Leadership Starts with You

I’ve been really bad about blogging lately.  Please forgive me.  I’ve been busy learning about leadership, and how leaders lead in a Lean company.  There have been some big ah-ha moments for me, but perhaps the biggest idea to cross my desk came from a student in a class I am participating in.

Brad Power, while conducting research at the Lean Enterprise Institute wrote Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong. There is a saying at Toyota that “no problem is a problem.” And there is a culture of no blame. Managers are told “be hard on the process, but soft on the operators.”  From this single paragraph from a single article, one member of my class made a giant leap in her journey to become a Lean Leader.

Of her own initiative, she began an email chain with her company’s Lean Manager and their Lean Sensei.  She placed the topic on the table admitting what she believed to be the current condition and asked to move the issue into general discussion with her class: “I think we do have a broad culture of blame because we don’t know what else to do. How do you be hard on the process without being hard on the people?  Perhaps we can make time to discuss as a group.”

The culture of blame can be, and usually is, dangerous for any organization.  Once you fall into the blame game culturally, it requires an incredible amount of effort to move away from it.  Just like everything we do in a Lean world, it requires a top-down bottom-up effort to be successful.

Even when executive management is behind the effort to drive blame out, this can be tough.  You need to start asking WHY instead of WHO. “Why did the process fail to produce the desired outcomes”, not “who’s fault was it”.

It also requires an environment that is conductive and oriented towards problem solving.  Without a desire to actually problem solve you are almost always looking (whether you know it or not) for the easy way out.  You’ve got to be a strong enough organization to want to solve problems so that the employees can be successful.

Looking back on the string of emails, the student in this leadership class took one more big step towards being that Lean Leader.  Reflecting back on the discussion in the emails (even before this topic came up in class), she stated “This sounds to me like something I can do and spread the word. It’s going to be a tough sell because our culture is to document so much to CYA! If it’s going to change, it might as well start with me.”

And that is where I shall leave it with each of you.  If you are going to stand up and be a leader and embrace good continuous change, it has to start somewhere.  It must start with you.

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Plan the Work, Then Work the Plan

As the holidays are staring us directly in the face, I‘ve spent some time reflecting on how we go about doing our daily tasks.  This reflection comes from watching and listening as friends and family have discussed their holiday shopping.  As it turns out, we could all learn a lot from the successful shoppers in our lives.

So in that light, I ask a simple question: How do you go about your daily tasks at work?  Do you sit down every morning and review everything on your plate for the day?  Do you prioritize these items and think about how they all fit together to form the big picture?  Do you think about physical location and the travel path to follow to be as efficient as possible?

If you don’t; Maybe you should.  Here is the conversation I heard repeated several times the week of Thanksgiving: “I’m starting out Thursday evening at Target.  If I get in line by 5:00 PM I’ll be in great shape to get that television I want.  Since that is the farthest distance of all my stops, it’s a great place to start.”

“From there, I can swing by WalMart, it’s just down the street, to buy the coffee maker dad wants.  Timing-wise, that should allow me to miss the first big crowd so I can get in and out.  Two more stops in the same shopping center, and then I can call it a night.  And Friday then looks like this…”

Amazing isn’t it?  We can plan a two-day shopping spree, maximize our time and minimize our travel distance, saving us money from the special pricing. But the bigger savings may be the time and travel distance so we can spend more time with family over the weekend.

Are you one of these holiday shopping planners?  If so, do you also plan your day at work?  If you’re not a holiday shopping planner, should you be?  But more importantly, shouldn’t you plan your work day to accomplish the same goals.  Why not save time and travel distance at work, so that you can spend more time with family and friends.  Reduce or eliminate overtime, by working more efficiently.  As Margaret Thatcher said, “Plan your work for today and everyday, then work your plan.”

Think about it.  Oh, and Merry Christmas!

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Management Must Change

Wow!  Before I start, let me just say one thing.  I cannot believe that I am writing another blog promoting the concepts of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  I once thought, largely based on what I have heard during my professional journey, that Deming and his ideas were antiquated and insignificant in today’s working world.

But, as I have read and listened to the many sides over the past couple of years it has been revealed that it’s not Deming and his ideas and philosophies that are antiquated; it’s those Deming followers that continue to try to apply Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and his 14 points today exactly as they were explained and applied to organizations and processes originally.  I don’t even think Deming would agree with this “no forward thinking” application.

So here we go:

Image“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.”  A quote from Deming that rings as true today as it did in 1993 when he published The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education.  Dr. Deming emphasized that top-level management had to change to produce significant differences, in a long-term, continuous manner.  Think about that statement for a few moments.  In order for an organization to produce different results, top-level managers must change .  What a unique idea (not really, but sarcasm seemed appropriate).

ImageAlbert  Einstein is credited with saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over a gain and expecting different results.”  And isn’t it amazing how many top-level managers use this quote in the course of their professional lives and yet still we suffer from the problem.  Twenty years after Deming called out management as the problem and/or the solution, we still suffer lack of leadership at the top of many organizations; largely because we keep trying to get different results from the same old traditional top-level processes and thinking that management has used for decades.

Deming said it a bit stronger, in his Cultural Transformation Discussion Guide, when he said “The worker is not the problem. The problem is at the top! Management!  It is management’s job to direct the efforts of all components toward the aim of the system. The first step is clarification: everyone in the organization must understand the aim of the system, and how to direct his efforts toward it. Everyone must understand the damage and loss to the whole organization from a team that seeks to become a selfish, independent, profit center.”

An old school look at what Deming was saying suggested that if management created processes, documented them, trained employees to do the standardized work, and disciplined and rewarded the employee for their performance that this was all the organization needed to succeed.  Problem is, that wasn’t all Deming was saying then, and it surely won’t work that way in today’s fast-paced workplace connected continually to the outside world.

Often lost in this Deming debate is what he was actually professing:  Give employees the training, the tools they need and provide them with expectations and the goals of the company and let them do what they do best.   In other words, quit doing what we’ve (management) always done, and change how we run our organizations dramatically to produce long-term gains.  And that doesn’t mean change the goals or objectives; it means change the process.

Invest in the workforce; define the organization’s vision and give them that vision.  Tell your employees what is important.  Standardize and document the processes, and then measure what you value.  With the right tools and knowledge in hand, your employees can be empowered to do the right things.

This doesn’t mean turn them loose with no controls.  Their still has to be boundaries and “veto power” since that is part of management’s role in the organization.  Give them daily feedback and listen to their problems AND their solutions.  Hold them accountable for their actions.  But as managers, we must also be held accountable.

So, in closing let me say it in very plain English:  If management wants the organization to succeed in the long run, then it starts with changing the way we manage today.

If you are not a servant leader, lean champion, or some other equally progressive manager focused on empowering your team to do what they do best, then perhaps you need to rethink your management style.  Perhaps reading a little Deming might help.

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Value Stream Mapping is the Place to Start

Last month I wrote about understanding your process.  I should have written this blog first.  But as they say, Live and Learn!

In the process improvement world, the basic goals are almost always the same: make the process better; reduce costs; and, make the customer happy.   For every improvement project there are other goals, but if you can’t achieve these three you will not succeed.  Occasionally, I admit, you may actually increase the cost of the process if the problems are so substantial that additional investment and control are required.

Today, we only want to discuss the first goal stated above; make the process better.  I am amazed at the number of organizations that subscribe to this philosophy and yet time after time fail in the long run.  Changes are made; teams talk about the great improvements they made and how much money they will save each year going forward.  Yet, when the entire process is reviewed weeks or months later, management discovers that the changes merely produced sub-optimized improvement results… in other words “we got better over here but made it worse over there.”

Why does this happen?  That’s the big question many management teams ask over and over again, and still they repeat the process of sub-optimization year after year.  The reason is simple: If you don’t understand the current state, how can you ever improve it?

Experienced Lean manufacturing practitioners understand this.  Years of studying the Toyota Production System (TPS) and making good rapid continuous change through kaizen have taught these experienced change agents this lesson.  Jim Womack and Daniel Jones talk directly to this point in the book Lean Thinking.  The fifth step for success in chapter 11 is Map Your Processes.

If you don’t understand what the current state, or condition as my good friend Skip Steward says, how can you ever make it better?  If you don’t understand how it acts, how can you ever say “this is what it should do”?  The tool to produce this understanding is Value Stream Mapping (VSM).  VSM is a very power mapping methodology developed by Toyota employees organically as a way to explain and create common understanding of a process that had been halted due to a problem.  John Shook and Mike Rother introduced the tool to the world in the book Learning to See.

VSM is used to create a process map that includes process flow, communication, where inventory and employees are in the process, cycle time data, defect rates, and any other data the mapper believes is important when the mapping occurs.  These maps can be explained and generally understood by anyone in an organization within about 15 minutes.  Quite a difference from the traditional flowcharts I learned to create in college.

And these maps, a current state to show how the process works today along with a future state map to show what your team thinks it should look like, can be used in any setting.  The tool is universal.  It can be used in both production and transactional value streams in any organization.  Mark Nash and Sheila Poling have provided one of the best, if not the gold standard, resource books on the market that explores both production and transactional processes.  Their book Mapping the Total Value Stream lays out how to map in both scenarios side by side.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is there is no excuse for not understanding the current state.  Go map it.  Discuss it.  Understand it.  Then start talking about how to make it better.

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Do You Understand Your Processes?

One of the things I’ve learned about process improvement is that to change a process dramatically you must understand the process intimately.   You must understand the ins and outs; the ups and downs; what is good and what is bad.  You must not only know what things you are doing right, but you must also know what things you are doing wrong.

In the lean manufacturing world, this is accomplished through the use of Value Stream Maps (VSM).  The Current State Map (CSM) provides an amazing amount of data, in a very visual manner, and points out where your problems are.  Through this methodology, it is then possible to create a vision of what you want with a Future State Map (FSM). And from the Future State Map you can create an action plan for improvement.

But for many organizations, you can’t just go out and create a new CSM on a weekly or monthly basis for every process in the company.  So how do you learn what your processes are really producing and how they are acting?  A very easy way is through the use of Process Behavior Charts (PBC); often times called control charts.  This technique can provide us with a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight if we will take the time to study the chart and learn from it.  Additionally, these charts can be established as real-time, ongoing charts through the use of off-the-shelf software.

If you are not familiar with PBCs (a.k.a. control charts), then a quick explanation is in order.  These charts show how a process functions over a period of time.  The results are posted either as an individuals and moving range chart (where there is only one value per data point) or as an average and moving range chart (where multiple values are collected and averaged for each data point).

A center line (average line) is drawn, as well as an upper natural process limit and a lower natural process limit.  These limits are set at three standard deviations above and below the center line.  The second (or lower) graph shown on the PBC is the moving range.  This graph also has an average and an upper limit on it.  This graph shows the value of the change from point to point on the upper chart.


While there are exceptions, as a general rule, any data points between the upper and lower limits demonstrate how your process is behaving.  Generally speaking, there is no reason to even ask why results between the limits are where they are on the chart.  Any variation inside these limits is the routine noise of the process.  In other words, it is what it is.  This “is” what your process does naturally.  There is no reason to “go find out what is wrong.”  Additionally, these charts are classified as in-control or out-of-control.  While in-control processes are what they are, if a PBC is out-of-control, work needs to be done to stabilize the process and bring it into control so that you can learn from how the process behaves when it is stable.

But, even for controlled  PBCs, unless you change the overall process, the results are what you are going to get.  Which brings us back to the topic.  If you don’t know what your process is doing, and how it is acting, how do you know what to do to improve it? In the lean world of kaizen there is a very tight set of rules you operate by to make improvements.  The actions are based upon your VSM set and resulting action plan.

However, very difficult variation and defect problems are not regularly corrected even with lean methodology.  You may address some of the problem, but when it gets really tough with variation or defects with no apparent cause, you must find another way.  PBCs are the starting point for the “other way.”  Before you decide what tools to use and what to do, how about understanding what is happening first?

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Are You Measuring for Success or Just Measuring?

It has been a while since I sat down and discussed this issue, and based upon a conversation I had with one of our ministers at church yesterday this seems like a good time to put it on the table again.  Is your organization measuring for success or just measuring?  For that matter are you measuring anything?  Before you answer the question, let’s discuss what the differences are.

Are you measuring?

Let’s start with the easy one: do you measure anything?  If you do not measure and report the results of anything in your organization, how do you know if you are getting better or worse?  Are you stuck on a plateau; well how would you know if you aren’t measuring anything?  Organizations that do not measure anything often times don’t know they have a problem until it’s too late.  They’re out of money, out of ideas, or worse; out of business.

Many businesses will tell you that they do indeed measure the top line and bottom line, yet they make one critical mistake.  They fail to report out to the organization the results.  If you are not reporting results to your organization (employees, stakeholders, members, etc.), then you really are not measuring; you are merely capturing data.

Strategically or Just Measuring

Do you measure things in your organization?  Simple question; at least it should be.  If so, what do you measure?  Everything?  Just top line and/or bottom line?  Many organizations do indeed measure.  Some measure the bare bone basics; top line and bottom line.  Others measure multiple things at multiple levels.  And some measure everything.  In each scenario the results may be posted for everyone to see, or may be reported to management at various levels.  The intent in this is to take action when the results “are bad.”  The problem all too many organizations face is knowing when something is bad. Or maybe I should say too many organizations assume that something is bad.

The challenge is to measure the things your organization truly values in a strategic manner.  Your employees, members, etc. who see these metrics must:  A) understand what you are measuring; B) understand why you are measuring them; and C) the measurements must have meaning to the employee, member, etc.  If you are not measuring the things you value in such a way that your employees “get it”, you are missing a huge opportunity.  An opportunity for growth, improved productivity, profits, and employee (member for non-profit service organizations) buy-in.

For those organizations that measure everything, what are you gaining from this effort?  Chances are not much.  You are spending a lot of time and effort and chances are you are not “moving the yardstick” very far.  Just ask a cross-section of your employees and see if they understand all those metrics plastered on the wall.

The Circle of Success

The one big thing I’ve learned through this journey is the impact the Circle of Success has on an organization.  If you are not familiar with this concept, let me restate it here:

You measure what you value.  Measures directly influence how people work. How people work affects the organizational results.  And in return, the way the organization acts has a profound impact on what we value.  In other words: We measure what we value.  What we measure influences behavior, and in turn behavior affects action.  And finally our actions impact what we value.

Chris Anselmo and I discussed this in some depth in our meetings documented in the book The Right Measures.  If you want to know more, just read the book or call Pinnacle Partners West (Mark and Sheila have been greatly instrumental in my growth understanding organizational values and metrics).

So now I return to the original question.  Are you measuring for success, or just measuring?

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We Are All In This Together

I started to post an entry a couple of weeks ago about the importance of having “everyone on the bus”, to borrow a concept from Jim Collins, but I got side tracked by the EF5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.  And then I was going to get back on it last week just before central Oklahoma got hit again by a second EF5 tornado.  And this got me thinking about… not the tornadoes themselves, but the response to these natural disasters.

When the first tornado struck, I was half a country away on business.  Watching the storm first on my smart phone and then on television, I began to realize just how small the world has become.  And, maybe even more importantly, just how connected the world is today.  It seemed like the entire world was watching when Moore was hit.

The response to this event has been, and continues to this day to be overwhelming.  Not only have Oklahomans shown the “Oklahoma Standard”, but the entire world seems to be displaying this same compassion.  I flew from Seattle to Oklahoma City on the Saturday following the storm and many people in the Seattle-Tacoma airport commented about the storm and said they were praying for the people of Oklahoma.  In Atlanta, the response became even bigger for me personally.  More than a third of the passengers on the plane from Atlanta to Oklahoma City were coming to volunteer with the recovery efforts.

There have been donations and signs of support from throughout the U.S., as well as donations from all over the world.  There have been more than 20 different aid organizations on the ground in Oklahoma working on the recovery.  Their dedication and enthusiasm made it seem as though a return to normal would happen relatively quickly.

And then the unthinkable happened.  Another EF5 tornado, the widest ever recorded in the United States at 2.6 miles across, struck El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31st.  But this second killer storm did nothing but strengthen the resolve of those most affected.   What could have become a reason to quit had the opposite effect.  The human spirit that all of us want to see everywhere, all the time, came out.  And the love and support just kept coming.  Thank you America.  Thank you world.

But why am I writing about this in a business blog you ask?  Because, we are all in this together.  Sure individuals and governments have offered financial aid and support.  But, so have businesses.  The National Basketball Association and the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder donated $1 million each after Kevin Durant donated the same amount.  Companies from all over Oklahoma and the Southwest U.S. have sent teams in to feed the victims and volunteers free of charge.  Love’s Country Stores, headquartered in Oklahoma City, underwrote to the tune of $1.5 million a benefit concert featuring many prominent country singers.  Many Businesses are allowing their employees to volunteer with the relief efforts while receiving full pay and benefits.  Businesses large and small are pitching in to help the City of Moore.

Why would a business do this?  Isn’t the reason private sector businesses exist is to make money?  How can you stay in business if your workforce is not at work?  Is this all just a marketing expense; a way for businesses to get their name out there?

There are a few cynical people in the world that will hang their hats on these questions.  The rest of us will see the response for what it is: Hope, love and compassion for our neighbors, friends and co-workers.  We are all in this together, and but for the luck of where we live it could have been us.  It could have been a hurricane, or an earthquake, or even a wildfire.  But it wasn’t; not this time.  And I can assure you, it won’t be the last.  And for this reason alone I can say, we are all in this together.

For any organization, its employees or members want to be part of a family.  They want to be part of something more than just a place to work, or a place to congregate.  Humans crave for the personal interaction that makes them feel needed.  All companies that respond to disasters such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma send a clear signal to employees that they do care about the community; that the company will be there for them if disaster strikes.  Why? It appears that more companies have finally started to realize that community is an integral part of the business.  And it may not be just because it makes good business sense.

Perhaps this is a sign that the era of the cold, heartless corporation with no sense of community or dedication to the workforce is over.  Perhaps this is a sign that the new generation starting to run our companies have learned from the failures of the past.  Perhaps this is a sign that the world is becoming a better place.

Or, perhaps this is simply what we all do when a disaster strikes.  With all the communications technology that exists in the world today, perhaps we are finally hearing and seeing the entire picture.  It really doesn’t matter what the reason is.  What matters is that we are all in this together.

Thank you to every business, organization and individual that has responded to the needs in central Oklahoma.  On behalf of all Oklahomans, I can say with great assurance to the entire world: If you need us in the future, we will be there for you. Why? Because we are all in this together.

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