Category: Lean

Learning From Mistakes

always make new mistakes
Always make new mistakes (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

An event occurred this afternoon that required an immediate resolution. When asked whether we were going to pursue the root cause, I could only respond with this question:

What’s the point of making mistakes if we’re not going to learn from them?

This is likely the shortest post I ever published here, however, I think the simplicity of the message makes the point very clear.

If you do wish to delve deeper into the topic of mistakes, I encourage you to read some of the related articles featured below.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics
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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

Vergence Analytics

Transition Versus Change – 2013

Change Management
Change Management (Photo credit: larry_odebrecht)

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.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Decisions: From Crisis and Chaos to Calm

English: Decisions, decisions. The road on the...

How is it that some leaders have a way to bring calm to crisis, chaos, and conflict, weeding out fact from fiction, and somehow setting the path straight for others to follow? The answer is quite simple, they have the tools and ability to make effective decisions efficiently.

I recognize that very few, if any, problems can truly be solved by searching for answers in a book. “The Decision Book” by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler presents 50 models for strategic thinking where the objective is not to necessarily find the answers but to understand various models or methods that can be used to help discover them.

The models presented may be used to simplify problems or opportunities enabling you to make the best decisions possible. Deciding which model to use is simply a matter of reviewing the matrix presented on the inside covers of the book itself. The scope of application of each model is specifically targeted to one of four “How To” categories:

  • How to improve yourself
  • How to understand yourself better
  • How to understand others better
  • How to improve others

Concisely written, the models are presented in a manner that makes them immediately practical. Each model is typically presented with a single written page followed by an illustration to demonstrate how the model may be applied.

At 173 pages, “The Decision Book” is a quick read from cover to cover, however, it also makes for a perfect handbook as each model is unique unto itself. Where correlations between models exist, they are also indicated in the text.

The Decision Book is not all inclusive though it does present many of the best known models for strategic thinking and is certainly one to add to your library. Just remember that making a decision is only the first step. Execution is the key to making it a reality.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Are You Suffering from Fragmentation?

This image shows the life cycle of a task by u...
Task Life Cycle - Image via Wikipedia.

When Toyota arrived on the North American manufacturing scene, automakers were introduced to many of Toyota’s best practices including the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the well-known “Toyota Way”.  Since that time, Toyota’s best practices have been introduced to numerous other industries and service providers with varying degrees of success.

In simple terms, Toyota’s elusive goal of single piece flow implicitly demands that parts be processed one piece at a time and only as required by the customer.  The practice of batch processing was successfully challenged and proven to be inefficient as the practice inherently implies a certain degree of fragmentation of processes, higher inventories, longer lead times, and higher costs.

To the contrary, over specialization can lead to excessive process fragmentation and is evidenced by decreased efficiency, higher labour costs, and increased lead times.  In other words, we must concern ourselves with assuring that we have optimized process tasks to the extent that maximum flow is achieved in the shortest amount of time.

An example of excessive specialization can be found in the healthcare system here in Ontario, Canada.  Patients visit their family doctor only to be sent to a specialist who in turn prescribes a series of tests to be completed by yet another layer of “specialists”.  To complicate matters even more, each of  these specialized services are inconveniently separated geographically as well.

Excessive fragmentation can be found by conducting a thorough review of the entire process.  The review must consider the time required to perform “real value added” tasks versus non-value added tasks as well as the time-lapse that may be incurred between tasks.  Although individual “steps” may be performed efficiently and within seconds, minutes, or hours, having to wait several days, weeks, or even months between tasks clearly undermines the efficiency of the process as a whole.

In the case of healthcare, the time lapse between visits or “tasks” is borne by the patient and since the facilities are managed independently, wait times are inherently extended.  Manufacturers suffer a similar fate where outside services are concerned.  Localization of services is certainly worthy of consideration when attempting to reduce lead times and ultimately cost.

Computers use de-fragmentation software to “relocate” data in a manner that facilitates improved file storage and retrieval.  If only we could “defrag” our processes in a similar way to improve our manufacturing and service industries.  “Made In China” labels continue to appear on far too many items that could be manufactured here at home!

Until Next Time – Stay LEAN!

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!

Vergence Analytics

Managing Visually – A word from Daniel T. Jones

Visual Management is certainly one of the characteristic traits that sets lean organizations apart from all others. The success of Visual Management is predicated on relevant and current data. To be effective, Visual Management must be embraced and utilized by leadership, management, and employees throughout the organization.

I also believe that “Knowledge is Power and Wisdom is Sharing it.”  For this reason I highly respect those who are bold enough to put their thoughts in writing for the rest of the world to see.  Daniel T. Jones, author of a number of books on lean (Lean Thinking) and Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy, is one of those people.

A few days ago, I received this e-mail from Daniel where he presents his thoughts on managing visually.

Dear Redge,

Learning to See is the starting point for Learning to Act. By making the facts of any situation clearly visible it is much easier to build agreement on what needs to be done, to create the commitment to doing it and to maintain the focus on sustaining it over time.

However what makes visualisation really powerful is that it changes behaviour and significantly improves the effectiveness of working together to make things happen. It changes the perspective from silo thinking and blaming others to focusing on the problem or process and it generates a much higher level of engagement and team-working. This can be seen at many levels on the lean journey. Here is my list, but I am sure you can think of many more.

Standardized work defined by the team as the best way of performing a task makes the work visible, makes the need for training to achieve it visible and establishes a baseline for improvement. Likewise standardized management makes regular visits to the shop floor visible to audit procedures, to review progress and to take away issues to be resolved at a higher level.

Process Control Boards recording the planned actions and what is actually being achieved on a frequent cadence make deviations from the plan visible, so teams can respond quickly to get back on plan and record what problems are occurring and why for later analysis.

Value Stream Maps make the end-to-end process visible so everyone understands the implications of what they do for the rest of the value creation process and so improvement efforts can be focused on making the value stream flow in a levelled fashion in line with demand.

Control Rooms or Hubs bringing together information from dispersed Progress Control Boards makes the synchronisation of activities visible along the value stream, defines the rate of demand for supporting value streams, triggers the need to escalate issues and to analyse the root causes of persistent problems.

A3 Reports make the thought process visible from the dialogue between senior managers and the author or team, whether they are solving problems, making a proposal or developing and reviewing a plan of action.

Strategy Deployment makes the choices visible in prioritising activities, deselecting others and conducting the catch-ball dialogue to turn high level goals into actions further down the organisation.

Finally the Oobeya Room (Japanese for “big room”) makes working together visiblein a project environment. So far it has been used for managing new product development and engineering projects. However organisations like Boeing are realising how powerful it can be in managing projects in the Executive Office (see thepresentation and the podcast by Sharon Tanner).

The Oobeya Room is in my view the key to making all this visualisation effective. It brings together all of the above to define the objectives, to choose the vital few metrics, to plan and frequently review the progress and delays of concurrent work-streams, to decide which issues need escalating to the next level up and to capture the learning for the next project (see the  Discussion Paperpresentation and podcastby Takashi Tanaka).

But more importantly it creates the context in which decisions are based on the facts and recorded on the wall, avoiding fudged decisions and prevarication. It also ensures that resource constraints and win-lose situations that can arise between Departments are addressed and resolved so they do not slow the project down.

Reviewing progress and delays on a daily or weekly basis rather than waiting for less frequent gate review meetings leads to much quicker problem solving. Because these stand-up meetings only need to address the deviations from the plan and what to do about them they also make much better use of management time.

In short the Oobeya Room brings all the elements of lean management together. Taken to an extreme visual management can of course itself become a curse. I have seen whole walls wallpapered with often out-of-date information that is not actively being used in day-to-day decision making.  Learning how to focus attention on just the right information to make the right decisions in the right way is the way to unlock the real power of visualisation and team-working in the Oobeya Room.

Yours sincerely
Daniel T Jones
Chairman, Lean Enterprise Academy

P.S. Those who joined us at our Lean Summit last November got a first taste of the power of the Oobeya Room from Sharon Tanner and Takashi Tanaka. For those eager to learn more they will be giving our first hands-on one-day Lean Executive Masterclass on 27 June in Birmingham, and a private session for executive teams on 28 June. There are only 56 places are available on each day so book your place NOW to avoid disappointment – Click Here to download the booking form.

P.P.S. We have also annouced new dates for our Small Group Coaching Sessionshere at our offices near Ross-on-Wye. We will be running Managing a Lean Transformation on Wednesday, 22nd June 2011Mapping your Value Streams on Thursday, 23rd June 2011 and A3 Thinking on Friday, 24th June 2011 all run by our senior faculty member Dave Brunt. Only 12 places available on each day.

Although the above list was not intended to be all inclusive, I find interesting to note that 5S is not discussed. Do you have visual management tools of your own that could be added to this list?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!
Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics