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 for...an 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. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

People Will Be Slow to Buy-In!

I guess many of us like to think of ourselves as the great communicator. The great convincer.

Looking back at my own first lean journey (Green Mile) at my own company, I often think to myself, "self, what is the one big thing I know now that I wish I knew then?" Now keep in mind, ultimately, the journey was definitely worth the trip, based on productivity alone (a 60% increase in sales without adding another person over 3 years or so. That means people could be paid more money).

The one thing I wish I knew was the fact that you can't inspire your way to a culture of continuous improvement! You kind of have to perspire you're way. Now in my business, we ran things pretty much the same way for decades. It wasn't until we lost money one year did I realize we needed to shift gears and employ a different game plan. After some research, I thought this LEAN thing might be the answer. I went and got myself certified, and it all seemed to make sense (to me) and seemed simple enough (to me). I had a vision of a pep rally at work when I introduce this thing, music blaring, people getting so excited they carry me off the field on their shoulders.

I do think I got everyone excited for the first 20 minutes. Then I guess they started to digest what I was selling. I watched grins turn into far away gazes.

"We're about to embark on our LEAN JOURNEY!!) (I heard lean embarked Zippy Manufacturing right out of business)
"We will be able to produce more work with the same number of people!!!" (sounds like Bill wants us to work faster)
"We will stop throwing labor at spikes in demand and at problems!!!!" (sounds like layoffs are coming?)
"We will lower our inventory levels so our customers can get their orders faster!!" (somebody better check to see what's in Bill's coffee cup).
"The people who actually DO the work are most qualified to FIX the work!!!! (Oh great, Bill thinks my job is broke)

And on and on it goes. Most of the concepts defy common sense. I learned the hard way to stop using Japanese words and Power Points and get to the business of learn by doing by implementing employee suggestions. By doing this, it was less about the improvements and more about winning people over. Nothing will convince people faster that lean is worth the time and effort than seeing it WORK in their own job. By using the A3 process, these improvements become more and more visible, and maybe another person will get on board. Keep doing this until you get to what I call the point of no return, where continuous improvement is what we do every shift, every day. It goes much faster if you have 2 things going in your favor: a sense of urgency (like losing money) and the hands on involvement of every manager. Nothing will retard progress more than a management team that is not all in. Once you get to the point of no return, now you can point this strategic weapon at policy deployment.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe people aren't slow to buy in. Maybe they will buy in when they are good and ready and are convinced of the value of what you and the management team are doing.....not saying!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Weedin' with a Hoe & Leader Standard Work

Bill's Garden
For those of you who have read (put up with) my drivel for the past 5 years, you know I like to compare a lean journey to a community garden. 

Interestingly enough, gardening this time of  year in New England is probably the most labor intensive.....IF you don't apply the concept of heijunka (load levelling). This is the one time of the year where the garden needs to be fertilized, watered, weeded & harvested. Some plants need to be nurtured and coddled, while others need to be relieved of their offerings. Once picked, it seems vegetables don't like to sit in buckets all that long, which means you know who needs to also be canning, making pickles, tomato juice, pesto, stuffed peppers, etc. And all the while, weeds of every variety, shape and size are just waiting for me to fall asleep at the wheel so they can take over the entire plot. 

Gardening heijunka, to me, means doing the same amount of work every day. Not neglecting the garden for a bunch of days and then spending hours catching up. This means I will maintain 1 row per day. Today was string bean day. My string beans are young plants, so all they need is to be kept weed free, well fertilized and a comfy bed of loose soil. Once the string beans look happy, then I will go through the entire garden looking for things that want to be picked. Tomorrow is eggplant day, the next day is peppers, the next tomatoes, etc. If this load levelling is kept up, weeding is very, very easy. In fact, as long as I am religious with this "leader standard work", I can weed an entire row, standing up, with the blade of my hoe, in about 20 minutes. If I shirk my leader standard work, or if it rains for a few days, the same weeding job is a couple of hours, playing catchup, hands and knees, pulling by hand into a bucket. 

Which brings me to your lean journey (trip from hell/Green Mile). If every manager, foreman, supervisor, CEO, COO, Vice President, Director can commit to spending 20 minutes daily (if you can't do 20, do 10!) in the lean "garden", your harvest will come quickly. Remember that people want to KNOW what is important to their boss, and they want to get caught doing it! If managers can't be bothered to spend time in the garden, be prepared for a very slow trip with lots of stops and starts (weeding on your hands and knees).  One of my Senseis told me 20 years ago that if my workday doesn't change completely (get "un-busy"), don't expect much for all the lean effort.

If most managers are willing and engaged, it's like weedin' with a hoe standing up.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leader Standard Work vs. Herding Cats

Do you run your business or does your business run you?

Chances are, if your job description includes the terms manager, supervisor, executive officer or coordinator, then you just might sometimes feel like your business is running you. At least I did. Not only did I feel like my business was running me, but Monday morning seemed to turn into Friday afternoon at the blink of an eye!

Unplanned 2 or 3 hour meetings I would get dragged into, hundreds of e-mails that I was either cc'd or bcc'd on, firefighting, hours spent on the phone with customers, salespeople or vendors and unexpected travel are just a few examples of just how out of control life can be. Sometimes I felt like I was herding cats.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Contrast this with what I consider the "value-added work" of leaders.....develop people and develop more leaders. We all agree that the gas pedal (and the brake) of a lean journey is the involvement and engagement of the management team. Tough to do when you're busy herding cats.  

The concept of leader standard work shouldn't be overthought. It doesn't need to be complicated. It's really about deliberately and intentionally building some routines into your work week where there may be none. I'm not saying you need to script every minute of your week, but can we start with 25% of routine time and 75% ad hoc, and improve from there?

My leader standard work was a laminated sheet of paper with a list of daily and weekly tasks I wanted to accomplish. Daily tasks would be a GEMBA walk at 8:30 am daily. I would "go and see" 3 A3 leaders every day to find out how they were doing and if they needed my help (that meant I saw 720 A3 leaders over the course of the year). Weekly tasks would be huddles I would attend, a senior leadership meeting, A3 closings, I'd sit in on Group Leader and Team Leader meetings once a week.  Speaking of meetings, in order to do more value-added work, I needed to limit any meeting to 30 minutes or less, and most needed to be standing up.

The best part of my leader standard work, once built, was that I could hand it off to others when I was travelling or on vacation.

People need to see calm, cool and collected from their leaders. They need to see our routines. If we demonstrate chaos, there will be chaos. If we demonstrate firefighting, there will be firefighting. If we demonstrate mastery of our domain, so will they!

I'd be happy to send you the template I use, just drop me an e-mail at p4lean@icloud.com