Friday, November 17, 2017

Lean Quote: Developing Excellent Communication Skills is Absolutely Essential to Effective Leadership

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.

"Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter." — Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp.

Communication is the glue that binds an organization together but do not assume that several announcements and a note on the notice board is sufficient to get the story out. Some say to communicate seven times and seven ways but that does not mean seven months apart. Develop and implement a robust communication plan.

Effective communication is all about conveying your messages to other people clearly and unambiguously. It's also about receiving information that others are sending to you, with as little distortion as possible. Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver.

Developing advanced communication skills begins with simple interactions. Communication skills can be practiced every day in settings that range from the social to the professional. New skills take time to refine, but each time you use your communication skills, you open yourself to opportunities and future partnerships.

Communication is a key ingredient for empowerment. Give every employee equal and direct access to information. Many companies have developed a trickle-down style of communication that alienates those employees who may not be "in the loop." The more informed employees are and the more communication is open, honest, direct and complete, the more likely employees are to feel empowered and connected to the daily operations and overall goals of their company.

Open communication is at the center of Lean and Respect for People. Employees need to know what is expected of them and how they’re performing. Visual displays such as scoreboards, scheduling charts, team communication boards, and recognition displays all help to keep information flowing between employees, departments and upper management.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Seven Steps of Problem Solving

Problems are expected in the course of business. A successful organization is not determined by the absence of problems. Rather, success is measured by how we solve the problems that do emerge.

The seven-step “root cause” problem solving process is a logical, commonsense method to solve any type of problem. It provides a road map to help everyone solve problems during the improvement journey. It suggests what materials and information are needed to resolve an emergent issue. And it provides a record of the decision making process. If the solution we select does not bring the desired results, we can review our steps and assumptions and make subsequent adjustments.

Versions of the problem solving process exist under a variety of acronyms. Regardless of the specific model employed, there are seven universal steps:

  1. Select the issue.
  2. Search for data to describe the situation.
  3. Analyze the facts to obtain root cause(s) of the performance gap.
  4. Select a solution.
  5. Conduct a pilot test.
  6. Evaluate performance.
  7. Standardize the gains, reflect, and repeat the process.
Let’s cover each of these steps in a little more detail.

1. Select the Issue. Start with the voice of the customer. Even if your work group does not have direct contact with the external customer, take the time to identify how your activity affects the customer. Then create a measurable problem statement, such as “reduce late deliveries.” Specify the measurable performance gap you wish to close.

2. Search for the data to describe the current situation. Gather all the relevant facts. In the early stages of any problem solving process, data are often scarce, and it’s tempting to accelerate the process by moving right into action. But take the time to search for the date to describe the current situation. Use the seven basic quality tools (fishbone diagram, Pareto chart, histogram, line chart, scatter diagram, control chart, and check sheets) to analyze the data and visually display the facts of the story. New ways of thinking will emerge when the data have a chance to speak.

3. Analyze the facts to obtain the root cause(s). Problems are often complex. Often, what we view as the problem is merely the symptom of a deeper, more complex problem with multiple contributing factors. In other words, the problem manifests in one area, but the “root cause(s)” of the problem lies elsewhere. One simple method to identify the root cause of a problem is called the “5 whys.” Simply ask “why?” five times. By the time you get to the fifth “why,’ you are usually down to bedrock. Another technique used to identify root causes is the fishbone diagram (also called the Ishikawa diagram, or the cause and effect diagram). The main purpose of the technique is to identify and map the major contributing factors to the development of a problem.

4. Select a solution. Unlike many mathematical problems, which allow for only one answer, quality problems have many possible solutions. So don’t jump to the conclusion that on particular solution is the only solution. Take the time to identify and consider as many ideas as possible. This is perhaps the most creative step in the problem solving process. Do not judge the quality of your solutions, even the crazy ones, until you exhaust the brainstorming process. Then, select an approach, preferably one that focuses on process improvement and that is financially feasible, has the best chance of being implemented and will have a high impact on the problem.

5. Conduct a pilot test. Take the time to do a test run on the solution. Make individual responsibilities clear and establish a daily schedule for the improvement plan. Notify anybody who might be affected by your changes before you begin implementation.

6. Evaluate performance. How well have you done? Is the problem subsiding? Do you see any improvement? Are there any assumptions that need to be modified? Check whether your solution produced the desired affect. If the results are not satisfactory, revisit the earlier steps in the problem solving process.

7. Standardize the gains, reflect, and repeat. Once you see that the solution is working, take action to maintain the gain. Standardize the solution so that you can prevent the very improvements you worked so hard to accomplish from being neglected or replaced over time with past practices. Gather data until the benefits stabilize. After you confirm that you achieved your desired effect, communicate the improvement.

The seven step problem solving process is a powerful mechanism to solve problems once and for all. In the end, an improvement is never an improvement until every step, including follow up, is implemented, then look for new ways to improve. Continuous improvement is just that – continuous.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Guest Post: Empowering Others

A manager who has created empowered employees is a happy manager.  However, achieving this state is not an easy battle and requires a great deal of strategy and restraint.

You are a manager.  Your job is not to do one job extremely well anymore.  However, your brain is still programmed to seek the challenge and reward of executing certain tasks to perfection.  You must now be satisfied with shaping the aggregate of many imperfect tasks to form the most optimal outcome.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. - Theodore Roosevelt

Pick the Right Person
  • In management, it is a very important lesson to learn early on that there are some skills and abilities that you can lead a person to and some attributes a person just plain has to have when they walk through the door.
  • Whatever it is that you need someone to be empowered to do make sure that they possess those “dealbreaker” attributes before you begin.  It will save you both a tremendous amount of time and aggravation.
Provide Tools
  • Make sure they have access to the right technology and resources needed to become knowledgeable about a given subject and communicate it.
  • Share your experience but do so objectively in a “This is something that has worked for me” or a “I tried this once and this was the result.”  Take yourself out of the advice and make it as objective as possible.  The minute you share a story with the undertone of “You should” the empowerment has ended.

Don’t Fixate, Cherish the Process
  • Don’t nag, it’s annoying!
  • Attempt to create an environment where those you empower update you on what you need to know without having to ask specifically.  Every time you ask someone about a specific item you tell them that you care only about that item, that result.  Instead talk about action steps, strategies, and tactics.  Show genuine interest in their methodology and they will tell you exactly what you want to know.
Don’t “Do”
  • If you are a person who often says to themself “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself…”  STOP!  Don’t say that ever again!
  • If you don’t trust someone else to do at least an adequate job on a certain project they’ll see in in your eyes.  The trouble with talented people, which often are those who become managers, is that their aptitude is high for a lot of things.  Understand you can’t do everything and let go!
Step Away and Watch People Succeed
  • Trust yourself that you have adhered to the aforementioned tenets.
  • In turn, trust those you have empowered to get the job done.
I am interested to hear your strategies for empowering others.  Feel free to comment with your experiences.

About the Author: Carol James is an EssayLab psychology department writer and senior editor. She has MA degree in social sciences and is an excellent specialist in this field. Carol worked with numerous materials on the subject and is eager to share her knowledge with our readers.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Lean Quote: Priorities and the Rule of Three

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.

"If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any." — Jim Collins

You can not have too many priorities. By definition. Priorities are those top few tasks that deserve attention next. If you have too many, you have none. You have to know your top few priorities at any time.

If you have 2-3 priorities, you will complete 2-3 tasks. If you have 4-10, you will complete 1-2. If you have more than 10, you will complete none. I saw this on a Franklin-Covey video and I totally agree. The more items on your list, the more time you spend messing with the list, jumping from task to task, and feeling paralyzed by indecision.

No matter how many different things you do in a week or a month, there are only three tasks and activities that account for 90% of the value of the contribution you make to your business. This is known as the “Rule of Three”.

Before you begin work for the day, take some time to think slowly, make a list, select your most important task, and then start work on that task to the exclusion of everything else. Time management starts with you being able to make a list and identifying your top tasks.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Lean Administration: Time based Improvement Not Cost Savings

If you are simply using Lean principles to improve manufacturing processes you are sub-optimizing your business and will not resolve the bigger issues. Every business has administration processes that include engineering drawings, invoices, purchase orders, production orders, production scheduling, etc.. Therefore, developing an integrated Lean business system to support the manufacturing processes will benefit any company.

Lean Administration or Lean Office is the application of the LEAN philosophy to the office and administrative processes. Implementing Lean administration will improve the traditional methods and provide more useful, real time information that will allow a business to be run more effectively. This real time data will clearly demonstrate how the company is performing, and be able to highlight any systemic weaknesses or issues.

So how does Lean administration differ from Lean manufacturing? In my experience applying Lean in the office differs because:
        • Business processes are not as well defined.
        • Harder to identify the customer, product, service, and 

          customer value.
        • Waste is harder to see in the office.
        • Traditional focus is on the factory first.
        • Costing based on direct labor.
        • Office lead time not measured.
        • Company has cost based mindset which they associate 

          to less people.

Ever tried to do Lean in administration? Not easy, right? How do you move past these differences? In my opinion by focusing on the process with the improvement measureable based on time improvement can be made. It is important to recognize the difference between cost savings and time. I think we would all agree if we compress the time it takes to service a customer then we save money. However, cost savings don’t necessarily translate to less time.

When an organization can create an environment that allows it to develop a lean business culture it will have the capability to transform itself into a lean business enterprise. This will create the potential for any business to improve its productivity and profitability over the long term.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Guest Post: The Best Online Kanban Board Tools for Project Management

Do you want to empower your team? As a CEO growing your business, of course you do. But, if you’re experiencing high overhead, issues with managing inventory and a rising number of errors among employees, it sounds like you need a Kanban project management system.

The Benefits of Using a Kanban Project Management Tool

Do your employees feel overwhelmed? A Kanban project management tool has features that can limit the number of projects assigned to each employee.

Over time, you can collect information to help you continuously improve the way you manage your workflow. In addition, it should offer continuous improvement, increased productivity, and a reduction of wasted work.

When key stakeholders request an overview of your initiatives in the system, your workflows will be easier to view in one centralized place. It will allow you to limit the use of other communication tools (i.e., email, software) and set up notifications that update employees on what needs to be completed.

Let’s look at a few platforms:

1. Trello

In Trello, users can set up a separate board with tasks needed to complete projects.  Employees can add documents and ideas throughout the process.  You can invite users to the board and assign tasks with due dates labeled by color to signify importance.

2. Asana

Asana is easy to use software for the management of to-do lists for the team. Assigned tasks can then be managed by each employee. Asana also allows you to set up contacts based on their location in a list format.

3. Wrike

Wrike has a visual interface to set up a Kanban Board for a multitude of tasks like:

      To-do lists
      Items pending
      Items reviewed
      Items completed

A dashboard of tasks per department can be created with filters with a different status of the project.

4. LeanKit

Set up a wait queue by pulling and dropping work into the system. A parallel process is available for an entire team to see what work is available in a “To Do” or “Done” lane.

A series of horizontal swimlanes for a variety of projects can be segmented based on business need, production, routine, and issues with the project.

5. KanbanFlow

The Kanban board can be designed into different columns with an overview of the status of a project. You can set up WIP limits (work-in-progress) to motivate team members to finish tasks instead of working on a new one.

Subtasks can be included to view the progress of each team member. You can use the software on your cell phone, laptop or tablet at any time of the day.

6. Volerro

In Volerro, you can schedule and coordinate calendars for your team to access by milestones. You can drag and drop content and tasks that can be converted to HTML5 for the team to preview it in a web browser. It will help employees to estimate and track the time it will take to complete an assignment.

Volerro will eliminate the time in scheduling and aid in more productive team meetings because a chat session function is available. Also, you can share your screen with team members for training sessions, if the team works remotely.

7. Jira Software

The Kanban boards in Atlassian can be color-coded to signify importance when completing an assignment. It can be set up by “To Do,” “In Progress,” “In Review” and “Done.” Real-time agile reports can be created with insights into the performance of each team member in line or bar graphs.

8. Kanbanchi

Kanbanchi offers an unlimited dashboard and card system with any number of collaborators to have access. You can leave comments for other employees to read and manipulate a dashboard connected to Google Drive.

Users can integrate Trello Boards in Kanbanchi in addition to adding text tags or color tags to projects. You can create Gantt charts and schedule a time tracker for you to monitor the progress of your team. At an extra cost of $5 per month per user, you can add the logo of your company in Kanbanchi.

9. Yodiz

You can expect to see issue trackers, product backlogs, agile project management with an integrated feature for Zendesk and GitHub. Yodiz works well with IT teams with a reliable customer support system.

10. Kanbanize

You can move project cards on your Kanban board with WIP limits prevent bottlenecks and employees from feeling swamped with work.  Kanbanize can help with setting up custom roles to set permissions based on seniority. 

You can ping a user when a deadline is coming close and set up custom fields by date, multi choice, text or numbers.


In conclusion, these Kanban project management tools should be reviewed or tested before your final purchase. If you believe your team is wasting time on current projects, the communication lines are crossed, and you need a better way to improve efficiencies, purchasing a new project management tool is the way to go.

About the Author: Brad Mishlove, CEO and founder of Catapult Groups, an executive coaching organization is committed to inspiring business owners and entrepreneurs by keeping them accountable for their own success through peer advisory groups and one-on-one executive coaching.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Lean Quote: Lean Goes Beyond Tools

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.

"We are stuck in the tool age." — Jim Womack (2010)

Lean is not about the tools it’s how they are applied. A large number of organizations have failed to produce the desired results from the direct and prescriptive application of Lean tools. The tools themselves have been proven to work in many situations. The difference must then be in how the tools were applied, their appropriateness, but not the tools themselves.

There are thousands of Lean tools, because each problem requires its own unique tool to help solve it. However, tools do not solve problems but rather people do. People are needed to apply tools. Basically, leaders have to learn to think differently and see their customers and business differently, that’s people development, not tools development.

One of the most common and most difficult to eradicate beliefs is that “Lean” is just a bunch of analytical tools and methods. By knowing and applying them, organizations often believe they will automatically — and forever more — increase their profitability. If this were the case, why are so many companies, institutions and agencies that have applied Lean tools not experiencing sustainable differences? Why is it that in many instances organizations, once started down the road of Continuous Improvement (with varying degrees of success for sure), break away and refocus on other initiatives the moment a new CEO or plant supervisor comes onboard? Are the tools not working? Is it just another consultant’s ruse, where the theory sounds great but doesn’t work in real life? Or, are the means and methods not being used properly?

Toyota's view is that the main method of Lean is not the tools, but the reduction of three types of waste: muda ("non-value-adding work"), muri ("overburden"), and mura ("unevenness"), to expose problems systematically and to use the tools where the ideal cannot be achieved. From this perspective, the tools are workarounds adapted to different situations, which explains any apparent incoherence of the principles above.

Lean goes beyond the tools to challenge our way of thinking. It is about learning to see opportunities and continually improving them. Lean is a system of tools and people that work together.

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