Category: Execution

Lean Code – Part 2

Our article on “Lean Code” strongly suggests that the principles of lean can also be applied to the realm of software development, applications, and more specifically, programming.

Python has evolved to become a very popular and powerful programming language.  However, as mentioned in “Lean Code“, the performance of your application or program is as dependent on the skills of the programmer as they are on the capabilities of the programming language itself.

An example of skill versus language can be found in “Python for Data Science – For Dummies – A Wiley Brand” by John Paul Mueller and Luca Massaron (ISBN:  978-1-118-84418-2).  Page 106 of the book states:

It’s essential to realize that developers built pandas on top of NumPy.  As a result, every task you perform using pandas also goes through NumPy.  To obtain the benefits of pandas, you pay a performance penalty that some testers say is 100 times slower than NumPy for a similar task.

The functionality offered by pandas makes writing code faster and easier for the programmer, however, the performance trade-off exists for the end user.  Knowing when to use one module over the other depends on the programmer’s understanding of the language as opposed to simply providing a specific functionality.

Python for Data Science provides sufficient information to decide the best fit case for either pandas or NumPy.  The relevance of sharing this is to stress the importance of continually reading, learning, and understanding as much as possible about your language of choice for a given application.

From the end user’s perspective, performance matters and everyone wants it “yesterday”.  So, the question is, “Do we code quickly and sacrifice performance or sacrifice delivery for quick code?  What would you do?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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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

Hanging from a thread – Lean Healthcare

A light blue ribbon is the symbol for prostate...
Image via Wikipedia

Background

It seems that Lean Healthcare is getting a lot of exposure here as of late.  I will qualify this by saying “in practice” rather than “name”.  The Toronto Star published yet another article, Sunnybrook cuts wait for prostate diagnosis down to 72 hours, that once again demonstrates that improvements can be made if we put our minds to it.

The Need to Change

The need to change is premised on this excerpt from the article:

“But after the needle biopsy . . . it was like my future was hanging from a thread. It was hell.”

And later …

“Men have waited too long,” says Dr. Robert Nam, a Sunnybrook uro-oncologist who is spearheading the accelerated prostate protocol.

“They wait two to three weeks. And two to three weeks knowing that they could have a live-altering disease is something to me that is not acceptable.”

Why – Beyond Reducing Wait Time

Aside from the emotional strain, hidden from view or otherwise, cancers are always best treated when they are detected early:

While many prostate cancers are slow-growing – some are left completely alone — others are aggressive and benefit from immediate treatment.

“There is a big misconception that prostate cancer is such a slow-growing disease that we don’t need to rush into anything,” Nam says.

How did they do it?

The goods news is that they already had a model to work from:

In a new program that mirrors one launched two years ago for rapid breast tumour diagnoses, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has now pledged to give men the results of prostate cancer biopsies within three days.

They also procured new equipment and found efficiencies in the way that results were processed:

The diagnostic acceleration will be accomplished mainly by “finding efficiencies” among hospital pathologists who examine the biopsied tissues and determine the presence and severity of the ailment. Nam says any priority shift in the hospital’s pathology department – which expects no staff increase — will not mean other forms of cancer get shorter shrift.

Room to Improve

As mentioned earlier, Sunnybrook had a surrogate model to follow but there is still room to improve:

Men will still have to wait three times longer for their results than women, who are promised a breast cancer diagnosis within a day of being biopsied.

It’s NOT about the money!

I share this information on the premise that we are continually reminded, at least here in Ontario, that we simply don’t have the resources or the funds to improve health care.  I become increasingly frustrated by the misconception of our government that we are already as efficient as we possibly can be.

“We made it cost neutral and . . . we did not jeopardize any other program within the pathology department,” he says.

I am thankful that Sunnybrook Hospital staff have demonstrated yet again that real opportunities for improvement can be made without incurring additional expense to the system.

It’s the Culture

The significance of the effort here is not just the idea itself but the culture that allows these ideas to flourish.  Sunnybrook Hospital clearly supports improvements from within and outside the hospital and is also quite eager to share them as evidenced in our previous post, Lean – Sunnybrook Doctors Benefit from Gaming Technology.

I am currently reading “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy N. Ogden where once again it is confirmed that Toyota’s culture is at the very core of it’s resilience and ability to adapt and change to meet the current crisis at hand. Clearly, the economic crisis we still find ourselves having to contend with is cause to pause and reflect on how we can indeed adapt and change to meet our every day challenges in our personal lives, business, industry, and governments alike.

There is much to be learned and so much more to be gained.  We must learn to watch and listen and at the very least acknowledge that there is always a better way.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Lean – Walk and Talk

Walk to Work Day
Image via Wikipedia

In my article “Waste:  The Devil is in the Details“, I discussed the importance of paying attention to the details.  From a company or personal perspective, the underlying theme to identify waste (or opportunity) is to be continually cognizant of what it is we’re doing and asking “Why?”

I have continually stressed the importance of conducting process reviews right where the action is.  It seems we’re not alone in this thinking and I thought it was quite fitting to share an e-mail I received from John Shook:

Dear Redge,

Decompressing now from last week’s Lean Transformation Summit in Dallas, there is much to reflect upon. We heard from four companies and experienced six learning sessions to explore the frontiers and fundamentals of lean transformation. And it is always exciting to get together with 440 like-minded, lean-thinking individuals.

Apologies again to the many of you weren’t able to attend since the event sold out so early. You should know, however, we do not plan to expand the size of the event in the future. We want to continue to limit it to a relatively intimate size to enable and encourage interaction, dialogue, debate, networking, and casual socializing.

I do have good news for those of you who missed the event. One highlight was the debut of Jim Womack’s new book, Gemba Walks, which is now available to you.

Many have asked what Jim has been up to since stepping down as CEO of LEI. The answer is that Jim has remained as busy as ever and, what’s more, now his letters are back, in different form. In Gemba Walks, Jim compiles many of his eLetters, written between 2001 and 2011. Gemba Walks is more than a mere compilation, however, with some new content and new commentary for each letter, edited and grouped by topic. As a reader, I can tell you that the experience of reading the letters in this new context is surprising, refreshing, enlightening, and, well, fun. It’s always an enjoyable romp to join Jim on a walk through a gemba and Gemba Walks provides the next best thing to being there.

These three principles of lean leadership are well-known: Go see, ask why, and show respect. You know that to “go see” is fundamental to all lean thinking and acting. But, what does that actually mean? How do we go see?”

Gemba Walks reveals how Jim’s thinking has evolved over time as a result of observing what happens as lean has taken root in companies around the world over time. New successes lead inevitably to new, and better problems, for lean practitioners. This book documents how companies are continuing to press forward.

In my foreword, I recall the first time I had a chance to visit a gemba with Jim, when I was still a Toyota employee:

“The first time I walked a gemba with Jim was on the plant floor of a Toyota supplier. Jim was already famous as the lead author of The Machine That Changed the World; I was the senior American manager at the Toyota Supplier Support Center. My Toyota colleagues and I were a bit nervous about showing our early efforts of implementing TPS at North American companies to “Dr. James P. Womack.” We had no idea of what to expect from this famous academic researcher.

“My boss was one of Toyota’s top TPS experts, Mr. Hajime Ohba. We rented a small airplane for the week so we could make the most of our time, walking the gemba of as many worksites as possible. As we entered the first supplier, walking through the shipping area, Mr. Ohba and I were taken aback as Jim immediately observed a work action that spurred a probing question. The supplier was producing components for several Toyota factories. They were preparing to ship the exact same component to two different destinations. Jim immediately noticed something curious. Furrowing his brow while confirming that the component in question was indeed exactly the same in each container, Jim asked why parts headed to Ontario were packed in small returnable containers, yet the same components to be shipped to California were in a large corrugated box. This was not the type of observation we expected of an academic visitor in 1993.

“Container size and configuration was the kind of simple (and seemingly trivial) matter that usually eluded scrutiny, but that could in reality cause unintended and highly unwanted consequences. It was exactly the kind of detail that we were encouraging our suppliers to focus on. In fact, at this supplier in particular, the different container configurations had recently been highlighted as a problem. And, in this case, the fault of the problem was not with the supplier but with the customer – Toyota! Different requirements from different worksites caused the supplier to pack off the production line in varying quantities (causing unnecessary variations in production runs), to prepare and hold varying packaging materials (costing money and floor space), and ultimately resulted in fluctuations in shipping and, therefore, production requirements. The trivial matter wasn’t as trivial as it seemed.

“We had not been on the floor two minutes when Jim raised this question. Most visitors would have been focused on the product, the technology, the scale of the operation, etc. Ohba-san looked at me and smiled, to say, ‘This might be fun.'” (Click here for a free pdf of the complete foreword.)

Fun it has been. Challenging it has been, too, but always full of learning. Fun and challenging learning it will no doubt continue to be.

I am often asked what book to recommend to start someone down the lean path. From now on, Gemba Walks will be that book. With an overview of tools and theory told through stories and explorations of real events, Gemba Walks invites readers to tackle problems on an immediate and personal level. In so doing, it gives courage for beginners to get started. And for veterans to keep going.

John

John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

Again it is worth noting the attention to detail.  I recall a number of occassions where I have challenged customers to address operational differences between facilities (not much different from the situation above).  I can say that Toyota was one of the few companies that listened and actually did something about it.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics