Category: Training

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
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Game On – Playing it Safe with Lean

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Communicating a concept or methodology in a manner that doesn’t offend the current status quo is likely the biggest challenge we face as lean practitioners and consultants.  In all too many instances it seems that people are open to change as long as someone else is doing the changing.

To diffuse opposition and resistance to change, it is essential that everyone understands the concern or problem, the solution, inherent expectations, and consequences of remaining the same. Our objective then is to create a safe, non-threatening environment where new ideas and concepts can be explored without undermining the current infrastructure or the people and departments involved.  There are a number of options available to do just that:

  • I personally like to use analogies and stories to convey concepts or ideas that exemplify methods or processes that can be adapted to address a current situation, opportunity, or concern.
    • This is ideal for sharing the company vision, top-level ideas, and philosophies that help to explain the overall strategic direction or mission under discussion or of concern. 
    • Stories and analogies create opportunities to expand our thinking processes  and to look outside the immediate scope of our current business interests and circumstances.
  • I also recommend targeted books and selected reading that allow individuals to learn and understand at their own pace. Classics books include “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox, “Velocity” by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland, and Jeff Cox , “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother, and The High Velocity Edge by Steven Spear.
    • Offering a list of recommended books for individual study is likely the least intrusive, however, participation cannot be assured and does not promote interaction among team members.
    • The reader learns the thinking processes and solutions as developed by the authors. 
  • Formal classroom or in-house training may also be effective, however, it can be costly and is inherently exclusive to the participants.  It is also difficult for non-participants to become as knowledgeable or proficient with the material without attending the course or training for themselves.
    • Outside training is inherently more generic in nature due to the diverse range of companies and individuals that are represented in the class.
    • In-house training can be more effective to address a specific concern, however, it’s true effectiveness is limited to the participants.
    • The concepts and thinking processes are developed and conveyed as prescriptive solutions.
  • Interactive simulations that allow teams to work together to solve problems or participate in non-invasive / non-intrusive tasks.
    • Class sizes remain small, however, the process is repeatable across multiple classes.
    • Concepts can be tested and developed without disrupting the “real world” processes.
    • Simulations are accelerated models representing real-world conditions.
    • Simulations can be conducted internally with limited resources and is easily duplicated.
    • Unlike the other methods above, the “solution” evolves with the team’s experience.
Of the methods presented above, I find that interactive simulations tend to be the most effective.  Lean Simulations, an increasingly popular website, has amassed a wealth of free lean games, videos, and other lean tools that make this a real possibility.
More specific to the purpose of our discussion here is a post titled “Seven Benefits of Teaching Lean with Simulations” that offers shared insights to the benefits of using Simulations to train and teach lean principles to our teams.
Having a method to explore new ideas and develop concepts is only one hurdle that needs to be addressed.  The next task is establishing the need for change itself and instilling the sense of urgency that is required to engage the team and accomplish the necessary improvements.
The Need For Improvement Drives Change

Change is synonymous with improvement and must be embraced by employees at all levels of the organization.  Change and improvements are also required to keep up with competitors and to avoid becoming obsolete.  From another perspective, it is a simple matter of continued sustainability and survival. In this context, we recognize that businesses today are confronted with uncompromising pressures from:

  • Customers expecting high quality products and services at competitive or reduced prices, and
  • Internal and external influences that are driving operating costs ever higher.  Some of these influences include increased taxes, rising utility costs such as electricity and fuel, increased wages and benefits, increased material costs, and volatile exchange rates.

An unfortunate and sad reality is that any realized cost savings or loss reductions are quickly absorbed by these ever-increasing costs of doing business.  As a result, many of the “savings” do not find their way to the bottom line as most of us have been conditioned to expect.  While many companies are quick to post “cost savings”, I am surprised at how few post the “cost increases” that negate or neutralize them.

Some manufacturers, such as automotive suppliers to the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), are expected to offer reduced prices year over year regardless of the current economic climate.  Unbelievably, “give backs” are expected for the full production life cycle of the vehicle and may even be extended to support service demand as well.  In today’s global economy, parts suppliers to the automotive OEM’s risk losing their business to competitors – especially those in low-cost labour countries – if attempts are made to increase prices.

My experience suggests that the best approach to establish a need for change is to work directly with the leadership and individual teams to understand and document the “current state” without bias or judgement. Our primary interest is to identify and assess “what is” and “what is not” working as supported by observations and objective evidence as gathered by the team.  To be very clear, this is not a desk audit. To understand what is really happening, an assessment can only be effective when it is conducted at the point of execution – the process itself.

We also need to understand the reasons why the current state exists as it does.  Is it the culture, system, processes, resources, resourcefulness,  training, methodologies, team dynamics, or some other internal or external influences? As a lean practitioner, I serve as a catalyst for change – helping leadership, teams, and individuals to see, learn, and appreciate for themselves what it means to be lean regarding culture, thinking, and best practices.

I believe that many lean initiatives fail for the simple reason that people have not been provided with a frame of reference or baseline (other than hearsay) that enables them to internalize what lean really means.

What’s Next?

The last thing we want to do is abandon current practices without having a sense of confidence that what we plan to do “in practice” will actually work. Secondly, we want to ensure that everyone understands the concept without jeopardizing current operations in the process.  As alluded to earlier, lean simulations allow us to do just that.

The main points of the article, “7 Benefits of Teaching Lean With Simulations“, as referenced earlier are summarized as follows:

  1. Simulations demonstrate lean principles in action,
  2. Games involve your audience,
  3. Games are perfect team building activities,
  4. Simulations are small and flexible,
  5. Games are confidence builders,
  6. Test real processes with simulations first,
  7. Give yourself a break.

Another benefit derived from simulations is that results are realized in a very short period of time due to the accelerated nature of the game.  As is often the case, real-time implementations may require days or even weeks before their effects are can be observed and felt within the organization.  Simulations can provide real world experiences without subjecting the company or the team to real world risks or consequences.

Finally, games allow participants to truly become involved in the process and present an opportunity to observe and assess team dynamics and individual strengths and weaknesses. A game is more than just an event. It is a memorable experience that involves all the senses, thinking processes, and emotions that engage the whole person.  To this extent the participants can and will internalize the concepts.  From this perspective, I say Game On …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics

Are you an Excel Hero?

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Background

Not too long ago, I was approached by a systems consultant to consider writing an Excel solution to create a weekly production schedule for one of his clients.  The reason for using Excel will become clearer in a moment.

The current process

Sales representatives submit a unique Excel spreadsheet / file for each customer order.  All orders are saved to a common subdirectory on the company server.  Every Monday, an administrator then opens each spreadsheet and extracts information for each individual order and manually enters the relevant data into a “master” spreadsheet.  After formatting the entries, the production schedule is then created.

In this case, the client was typically managing 200 to 250 unique orders per week and the time required to create the master spreadsheet could range anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.  Since the sales team was already acclimated to using Excel, the client was reluctant to consider an alternative order management process.

The Solution

I agreed to take a look at the application and after an hour of writing some Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) code, I produced a working model that automatically processed over 200 files and created a production schedule in less than 28 seconds!  I also provided functionality to allow access to each file directly from the master as well as a few other bells and whistles!

The client was impressed by (couldn’t believe) the results and, as with any successful effort, requested additional functionality that they also never thought was possible.

Could this be you?

Although Excel is by far one of the most popular spreadsheets on the market, it is perhaps still one of the most underutilized desktop application in business today.  Although I can only speculate, I think one of the reasons for this is the overwhelming thought of having to read an ever-growing volume of books having an ever-increasing number of pages with each new release.

I would also suggest that some of Excels functions such as pivot tables and look up capabilities are so powerful that people just assume they must be complicated when this really isn’t the case at all.  I can only suggest trying them before making a judgement.

While a number of Excel solutions exist in the form of templates ranging from very specific applications such as our free Excel templates for OEE to the more general and commonly used applications such as dashboards, there are many more applications where “canned” solutions just don’t exist.

Naturally, because many people have access to Excel, they find themselves creating their own solutions “on demand” as was the case with the production schedule above.

An even greater concern is the number of “orphan’ spreadsheets that exist outside the scope of any managed data infrastructure.  The danger here is that these solutions may unknowingly compromise the integrity of the current management system.

I contend that orphan solutions eventually become the hidden or “unknown” extension of the existing infrastructure and present a real opportunity yet to be uncovered by many organizations.

“Homegrown” Solutions

For cases where customization is required, someone in the organization is usually tasked with creating a spreadsheet solution.  Unfortunately, these same individuals are not necessarily as capable as we may first think.  I discussed this concern to some degree in Lean Office with Excel and VBA and also became a topic of discussion at Daily Dose of Excel’s Learn VBA to be Lean.

The result is often a solution that “appears” to meet the requirements – at least on paper.  I have found that these same spreadsheet solutions seldom take advantage of even the simplest functions that Excel has to offer including the most basic arithmetic functions such as SUM as suggested by the animated graphic that accompanies this post.

Although the articles referred to above focus on Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), there are many other very powerful functions that can be used to make better use of Excel’s functionality and increase it’s value in terms of providing effective and efficient solutions.

Getting the Knowledge

There are a number of ways to learn Excel ranging from formal training, reading books, and, of course, the internet.  Although I have been using spreadsheets since their inception, I still consider myself to be a student in many respects.

I recommend reading and working through at least one good general knowledge Excel book and one good introductory book on VBA such as Excel 2007 VBA Programming for Dummies or Excel 2007 Power Programming with VBA.  I have listed a number of recommended titles on our Excel Books page.

With a little knowledge in hand, I recommend visiting the sites that I have learned to trust as listed on our Websites (Excel) page.  Each of these sites present powerful solutions to many common problems.  They also offer full explanations and practical examples that you can use in your own spreadsheets.

Excel is best learned by doing.  Having an application to work on and exploring solutions that may be available to you can be a most rewarding experience.  This is especially true when they can be implemented and put to good use with immediate results.

Getting to Lean

Obviously all of this learning isn’t going to happen over night, however, you will be surprised how much can be learned in a relatively short period of time.  The time saved by creating a more efficient solution in many cases will offset much of the time spent learning.

The initial challenge is to determine what spreadsheets solutions are in existence and why.  The number may surprise you.  If your company has an IT department, I would task them with this assignment.

As demonstrated by the case study presented earlier, the hours saved can be significant.  The solution I created offers the added advantage of being able to refresh the production schedule at any time, in real-time.  In other words, it is now an everyday event, not just a “Monday” event.

Your skills will improve over time and with each application.  As you increase your learning, old solutions can be upgraded to reflect even more functionality adding even more value.  The more comfortable you become with Excel, the more useful it will be as a tool for data analysis in other areas of the company, including lean initiatives.

I continue to be surprised by the quality of solutions that some companies have created simply because they took the time to understand and learn more about Excel for themselves.  In some cases companies have hired outside support to help them in the process.

There are pros and cons for how spreadsheet solutions are developed and you should consider them as you look to develop your own solutions.  Of course you can always be the Excel Hero by taking the time to learn Excel for yourself.  The added benefit is how much more you may learn about other processes in your company.  Finally, you may just be surprised how in demand these skills are.

Speaking of hero’s, I recently added ExcelHero.com to our list of trusted sites and to Daniel Ferry’s credit, it also inspired the title of this post.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Lean: Beyond Reach!

Lean game production line
Image by Kerry Buckley via Flickr

Almost everything I read or learned suggests that lean was never intended to be complicated. The simplest definition of lean I have read to date follows:

Focus on what matters and eliminate what doesn’t

This is not to suggest that lean is easy. In actual practice I find that some companies have sufficiently compounded the definition of lean to exclude all but a select team of employees.

I contend that lean is an all inclusive initiative based on the simple premise that we can always find a better way.

As suggested by our definition of lean above, the ability to discern what matters from what doesn’t is the most fundamental step to any lean initiative.

As I discussed in “Discover Toyota’s Best Practice“, improvements are seldom the result of a single action or countermeasure. Rather, in the context of lean, innovations are the culmination of numerous improvement initiatives over time.

I become increasingly concerned where a lean culture is compromised by infrastructure, policies, systems, and procedures that inherently frustrate improvement initiatives.

This reflects one of my qualms with six sigma where an implied hierarchy is created by virtue of the “belt” or level that a person has achieved. The approach is intentionally “exclusive” by virtue of education, experience, and / or proven expertise. As such, people are inherently disqualified from the process.

Quite simply, don’t create an environment that alienates your team to the extent that lean is beyond reach by design.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter: @Versalytics

The Art of Deception – All Decisions are NOT Equal

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As I discussed in “What did you expect? Benchmarking and Decisions – For Better or Worse” we are confronted with decisions every day.  I even went so far as to suggest that an underlying benchmark is at the root of all decisions.  As you will soon find out, not all decisions are equal.

Most of us understand visual or optical illusions, however, I doubt that many of us are even aware of “cognitive” illusions.  Did you know that the manner in which data or material is presented to you may affect your decision in a predictable but not necessarily rational way?  Instinctively, we’re probably aware but not certain.

I watched an educational, yet entertaining, video featuring Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, where he asks, “Are we in control of our decisions?”  Dan’s presentation demonstrates that both optical (visual) and cognitive illusions do exist and may even deceive us into making predictable but not necessarily rational decisions.  If the video doesn’t appear below, you can click here:  Dan Ariely asks, “Are we in Control of our own decisions?”

I appreciate and certainly have a much better understanding of how deceptive illusions can be in our everyday decision making processes.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

Thinking Outside of the Box

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I am always intrigued to find evidence that supports the application of lean outside the realm of manufacturing.  This morning I was pleasantly surprised to find an article published by Bill Wake titled “Lean Manufacturing and Software” where Bill discusses software development from a lean perspective.  Even if you aren’t a programmer or software developer, the article offers some interesting insights and perspectives into a different application of lean principles.

Perhaps seeing this article should not come as a surprise to me.  Some time ago, I published “Lean Office with Excel and VBA” that was featured in an article on Daily Dose of Excel titled “Learn VBA to be Lean“.  Even more interesting were comments that included candid responses from some of the more well-known Excel guru’s including John Walkenbach, a renowned author of numerous books on Excel.

On another occasion, I attempted to demonstrate some basic lean tenets and Standardized Work in “22 Seconds to Burn – Excel VBA Teaches Lean Execution“.  Finally, “Lean Paralysis” makes reference to a simple software development decision to select a sorting algorithm.  When we consider the thousands of lines of code that comprise a software solution, it is noteworthy that each instruction is executed with a specific intent to present a solution to the user.

So, somehow it seems apropos to see an article on software development featured here.  On an even greater scale, this demonstrates unintended collaboration for the greater benefit of all.  Just as stories are an excellent way to communicate and teach new ideas, analogies and “surrogate” applications can also serve to help improve our current level of understanding.

We benefit from the software community where it becomes painfully clear that every instruction represents a step that brings us closer to the eventual solution.  The software development community benefits from lean to improve their software development process.

As I mentioned in “Lean – A race against time“, the application of lean has extended beyond the walls of manufacturing and is further demonstrated in “The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition” by author, and recipient of the Philip Crosby Medal, Steven J. Spear.  This book exemplifies how lean thinking has emerged in a diverse range of industries including health care, air lines, the US Navy, Automotive, Manufacturing, and Mining.  Even our own local governments are pursuing lean to improve government agencies and services.

I am impressed by what we can learn from others and look forward to learning more.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:   @Versalytics

Lean – A Race Against Time

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Background

If “Time is Money”, is it reasonable for us to consider that “Wasting Time is Wasting Money?”

Whether we are discussing customer service, health care, government services, or manufacturing – waste is often identified as one of the top concerns that must be addressed and ultimately eliminated.  As is often the case in most organizations, the next step is an attempt to define waste.  Although they are not the focus of our discussion, the commonly known “wastes” from a lean perspective are:

  • Over-Production
  • Inventory
  • Correction (Non-Conformance  – Quality)
  • Transportation
  • Motion
  • Over Processing
  • Waiting

Resourcefulness is another form of waste often added to this list and occurs when resources and talent are not utilized to work at their full potential.

Where did the Time go?

As a lean practitioner, I acknowledge these wastes exist but there must have been an underlying element of concern or thinking process that caused this list to be created.  In other words, lists don’t just appear, they are created for a reason.

As I pondered this list, I realized that the greatest single common denominator of each waste is TIME.  Again, from a lean perspective, TIME is the basis for measuring throughput.  As such, our Lean Journey is ultimately founded on our ability to reduce or eliminate the TIME required to produce a part or deliver a service.

As a non-renewable resource, we must learn to value time and use it effectively.  Again, as we review the list above, we can see that lost time is an inherent trait of each waste.  We can also see how this list extends beyond the realm of manufacturing.  TIME is a constant constraint that is indeed a challenge to manage even in our personal lives.

To efficiently do what is not required is NOT effective.

I consider Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) to be a key metric in manufacturing.  While it is possible to consider the three factors Availability, Performance, and Quality separately, in the context of this discussion, we can see that any impediment to throughput can be directly correlated to lost time.

To extend the concept in a more general sense, our objective is to provide our customers with a quality product or service in the shortest amount of time.  Waste is any impediment or roadblock that prevents us from achieving this objective.

Indirect Waste and Effectiveness

Indirect Waste (time) is best explained by way of example.  How many times have we heard, “I don’t understand this – we just finished training everybody!”  It is common for companies to provide training to teach new skills.  Similarly, when a problem occurs, one of the – too often used – corrective actions is “re-trained employee(s).”  Unfortunately, the results are not always what we expect.

Many companies seem content to use class test scores and instructor feedback to determine whether the training was effective while little consideration is given to developing skill competency.  If an employee cannot execute or demonstrate the skill successfully or competently, how effective was the training?  Recognizing that a learning curve may exist, some companies are inclined to dismiss incompetence but only for a limited time.

The company must discern between employee capability and quality of training.  In other words, the company must ensure that the quality of training provided will adequately prepare the employee to successfully perform the required tasks.  Either the training and / or method of delivery are not effective or the employee may simply lack the capability.  Let me qualify this last statement by saying that “playing the piano is not for everyone.”

Training effectiveness can only be measured by an employee’s demonstrated ability to apply their new knowledge or skill.

Time – Friend or Foe?

Lean tools are without doubt very useful and play a significant role in helping to carve out a lean strategy.  However, I am concerned that the tendency of many lean initiatives is to follow a prescribed strategy or formula.  This approach essentially creates a new box that in time will not be much different from the one we are trying to break out of.

An extension of this is the classification of wastes.  As identified here, the true waste is time.  Efforts to reduce or eliminate the time element from any process will undoubtedly result in cost savings.  However, the immediate focus of lean is not on cost reduction alone.

Global sourcing has assured that “TIME” can be purchased at reduced rates from low-cost labour countries.  While this practice may result in a “cost savings”, it does nothing to promote the cause of lean – we have simply outsourced our inefficiencies at reduced prices.  Numerous Canadian and US facilities continue to be closed as workers witness the exodus of jobs to foreign countries due to lower labor and operating costs. Electrolux closes facility in Webster City, Iowa.

I don’t know the origins of multi-tasking, but the very mention of it suggests that someone had “time on their hands.”  So remember, when you’re put on hold, driving to work, stuck in traffic, stopped at a light, sorting parts, waiting in line, sitting in the doctors office, watching commercials, or just looking for lost or misplaced items – your time is running out.

Is time a friend or foe?  I suggest the answer is both, as long as we spend it wisely (spelled effectively).  Be effective, be Lean, and stop wasting time.

Let the race begin:  Ready … Set … Go …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

Reality Undercover

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One of the few Reality TV programs I enjoy watching is Undercover Boss on CBS.  This program exemplifies all the reasons why it is so important for executive leadership and senior management to keep in touch with the front lines of the company.    As a lean practitioner I consider the culture of the company to be the defining difference between the success and failure of any improvement initiatives including lean, quality, or implementing new metrics to manage performance such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and Labour Efficiency.

Perhaps the greatest discovery that the CEO’s of these featured companies make is that it is the people behind the product that really define the company they work for.  While this may sound soft and far removed from what it really means to run a business, I contend that it is the very essence of what it means to make a company successful.  The latest Undercover Boss program featured Dennis R. Slagle, President and CEO of Mack Truck.  On one hand, the CEO’s learn some important and valuable lessons about the company and life in general.  On the other hand it is unfortunate that the these discoveries are based on the false premise of posing as a new employee competing for a position within the company.

An article featured on digtriad.com titled “Mack Trucks’ CEO Denny Slagle Featured on CBS’ Undercover Boss“, presents some behind the scenes details and insights from Slagle’s experience.  In Slagle’s words, “The show gave me a very deep understanding of what we do not only affects the employee and their families, but also affects their community.  Fortunately for many of us, we are able to routinely meet with our teams and employees – formally and informally.  The open door policy prevails in many companies today and many more CEO’s are beginning to appreciate that people are truly their greatest asset.

I have read and also recommend the book version of Undercover Boss by Stephen Lambert and Eli Holzman.  You can get your copy by clicking here:   Undercover Boss.  As of this writing, you can get a copy for only $2.41 plus Shipping & Handling.

In the spirit of this post – Happy Family Day Ontario!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Why Twitter?

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Background

You may be wondering what Twitter has to do with lean or anything even related to manufacturing.  While there may not be a direct correlation to Twitter, the fact that it is still relatively new gave me cause to reflect on what it means to introduce a new system or way of doing things in our organization.  I’m going to share what I learned and why I finally decided to join Twitter.

I find that analogies, like business novels, put everyone on the same page and collectively we are more likely to arrive at the same conclusion when we follow a common model.  In this case I am assuming that almost everyone is at least aware of Twitter and maybe after reading this will also become part of the Twitter community, also known as the twitterverse.

First Impressions

For the longest time I wondered what could be so exciting about Twitter.  In fact, I originally rendered it to be  just another internet craze that was sure to fade away.  Well that didn’t happen and as Twitter gained in popularity I became even more intrigued.  Admittedly I visited the Twitter.com website quite some time ago and my first impression was that Twitter is nothing more than an internet-sized chat room.

I also wondered how Twitter was supported since it is free to use and there is no advertising engine that intervenes with your messages – remember the original “free” e-mail or websites where advertising was added automatically.

Another restriction is that messages can only be 140 characters long.  How much can you possibly accomplish with such limited space?

And finally, I wondered how it was possible to manage the 1000’s of messages that could potentially be published on any day at any given time.

Resources

As with every decision there are two choices, Take it or Leave it.  Of course I could have dismissed Twitter to be nothing more than a distraction and decide to ignore it or, I could least try to understand what Twitter was all about and learn to appreciate why people are so excited about it.  My decision to learn more about Twitter was driven by it’s continued persistence, support, and accessibility through many of the applications that I am presently using.  Almost magically, Twitter buttons started to appear on web sites and blogs (much like this one) that allow you to instantly share information with other people in your network with a simple click.

I decided to Google the term “twitter” to see what I could learn from the top hits.  I also went to the public library and paid a visit to the local book store to see what tangible information was available.  The library had a number of books that served to whet my appetite for more.  I finally purchased a copy of twitter power 2.0 – How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a time – by Joel Comm.  Even if I used my iRewards card at the book store, I discovered that I could get a better deal at Amazon.  The retail price at the book store, before my iRewards discount, was $19.95 CDN / $16.95 US compared to Amazon’s price of $9.97 at the time of this writing.

Informed Decision

The book “twitter power” is equally relevant for beginner, novice, and more accomplished twitter users alike.  I learned that Twitter really is a simple communication tool that can help us in a variety of different ways:

  1. Twitter messages can be viewed as “headlines” or announcements that let your followers know what is going on in real time.
  2. Twitter messages can contain links to your or other websites.
  3. The limited message length keeps them focused on single topic (usually)
  4. Twitter can also serve as a two-way communication “chat” tool.
  5. Twitter enables you to access a wealth of potential experts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  6. Twitter is accessible through your mobile phone.
  7. Communication is instantaneous, life as it happens in real-time.
  8. You can use the search bar to find discussions or sources for specific topics of interest.
  9. You can ask for help and possibly receive an instant response from anyone around the globe (the book references some great examples of life saving help).
  10. Twitter is all about networking and connecting with people first and foremost.
  11. Twitter makes it extremely easy to grow your network by offering recommendations for people to follow
  12. Twitter provides a means to stay connected with the real world of life and business at the same time.
  13. It can be used as a tool to help generate earnings for any Internet Marketer.
  14. Provides a means to find and interact directly with other entrepreneurs in your field.
  15. Current topics that are trending  in twitter are constantly updated  in real-time.
  16. #HashTags can be used to mark or search for unique messages.
  17. The Application Program Interface (API) is documented and allows third party vendors to develop applications.
  18. Third party sites exist that provide additional functionality to Twitter’s limited tool set (http://www.twitpic.com/http://search.twitter.com/)
  19. You can use twitter to offer support for your business or service.
  20. Restrictive account access is possible that allows you to set up exclusive access to messages.
  21. You can even send pictures and view them on http://www.twitpic.com/

I selected “twitter power 2.0” as it covers all aspects of twitter from introduction to setting up your twitter page to ultimately learning how to use it with practical examples.  Other complementary support sites for twitter are also discussed.  I became a student of the twitter world and learned all I could about this simple, yet very powerful application.  The book has 260 pages so it took me a few days to get through it the first time.  It is not my intent to discuss the ins and outs of twitter in this post.  I would rather leave that task to Joel Comm, the author of the book.

Results

Twitter had much more to offer than I had first suspected and when I was duly informed, I decided to join.  Although I have only been active on Twitter for a very short period of time, I have been able to connect with people around the world.  I recall helping a person in Australia to resolve a customized formula for Excel, offering statistics advice to another person in the US, and helping yet another person in Canada with a research project.

The number of followers increases every day.  I have also learned that the Hash Tag #FF means FollowFriday and is sure to increase the number of people that follow you.  I have noticed a marked increase in the number of subscribers and visitors to our site as well as the number of files that have been downloaded from our Free Downloads page.  Twitter has proven itself to be a valuable tool even in the short period of time that I have been using it.

Conclusion:

So how does this apply to lean?  Although I am usually excited and optimistic about the latest and greatest technologies available there have been occasions where the return on learning time simply was not there.  Hopefully you recognized that my initial response to Twitter is likely very similar to how our employees respond to a NEW or different way of doing things.

We not only need to inform our teams of the direction we plan to take, we also need to make sure we provide an ample list of reasons for doing so accompanied by appropriate hands-on training to assure success.  A lot of companies are known to have their “flavor of the month” or “program of the day” where employees have learned to “tolerate” the new direction until management decides it’s not working as intended.

I contend that once employees understand why and how to execute the new strategy successfully, they will not only embrace it but find even more ways to improve it.  You will note that we also cited a few of the many available metrics that allowed me to confirm the impact and effectiveness of twitter.  It is equally important to provide our employees with meaningful metrics that demonstrate the desired achievements by using the NEW system or methods.

Perhaps the most notable of all is that twitter provides new learning opportunities every day.  I have been meeting some terrific new people through twitter who have already proven their value to the world and lean practices.  As collaboration and co-creation are gaining increasing support as a viable business model, twitter becomes a natural extension to this new environment.

It is also worth noting that twitter is being integrated into applications that I am already using.  For example, if you are signed up for twitter, it is a simple matter of clicking the twitter button below this post and sending the tweet to your network.  From my perspective, the most powerful features of twitter are:

  1. Simplicity – easy to use, quick learning curve.
  2. Information sharing with just a few simple clicks.
  3. Networking:  Access to real people in real time all the time – 24/7

You can follow me on twitter @versalytics

You can also visit our Twitter page that offers more information, resources, and free services to enhance your Twitter experience.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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

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Everyday Greatness

A thermometer showing −17°C.
Image via Wikipedia

Long nights, extreme snow falls, and sub-zero temperatures are demotivating stressors that can negatively affect employee morale at this time of year, especially during the month of January (Blue Monday).  To re-energize and motivate yourself and your teams, I recommend reading Everyday Greatness by Stephen Covey.  This book is filled with numerous stories, anecdotes, and quotes that are entertaining, inspirational, and timeless.

A culture that reflects the principles and core values as presented in Everyday Greatness is one that we all aspire to achieve.

I enjoyed reading Everyday Greatness and trust that you will too!

Until Next Time – STAY lean!


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