Sunday, January 14, 2018

LEAN Strategy: 4 Take-Aways from Kindergarten

“And it is still true, no matter how old you are -- when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” 

Question: How do you make really good team players?
Answer: Have them work on lots and lots of teams.

I wish I had a quarter for every time I heard someone refer to a co-worker as "not a team player". As in, "have you considered asking Ethel to be on your A3 team?" Only to hear, "No,  Ethel isn't a team player." 

In true LEAN learn-by-doing fashion, I believe that great team players are made, not born. Doing A3 is all about ripping down silos. People that hardly ever see or talk to each other are suddenly working together seamlessly to solve customer problems and improve processes. On an A3 team, titles are checked at the door. The new guy is afforded exactly the same respect as the seasoned veteran. 

One of the pillars of the Toyota Production System is Respect for People. Often, we think about RFP as how management views and "treats" employees. Another aspect is the respect that comes from realizing just how smart and talented your co-workers are. In doing A3, you never know where in your company genius is going to come from!!

It is very difficult to do A3 well without RFP. Here are a few ways co-workers can demonstrate respect for people doing A3:
1. Show up on time-if you agree to be on a team that is meeting at 1:30, make sure you show up at 1:25. One of the skills A3 teams need to learn is to show up on time. A3 meetings hardly ever exceed 25 minutes. It is disrespectful to show up 5 minutes late because you forgot or you were busy hunting aardvarks or something.
2. Listen aggressively & wait your turn-listening is a very hard skill. Chaos ensues if a 3 to 5 person A3 team is comprised of people who don't listen well. Just like kindergarten, only one person should be talking at any one time. The people who aren't talking need to truly listen, not thinking about what they will say next.
3. Do your homework-this is about being accountable to your A3 team. If you agree to a task by a certain time, make sure you do it. Everyone is busy, so busy is never an excuse. 
4. Don't be selfish-one of the tasks of the A3 team is to gain consensus. That means not everyone is going to get 100% "their way". Even though you may not always agree 100%, once the team makes their decision, "my way" has to become "our way". Don't gripe or complain in the cafeteria

Also, from Kindergarten, share everything, play fair and don't hit people!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

ANDON: Do Not Wait Until Half-time to Make Adjustments!

I'm not sure anyone would argue that it is probably a mistake not to try and build a culture of continuous improvement in your business. We need to work hard to build a team (and coaching staff) that is capable of making improvements and adjustments on the fly.

Not sure anyone would argue that the best football teams are the ones that can react, and adjust their game plan based on what their competitors are doing. Years ago, if the game plan wasn't going as expected, teams would "re-group" and make adjustments at half-time. Now, the best teams make improvements all game long, and if they don't, they lose and eventually the coach gets fired.

I would argue that the same holds true for our businesses. In my lean consulting business, the one statement that spills out of my mouth that always gets eyes rolling with doubt and disbelief is "we need to be making improvements in every one of our processes every single day!" Maybe a better way to explain this is the fact that when we see problems (that is usually at least half the battle, not seeing), we will implement some countermeasure immediately, so we don't just keep getting our butts kicked for the same reasons over and over. Sure, we can put the problem off to the side (in our minds) to keep producing like nothing bad happened (make adjustments at halftime instead), or we can develop our coaches to work with players to implement countermeasures immediately, as they happen (this is andon).

What are the problems that need to be recognized and improved? The 8 wastes!  

Imagine a coaching staff that hardly ever shows up on the practice field (busy in their office in meetings or managing their computer), or maybe they learn about the problems in the form of a report after the game has long since been played?!?  

Love them or hate them, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots do the best job of making improvements in real time while the game is being played (often in the middle of an offensive or defensive series). Also, keep in mind that the coaching staff is TEACHING at GEMBA (where the work is), not screaming at employees or writing people up).

I get it. Our businesses are 1000% more difficult to coach than a football team. Football teams have one game each week, and they have the luxury of 5 or 6 days to do kaizen (get better at practice). For our businesses, game day is EVERY SINGLE DAY. We have no choice but to implement a good strong improvement strategy, or the 8 wastes end up costing us way too much money!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Your LEAN Strategy for 2018

The brand new sparkling year is always a time of renewed optimism and energy. Hopefully, we will have been able to spend at least some of the holiday season rejoicing in our good fortune and giving thanks to those who have helped us accomplish them. 

The challenge we face is the fact that what got us here probably won't get us to where we want to go. As leaders, how exactly do we want the new year to be remembered? "2018?!?!That was the year that we.........."

If you already employ lean or TPS as a business strategy, now is the time to gain agreement on 2 goals for the year.

First, what will be the one thing that we will be "measurably" better at (beyond a shadow of a doubt) on 12/31/18 'than we are on 1/1/18? Imagine a visitor asking people at random "what's important around here?"  and getting the exact same answer from anyone they asked? Can 2018 be the year we became a learning organization? Can it be the year we became known for unmatched customer service? Is it the year of incredible innovation? Whatever it is, simply apply the four essential components of policy deployment: urgency (the why), learning, metrics and kaizen (to move the metrics), and engage every single person in your company in all four components.

The second goal is much simpler. How much improvement activity will we be doing next year? For those of you who use A3 to do continuous continuous improvement, how many A3s will you complete by the end of the year? As a rule of thumb, if you are just getting started with A3, ask every single person in your company to simply do 2 or 3 A3s sometime between now and the end of the year. Is it too much to ask for 2 executable process improvement suggestions over approximately 240 work days? If you have 100 employees in your company set the A3 goal at 200, and make the goal visible by keeping track of everyone's progress (listing everyone whether they have done an improvement or not.

At the end of the year, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the completed improvements should reflect EXACTLY what your policy deployment strategy is. If your strategy is to be the best customer service organization in your market, then nearly half of the improvements should be toward delighting (not satisfying) your customers!

I wish you the best of everything in 2018....and let's make sure we have some fun!!!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Kaizen: Getting to the Point of No Return!

WARNING: Lean is not always fun. 

Nobody does LEAN for real without a good reason. Either things have gotten chaotic, or there isn't enough return on investment. The concepts themselves are a light at the end of the tunnel. But, when you first start the journey, it isn't like there aren't plenty of "proceed with caution" signs. Most fail. Not everyone will jump on board. Etc.

LEAN kicks off like New Years Eve. We get a group of people, do some training (not that we train for New Years Eve), and have some festivities. Have an event or two. Lots of camaraderie, slaps on the back. Lots of giggles. Then reality. January 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. By January 5th, we are ready to settle back into how we've always done things. It is hard enough for most of us to get out of January with our resolutions intact. How do you get an ENTIRE company to stick to the "resolution" of a LEAN strategy?

Two words. LEARNING ORGANIZATION. From a leadership perspective, the trick is to change people's perspective from "manufacturer" to learning organization. From "service provider" to learning organization. From "healthcare provider" to learning organization. The curriculum? We will work every single day to become the world's foremost experts on the subject of our customers, our processes, our suppliers, our problems. Mistakes and problems can be thought of as tuition. How do we avoid paying tuition twice for the same "course"?

That is where A3 thinking comes in. Events need to become what we do daily (even if it is 15-20 minutes per day by everyone). The three new concepts that need to be developed simultaneously, made incredibly visible and continuously improved are Dashboard Metrics (3-5 real time measures, one of which is productivity), Learning (how do you create a process where everyone in the company learns then teaches?) and Kaizen (improvement activity to "change" the metrics). The problem is that kaizen "events" are too infrequent and expensive, and don't involve enough people. A3 projects happen every day. A3 teams learn and then teach (at the project "closing"). Tuition is usually paid once because the learnings are taught. Did you ever hear that the best way to learn something is to teach it?

Of the three new concepts, the hardest is the kaizen (A3) piece. It's not that there is a lack of potential projects. There are hundreds of small improvements that can be made. Defects, excess inventory, safety hazards, overburden, employee suggestions, customer complaints, etc. The hard part is getting everyone to agree that going after these things is important (too busy). Getting better needs to become part of everyone's job description. Two of the companies I have the honor of working for have done over 350 A3 projects (and closings) so far this year. A third company has closed over 100. That is quite a bit of learning and getting better.

Once you get to that level of concept development, you have reached the point of no return. The only constant in companies like that is change. At this point, it is almost impossible to go back. People have seen the value of making improvements in their own work, and in their own lives. It takes less energy to sustain at this point. In my experience, it can take months or years to get to this point, depending on the "lever" (the reason for change). The bigger the lever, the faster to the point of no return.

Once you reach the point of no return, it is up to management to use this new process to steer the ship. I guess it is OK for the A3 process to merely be the way a company implements employee suggestions (it's better than a suggestion box). But, it is much, much more powerful to combine it with dashboard metrics and learning to do real policy deployment. For example, let's say we decide we want to be the safest company in our industry. The metrics, the learning and the kaizen activity (the A3s) will become safety top heavy. EVERYONE will begin to understand that safety is very important when they are constantly attending closings of safety A3s. 

Once you reach the point of no return, there is a sense of ownership in people where they question and challenge everything. That's a fun place to work!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mark Twain On Leadership

om·nis·cient (ŏm-nĭsh′ənt) adj. Having total knowledge; knowing everything: an omniscient deity; one having total knowledge. 

"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly and I did. I said I didn't know"...Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

For some strange reason, managers are expected to be omniscient, authorities on all subjects. If someone comes a-calling with a question, any manager in their right mind will, of course, give them what they came a-calling answer! After all, if team members had the answer, we wouldn't need managers, right? One of the reasons why we were hired or promoted as managers is because of our ability to answer people's questions when they come a-calling. In fact, subconsciously it is better to guess and maybe give the wrong answer than to gulp! Admit we don't know.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I lived that life, and believe me it is absolutely no fun. I learned that the more answers I gave, the more questions would come a-calling. I would have to call the office to answer questions when I was on vacation. I remember one time flying home from a family vacation because a problem arose that only the omniscient one could figure out. I also figured out after awhile that when people did come to me exasperated with questions, they already knew the answer. They must have, because whatever answer I gave they seemed to agree with and went ahead and used. 

There is a huge problem with this arrangement. If you simply give out answers like Halloween candy, you miss out on the opportunity to learn what the people you are supposed to be coaching and developing,  know and don't know about their processes. Also, in the words of Mark Twain, sometimes the best answer is "I don't know, let's go (to GEMBA) and find out!"

Humble inquiry is the art of developing people's creativity and capability by never answering a question with an answer. Instead, resolve to answer all questions with open ended questions (not questions that can be answered with yes or no, they just re-enforce your answer). On a scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (hard), humble inquiry is a 12. It takes discipline and practice. But, the first step toward taking full advantage of every single brain cell in your organization is getting your ego out of the way!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Taking a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this.

It is difficult t argue the fact that the most successful teams work very well together. And not just within silos, but seamlessly across functions or "departments". Our customers don't really care if you have a world class engineering department if you can't ship an order correctly. They aren't impressed if they get their order when they want it if they have to lodge the same complaint over and over. As a customer yourself, I'm sure low prices makes you smile, but not being able to talk to a human quickly when you have a problem or question probably makes your blood boil.

The last thing we need is to have is a collection of departments that are constantly pointing their fingers at other departments whenever a problem comes up. 5 Why can quickly become 5 Who. Managers spend hours and hours playing referee and peacekeeper. 

I actually led an effort to require every single person in our company to work for a morning or an afternoon in every other person's job. We called this effort "Walking in Each Other's Shoes". The intent was for people to gain a better understanding of what their peers were "up against". 

Then we started our lean journey, did some kaizen events, and then stumbled onto using temporary, cross-functional, self-directed work teams and A3 thinking to do hundreds of improvements every year. More importantly, that meant there were thousands of opportunities for people to learn to work seamlessly together. How do you make great TEAM players? Get people to work on lots of teams!

One of my core beliefs is that if people are together a lot, "respect for people" and empathy will follow. Another core belief is that people are smart and people care. People WANT to do a great job and contribute to the prosperity of their peers.  Nobody gets out of their car in the morning intent on screwing things up! The more people are together, especially working together to make improvements, the more they realize "I'm OK, YOU'RE OK". Pre-conceived notions die, trust and appreciation builds. 

Figure out ways to get people from different functions together more and more. Huddles, GEMBA walks, and A3 meetings and closings are examples of ways how you can make empathy standard work. 

God knows our nation could use a little more empathy right now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Meeting Play Clock

As a college football Back Judge, I spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about the play clock in the Fall. (The game clock keeps track of how much time is left in the game, the PLAY CLOCK keeps track of the amount of time between plays). Did it start when we want it to start? Should it be set at 40 seconds or 25? Did the offense snap the football before the play clock wound down to zero? 

The play clock (and it's operator of course) play a vital function in the game. It provides a drum beat like tempo. College football teams spend lots of time in practice getting off the ground, re-grouping in a meeting called a huddle, deciding on the next course of action, moving to the line of scrimmage (where the ball is located), getting everyone (11 "employees") positioned where they are supposed to be, and then executing the agreed to play. In a typical game, the offensive team will repeat this routine (kata) between 75 and 95 times. Time n the huddle (the time spent on the next course of action) is typically 15 seconds.

Without the play clock, managers (the coaches) would have all the time in the world to debate, argue or contemplate what they want to do next. 2, 3, 5 minutes if they want.

Let's turn this thinking to our company meetings. Often there is no play clock at all. Back in the day (before LEAN) I can remember meetings in my own company that lasted hours. I remember meetings that would start and some invitees would show up late and we'd have to get the late arrival up to speed. One topic would morph into another, the chairs in the conference room were very comfortable, as was the temperature and humidity.

Then the LEAN started. Daily huddles, Dozens of A3 meetings and closings each week, and GEMBA walks (aka walking meetings). Suddenly we had to install some kind of play clock for all of these little get togethers. All meetings should be done standing up at the GEMBA (where the work is), and NO meeting would last more than 25 minutes.

LEAN is really time management. We are determined that we will spend our time doing value added work (the customer will gladly pay for it) vs. non-value added (chock full of the 8 wastes). No customer on the planet would consider people sitting in meetings something they would pay for. We need to bring a new discipline to our business. Our meetings need to be more like huddles. Standing up. Come prepared. Get what we need to know communicated and then go execute. With a game clock.