline even further. Despite their announcements of cuts to the workforce, they have remained committed to pursue the next generation hardware and software. Time will tell how the market responds now that RIM has announced a January 30, 2013, product launch.
The Next Step
With many thanks to Steve Jobs, Apple certainly deserves credit for shaping how we use computers today and Apple’s ability to create consumer frenzy for “What’s Next” is to be admired. Though Apple cites rapidly changing technology as the reason for its frequent product changes, I would challenge this statement as evidenced by the seemingly lower rates of change from Apple’s competitors.
On the whole, I find Apple’s products to be of high quality – though not without flaws – and extremely overpriced. The new iPad Mini and protective cover retail at $330.00 and $45.00 respectively and serve as just one example where the price far exceeds that of it’s nearest competitor. To make matters worse, a power adapter that should cost only a few dollars to manufacture retails at almost $30.00. Apple’s sales are staggering, however, their margins on sales are even more so.
I fully appreciate the craftsmanship of the Apple product line. The machines at all levels are exceptionally crafted and the user interface – at least on “touch” devices – is to be commended. However, from a software perspective, I have yet to see a serious professional suite that rivals that of Microsoft Office (Home or Professional). The release of iOS6 did nothing to improve my experience with Apple’s existing hardware or software.
The number of available “apps” is literally overwhelming and continues to grow at a daunting rate. Although many are either free or relatively inexpensive, finding an app that meets your needs can be a real challenge. I find many apps are overrated, lacking depth beyond the simple and individual functionality they provide. As a result, I tend to gravitate toward those apps (Evernote, Dropbox) where the scope also extends to competitor products as opposed to Apple specifically. As the major players continue to define and refine available hardware platforms, the App market may still be too fresh to establish the real dominant players in certain core segments.
Rather than waiting for a truly significant product upgrade, Apple has been too fast with too many incremental product changes that may leave some consumers suffering buyer’s remorse, feeling alienated, or worse – betrayed. Although RIM may be too long in the making of its BlackBerry 10 Operating System, Microsoft’s major Operating System releases are typically far and few between too. Certainly Windows 8 has taken the market by storm with full touch screen integration for desk top, lap top, and ultrabook computers.
Perhaps the questions to be discerned are, “How soon is too soon?” and “How long is too long?” If it hasn’t been determined yet, there must be a “Goldilocks” cycle that’s just right: worth the wait and worth the money.
I contend that Apple has succumbed to a greater concern for shareholders to sustain market share at the expense of customer trust and cash. To maintain their share of the market, they have taken their suppliers and competitors, namely Samsung, to court and seem compelled to pre-empt any new product announcement from their competitors with an announcement of their own – ready or not.
Apple provides a high quality premium priced product. Yet, as I look at the tools I have at my disposal (no pun intended) – a Mac Mini, iPhone 4s, and a 3rd generation iPad – I am underwhelmed by each of them. With all of the attention to detail that Apple seems to mind, I can’t help but wonder why something like the on-screen keyboard doesn’t reflect the current shift state of the keys – like my PlayBook does.
I have already heard rumours that a new iPhone 5s may be available in the first quarter of 2013. If memory serves me correctly, that should be just in time for RIM’s launch of the new BlackBerry 10 Operating System and the launch of Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Of course, despite the rumours, who knows what or when the next surprise will be. I’m sure it will be sometime soon.
Only time will tell how long Apple can continue to keep customers “Chasing the Dream.” As for me, like a number of Apple’s recently resigned Apple executives, that chase is over.
That’s right! The first Monday of August is a civic holiday here in Ontario, Canada. However, if you ask people what we’re supposed to be celebrating you may be surprised by the vast array of answers – including “I don’t know.”
Some of the confusion begins with its declaration – the provincial government has not defined this day as a statutory holiday although it is given to all federal and municipal government employees, In other words, this holiday is “optional”.
Having one long weekend per month has now turned into one of expectation. We only need to scramble for a cause to justify its existence as this excerpt from Wikipedia clearly demonstrates:
Another example with a more specific cause is Family Day – first introduced as an election promise and subsequently established in 2007 by our provincial government to cure the long weekend void of February. Once again, Wikipedia provides a more thorough review:
During the Ontario provincial election in 2007, Dalton McGuinty of the Liberal Party promised that if re-elected premier he would establish a provincial holiday in February. On 12 October 2007, the provincial government established Family Day, with the first being observed on 18 February 2008. Its creation raised Ontario’s number of public holidays to nine per year. However, this holiday does not necessarily add to the number of holidays Ontarians receive, as employers can substitute any non-statutory holidays that employees may already be receiving in lieu of this day. Many employers have substituted the popular Civic Holiday, which falls on the first Monday in August. Although the Civic Holiday is enjoyed by millions every year, it is not public (statutory), and workers may have to choose one holiday or the other, based on their contract, union negotiations, service requirements, etc.
There has been much debate as to whether Family day was introduced as a means for our Premier to gain re-election or a necessary measure to assure the continued well being of Ontario families across the province.
The relationship to leadership and lean
On the breach of trust
Not all leaders are elected and we seldom have an opportunity to express our real opinions of them. As for government however, our levels of satisfaction can be measured in votes. Our intentions may be challenged and as leaders we must be transparent, accountable, and serve with integrity. Was injecting the “Family Day” holiday into a platform of many “to be broken promises” an expression of real concern for families in our province or simply a means of swaying votes? The manner for delivering on such a promise seems unprecedented as are many promises made during election campaigns.
As for business, the effects of leadership are more immediate and direct. For public companies, share prices rise and fall with the mere utterance of good or bad news and is evidenced by the ever-present volatility of the stock markets. Local economies are increasingly affected by global events as never experienced before.
Leading on Purpose
Our civic holiday is indicative of the confusion that continues to resonate throughout an organization long after a program or measure has been introduced without a specific purpose. As I review the many names that define this civic holiday and the excitement that accompanies each of them, I am reminded of how many organizations perceive a common sense of purpose among the ranks, only to learn that reasons for all those smiling faces are as diverse as the number of employees working there.
As leaders, we are challenged to foster a culture where the efforts of our teams are focused toward a greater common vision that is clearly defined, understood, and embraced by all. If there is at least one common thread for the civic holiday, it is to honor local heroes and people in our communities who played a much larger role in shaping our communities, our country, and our world for the betterment of humanity.
The last word
We all need a break from routine and, next to vacations, a long weekend certainly tops the list. There are many people who don’t really care why they are getting an extra day off while others are very much “in the know”. Being a leader, its our business to know. Oddly, after I finished this post, someone asked, “Do you know why Monday is a holiday?” I said, “You’re not going to believe this but that’s the topic of my post today!” As leaders, we make it our business to know “why” and “what”. As for the “how”, I’ll leave that to the experts.
I wish you all a happy Civic Holiday Monday – whatever your reason may be!
Today is Mother’s day and gives me cause to reflect on what my Mother taught me about lean. From an early age, my mother managed to instill an innate ability for lean thinking. Managing a household and being able to orchestrate a host of tasks and demands, all the while keeping the place clean, is by no means an easy task. As if by instinct, I learned about 5S and the 7 types of waste, although at the time I didn’t recognize them as such.
I’m always amused when I see “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here” signs posted in cafeterias and kitchens in the workplace. The most fundamental principles of 5S – a place for everything and everything in its place – and Kaizen were ingrained in me at home. My mother taught me to keep things organized, clean, and to ever improve on what was, is, or could be. Could it be that my mother inspired “There’s always a better way and more than one solution” or “What you see is how we think”? Perhaps so.
More importantly, my mother taught me that life and leadership is about people, relationships, and love. All is for not without them. My mother is the very essence of what it means to love and lead with a “servant heart” and that is why I think “people are first and business is second nature.”
We’ve all said it, “I just can’t wait!” We look forward to certain events, both big and small, with eager anticipation. We carefully plan for vacations, family events, a get together with friends, or major purchases like a new car or home. Our minds race, eagerly waiting for that magic moment to arrive.
Anticipation instills excitement and expectation in the present moment with regard to a future event. Anticipation introduces an emotional quotient to an outcome that has yet to be realized. Is “anticipation” an inherent part of the culture where you work? Do you look forward to Monday mornings? Do you create opportunities to experience anticipation? What are some of the events you look forward to? In contrast, what are some of the events you dread?
Putting Metrics in Perspective
Key performance indicators (KPI’s) or metrics are used to measure our progress toward achieving goals and objectives. Overall Equipment Effectiveness is one such key performance indicator used by many companies and provides a means to monitor and improve operational performance. Timely corrective actions and improvement measures should be accompanied by expected outcomes. In other words, we should anticipate increasing returns for our efforts.
Unfortunately when results begin to plateau, a perceived “point of no return” is reached, support on all fronts begins to wane, and apathy sets in. A vision that extends beyond the current “process as we know it” coupled with effective leadership is required to strive for even greater achievements. Some companies use the term “stretch targets” or “stretch goals” to ensure a gap between current and ideal performance exists. For lean practitioners, there is always a gap between the current and ideal state and as a result “pursuing perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste” is a never ending journey.
Kaizen – Continuous Improvement
Daily Kaizen embraces the ideology that there is always a better way and more than one solution. We anticipate improved performance as we continue to understand and learn more from our experiences. We appreciate and learn from our failures and successes recognizing that each brings greater understanding of the process at hand. A missed target is a learning opportunity – whether expectations were exceeded or not.
While some would consider success as exceeding the target, doing so actually demonstrates that we did not fully understand all of the influences or elements of the process. As such, even hitting the target should be cause for review to validate our initial assumptions. We may discover that some elements or combination of elements outside of our initial “assumptions” were actually responsible for hitting the target.
Kaizen is an integral part of a learning environment where lean thinking flourishes. Anticipation brings an element of excitement to the work place that keeps us wanting to come back to do it all over again.
“Anticipation” – Carly Simon sang it right – its keeping me waiting!
EARTH HOUR is now an annual event that is embraced around the globe. For at least one hour, we will have the opportunity to “unplug” ourselves from the world to ponder and increase our awareness of how our “activities of daily living” can make a difference to the environment we live in.
While the benefits of turning off the world for an hour are difficult to measure in the immediate sense, the longer term affect or impact will be determined and governed by our thinking first and actions second.
We have all learned to embrace the three (3) R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – as evidenced by the blue bins that regularly grace our streets on “recycling” day. We all make a personal effort to painstakingly separate items into various categories of “waste” to better serve the recycling process.
Companies have also taken a greater sense of responsibility for providing “green” or “earth friendly” products although, in many cases, the effort has more to do with the packaging than that of the product itself. Here in Ontario, Canada, our provincial government has imposed “environmental fees” on various products – such as electronics – to further support recycling programs. Locally, in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), plastic bags are subject to a fee of $0.05 each to curb consumers from using them.
From an energy perspective, we have been introduced to fully electric and hybrid cars. Nuclear energy and new sources of electricity such as wind mills and solar panels have replaced coal fired plants. Even my Logitech K750 keyboard is solar powered!
Sporadic record breaking high temperatures have marked this past winter as anything but Canadian. For some, climate change is cause enough to be an Earth Hour participant. I, however, believe that managing our finite resources in a more efficient and effective manner is something to think about and worthy of an hour of my time.
Behaviors must change, however, to do so requires us to first change our thinking. From a lean perspective, Earth Hour serves as a reminder to pursue perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste. We can do so much more and all we need to do is take at least one hour to think about it – starting now. There is always and better way and more than one solution.
Earth Hour will commence from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm EST on Saturday, March 31, 2012.
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.
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.