Friday, October 24, 2014

Lean Quote: Perseverance with Lean is Series of Short Races

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.— Walter Elliot

Lean is a journey that never ends. There will always be a gap between where you are (current state) and where you would like to be (True North). Since there will always be a gap, there will always be an opportunity to improve. Walking the path on a Lean journey can be an overwhelming experience.

Lean grew out of years of practice and experimentation at Toyota. No matter how much better they are than their competition, they continue to find more and more opportunities to improve each and every year. Lean involves the creation and implementation of continuous experiments to improve your strategies over time. This means experimenting with every process every day to get it right. We learn problem solving through hands-on improvement experiments. In Toyota and in lean thinking, the idea is to repeat cycles of improvement experiments forever.

A Lean journey is full of steps not all of which are forward. Failure will occur. Its ok, the purpose is learning, and we learn through experimentation. Trying new approaches, exploring new methods and testing new ideas for improving the various processes is exercise for the mind.

So leaders must create a culture that puts failure in its proper place: a useful tool for learning, and a natural part of iterative experimentation. Management must avoid the temptation to harshly judge unsuccessful ideas. A leader who allows for experimentation sends a clear signal that personnel are encouraged to find better methods and products.

Organizations embarking on a Lean journey should follow a disciplined process of systematic exploration and controlled experimentation. Kaizen is the process which determines whether processes resulted in improvements. It refers to an on-going activity by all people (including managers) to relentlessly and incrementally change and improve practices in small experiments.

The road to continual improvement is a rocky one with many ups and downs. Value the incremental improvement approach to continuous improvement. Through simple, common-sense, and low cost experimentation a great deal of process improvements can be made. Experimentation is the exercise of a healthy Lean journey. Understanding this allows one the opportunity to stay on the path along the journey.

Continuous improvement is about small changes on a daily basis to make your job easier.  Small step-by-step improvements are more effective over time than occasional kaizen bursts, and have a significantly greater impact on the organization culture - creating an environment of involvement and improvement.

Small victories tap into motivation. Achievement is fueled by making small amounts of progress, such as accomplishing a task or solving a problem. Help employees break projects, goals, and work assignments into small victories. Help them jump into an achievement cycle. 

Making one small change is both rewarding to the person making the change and if communicated to others can lead to a widespread adoption of the improvement and the possibility that someone will improve on what has already been improved. There's no telling what might occur if this were the everyday habit of all team members.

One of the most counter intuitive facts about small ideas is that they can actually provide a business with more sustainable competitive advantages than big ideas. The bigger the ideas, the more likely competitors will copy or counter them. If new ideas affect the company's products or services, they're directly visible and often widely advertised.  And even if they involve behind-the-scenes improvements--say, to a major system or process--they're often copied just as quickly. That's because big, internal initiatives typically require outside sources, such as suppliers, contractors, and consultants, who sell their products and services to other companies, too.  Small ideas, on the other hand, are much less likely to migrate to competitors--and even if they do, they're often too specific to be useful.  Because most small ideas remain proprietary, large numbers of them can accumulate into a big, competitive advantage that is sustainable. That edge often means the difference between success and failure.

In a Lean enterprise a strategy of making small, incremental improvements every day, rather than trying to find a monumental improvement once or twice a year equates to a colossal competitive advantage over time and competitors cannot copy these compounded small improvements.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Eight Most Common Traits of Successful People

Why do people succeed? Is it because they're smart, or are they just lucky? Analyst Richard St. John condenses 7 years of research and 500 interviews into 8 common traits of successful people.

After analyzing everything he’d learned, he came up with these eight traits:

  1. Passion: Love what you do.
  2. Work: Really hard.
  3. Focus: On one thing, not everything.
  4. Push: And keep on pushing yourself.
  5. Ideas: Come up with some good ones.
  6. Improve: Keep improving yourself and what you do.
  7. Serve: Serve others something of value.
  8. Persist: Because there is no overnight success.
These are the traits that are great if you have them, but should be sought after if you don't. Success doesn't come easy, but when you know what you're aiming for, taking the shot is much simpler.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lessons From Geese

Fall in New England is my favorite time of year. As the leaves start turning colors geese head south for the winter. But did you know that we can learn a lot about leadership and teamwork from geese? It’s true! Animals can teach us valuable lessons about life. It is truly amazing how humans can relate to them just by observing their behavior.

Many years ago, I was given a copy of “Lessons from Geese” as part of an organizational leadership program I was enrolled in. To this day, it is still my favorite leadership analogy. The story was written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish, a science teacher from Baltimore, Maryland and has since been used as a study lesson by many leadership institutes, consultants, organizations, and corporations.

We all know how important leadership and teamwork are in today’s organizations.  We can use the five principles presented in the “Lessons from Geese” story as inspiration to practice good leadership and teamwork skills as we implement Lean.

Fact 1: The Importance of Achieving Goals
As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: The Importance of Team Work
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

Fact 3: The Importance of Sharing
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Fact 4: The Importance of Empathy and Understanding
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Fact 5: The Importance of Encouragement
When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

"Lessons from Geese" provides a perfect example of the importance of team work and how it can have a profound and powerful effect on any endeavor. When we use these five principles in our personal and business life it will help us to foster and encourage a level of passion and energy in ourselves, as well as those who are our friends, associates, or team members.

This is a great, thoughtful message on how we all relate to each other. It carries a strong theme of cooperation and teamwork empowering us to reach individual as well as shared goals.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Lean Quote: Start Your Lean Journey, Do What You Can

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.— Arthur Ashe

I am often asked when the best time to start your Lean Journey is. Well, the short answer is now.  There is never a convenient or inconvenient time for change.

Sometime, I hear “we are not ready for lean”. This is a rather circular argument, because effectively what the management is saying is that business processes are too bad and therefore it can’t implement improvement. Of course this means that the business will never improve! I have never seen a business where the processes where too bad to start improving.

Many organizations are waiting for the optimum time to change.  Unfortunately, tomorrow never comes.  If you allow it you will always find another distraction.  There is never a better time to start than now.  We really must invest everyday in our future since you can't get back lost time.

Don’t spend your time trying to wait till things are perfect. Perfection is elusive. It is more important to get started. And it's better to get something done imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daily Lean Tips Edition #69 (1026-1050)

For my Facebook fans you already know about this great feature. But for those of you that are not connected to A Lean Journey on Facebook or Twitter I post daily a feature I call Lean Tips.  It is meant to be advice, things I learned from experience, and some knowledge tidbits about Lean to help you along your journey.  Another great reason to like A Lean Journey on Facebook.

Here is the next addition of tips from the Facebook page:

Lean Tip #1036 – Leaders Can Enable By Committing Resources and Removing Roadblocks.
Enable people to move forward in their work by committing appropriate resources, removing obstacles, helping them work across boundaries, and aligning processes, structure, and systems.

Lean Tip #1037 - Help Employees Engage Others.
Encourage those you work with to reach out and engage others with similar goals. Remind them that goals can be created independently, but achieving them almost always requires help and support from others.

Lean Tip #1038 – Teach People How to Manage Time and Energy Wisely.
Coach employees to fully engage in the task at hand, focus on the important rather than the urgent, avoid distractions, and create balance and renewal in the achievement of the goal. Help them learn to say no to urgent requests or terrific ideas that aren’t aligned with the important work of the team.

Lean Tip #1039 - Identify Specific Motivators and Adjust Accordingly.
Discuss with employees their extrinsic motivators, and identify opportunities and implications to bolster the achieving cycle. If they are motivated by recognition, identify ways to give meaningful praise, show approval for their work and team behaviors, or commend them for achievements along the way. Find ways to acknowledge them in front of their peers and express appreciation. If they are motivated by rewards, identify both economic and noneconomic rewards that you can give as a consequence of achievement.

Lean Tip #1040 - Turn Engagement into Action
Engagement for the sake of engagement is just that. Happy employees are good, but happy employees that contribute to the business by performing in exceptional ways are better. It’s also critical to remind employees and management that engagement is a two way street – the company will do great things for employees and employees will do great things for the company. Very few companies get this right, but those that do create a virtuous cycle of employee engagement where the company does more for its people and the people do more for the company which in turn causes the company to do even more for its people.

Lean Tip #1041 - Improve Your Communication Methods and Systems
The prevailing communication system in most organizations is infrequent and one way in nature. In other words, people don't get a lot of information or feedback about how they are doing or how the organization is performing, and when they do, this information is more often than not negative. The net results of this cultural commonality is that most employees see the existing meetings, newsletters, and bulletin board postings as a waste of time, whether you are aware of this or not. I've even seen organizations do more damage than good in their attempts to keep people informed because of the type of information that was shared (and not shared) and how they chose to share it. Coordinate the different group events that you have, measure event effectiveness, and take action to make improvements where they are needed.

Lean Tip #1042 - Measure Internal Customer Satisfaction
Some organizations don't measure and trend internal customer satisfaction at all, and those that do tend to do it only once a year at best. The high performance organizations however regularly trend and review their performance in the areas of employee retention, complaint levels, and internal satisfaction (perception survey) scores. If you want to change your existing work culture, you have to assess the degree to which your people feel that the existing work systems are supporting such a change, and you also need a gauge of where your work culture currently is - what your people think and believe about the organization. Review these measures monthly, identify system changes (such as those mentioned in this list) to affect those scores, and take action to put the highest priority system changes in place. Also, don't forget to identify and remedy the sources of internal customer dissatisfaction.

Lean Tip # 1043 - Stop Doing Things That Run Counter to Your Desired Culture
Each day, your existing culture is either moving closer to, or further away from, the type of culture that you want it to be. Cultures are a system in themselves - they have momentum, and they are either spinning in a negative or positive direction. Desired, or undesired, behaviors and work practices are being reinforced on a daily basis by the work systems you have in place right now. Until you recognize this, you won't be motivated to identify and change those systems that are reinforcing those things that you don't really want to reinforce.

Lean Tip #1044 - Create a Safe Learning Environment.
It's the trainer's responsibility to create a non-threatening environment for learning. The most effective way to achieve that is to establish a relationship with the trainee. People skills are vital to establishing a relaxed and friendly learning environment. Take the time to engage in conversation with the newcomer, asking about his/her family, hobbies and interests, and don't forget to share your own. Professional business settings are comprised of human beings, so act like one...and treat the newly hired person as you would like to be treated.

Lean Tip #1045 - Negativity is a Roadblock to Learning. Eliminate Roadblocks
Praise and positive feedback reinforce and affirm the efforts of everyone. Expect and provide positive interactions and feedback. There are no training shortcuts, therefore, allow time and repetition to bring the results everyone wants. Avoid the temptation to dictate and micro-manage the learning timeframe. Setting and expressing unreasonable timeframe goals are among the biggest roadblocks to the new hire success.

Lean Tip #1046 - Measure Before You Manage
Accountability is fundamental to effective management, but it’s impossible to achieve it without tracking each department and individual progress against very specific, measurable goals and objectives. Every element of your business should be measured – marketing, support, operations, sales, finance, engineering, employee performance, and so on. You first need to determine the right metrics and then make sure you have all the tools you need for measurement.

Lean Tip #1047 – Avoid Unrealistic Metric Targets
Many organizations set targets without any thought to current performance, process stability or process capability. Industry benchmarks are helpful, but before applying these benchmarks to an organization, the team should analyze current performance to ensure that unrealistic targets are not set. Unrealistic targets create resistance within an organization and impact team and people performance. In some cases, they also lead to data manipulation or incorrect reporting.

Before setting any targets, the metrics team should ensure that processes are stable and that process capability can be measured in a reliable manner. Process capability should be measured from the customer's perspective. If teams do not consult the customers, they may find that clients are still unhappy even when targets are consistently met. Involving customers at each stage of target setting helps teams set realistic and achievable targets that will meet customer's expectations.

Lean Tip #1048 – Avoid Too Many Metrics and Reports
Many organizations generate a lot of metrics and reports that nobody uses. Sometimes, it is even difficult to track who is actually the owner for what is being reported. All reported metrics should be critical to the business, not simply ones suggested by best practices or textbooks. Efforts should be made to identify a small and balanced set of metrics that meets the organization's needs, and are cost effective to maintain and run. All existing metrics should be assessed with key stakeholders to understand the relevance and importance of each. Redundant metrics should be discarded.

Lean Tip #1049 - Remember that Accountability Starts at the Top
Business leaders don’t always recognize how closely employees will follow their example. But if you want your workers to take goal-setting seriously, you should be prepared to share your own goals – as well as how you came out on delivering on them at the end of the quarter. Such transparency shows your team that you are in the trenches with them, making every effort to achieve what you set out to do – even if your targets were off.

Lean Tip #1050 - Continually Question, Reevaluate, and Refine Your Metrics

Keep in mind that you will need to reevaluate and adjust your metrics as your business priorities change. Every week, month, and quarter is a new opportunity to test and refine your ability to set and track metrics that will drive growth. When you invest time and thought into setting, monitoring, sharing, and refining your metrics, you’ll be amazed at how much more in tune you are to the state of your business, and how much more easily you can make the critical decisions that can catapult your business’ success.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Importance of Discovery

In the US we are celebrating Columbus Day which recognizes Christopher Columbus who discovered America. This is a good time to talk about the importance of discovery to Lean thinking.  Fundamentally, discovery is the act of detecting something new, or something "old" that had been unknown. Discoveries are often made due to questioning.

Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask questions that stimulate our thought.

Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such.

Thinking is of no use unless it goes somewhere, and again, the questions we ask determine where our thinking goes. Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things; force us to deal with complexity. Questions of purpose force us to define our task. Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.

Encourage a questioning culture.  Urge everyone to question. Ask why several times to try to get to the root cause of problems.  Challenge everyone to think and learn. Because without questioning there can’t be discovery. And without discovery there can’t be improvement.

In the spirit of Columbus Day take some time to discover and learn about your company, your employees, your problems, your processes, and your customers so that you can think Lean improvement.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Lean Quote: Get Your Hands Dirty

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Jump into the middle of things, get your hands dirty, fall flat on your face, and then reach for the stars.— Ben Stein

In a recent Havard Busines Review post on advice for new team leaders a tip stuck out to me:  

Get your hands dirty.

Jeanne DeWitt, Chief Revenue Officer at UberConference, explains this from her perspective:
Spend time doing the work that your team actually does. Not only does this help establish you as someone who leads by example, but you also learn first-hand about all of the different challenges that people experience every day. At UberConference, we have every new member of the team spend a week as a guest member of our customer support team. As a result of those experiences, everyone is far more connected to our customers, and changes to the product, tools, and messaging are implemented immediately because that first-hand experience creates passion. If you can understand what it's fundamentally like to be on the front lines, you have unique perspective when making larger strategic decisions and communicating them to your team.
Lean leaders should go to the shop floor and get their hands dirty by working on process improvement. People expect their leaders to be innovative.  Allow others to see your creativity in action on the front lines.   Leaders need to do more and observe less.   Action is observation in full motion.

Leading by example sounds easy, but few leaders are consistent with this one. Successful leaders practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions. They know everyone is watching them and therefore are incredibly intuitive about detecting those who are observing their every move, waiting to detect a performance shortfall.

The best leaders get their hands dirty and a must for Lean leaders.   Don’t be selfish and wash your hands clean.  Don’t wait to solve the problems in front of you.   Get involved and stay active.  Be transparent, make a difference and watch the immediate impact you can organically create. 

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