Tag: PDCA

Transition Versus Change – 2013

Change Management
Change Management (Photo credit: larry_odebrecht)

The time between Christmas and New Year’s eve is one of transition as we consider the events that occurred over the past year and prepare for the new year ahead. Experts are sure to present their annual summaries and will also attempt to “predict” what may be in store for us in the year to come. As lean leaders we also recognize the necessity to make and take the time for introspection and hansei (reflection).

Lean is by definition a perpetual transition from the current state to an ideal future state as we understand it. As our culture and technologies evolve, we continue to open doors to more opportunities and perhaps an even greater potential than first imagined. As such, we seek to advance our understanding as we pursue our vision of lean and it’s scope of application.

Lean is often described as a journey. While the vision is clearly defined, the means for achieving it continue to evolve and, as we’ve stated many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From a lean perspective, the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle challenges us to consider every change as a temporary state where each subsequent iteration ultimately brings us closer to realizing our vision.

Recognizing that we are in a continual state of transition should give us cause to embrace the ideology that the nature of change can only be viewed as a temporary condition. True resistance to change should only occur when the vision itself is compromised. Similarly, the absence of a clear vision is also cause for resistance. We contend that where the purpose or vision remains constant, the means or the methods of achieving it – incremental or disruptive – are more readily adopted.

The “Change Curve” presented in the diagram above clearly suggests that the commitment to change progresses from Leadership to Change Agents and finally to the End Users with each “group” requiring an increasing span of time to absorb and embrace the change accordingly. A potential for frustration and resistance to change occurs when the next iteration is introduced before the change that precedes it has been adopted and “experienced”. For this same reason and as suggested in our post, “Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy“, companies (including Apple) must be careful to manage the frequency at which change occurs to avoid frustrating employees and potential customers in the process.

The absence of change or lack of evidence that change is coming is and should be cause for concern. Research In Motion’s (RIM) continued delays in releasing the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) resulted in lost confidence from investors and share prices dropped sharply in return. RIM’s attempts to “talk” through the company’s strategy and the future of the BlackBerry could not sustain their one time dominance of the smart phone market. Thankfully for RIM, the BlackBerry, slated to launch on January 30, 2013, is receiving raving reviews as a high quality next generation smart phone. Only time will tell if too much time has passed to win people over.

Lean leaders recognize that real change begins in the hearts and minds of every stakeholder and is a pre-requisite before any physical changes can occur. A learning organization embraces the concept of “transitional” thinking where each change represents the current level of knowledge and understanding. Where perpetual learning occurs, transitional thinking ensues, and subsequent changes mark our progress along the journey.

As we look forward to 2013, we thank you for your continued support and wish you the best of successes in the New Year ahead.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

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Vergence Analytics

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Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy

English: A ridiculous line of people waiting f...
A ridiculous line of people waiting for the iPhone 3G outside of the Apple Store on 5th Ave. between 58th St. and 59th St., NYC, July 12, 2008. I was not in the line. pictured: the Apple Store entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the roles of leadership is to instill and foster a culture that embraces change and empowers the team to improve. This call for change is also echoed in the Plan-Do-Check-Act or PDCA cycle that serves as a typical model for driving continuous improvement in many organizations. In this regard, Apple has clearly demonstrated their commitment to develop and improve their existing products.

As I’ve written many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From the outside looking in, Apple appears to embrace this thinking too, as evidenced by the unveiling of the new and much rumoured iPad Mini as well as announcing a number of significant upgrades to their existing product lines.

However, as the late great management guru Peter Drucker stated, “There is no business without a customer”. When we consider the numerous and diverse range of brand advocates a business may have, we also realize and understand that customers are very much a natural extension of the business itself. In this context, I contend that Apple’s best kept secrets may just be their own worst enemy.

Timing is Everything

From a leadership perspective, transparency, respect, accountability, integrity, and trust are just a few of the defining traits of a lean organization. The vision must be clear and understood to ensure that decisions, goals, objectives, and actions are aligned accordingly. Unfortunately, as customers, we can only rely on “leaks” and “rumours” to learn of Apple’s hidden agenda and attempt to plan our purchases accordingly.

While Apple may be lean at its core, I can only wonder how much waste is generated at the consumer level. Each new product introduction is met with a host of people ready to replace their existing devices with the latest and greatest technology Apple has to offer. It begs the question, “How many people can actually afford to keep pace with the current rate of change?”

In this regard, continuing to release new products at an ever-increasing frequency is quickly becoming a deterrent for people to “buy now.” The decision to purchase is offset by the potentially greater benefit of waiting just a little while longer. I contend that this is where Apple’s strategy may soon fall short. I’m not endorsing Samsung here, however, this Samsung Galaxy S3 ad has captured the point we’re making here:

Effective leadership understands that the timing for change is as critical as the change itself. If change occurs too frequently, people will abandon their efforts to embrace any of them knowing that another is already in the making.

Chasing the Dream

This television commercial, first aired during...

As a public company, Apple is subject to tremendous market pressures to maintain its record-setting trend of higher returns for shareholders and also serves to fuel a shorter cycle of new product introductions and upgrades. This rapid injection of perceived “new” technology is equally offset by higher rates of planned obsolescence.

While some of the changes announced were much-anticipated, especially the iPad Mini, the 4th generation iPad was a complete surprise – at least it was to me. Was the release date of the 4th Generation iPad so obscure that a 3rd generation product release was required only seven short months ago?

I have become increasingly concerned over the frequency that change occurs, especially when they directly affect my pocketbook. Frequent changes leave consumers little time to absorb them and their significance is rapidly diminished by the next generation of products that follow. From a lean perspective, the PDCA cycle encourages incremental improvements to – or within – an existing process or system and this is the consistent, fundamental flaw in Apple’s product development cycle:

Existing devices cannot be upgraded.

The majority of recent changes introduced by Apple are hardware related including the release of iOS6 as a necessity to support the new offerings. The new A6X chip, an integral part of the new iPhone 5 and the recently announced 4th generation iPad, offers twice the speed and twice the graphics performance over its predecessor, the A5X chip. Hardware changes of this nature are rarely an after thought and keeps me wondering why Apple was so compelled to release the 3rd generation iPad only a few short months ago.

Loyalty, Trust, and Making Amends

Many consumers are advocates of the Apple brand and their loyalty implies that a certain element or level of trust exists. With this in mind, the changes introduced by Apple carry an even greater significance as this trust is tested with each step that Apple takes. The decision to purchase an Apple device is as significant as the price tag it carries – they are expensive. Apple clearly understands this and created the new iPad Mini to bridge the price gap in kind, although it too carries a hefty price tag.

For Apple, change may be the norm but, for consumers it’s not always that simple. Apple clearly recognizes that consumers want the latest and greatest product offering available. The questions to be answered here are two-fold:

  1. How much are consumers willing to pay for a new device? and,
  2. How OFTEN (or how soon after) are they willing to purchase its successor?
Apple I at the Smithsonian Museum
Apple I at the Smithsonian Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In light of these recent announcements, a third and perhaps even more important question begs to be asked, “What is the relevant lifespan of my new device after purchase? The 3rd generation iPad’s core chip technology became obsolete in as little as 7 months from the date it was introduced and the relative value is sure to decrease even more rapidly with each generation that follows.

As mentioned earlier, the A6X chip was an integral part of the iPhone 5 and it is highly likely that integrating it into the 4th generation iPad was a known “next step”, long before the 3rd generation iPad was even released. I would suggest that the new iPad Mini, also built on the A5X platform, will also be short-lived as an A6X upgrade or even a retina display can’t be too far behind.

A company as large as Apple must have a product development plan and I challenge the ethics of a company that would knowingly lead consumers to purchase a “new” device that will become obsolete before they even take it out of the box. To make amends with recent buyers of the 3rd generation iPad, it has been suggested that Apple plans to offer free upgrades if their product was purchased within a certain time frame prior to the announcement of the 4th generation iPad.

I’m not opposed to any company that can make a profit, especially in today’s economy. However, Apple’s profits are borne by consumers who remain hopeful that Apple may actually provide a product that can deliver real value. It is peculiar and concerning that consumers are almost too anxious and willing to abandon their current devices for the “next best thing” as though their existing devices fell short of meeting expectations.

Now Serving … Shareholders

I am convinced that Apple’s primary interest is shareholder satisfaction at the expense of consumers by convincingly giving cause for consumers to part with their hard-earned dollars in pursuit of the “Next Big Thing.” In summary, the secret to Apple’s fortunes lies in ever shorter product cycles and even more frequent changes that give rise to increased product turnover, increased revenues, significantly higher profits, and ultimately higher returns for shareholders.

As we pursue our own lean efforts, we must be cognizant of the perception created when the need for change is driven by an agenda that is contrary to the vision of the company, namely, that of the shareholders themselves. You may recall the “noise” surrounding the valuation of Facebook’s IPO and shareholder concern over the process of creating and generating revenue. Even more profound (and to be applauded) was Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook intended to make money through the IPO to make Facebook even better – it was never Mark’s intention to make shareholders rich at the expense of FaceBook users.

I am always more than a little concerned when the influence of the stock market is greater than the vision that brought the company there in the first place. RIM serves as an excellent example of a company that has managed a fine line with shareholders to make leadership changes while still pursuing the release of the much-anticipated next generation BlackBerry 10 Operating System. While the changes announced by RIM were very well received, failing to provide a release date caused stocks to decline even further. Despite their announcements of cuts to the workforce, they have remained committed to pursue the next generation hardware and software. Time will tell how the market responds now that RIM has announced a January 30, 2013, product launch.

The Next Step

iPad in Subway
iPad in Subway (Photo credit: beatak)

With many thanks to Steve Jobs, Apple certainly deserves credit for shaping how we use computers today and Apple’s ability to create consumer frenzy for “What’s Next” is to be admired. Though Apple cites rapidly changing technology as the reason for its frequent product changes, I would challenge this statement as evidenced by the seemingly lower rates of change from Apple’s competitors.

On the whole, I find Apple’s products to be of high quality – though not without flaws – and extremely overpriced. The new iPad Mini and protective cover retail at $330.00 and $45.00 respectively and serve as just one example where the price far exceeds that of it’s nearest competitor. To make matters worse, a power adapter that should cost only a few dollars to manufacture retails at almost $30.00. Apple’s sales are staggering, however, their margins on sales are even more so.

I fully appreciate the craftsmanship of the Apple product line. The machines at all levels are exceptionally crafted and the user interface – at least on “touch” devices – is to be commended. However, from a software perspective, I have yet to see a serious professional suite that rivals that of Microsoft Office (Home or Professional). The release of iOS6 did nothing to improve my experience with Apple’s existing hardware or software.

The number of available “apps” is literally overwhelming and continues to grow at a daunting rate. Although many are either free or relatively inexpensive, finding an app that meets your needs can be a real challenge. I find many apps are overrated, lacking depth beyond the simple and individual functionality they provide. As a result, I tend to gravitate toward those apps (Evernote, Dropbox) where the scope also extends to competitor products as opposed to Apple specifically. As the major players continue to define and refine available hardware platforms, the App market may still be too fresh to establish the real dominant players in certain core segments.

Rather than waiting for a truly significant product upgrade, Apple has been too fast with too many incremental product changes that may leave some consumers suffering buyer’s remorse, feeling alienated, or worse – betrayed. Although RIM may be too long in the making of its BlackBerry 10 Operating System, Microsoft’s major Operating System releases are typically far and few between too.  Certainly Windows 8 has taken the market by storm with full touch screen integration for desk top, lap top, and ultrabook computers.

Perhaps the questions to be discerned are, “How soon is too soon?” and “How long is too long?” If it hasn’t been determined yet, there must be a “Goldilocks” cycle that’s just right: worth the wait and worth the money.

In Conclusion

I contend that Apple has succumbed to a greater concern for shareholders to sustain market share at the expense of customer trust and cash. To maintain their share of the market, they have taken their suppliers and competitors, namely Samsung, to court and seem compelled to pre-empt any new product announcement from their competitors with an announcement of their own – ready or not.

Apple provides a high quality premium priced product. Yet, as I look at the tools I have at my disposal (no pun intended) – a Mac Mini, iPhone 4s, and a 3rd generation iPad – I am underwhelmed by each of them. With all of the attention to detail that Apple seems to mind, I can’t help but wonder why something like the on-screen keyboard doesn’t reflect the current shift state of the keys – like my PlayBook does.

I have already heard rumours that a new iPhone 5s may be available in the first quarter of 2013. If memory serves me correctly, that should be just in time for RIM’s launch of the new BlackBerry 10 Operating System and the launch of  Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Of course, despite the rumours, who knows what or when the next surprise will be. I’m sure it will be sometime soon.

Only time will tell how long Apple can continue to keep customers “Chasing the Dream.” As for me, like a number of Apple’s recently resigned Apple executives, that chase is over.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

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Vergence Analytics

Lean Thinking for Change – Is this Kaizen?

A diagram to show the two PDCA cycles. The fir...
Image via Wikipedia

Every lean organization recognizes the need for – and significance of – practicing Kaizen or continuous improvement.  That Kaizen is integral to any lean initiative is clearly evidenced by the numerous references, discussions, and success stories in two highly recommended and revered books:  “Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation” by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones and “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.

In this context, it’s not surprising when I hear managers say “We don’t do enough Kaizen here”, and is further accompanied by a sense of guilt that knowingly suggests they can’t be lean without it.  When I ask them to clarify their statement, they often refer to their latest week-long Kaizen event that actually seemed more like an extended exercise in 5S.

In other more extreme cases, the value stream changes were so radical that they were actually practicing Kaikaku or radical improvement.  Quite literally, the changes involved re-arranging machines and re-processing operations to improve flow and reduce inventories.

Over the course of my career, I have led several successful major plant transformations and turn-around efforts.  Practicing Kaikaku is almost assured when, at some point, the discussion turns to “Pretend there is nothing in your plant” or, “If you could start from scratch”, “What would it look like?”

Although Kaizen is not intended to be as radical, I constantly hear the same concern from both small and medium-sized companies, “We simply don’t have the time or the resources to devote to a week-long workshop.”  I always follow with, “Who said we need a week?

The problem with either of the scenarios above is that they have the tendency to be one time events by design.  If, by definition, Kaizen is continual improvement, then “one time” events are clearly an exceptional form of the practice. Let’s take a few minutes to understand what Kaizen is.”

What is Kaizen?

The perception of Kaizen in the leadership and management ranks is based on a common misunderstanding of what Kaizen really is and, with so much information available on the topic, perhaps for good reason.

Many books have been written on the topic of lean and each presents their definition of Kaizen in kind.  For example, “Lean for Dummies“, by Natalie J. Sayers and Bruce Williams, devotes an entire chapter to “Flowing in the Right Direction: Lean Projects and Kaizen”, and suggests:

… Kaizen is the how. Kaizen is the way you improve the value stream; it’s practiced through a continuing series of workshops and projects.

Further reading continues to expound on the definition of Kaizen, the rules for engagement, project selection, project methodology, as well as planning and conducting workshops.

As I reflect on my own experience, I recall a week-long process improvement initiative with one of Suzuki’s New Program Launch teams.  They referred to this initiative as “Kaizen” and encouraged us to learn and pursue other process improvements using a similar strategy:

The objective of Kaizen is to continually improve, to pursue perfection with a focus on value added activities and the relentless elimination of waste.

The team consisted of personnel from a number of different departments and their entire time was to be devoted to this aggressive and rigorous process review and improvement  activity.  Personally, the experience was exhausting and the gains achieved certainly warranted the level of engagement demanded.

We were subsequently introduced to “Kaizen Blitzes” that were somehow less intense than a full workshop but seemed to be a more palatable approach.

The perception and resources required for week-long workshops are among the few primary reasons why many companies find it difficult to support Kaizen.  Unfortunately, their only experience and exposure to Kaizen is often gained through these limited “workshop” or “blitz” experiences.

Indeed, entire books have been written on Kaizen alone that may be even more intimidating to the new and uninitiated lean practitioner.  I prefer the description of Kaizen as presented in “Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey Liker and Timothy N. Ogden.

At Toyota, Kaizen isn’t a set of projects or special events. It’s the way people in the company think at the most fundamental level, harking back to Deming’s never-ending PDCA cycle.

Although this definition is broader in scope, it identifies the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) as the core premise of all continuous improvement initiatives and is consistent with the methodology purported by Mike Rother in his highly acclaimed book, “Toyota Kata” and also discussed in our post “Discover Toyota’s Best Practice” and referred by Wikipedia.

Two Types of Kaizen

Those of you who are familiar with Kaizen recognize that there are actually two types of Kaizen:  Maintenance Kaizen and Improvement Kaizen.

Improvement Kaizen is “raising the bar” to the next level – improving processes to achieve new standards and higher levels of performance.  The very nature of the improvement requires participation from multiple disciplines to discover and effect the changes necessary.

Maintenance Kaizen, as briefly described by Jeffrey Liker in “Toyota Under Fire“, is the reality of dealing with our daily unexpected crises (Murphy’s Law) – something most of us are exposed to in our workplaces and personal lives.

When we hear that employees at Toyota make daily improvements, it is likely in reference to Maintenance Kaizen and the Improvement Kata.   In this context, we are all likely practicing Maintenance Kaizen on a daily basis too.

A recent experience

I can appreciate that some businesses work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Of course supporting a business like that means you are operating on the same timeline.

Machine failures and quality concerns are all too common in manufacturing. To broaden the application and our thinking with regard to Kaizen specifically and Lean in general, this experience is based on a recent “IT” concern.

03:10 am – The client calls:  “We’ve got a problem with our e-mail. It just stopped working. We need to get this information out to our client before 7:00 am this morning.”

03:30 am – I arrive to find a file in the Outbox anxiously waiting to find its way onto the internet.  Any attempts made to free up space were denied, e-mails could not be deleted, archives couldn’t be executed.  Any attempts to do anything relevant produced the following message:

03:47 am – The internet connection was fully functional, so I recommend sending the files directly from their 3rd party e-mail.  This, by the way, was the contingency plan in the “unlikely” event of an internal server crash.

03:55 am – Files are sent and we begin looking for a solution to the problem at hand.

04:11 am – I find and run the program that should handle a scan and repair C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MSMAPI\1033.

04:51 am – The scan is complete and I’m greeted with “Errors were found in this file.  To repair these errors, click Repair.”

04:53 am – I click Details… and, as suspected, there were errors that prevented access to the file:

04:53 am – I return to the Repair screen and click repair.

05:11 am – A message appears on the screen and things suddenly got worse:

Fortunately, while the scan was running, we researched alternative data recovery options as well. We were forced to develop a solution, other than the one recommended by Microsoft, to successfully resolve the problem.

07:00 am – Problem resolved and the client is satisfied that all is well. Time to get ready for work!

Lessons Learned

The client was not performing regular archives resulting in a massive file at or near the limits of the software.  Backups were few and seldom performed.  The experience has now mandated the need for managed archiving and weekly backups.

How the file became corrupt is still a mystery. Although the risk of occurrence is unknown, just knowing that Microsoft developed a repair solution suggests that the event was at least expected to occur.

We conclude that the risk of recurrence is slim.  There is little that can be done to assure the integrity of data as this is controlled by the file management capabilities of the software and the operating system itself.

Is this Kaizen?

The crisis was very real, required an immediate solution, and Murphy’s law prevailed on more than one occasion.  Negligence regarding archives and backups was discovered and countermeasures were implemented accordingly.

It is very unlikely that we will be able to prevent a file from ever becoming corrupt, although appropriate countermeasures, such as backups, will at least minimize the risk.  Our initial third-party e-mail solution negated the potential loss of any data.

I recognize that improvement initiatives are typically premised on a known process state whereby the amount of improvement can be measured.  In the same context, a target condition that we aspire to achieve is also established.

Whether this was Kaizen is a matter of perspective. Whatever it is called, our mission is to maximize value for our customer by pursuing  perfection through the relentless elimination of waste.

Kaizen Protocol

I don’t intend to minimize the rigors of Kaizen by the simplicity of the experience shared above. However, I contend that practicing Kaizen is not restricted to the realm of workshops or special events considering that, at the most fundamental level, improvement initiatives or Kaizen follow iterative cycles of the “Plan > Do > Check > Act” methodology.

As we continue to learn from our past experiences, the necessity for full workshops at the process level are eventually displaced by “spontaneous” improvement and problem solving on a reduced scale and at the “local” level.

It is not that companies are neglecting to do Kaizen, it is the failure to recognize that Kaizen is not an event, special project, or a workshop.  Kaizen is the incremental improvements that we implement continually each and every day. Foregoing the formality of documenting every Kaizen activity does not negate the reality that it is being practiced.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

** A full Kaizen workshop requires substantial preparation and effort. Realizing this, some companies prefer to use simulations to teach Kaizen rather than risk disruptions to current processes or operations.

** Consultants bring a wealth of experience from a diverse range of businesses and industries. Consider hiring a consultant as a “resource on demand” to facilitate and practice Kaizen in your operation.

Twitter:  @Versalytics