Category: Problem Solving

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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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

Lean Leadership: The Missing Link?

The TOYOTA wayI coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization.  In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish.  Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.

So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves.  These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way:  14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.

So where do we turn?

Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world.  This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.

I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.

A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere.  Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.

In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis.  As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”

As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.

Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed.  Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.

Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly.  “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership:  Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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Have you been Tweetjacked?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Whether or not you are on twitter, this post may seem a little out of place for a lean blog.  Rest assured that I’m still very focused on lean; however, twitter has been the source of a growing number of visitors to our site and I feel compelled to share my experiences and help to serve the twitter community.

Not too long ago, I learned a few valuable Twitter lessons and, in the spirit of lean, I decided to share them here.

  1. Twitter imposes limits on the number of accounts you can follow
    • 2000 and account dependent
    • 1000 maximum per day
  2. Tweets can be hijacked or, in twitter terms, #tweetjacked.
    • Link Jack – Your link is replaced by another potentially offending link.
    • Chat Jack – Someone disrupts a chat and attempts to change the topic.

Although a tweetjack may not appear to be quite as dramatic or newsworthy as a security breach on Facebook, Sony, or even Google, it could be.  As we have learned over the past few months, the effects of one single “controversial” tweet can be quite damaging even to the extent where careers are destroyed and lives are ruined.

At a minimum, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of potential threats and how to avoid them to protect our online reputation.  I will only focus on the Link Jack since Chat Jacks occur in real time and the offending account can be dealt with immediately, including blocking if necessary.

I will qualify this discussion by noting that “tweetjacking” as discussed here is a rare exception to my overall Twitter experience.  Twitter has enabled me to connect with many amazing people from around the world and the benefits of knowing them exceeds any of my expectations.

What happened?

In a strange, ironic way, lesson #1 and lesson #2 are actually related.  Lesson #1 was the reason for updating our Twitter – Tips, Tools, and Helpful Hints page.  Lesson #2 occurred after I posted the following tweet:

Original Tweet as Published

Once published, anyone on twitter can add or modify the message and retweet (RT) it to their followers. To avoid giving any further credence to the original “perpetrators”, I created the following retweet (RT) using my twitter account:

TweetJack Example

The Look of Innocence

At first glance, the RT above doesn’t appear to be that much different from the original. To the naive and unassuming, everything appears to be in tact with a few exceptions:

  • Added Text:
    • It is common for people to add a comment or #hashtag to your message.  This may be to reflect their own opinion or endorsement as a means to entice their followers to read it and click on the link.  In this case, “Lessons Learned” seems to be appropriate.
  • Truncated Message:
    • Messages that are longer than twitter’s maximum of 140 characters can be shortened using one of many services available such as bit.ly.  “deck.ly”, the default for TweetDeck was used to shorten the message in this case.
  • Link Jack:  Different URL (http://….)
    • Even if the message is not shortened, the link in your original message may be replaced altogether.  In our case, the link “wp.me/Pnmcq-tK” would simply be replaced by another link.  In our case, the link to my intended page was replaced by a link that led to a completely different web page.
  • Unknown Twitter Account
    • If you don’t recognize the Twitter Account that sent the RT, you may want to check that out too.  It is not uncommon for a “bot” to automatically retweet or RT messages containing specific #hashtags or key words.  For example, there is a “bot” that automatically retweets messages containing the word “Toronto”.

It is common for tweets of interest to be retweeted (RT) by others in the twitterverse.  Once a tweet is published, it is in full view of the public domain, including search engines like Google!

What can we do to protect our content?

Twitter is an open platform where we rely on the integrity of everyone in the twitterverse.  To my knowledge there is no way to protect your tweet from changes by others.  Perhaps an opportunity exists to “protect” the original tweet from being tampered or modified.  Until that time arrives, here is a short list of suggestions that may help:

  • Keep your tweets short
    • Others can retweet (RT) without having to “shorten” your message.
    • This makes it easy to compare the RT or retweeted message to the original
  • Verify content
    • Check the links in the messages you receive before retweeting them to your followers.
    • Don’t retweet a message simply because you recognize the account name!
    • Remember, with a link jack everything looks as it should – only the URL has been changed
  • Protect Yourself
    • Do not leave your twitter account unattended or “open”.
    • It is a simple matter for someone to create a tweet
  • Beware of hackers
    • They may have a vested interested your twitter account
    • Change your passwords frequently
    • Use OAuth to allow third party twitter services to access or your account
  • Beware of others
    • People may have a vested interest in your account as you gain more followers
    • People like to follow celebrities
  • Verify Your Followers / Accounts You Follow
    • Don’t follow accounts just because they follow you!
    • Validate your followers
      • Don’t rely on services like http://truetwit.com
      • Verify Age of Account
      • Number of Tweets
      • Last Tweet
      • Frequency of Tweets
      • Tweet Content
      • Number Followed / Following
    • Block Unwanted accounts
  • Report Violations

In conclusion

Establishing an online presence and meeting new people can be challenging for anyone, including business. Is the content reliable? Is the source credible? Who can you trust? Who can you believe?  In the online world we simply don’t have the luxury of saying “time will tell” and more often than not, we learn that our “interests” have been compromised after the fact.

At the very least, be aware that tweetjacking could happen to you.  As you become more popular in the twitterverse, some people may take advantage of your account to serve their best interests only.  Rest assured I won’t be one of them.

Have you experienced tweet jacking? Feel free to share or comment on your experience.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Sharp Minds – On the Cutting Edge or the Cutting Board?

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
Image via Wikipedia

I continue to be frustrated by the notion that the only way to reduce spending is by cutting services.  While the demand for change is high, few are willing to challenge tradition and conventional thinking to improve services and increase efficiencies that will enable us to do more with less, find new opportunities, and to create jobs instead of eliminating them.

On a global level, governments continue to grapple with increasing economic pressures brought on by the recession. Rather than demonstrating fiscal restraint however, governments have grown and spending has increased at rates that far exceed that of the public sector. The result is an unsustainable government and services that will either be cut or funded through newly created revenue streams.

Rather than challenging the infrastructure and systems that comprise the delivery of these services, the governments scramble to find new ways to reach further into our pockets to pay for inefficiencies, high paid union labour, and questionable entitlements.  In some instances, services have been abandoned only to be properly managed by the private sector.

For example, when we consider the delivery of health care in Canada, we find a system plagued by excessive wait times and ever rising costs.  Doctors and specialists continue to operate as a fragmented community of service providers, adding layers of bureaucracy, greater inefficiencies, and more cost.

These inefficiencies are further evidenced by patients who are sent into a frenzied schedule of appointments and tests in various locations without regard for the many inconveniences and disruptions they may incur in their personal lives.

On the other hand, emergency rooms do not present the same constraints and, though some waiting may be required, patients are examined and assessed immediately, a prognosis is determined, priorities are established, and resources are made available on demand as required.

Expedience does not jeopardize the level of care provided.  While the emergency room may not present the ideal case, it is radically different from “standard” care.

In stark contrast to the government-political processes that continue to insult our intelligence, I am always encouraged by the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of individuals who prove that there is always a better way and more than one solution:

Where do we start?

The quicker we realize that truly radical changes are necessary, the sooner we can abandon traditional cost cutting practices and apply Lean Thinking to improve society as we know it, not cut it to shreds.  My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:

Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.

As every lean practitioner will tell you, the process begins by defining value.  Unfortunately, many governments and companies alike start by falsely assuming that they are already providing the value that customers want or need.  As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:

“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”

In this same context, consider how our desire to “travel from Point A to Point B in the shortest time” has evolved and transformed our personal modes of transportation / communication into the following “value” propositions:

  • Personal:  Crawl > Walk > Run > Tricycle > Bicycle
  • Roadways:  Bicycle, Motorcycles, Cars, Buses
  • Railways:  Passenger and Freight Trains
  • Seaways:  Boats, Ships
  • Airways:  Helicopters, Planes, Jets, Rockets
  • Telephone:  Phones, Faxes, Internet (email, social media)

Each mode of transportation presents a unique solution to address a shared common value:  “Short Travel Time”.  Although changing technologies is inferred, lean does not require an investment in new technologies to be successful.  To the contrary, Lean Thinking simply challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding.  Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Only when we focus on “value” from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customer’s needs.  When we consider the premise for this example, the need to travel is implied.  It does not answer the question “Why do we travel?

If the reason for traveling is simply to “communicate” with friends and family, then we can see that the telephone becomes a viable solution to eliminate the need to travel at all.  From a similar perspective, fax machines and the internet were created to expedite data transfers and to communicate with the world in real-time.

The Challenge is On

It is time for all levels of government, business, unions, and society as a whole to acknowledge that our economy is in a state of crisis and demands real action. Real people are hurting at a time when others are pursuing their own agendas for self-preservation – all at the expense of society.  We can not simply assume that everything is “just fine – only more expensive”.

Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market.  In this regard, the same challenges exist for governments and businesses alike to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value to the people they serve at prices we can all afford.

The Globe And Mail featured an article titled “ What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally – Globe And Mail” href=”http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/manufacturing/what-ottawa-can-do-to-help-manufacturers-excel-globally/article2060854/” target=”_blank”>What Ottawa can do to help manufacturers excel globally” that cites feedback for improvements from manufacturers and businesses in various industries. Unemployment in the United States is hovering at 9% and, as this video “Focus On Jobs or Spending Cuts” demonstrates, the challenge to deliver new jobs is also in jeopardy.

Unless government spending is brought under control and services are delivered effectively and efficiently, the system is sure to implode.  It’s time for an extreme make over, engaging the best and sharpest minds to bring us to the cutting edge in business and technology, not to the cutting board where nothing remains but shattered hopes and dreams.

Your Feedback Matters

We appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Remember to follow us on twitter!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
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Lean Healthcare – Sunnybrook Surgeons given a hands-off way to Kinect

Kinect for Xbox 360 logo
Image via Wikipedia

An article in today’s Toronto Star titled “Surgeons given a hands-off way to Kinect” clearly demonstrates how improvements can be realized in our work environment.  One of the concerns in the operating room is maintaining a sterile field during surgery.  Doctors cannot physically touch any devices away from the sterile field for fear of breaking it and have only 1 of 2 choices if they need to review MRI’s or CT scans:

  1. Scrub in and out every time, which according to the article can add up to two (2) hours per surgery, or
  2. Hire an assistant to page through the records for them.

In the search for a better way, Matt Strickland, a first year surgical resident at the University of Toronto and electrical engineer, and Jamie Tremaine, a mechatronics engineer, who both studied engineering at the University of Waterloo, joined forces to help solve this problem.  Together, they devised a system using the XBox Kinect with the help of Greg Brigley, a computer engineer and also a University of Waterloo graduate.

Using their technology, doctors can now scroll through as many as 4,000 documents using simple hand motions, literally integrating access to information into the surgical process without jeopardizing the sterile field.

Why is this significant?

Matt Strickland was the assistant providing the necessary “documents” to the doctors performing the surgery.  This is a very impressive application of thinking outside of the box.  I highly encourage you to read the article.  Serendipity is seldom the source of repeatable innovations, however, in this instance we’ll take it just the same.

This example demonstrates another reason to include everyone in the problem solving process and also reaffirms that there is always a better way.  You just don’t know where your next solution will find its roots.

On a final note, I have to wonder if the creators of XBox even considered this application!

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