Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Simplicity and Employee Engagement

Does being less engaged make employees less productive... or vice versa, are they disengaged because they have so much more pressure to produce more?

In this age of global competitiveness, organizations are challenged to increase productivity, accelerate innovation, and maneuver themselves into a position of strategic sustainability. This requires strong alignment of motivated people to deliver results.

Here are four simple rules for achieving real and lasting collaboration throughout the organization:

1. Understand what your employees actually do. "Most management approaches pay less attention to the day-to-day reality of how people behave and why, and instead add unnecessary functions and procedures. People act rationally, even if their actions create problems for the organization. They are trying to look after their own interests. Change the conditions inside the organization so their interests align with what you need them to do.

2. Find your fighters. Conflict is not necessarily a good thing in and of itself. But it can be a sign that people are actually doing the hard work of cooperating, which can be difficult and create tension and resentment. But the people who are resented might be the glue that holds cooperation together. We call them 'integrators.' They're often not in positions of formal power. They often operate at the intersection between two groups. They have an interest in cooperation and the power to make collaboration happen. Integrators can be well-liked, but they can also be resented. They are forcing others to make hard choices. You can identify integrators by the fact that they are the focus of strong feelings, either positive or negative. Give integrators the power, incentives and authority to succeed."

3. Give more people more power... The real key to performance is combining cooperation with autonomy. The problem with standard approaches to an increasingly complex business environment is that by creating new layers and processes and systems to deal with these challenges you also sacrifice people’s autonomy. That makes the organization less agile. One of the effects of simplicity is to balance autonomy and cooperation. It gives people enough power to take the risk of interpreting rules, using their judgment and intelligence. If more employees have power to make decisions in your organization, that means they can solve problems on their own.

4. Don’t punish failure—punish the failure to cooperate. If people are afraid to fail, they will hide problems from you and your peers. Reward people who surface problems—and punish those who don’t come together to help solve them.

Simple rules work, it turns out, because they do three things very well. First, they confer the flexibility to pursue new opportunities while maintaining some consistency. Second, they can produce better decisions. When information is limited and time is short, simple rules make it fast and easy for people, organizations, and leaders to make sound choices. They can even outperform complicated decision-making approaches in some situations. Finally, simplicity allows members to synchronize their activities with one another. As a result, companies can do things that would be impossible for their individual employees to achieve on their own. 

These rules present an interesting approach to employee engagement. Employees are empowered, work together, know how their contributions matter, and are allowed to take risks and fail - all in an environment where complexities, in general, have been removed.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

4 Tiers for Daily Accountability

Lean (continuous improvement) organizations make use of daily management systems that are designed so that problems can be quickly identified, front-line staff are empowered to fix the problems that they can, and problems that the front-line staff cannot fix are escalated and countermeasures created quickly.

Daily tiered meetings are an integral element of daily management system. The number of tiers might vary with respect to the size of the organization. The objective of the tiered meetings is to have an alignment across the organization to achieve a common goal. The result KPIs & process KPIs are monitored on a day-to-day basis. The result KPI of one tier might be the process KPI of another. Thus the linkage between hierarchies too is maintained in achieving the common goal.

Tier 1: Start of shift, led by production team leader with production team. The idea is to focus on abnormalities. That’s an opportunity to get better.

Tier 2: Led by supervisor with production team leaders and any dedicated support group representatives.

Tier 3: Led by value stream manager or equivalent with supervisors and support group representatives or staff members. The goal is to visualize gaps in the system, drive team problem-solving and to improve the overall business. Tier 3 is the first place where the overall business goals are being addressed in the problem-solving process.

Tier 4: Led by plant manager with production and support staff members.  Focused on "run-the-business" as well as "improve-the-business" activities.

Characteristics of all meetings:

  • Brief - rarely longer than 15 minutes
  • Standing up
  • Located immediately adjacent to and not physically separated from production floor
  • Agenda and content defined by a visual display board

The backdrop for tiered meetings is primarily a visual process performance metric board and is supplemented with things like a task accountability board, posted leader standard work, and suggestion status board.

The meeting is an opportunity for the team to reflect on the past day, anticipate the next day and discuss issues, problems and opportunities. Engaging people in the meeting is too important. The team leader should engage as many people as possible in this problem solving exercise as to develop more problem solvers. Thus everyone becomes a leader and the behavior gets built in.

Daily accountability is a vehicle for ensuring that focus on process leads to action to improve it. The structure of the daily accountability process is straightforward — a series of four brief meetings to review what happened yesterday and assign actions for improvement. These are fast-paced, stand-up meetings at the work location that emphasize quickly resolving or investigating to the next level interruptions in the defined process.

Daily accountability is the vehicle for interpreting the observations recorded on the visual controls, converting them into assignments for action and following up to see to it that assignments are completed. As with the other principal elements of lean management, daily accountability relies on disciplined adherence to its processes on the part of those who lead the four-tier meetings. 

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Lean Quote: The Waste of Talent, Skill, and Knowledge

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.

"The buried talent is the sunken rock on which most lives strike and founder." — Frederick William Faber

The waste of Talent, creativity or your people is an addition to the seven wastes of lean manufacturing (Muda), it is the failure to make good use of your employees; all of them. Your employees are your most valuable resources when it comes to ensuring that the business runs smoothly and continuously improves.

When companies fail to recognize or utilize people’s talents, skills or special knowledge, not only are they missing the benefit of these resources, the underutilized are likely to become dissatisfied and may begin to perform poorly, or leave. This waste of talent happens when management is not responsive, does not assign tasks appropriately or does not train properly.

Without the involvement and loyalty of all of your employees your company will fail to compete as effectively as it could do with their help. In today’s global marketplace we need every advantage that we can get to maintain and improve our businesses.

Examples of wastes of Talent
  • Problem solving conducted only by experts, ignoring the input from other employees.
  • Improvement ideas that are forced upon different sections of the company rather than invented within them.
  • A workforce that feels that there is no point in making suggestions for improvement.

The main cost of the waste of talent within your organization is in time wasted to make improvements and meet changing customer requirements. You will be far slower at making improvements and solving problems if you rely only on your “experts” to come up with the ideas, whilst your engineers, supervisors and managers may be highly skilled they are small in number compared to your other employees.

This failure to make improvements at a good pace will eventually mean that your competitors will move ahead of you and will lead the way within your industry whilst you lag far behind. They will win the business from you as they are able to offer enhanced service and lower costs.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

5 Questions to Ask When Drawing A Process Map

A process map is like a flowchart. It is constructed for the purpose of showing the flow of a process or cycle over time. The detailed sequences of activities, inputs, and outputs for a particular process is the key information needed to construct the map. The way in which this information is obtained is by asking a series of questions aimed at tracking the flow through each function or activity.

For any process map generated, the questions are similar in content and purpose, but are phrased to elicit the process flow being mapped. Start your questions at the beginning of the process:

Question 1: Where does the process begin – what is the very first thing that happens to initiate the process – and who does it?

Question 2: What happens next and who does that? 

On the simplest level, the map may be constructed by repeating question 2 until the entire process is mapped. However, there are some specific situations and items that you should know how to represent on your map.

It is likely that there will be some “if/then” situations in the product or information flow. These are decision points that will necessarily create branches in the map illustrating alternate routes for the product or information to flow, depending on decisions made. It is important that these situations be identified and mapped, which can be done by asking:

Question 3: Is there a decision to be made after step x ?

If so, what is the decision and what are the branches that the process might take after this decision? What are the first steps in each of the branches? Continue with Question 2 for each of the branches. 

The product or information flow may cut across different functional areas, or the same step may occur at the same time. Also, different steps may occur in different functional areas at the same time. This usually means there are various product or information components that will be rejoined. To cover this type of situation ask:

Question 4: Regarding the last step performed by function x, is there another function that is performing that same step simultaneously?

Or, is there another different step that is happening simultaneously, and if so, what is it and who does it?

You should also identify the inputs and outputs from each step in the process flow. Inputs are the products or information required for a step to be completed. Inputs can include orders, decisions, policies, specifications, subassemblies, raw materials, etc. Outputs are the outcomes from a step that are passed on to the next step. The outputs from one step become the inputs to other steps. 


Question 5: What are the inputs and outputs associated with step x ?

Often there is an issue among team members over what level of detail is appropriate for mapping. Additionally, it is sometimes unclear if a step should be included as part of the process if it doesn’t happen all the time. This is where I use the 20% rule. This rule states that you should map a step if it occurs 20% or more of the time. This is not, however, a hard-and-fast rule, and there are exceptions. Think of this rule as a way to help you determine whether to map a step if there are no obvious indications for or against including it.

It is important that you clarify and confirm the map. Review it with those who provided the information and expect changes. Building the map is and iterative process.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Guest Post: Why The Best Managers Are Always Good Listeners

There are many roles a manager must fulfill. They vary from industry-to-industry, but in every case, they are numerous. However, one skill that’s useful in most tasks that a manager undertakes, is that of being a good listener.

Part of a manager’s role is to make people feel valued. Others include:
  •   Giving instructions.
  •   Sharing or delivering important news.
  •   Striking deals and making agreements.
  •   Assessing and management of grievances.
Of course, these aren’t a manager’s only responsibilities. What those listed here all have in common, though, is that listening is a key component. Yes, there is much planning and talk required. However, without the ability to listen well, a manager will be less effective.

Listening is important because it’s the most direct way of understanding what someone is trying to tell you. It might not always seem important to you. But, if people are able to speak to you, happy in the knowledge that you will really listen to them – and not just hear them – then they will think of you, their manager, in a more positive light.

With all the pressures that managers are under, it can be difficult to do everything that’s required, in the allotted time frame.

The key points in becoming a good listener are:
  •   Engage in active listening.
  •   Switch off or move away from electronic devices.
  •   Keep focused on the main message.
  •   Concentrate and try to avoid misunderstandings.
  •   Be patient.
To get your skills up to speed, read this guide which details tips on how to become a better listener.

About the Author:
Jackie Edwards is now a writer after a successful career in HR and Management. She's a mum to two small girls and a menagerie of pets and in her free time volunteers for a number of local mental health charities.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Lean Quote: To Succeed, One Must Be Creative and Persistent

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.

"To succeed, one must be creative and persistent." — John H. Johnson

People just give up too easily. They’re robbing themselves of their more interesting ideas by giving up too soon. Perseverance is what allows creative geniuses to keep pressing on through failures and bad ideas in order to uncover truly valuable concepts. No matter what your endeavor may be: if you aren’t invested to make it through the work until the end, you don’t stand a chance at succeeding. Persistence matters.

As far as creativity is concerned, in my mind it is not enough to just have ideas, or to be able to appraise them critically, or to sell, translate, or market them. What separates truly creative greats from those who are less creative is the aspect of persistence. It is through dogged determination that highly creative persons take their energies and translate their dreams into realities. Sometimes this means that they literally breathe life into mere wisps of visions and then work tirelessly until these threads are completed as something that can be viewed, felt, or understood by others.

It’s all well and good to talk about being persistent and working with Herculean effort, but how do we get ourselves to that state of mind? If we have no guarantees, how do we keep ourselves motivated when the work gets tough? (And it always does.)

The best creative minds and innovators don’t just succeed right away. Hell, they don’t even succeed consistently. All of us face at least the prospect of failure every single day. Failing really just means being open to experimentation—to working on things outside of our comfort zone without fear of repercussions if things don’t pan out. The freedom to fail is what will eventually make you look like an overnight success.

The winner of a long race, as creativity can be, is not the person with the best idea, but the person who finishes first. The world is littered with abandoned works and too-late arrivals. So knuckle down! Get on with it and never, ever give in!

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lean Tips Edition #112 (1681-1695)

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 #1681 - Encourage Employees to Recognize One Another
Of course, a manager’s appreciation is important. But workplace recognition can come from colleagues too. Consider creating “thank-you” slips for your staff members to write notes of gratitude to coworkers. Expressing thanks, even for small helpful acts, can go a long way toward building a cohesive team.

Lean Tip #1682 - Maintain an Open-Door Policy
Happy workplaces are environments where employees feel comfortable voicing their ideas and concerns. Set the right tone by letting your employees know that you welcome their thoughts for improving business operations and workplace culture. Also, provide and ask for regular feedback. Don’t limit yourself to one format: You could offer an idea board, suggestion box or monthly brown bag Q&A with company leadership.

Lean Tip #1683 - Recognize Outstanding Work
Want to boost employee morale? Place an article in the company newsletter or a note on a bulletin board in the office in recognition of a special achievement. Praise employees for their good work in front of their peers. You don’t have to spend a dime to reward hardworking employees for their actions and achievements. Your gesture lets employees know their unique contributions and positive attitudes make a difference for your company and the team.

Lean Tip #1684 - Offer Professional Development Opportunities
Training programs are an employee retention strategy that pays off big time. Your employees benefit by expanding their skills. You benefit by getting a more productive and versatile workforce. Everyone wins when you grow together.

Lean Tip #1685 - Promote From Within
Your employees will feel discouraged if they sense they’ll be sitting in their current cubicle forever. If you want employees to invest in the business, then invest in them, too. Many managers fail to consider that the talent they seek could very well be right under their nose. Wise leaders consider “internal employees” — professionals who are among your current workforce — first when a position is created or vacated.

Lean Tip #1686 - Keep Information Flowing
Employees might worry when they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, creating an environment in which speculation can take root and rumors thrive. If you don’t give people information, they’re going to start making guesses. This doesn’t mean employees have to know everything you know, but keeping the team informed about issues that may affect them creates a sense of transparency. It lifts the fog.

Lean Tip #1687 - If You See Something You Like, Say It
This doesn’t have to be constant, but if you see an employee going above and beyond, thank them. Say how much you appreciate their work and how it’s not going unnoticed. You may think this is unnecessary and it “goes without saying” because they know what they’re doing is good, but trust us, a little positive re-enforcement is always a good thing. Not to mention, this may cause some friendly competition within the workplace -- which I have experienced firsthand to help drive innovation and collaboration.

Lean Tip #1688 - Give More Responsibility To Encourage Employee Empowerment
If you want to empower your employees, hand them a little more responsibility. Let them make important decisions in regard to the company. It’ll build your team members' confidence when you recognize and trust their expertise.

Lean Tip #1689 - Give Employees a Voice
Feeling like they are part of the process, that their thoughts and ideas matter, and that they have a voice in their work performance gives employees a sense that they have an impact on their company. Plus, they’re on the front lines and know best about how work should be performed. Actively soliciting employee feedback and incorporating employee thoughts and ideas into how the organization operates is a very effective way to engage employees.

Lean Tip #1690 - Remember that Culture Happens from the Top Down
You cannot delegate culture-building and then forget about it. Culture always starts and ends with the leaders of an organization. If you have a toxic team culture, you should look in the mirror. As the leader, always stay involved in the staff culture. Be the biggest champion of your core values. Attend every event. If you don’t set the tone for the culture you want or participate in all the team events, how can you expect great culture from your staff?

Lean Tip #1691 - Actively Manage Risks and Learn Early
Implementing project risk management and early learning principles will help your team identify roadblocks and issues before they occur and either eliminate them, or manage them effectively. There has been a lot written on early learning (iterative development, Agile, fast feedback, modular design). But no matter what approach you choose, the purpose is the same - learn early and the impact can be either entirely avoided or managed. Learn later, and it will cost the project time and the organization money.

Lean Tip #1692 - By Failing to Plan, You are Planning to Fail
Good planning mitigates risks and promotes learning early. While planning, teams consider, talk through, and eliminate ‘flow’ blockages before they occur. The ROI on planning is huge. A good plan has enough detail for it to be predictive of how much work is really going to be involved, and therefore when you will be done. Records of past plans can also help, as an input into how much work will really be involved in the various tasks, and how much unpredicted work there typically is in a project.

Lean Tip #1693 - Figure Out How the Work Gets Done.
We have lots of assumptions about how work gets done that don’t mirror exactly what happens. After all, during the day-to-day grind, we don’t think about how we do the work, we often just do it. Ask an outside observer to record the steps of the process in a way that he/she could repeat it themselves if they had to, without assistance.

Lean Tip #1694 - Remove Inefficiencies and Waste.
Once you know what the workflow of your process looks like, take a second look at any step in the process that doesn’t directly create value for the customer. Manage, improve, and smooth your process flow to eliminate non-valued-added activity (e.g., wasted time, wasted movement, wasted inventory due to overproduction, customer delays, waiting for approvals, delays due to batching of work, unnecessary steps, duplication of effort, and errors and rework).

Lean Tip #1695 - Have a Strong Lean Improvement Strategy

You'll need a solid plan and some attainable targets before implementing Lean. Utilize checklists and to-do lists, and you’ll always be working towards a goal. Look at every step in your process from the customer’s perspective: Is all that you’re doing something that he or she would be willing to pay for? If not, it is time to get back to the drawing board.

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