Tag: Business

Desk Jockey Leaders – Where Did That Come From?

desk jockey
desk jockey (Photo credit: notorious d.a.v.)

The inspiration that tipped the scales and served as a motivator to write about Desk Jockey “Leaders” came from a headline that appeared on the front page of Friday’s edition of the Toronto Sun (October 25, 2013):

“Despite $862M repair backlog, housing boss says: I need a bigger office! – Keeping Up With the Jones – TCHC Eyes $2-Million Reno to Rosedale HQ”

I would like to think that when people are struggling to survive with the most basic necessities of daily living, renovating the offices of the very corporation that’s helping them would be the last thing on everyone’s mind.

At least one city councillor echoed the voice of reason stating, “I don’t think it’s something we can justify to either the taxpayer of the City of Toronto or our tenant base.” I’m certain this statement also resonates with most people who read the accompanying article.

The CEO of the TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) suggested that a more professional environment would be more appealing to visitors and tenants and a larger office could be used to host meetings.

I would suggest that focusing on the purpose of the corporation’s existence is first and foremost. Could it be that some people have decided to make a career out of an ever-growing problem that should never have risen to the scope and scale that it has

Whatever hardships the CEO and fellow TCHC employees must endure to perform their work could hardly compare to the conditions that the tenants must live with each and every day.

What could make this any worse? Knowing that our Liberal government wasted $1.1 Billion to cancel the construction of two gas plants – a decision that was sure to win them a few more seats in the last provincial election. No one is accountable and no one is responsible. Unfortunately, the one’s who suffer most are the taxpayers who fund it all.

As I complete this follow-up, there is some good news. The CEO of the TCHC has withdrawn the motion to renovate their headquarters. Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Two of my greatest pet peeves are working with people who 1) attempt to manage everything behind their desk , and 2) believe meetings are the answer to resolve everything else that can’t. This article presented a CEO who was planning to do both – in the same office!

As many quickly discover, being a desk jockey “leader” simply just doesn’t work.

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Desk Jockey “Leaders”

English: A desk in an office.
English: A desk in an office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Behind The Desk

For some people, being bound to a desk is an inherent and perhaps unfortunate part of the work they do. But, the last place I would expect to find a lean leader is sitting behind their desk.

I recognize the need for an office and understand that managing a business does require some desk time. However, it’s amazing how some “leaders” think that that’s what it takes to run a business. If you started and run your own business, you know otherwise.

To be in touch with your business is to spend time on the front lines, with your customers,  walking the floor, and simply being with your team – not just when you think they need you. Personally, I like to see and understand what is happening directly at the source. This is not to suggest that we interfere with the normal flow of operations or bypass the hierarchy of people who are running the operation. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn what is going on first hand so we can have a meaningful discussion to make improvements or to resolve any concerns as they arise.

The Desk Jockey

Desk Jockeys, on the other hand, rely on the steady stream of paper flowing through their office, looking for discrepancies or anomalies that don’t align with their expectations. Upon discovery, desk jockeys call the responsible person or persons to their office and proceed to explain the problem and offer solutions to them without really knowing what happened.

Desk Setup June 2009
Desk Setup June 2009 (Photo credit: Trevor Manternach)

If there isn’t enough paper already, desk jockey leaders have a niche for creating more. Attempts to justify their reasons for doing so further exposes their lack of knowledge on what it means to really manage and lead their teams.

We can’t assume the system is working simply because the paperwork is correctly completed. If the system is working, does that mean the physical process is working correctly too? Furthermore, could it be that the system itself is fundamentally flawed to begin with?

No Accident

Of course, desk jockey “leaders” didn’t get their titles by accident. They have a wealth of experience – at least that’s what they tell me – that brought them to their current level of success. It’s interesting to note that I hear this more from “first time” leaders who, sooner or later, learn why it may also be their “last time” leading.

A desk Jockey may also be a “know it all” or “know about”, leaving their teams to suffer and sweat through the issues so they can fend and “learn for themselves”. Almost as though rising to the challenge will make them stronger in the long run. I can picture the analogy well – the baby chick breaking out of its shell to discover the world because to help the chick is to make it weaker than those that did it for themselves.

It’s Just NOT Lean

Desk jockey “leaders” are not fully engaged with the reality that exists within their business. If you’re wondering why morale is low and your team is not engaged, it’s very likely that you’re not engaged with them. Strangely, desk jockeys share the same frustrations as their teams. They just don’t know it.

If you’re an expert, share your knowledge and skills. If you’re not, then you have all the more reason to get out from behind the desk and learn. Having the right answers isn’t going to solve all of your problems but asking the right questions will certainly help to bring you closer.

If our mission is “To deliver the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost in the shortest amount of time”, then writing reports for quality deficiencies, cost overruns, or missed deliveries is a strong indication that a problem exists – not behind the desk, but in the operation itself. Meetings and reports are best replaced by real hands on root cause analysis and problem solving that is only effective at the source.

Cell phones, tablets, laptops and other technologies make it possible to conduct business from wherever you are. Run your business from the place that matters most, not your desk. As for me, if I spend 10% of my time in the office, I’ve been there far too long.

Your feedback matters

If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or email us at LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

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Leadership – Get Thirsty …

Horses drinking from a fountain in Central Park
Horses drinking from a fountain in Central Park (Photo credit: tiseb)

We are likely to find as many definitions for leadership as there are leaders. I recently downloaded an excellent app titled “Leadership Development” from Apple’s App Store and this definition of leadership was presented in one of the many videos:

“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.”

ADP 6-22

While the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” may be true for some, true leaders recognize and understand the value of making the horse thirsty enough to want to drink on his own.

Your feedback matters

If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or by sending an email to LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

English: John leading Lean and Mean
English: John leading Lean and Mean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since we started blogging here on WordPress! We would like to thank our many subscribers and visitors for your many e-mails and comments, making this a fulfilling learning experience for all of us.

This blog was originally founded on the premise that very little information was available on the topic of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) with the exception of the most basic formula and it’s application for single machine operations. We advanced the application of OEE over numerous posts to include multiple machines, parts, shifts, divisions, and even corporate level reporting. We have also maintained that the intent of OEE is to serve as a tool to drive continuous improvements in your operations.

When integrated correctly, OEE provides feedback to operations management that enables further improvements to occur. From this perspective, leadership that empowers employees to implement improvements is a pre-requisite for manufacturing operations wanting to gain the most from their OEE initiative. In this regard, leadership recognizes and embraces lean thinking and instills lean principles throughout the organization. Where lean serves as the overarching strategy, OEE is an integral key performance indicator (KPI) that enables continuous improvements to occur.

We recognized that our initial offerings would serve and be of interest to a niche audience, however, after four years it is exciting to see that we have received more than 100,000 visitors from over 150 countries. The top 10 countries driving visits to our site – to date – are:

Country  Rank
United States FlagUnited States      1
India FlagIndia      2
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom      3
Canada FlagCanada      4
Malaysia FlagMalaysia      5
Australia FlagAustralia      6
Germany FlagGermany      7
Philippines FlagPhilippines      8
Mexico FlagMexico      9
Brazil FlagBrazil     10

We are thankful for the feedback we have received and for the many people who have taken the time to express their thoughts and share their gratitude either in the comments or by the many e-mails we have received from around the world. Social media have certainly played a role in expanding our scope and our reach. We look forward to continuing our journey with you.

“Our goal is to deliver the highest quality product or service in the shortest amount of time at competitive prices on time and in full.”

“There’s always a better way and more than one solution”

“What you see is how we think”

Thanks again for reading and, to our US friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Until Next Time – STAY lean

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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!

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Sustainability or Meltdown?

Created in Photoshop, based on "Sustainab...
Image via Wikipedia

For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.

The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered.  How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.

I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.  I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.

Sustainability requires us to continually and rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment.  In this context I again find myself turning to the wisdom of Toyota.  “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence To Achieve Superior Performance” by Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz is one such resource that is the most recent addition to my library of recommended lean reading and learning.

The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable.  Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.

We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide.  As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward.  We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.

Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality.  Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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Vergence Analytics

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

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
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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!

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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

What did you expect? Benchmarking and Decisions – for better or worse.

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What did you expect?

Benchmarking & Decisions – for better or worse

I recognize that benchmarking is not a new concept.  In business, we have learned to appreciate the value of benchmarking at the “macro level” through our deliberate attempts to establish a relative measure of performance, improvement, and even for competitor analysis.  Advertisers often use benchmarking as an integral component of their marketing strategy.

The discussion that follows will focus on the significance of benchmarking at the “micro level” – the application of benchmarking in our everyday decision processes.  In this context, “micro benchmarking” is a skill that we all possess and often take for granted – it is second nature to us.  I would even go so far as to suggest that some decisions are autonomous.

With this in mind, I intend to take a slightly different, although general, approach to introduce the concept of “micro benchmarking”.  I also contend that “micro benchmarking” can be used to introduce a new level of accountability to your organization.

Human Resources – The Art of Deception
Interviews and Border Crossing

Micro benchmarking can literally occur “in the moment.”  The interview process is one example where “micro benchmarking” frequently occurs.  I recently read an article titled, “Reading people: Signs border guards look for to spot deception“, and made particular note of the following advice to border crossing agents (emphasis added):

Find out about the person and establish their base-line behavior by asking about their commute in, their travel interests, etc. Note their body language during this stage as it is their norm against which all ensuing body language will be compared.

The interview process, whether for a job or crossing the border, represents one example where major (even life changing) decisions are made on the basis of very limited information.  As suggested in the article, one of the criteria is “relative change in behavior” from the norm established at the first greeting.  Although the person conducting a job interview may have more than just “body language” to work with, one of the objectives of the interview is to discern the truth – facts from fiction.

Obviously, the decision to permit entry into the country, or to hire someone, may have dire consequences, not only for the applicant, but also for you, your company, and even the country.  Our ability to benchmark at the micro level may be one of the more significant discriminating factors whereby our decisions are formulated.

Decisions – For Better or Worse:

Every decision we make in our lives is accompanied by some form of benchmarking.  While this statement may seem to be an over-generalization, let’s consider how decisions are actually made.  It is a common practice to “weigh our options” before making the final decision.  I suggest that every decision we make is rooted against some form of benchmarking exercise.  The decision process itself considers available inputs and potential outcomes (consequences):

  1. Better – Worse
  2. Pro’s – Con’s
  3. Advantages – Disadvantages
  4. Life – Death
  5. Success – Failure
  6. Safe – Risk

Decisions are usually intended to yield the best of all possible outcomes and, as suggested by the very short list above, they are based on “relative advantage” or “consequential” thinking processes.  At the heart of each of these decisions is a base line reference or “benchmark” whereby a good or presumably “correct” decision can be made.

We have been conditioned to believe (religion / teachings) and think (parents / education / social media / music) certain thoughts.  These “belief systems” or perceived “truths” serve as filters, in essence forming the base line or “benchmark” by which our thoughts, and hence our decisions, are processed.  Every word we read or hear is filtered against these “micro level” benchmarks.

I recognize that many other influences and factors exist but, suffice it to say, they are still based on a relative benchmark.  Unpopular decisions are just one example where social influences are heavily considered and weighed.  How many times have we heard, “The best decisions are not always popular ones.”  Politicians are known to make the tough and not so popular decisions early on in their term and rely on a waning public memory as the next election approaches – time heals all wounds but the scars remain.

Decisions – Measuring Outcomes

As alluded to in the last paragraph, our decision process may be biased as we consider the potential “reactions” or responses that may result.  Politics is rife with “poll” data that somehow sway the decisions that are made.  In a similar manner, substantially fewer issues of value are resolved in an election year for fear of a negative voter response.

In essence there are two primary outcomes to every decision, Reactions and Results.  The results of a decision are self-explanatory but may be classified as summarized below.

  1. Reactions – Noise (Social Aspects)
    • supporters
    • detractors
    • resistors
  2. Results – performance, data, facts (Business Aspects)
    • worse than expected (negative)
    • as expected (neutral)
    • better than expected (positive

Accountability

If you are still with me, I suggest that at least two levels of accountability exist:

  1. The process used to arrive at the decision
  2. The results of the decision

In corporations, large and small, executives are often held to account for worse than expected (negative) performance, where results are the primary – and seemingly only – focus of discussion.  I contend that positive results that exceed expectations should be subject to the same, if not higher, level of scrutiny.

Better and worse than expected results are both indicative of a lack of understanding or full comprehension of the process or system and as such present an opportunity for greater learning.  Predicting outcomes or results is a fundamental requirement and best practice where accountability is an inherent characteristic of company culture.

Toyota is notorious for continually deferring to the most basic measurement model:  Planned versus Actual.  Although positive (better than expected) results are more readily accepted than negative (worse than expected) results, both impact the business:

  • Better than expected:
    • Other potential investments may have been deferred based on the planned return on investment.
    • Financial statements are understated and affects other business aspects and transactions.
    • Decision model / process does not fully describe / consider all aspects to formulate planned / predictable results
      • Decision process to yield actual results cannot be duplicated unless lessons learned are pursued, understood, and the model is updated.
  • Worse than expected:
    • Poor / lower than expected return on investment
    • Extended financial obligations
    • Negative impact to cash flow / available cash
    • Lower stakeholder confidence for future investments
    • Decision model / process does not fully describe / consider all aspects to formulate planned / predictable results
      • Decision process will be duplicated unless lessons learned are pursued, understood, and the model is updated.

The second level of accountability and perhaps the most important concerns the process or decision model used to arrive at the decision.  In either case we want to discern between informed decisions, “educated guesses”, “wishful thinking”, or willful neglect.  We can see that individual and system / process level accountabilities exist.

The ultimate objective is to understand “what we were thinking” so we can repeat our successes without repeating our mistakes.  This seems to be a reasonable expectation and is a best practice for learning organizations.

Some companies are very quick to assign “blame” to individuals regardless of the reason for failure.  These situations can become very volatile and once again are best exemplified in the realm of politics.  There tends to be more leniency for individuals where policies or protocol has been followed.  If the system is broken, it is difficult to hold individuals to account.

The Accountability Solution – Show Your Work!

So, who is accountable?  Before you answer that, consider a person who used a decision model and the results were worse than the model predicted.  From a system point of view the person followed standard company protocol.  Now consider a person who did not use the model, knowing it was flawed, and the results were better than expected.  Both “failures” have their root in the same fundamental decision model.

The accountabilities introduced here however are somewhat different. The person following protocol has a traceable failure path.  In the latter case, the person introduced a new “untraceable” method – unless of course the person noted and advised of the flawed model before and not after the fact.

Toyota is one of the few companies I have worked with where documentation and attention to detail are paramount.  As another example, standardized work is not intended to serve as a rigid set of instructions that can never be changed. To the contrary, changes are permissible, however, the current state is the benchmark by which future performance is measured and proven.  The documentation serves as a tangible record to account for any changes made, for better or worse.

Throughout high school and college, we were always encouraged to “show our work”.  Some courses offered partial marks for the method although the final answer may have been wrong.  The opportunities for learning here however are greater than simply determining the student’s comprehension of the subject material.  To the contrary, it also offers an opportunity for the teacher to understand why the student failed to comprehend the subject matter and to determine whether the method used to teach the material could be improved.

Showing the work also demonstrates where the process break down occurred.  A wrong answer could have been due to a complete misunderstanding of the material or the result of a simple mis-entry on a calculator.  Why and how we make our decisions is just as important to understanding our expectations.

In conclusion

While the latter situations may be more typical of a macro level benchmark, I suggest that similar checks and balances occur even at the micro level.  As mentioned in the premise, some decisions may even be autonomous (snap decisions).   Examples of these decisions are public statements that all too often require an apology after the fact.  The sentiments for doing so usually include, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was thinking.”  I am always amazed to learn that we may even fail to keep ourselves informed of what we’re thinking sometimes.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

Integrated Waste: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

shampoo
Image via Wikipedia

Admittedly, it has been a while since I checked a shampoo bottle for directions, however, I do recall a time in my life reading:  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  Curiously, they don’t say when or how many times the process needs to be repeated.

Perhaps someone can educate me as to why it is necessary to repeat the process at all – other than “daily”.  I also note that this is the only domestic “washing” process that requires repeating the exact same steps.  Hands, bodies, dishes, cars, laundry, floors, and even pets are typically washed only once per occasion.

The intent of this post is not to debate the effectiveness of shampoo or to determine whether this is just a marketing scheme to sell more product.  The point of the example is this:  simply following the process as defined is, in my opinion, inherently wasteful of product, water, and time – literally, money down the drain.

Some shampoo companies may have changed the final step in the process to “repeat as necessary” but that still presents a degree of uncertainty and assures that exceptions to the new standard process of “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat as Necessary” are likely to occur.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, new 2-in-1 and even 3-in-1 products are available on the market today that serve as the complete “shower solution” in one bottle.  As these are also my products of choice, I can advise that these products do not include directions for use.

Scratching the Surface

As lean practitioners, we need to position ourselves to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo.  This includes the manner in which processes and tasks are executed.  In other words, we not only need to assess what is happening, we also need to understand why and how.

One of the reasons I am concerned with process audits is that conformance to the prescribed systems, procedures, or “Standard Work” somehow suggests that operations are efficient and effective.  In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

To compound matters, in cases where non-conformances are identified, often times the team is too eager to fix (“patch”) the immediate process without considering the implications to the system as a whole.  I present an example of this in the next section.

The only hint of encouragement that satisfactory audits offer is this: “People will perform the tasks as directed by the standard work – whether it is correct or not.”  Of course this assumes that procedures were based on people performing the work as designed or intended as opposed to documenting existing habits and behaviors to assure conformance.

Examining current systems and procedures at the process level only serves to scratch the surface.  First hand process reviews are an absolute necessity to identify opportunities for improvement and must consider the system or process as a whole as you will see in the following example.

Manufacturing – Another Example

On one occasion, I was facilitating a preparatory “process walk” with the management team of a parts manufacturer.  As we visited each step of the process, we observed the team members while they worked and listened intently as they described what they do.

As we were nearing the end of the walk through, I noted that one of the last process steps was “Certification”, where parts are subject to 100% inspection and rework / repair as required.  After being certified, the parts were placed into a container marked “100% Certified” then sent to the warehouse – ready for shipping to the customer.

When I asked about the certification process, I was advised that:  “We’ve always had problems with these parts and, whenever the customer complained, we had to certify them all 100% … ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ … so we moved the inspection into the line to make sure everything was good before it went in the box.”

Sadly, when I asked how long they’ve been running like this, the answer was no different from the ones I’ve heard so many times before:  “Years”.  So, because of past customer problems and the failure to identify true root causes and implement permanent corrective actions to resolve the issues, this manufacturer decided to absorb the “waste” into the “normal” production process and make it an integral part of the “standard operating procedure.”

To be clear, just when you thought I picked any easy one, the real problem is not the certification process.  To the contrary, the real problem is in the “… ‘technical debate and more process intensive discussions followed here’ …” portion of the response.  Simply asking about the certification requirement was scratching the surface.  We need to …

Get Below the Surface

I have always said that the quality of a product is only as good as the process that makes it.  So, as expected, the process is usually where we find the real opportunities to improve.  From the manufacturing example above, we clearly had a bigger problem to contend with than simply “sorting and certifying” parts.  On a broader scale, the problems I personally faced were two-fold:

  1. The actual manufacturing processes with their inherent quality issues and,
  2. The Team’s seemingly firm stance that the processes couldn’t be improved.

After some discussion and more debate, we agreed to develop a process improvement strategy.  Working with the team, we created a detailed process flow and Value Stream Map of the current process.  We then developed a Value Stream Map of the Ideal State process.  Although we did identify other opportunities to improve, it is important to note that the ideal state did not include “certification”.

I worked with the team to facilitate a series of problem solving workshops where we identified and confirmed root causes, conducted experiments, performed statistical analyses, developed / verified solutions, implemented permanent corrective actions, completed detailed process reviews and conducted time studies.  Over the course of 6 months, progressive / incremental process improvements were made and ultimately the “certification” step was eliminated from the process.

We continued to review and improve other aspects of the process, supporting systems, and infrastructure as well including, but not limited to:  materials planning and logistics, purchasing, scheduling, inventory controls, part storage, preventive maintenance, redefined and refined process controls, all supported by documented work instructions as required.  We also evaluated key performance indicators.  Some were eliminated while new ones, such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness, were introduced.

Summary

Some of the tooling changes to achieve the planned / desired results were extensive.  One new tool was required while major and minor changes were required on others.  The real tangible cost savings were very significant and offset the investment / expense many times over.  In this case, we were fortunate that new jobs being launched at the plant could absorb the displaced labor resulting from the improvements made.

Every aspect of the process demonstrated improved performance and ultimately increased throughput.  The final proof of success was also reflected on the bottom line.  In time, other key performance indicators reflected major improvements as well, including quality (low single digit defective parts per million, significantly reduced scrap and rework), increased Overall Equipment Effectiveness (Availability, Performance, and Quality), increased inventory turns, improved delivery performance (100% on time – in full), reduced overtime,  and more importantly – improved morale.

Conclusion

I have managed many successful turnarounds in manufacturing over the course of my career and, although the problems we face are often unique, the challenge remains the same:  to continually improve throughput by eliminating non-value added waste.  Of course, none of this is possible without the support of senior management and full cooperation of the team.

While it is great to see plants that are clean and organized, be forewarned that looks can be deceiving.  What we perceive may be far from efficient or effective.  In the end, the proof of wisdom is in the result.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics