Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: The Work of Management



Lean transformations are challenging and many of those on the journey have struggled to get the performance gains. Sustainable improvement requires daily management approach through kaizen, A3 thinking, and hoshin planning.

Jim Lancaster, CEO of Lantech, and author of The Work of Management, tells the story of how his company initially triumphed with Lean and then stumbled badly, nearly losing its way, before finding the key to sustainable improvement in a daily management system. He’ll reveal how close observations of frontline work, experiments, and improvements, ultimately led to a new companywide system of “daily management” focused on maintaining 
processes before improving them. The system is based on overlapping daily and weekly cycles of standardized work activities performed by Lancaster and managers at every level that resolve frontline operational problems immediately. With a focus on maintaining processes before improving them, and on daily standardized work for manager throughout the company the team at Lantech improved as never before.

Jim’s story is both practical and inspiring. It's a close-up, candid look at his personal transformation as a leader. It's also a practical, in-depth, business case study of Lantech's lean transformation, relapse, and comeback that American manufacturing - and other industries - can use to profitably transform themselves.

The book outlines an 8-step action plan to create your own daily management system. There are plenty of good example of processes and visual boards to help you learn and understand the core principles. The book is well written and a must read for anyone who wants to learn how daily management really works.

As expected this book is only about the journey of Lantech from Jim’s view. It would be nice to have other examples perspectives since not all business face the same challenges. However, this does present a god example on it’s won.

I recommend this book to anyone working to improve their daily management system or trying to figure out how to sustain their gains. It’s easy to understand description with real life examples help to guide understanding of daily management. This is a great action book for anyone who wants to execute change in their company.


Disclosure: The author provided a copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing it.



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Monday, December 10, 2018

Lean Tips Edition #133 (1991 - 2005)

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 #1991 - Acknowledge That You Don't Know Everything.
Although you may be a leader at work or in your field, you can still learn something new. Too many leaders think if they admit they don't have all the answers, they won't be respected, but in reality, the opposite is true. Letting your team see that you're human will earn their respect and loyalty. Be ready to apologize when you've made a mistake, and take responsibility for your direct reports' actions.

Lean Tip #1992 - Reward Successes and Learn From Failures.
Too many leaders don't stop to reward success or recognize employees' outstanding work but are quick to point out what people do wrong. While it's good management to learn from what went right or wrong on a project, it's also important to celebrate achievements.

Lean Tip #1993 - Motivate Employees
A good leader motivates others. There are many different types of leadership styles-driven, supportive, energetic and low-key, among others. Whatever their management style, good leaders find creative ways to motivate their team members.

One way to motivate people for the long-term is to set up data-driven systems that allow team members to excel in their performance. The right systems help staff members to operate at their maximum potential.

Another strategy to motivate staff members is to implement a bonus program. The incentive should be good for both the practice and the individual. A clearly defined bonus program that rewards team members for meeting or exceeding practice goals allows everyone in the organization the opportunity to improve.

Lean Tip #1994 - Coach Your Team
Coaching helps your team reach its potential. Effective and responsible leadership focuses on positive, specific and practical feedback that helps team members learn, grow and excel at their duties.

Coaching encompasses a variety of techniques including informal feedback during the workday, formal performance reviews, one-to-one meetings with team members, and regular staff meetings. Coaching is an ongoing process for every leader.

Lean Tip #1995 - Promote Excellence
You should have high expectations and challenge your team to reach their potential. Think about your own experience. Have you ever been to a course or seminar when the teacher or speaker really motivated you? You knew that when you walked out of that program that you were going to be a little bit better in some way. A spark had been ignited, and you were ready to raise the bar on your performance. As the practice leader, you have to provide that spark.

Provide small and large challenges for your team. This allows those individuals to think through problems, grow and mature, and begin to excel in their jobs. Your team will be better for it-and so will your practice.

Lean Tip #1996 - Lead By Example
The best way to earn the team’s respect is to “walk the talk.” Remember, the team is always watching the dentist. The way you behave will have a significant effect on how the team acts. If you come in late two or three times a week, you can’t expect your staff to arrive on time. Your team is looking to you for leadership guidance, and the best strategy is to lead by example.

Lean Tip #1997 – Be a Passionate Leader.
If you don’t believe in your company, neither will your employees. Start each day with a positive attitude and show enthusiasm for projects and initiatives. Take pride in the services or products you provide.

Lean Tip #1998 - Encourage Employee Contributions.
Some of the best ideas can come from employees. They interact with clients and customers every day and have an intimate knowledge of how well practices and procedures are working. Hear them out about ways to make improvements. Make changes that will improve their ability to do their job.

Learn Tip #1999 - Keep an Open Mind.
Be willing to look at things from a new perspective. Encourage feedback from employees and customers and hear what they have to say. This could ultimately lead to increased efficiency and productivity.

Lean Tip #2000 - Learn From Your Mistakes.
No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. Be willing to accept the blame and move on. Use your errors to make adjustments to the way things are done so that the same mistake does not happen again. Constantly be looking for ways to grow and improve.

By making a conscious effort to improve yourself and your leadership abilities, you can make a positive impact on your company. Not only can it increase productivity and efficiency, it can lead to greater employee satisfaction. Start making changes today for a better tomorrow.

Lean Tip #2001 – Motivation: Lead by Example
Have you ever arrived at work late but disliked it when your team wasn’t running on time? Does your team need to answer all correspondence promptly but your schedule precludes you of this standard?

Remember that you set the tone for your team and they will follow your example. So, your naturally respectful demeanor (you’re courteous, right?) will luckily manifest in your team and you’ll reap the behaviors you demonstrate.

Lean Tip #2002 – Motivation: Compliment the Team on Their Successes
Many people perform their roles without so much as a “thank you” or “job well done” because many employers believe praise comes in the form of the pay check.  There are more pressing matters than complimenting people on what they’re already paid to do, right?

However, to maintain team morale, you should appeal to your team’s intrinsic motivators and acknowledge when they exert additional effort or create new solutions. People don’t typically resign to leave the tasks; they leave their managers. Without timely acknowledgement, your team may feel you don’t appreciate them.

Lean Tip #2003 – Motivation: Be Calm When Handling Corrections
There’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you notice an employee accidentally overlooked something that you catch, your reaction will set the tone for how they feel about you.

No matter how stressful your day, try to avoid getting upset and instead calmly discuss the issue. To earn your team’s respect, you’ll need to show them respect even when they’ve made errors.

Lean Tip #2004 – Motivation: Listen to Your Employees
It’s important to hear what your team is telling you – and actually listen. Staying silent while they talk only to recant with your personal message doesn’t count. Pay attention to what they’re saying – ask them questions, look into the ideas they have, and consider their suggestions.

Good leaders listen to the team’s suggestions and consider if it’s worth the time, money, and effort to implement.

Lean Tip #2005 – Motivation: Identify the WIIFM.

If you have not heard this acronym, it means What’s In It For Me, or why should I be interested in this goal outside of the potential inclusion of a stick or carrot? This is a great opportunity to communicate the benefits of change for the individual, their team, the customers they support, and the company as a whole.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Lean Quote: Measure the Right Indicators, Measure Them Well

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.


"Management by use only of visible figures, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable." — W. Edward Deming

It is not enough to simply create a numeric measure. The measure should accurately reflect the process. We use metrics to base decisions on and to focus our actions. It is not only important to measure the right indicators, it is important to measure them well.

Too many metrics create chaos and unnecessary work. Too few metrics will not provide enough measurement to ensure you’re your strategies are supported. Your metrics should provide insights into the progress your agency is making.

One of the biggest metrics mistakes is random selection. The best metrics start with the big picture. Identify the overall objective of your company or initiative. State it quantitatively. It should answer the question: "We'll know this is successful when we see _____ happen."

Without good performance measurements, it is easy for companies to fall into a very common trap: Employees keep busy with all kinds of activities but achieve few of the desired results. Effective performance measurement is the compass that guides management toward meaningful results at the process level, results that will tie directly with the company's goals

Although there may never be a single perfect measure, it is certainly possible to create a measure or even multiple measures which reflect the performance of your system. If the metrics are chosen carefully, then, in the process of achieving their metrics, managers and employees will make the right decisions and take the right actions that enable the organization to maximize its performance.



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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Q&A With Mark Graban - Measures of Success


Organizations depend on metrics for their business. Question is, are they helping people do the right things? Or, encouraging them to overreact to every uptick, downturn, and change?

Mark Graban, author of, Measures of Success, shows a better way to chart and manage your metrics, in any organization or setting. For your business processes and activities, you need to know what’s working, what’s not, and what to change. And why. Then, you can determine what to stop doing, what to start doing, what to keep doing. 

I  recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Mark Graban  and discussing his latest book Measures of Success. Here's a little bit from the Q&A.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself Mark. Where did you gain your expertise?

Mark: I don’t know if I would claim “expertise” as much as I’d point to about 25 years of practice, formal learning and study opportunities, and learning through experience.

I started my career in manufacturing before moving primarily into healthcare in 2005. As an Industrial Engineer, I had some exposure to the “just in time” aspect of Lean as an undergrad, but really didn’t learn about Lean as a people system until I was in the working world. During a rocky and interesting two years at General Motors, I worked under a very traditional plant manager and then under a different plant manager who was one of the original GM people who was sent to NUMMI to learn from Toyota. Between him and other mentors (people GM had hired in from Nissan and also from Toyota suppliers), those were some very formative years.

Writing a book or being willing to get up and talk on a stage creates the risk that you get labeled an “expert.” I still very much consider myself a student of Lean and I try to keep learning, challenging myself, and improving.
When it comes to the topics that I cover in Measures of Success, I was very fortunate to get exposed to the work of W. Edwards Deming and Donald J. Wheeler while I was still in college. I’ve read Wheeler’s books on Statistical Process Control and have, likewise, practiced using and teaching these methods over the past 20+ years. I was also able to take Wheeler’s four-day deep dive workshop, which was very helpful. A few years ago, I wrote about how Wheeler’s Understanding Variation book was so important to me. I was honored that Dr. Wheeler agreed to write the foreword for my book.

Q: Why was this book important for you to write?

Mark:Measures of Success was something I felt driven to write because I kept running across organizations making the same preventable mistakes in the context of Lean daily management. For one, on a project level, I see Lean or Six Sigma projects claiming “success” from a handful of “after” data points. Or, sometimes, it’s a simple before and after comparison of two averages or a historical average and a single post-change data point. These comparisons can be misleading if the apparent improvement in the metric is within the realm of routine variation – we could call that “noise’ or point out that a metric is perhaps just fluctuating around an average. When we claim improvement victory off of a data point that’s not significantly better (or performance that’s sustained at a better average), we only hamper our improvement efforts.

Another opportunity for improvement is the way in which ongoing metrics are being displayed and responded to… and these are not just healthcare management issues. I’ve seen these same problems in manufacturing, software companies, and now healthcare, which is why I wrote this as a broader management book and not just a healthcare book, like my previous titles. But back to the point, when metrics are posted in a way that emphasizes “red / green” comparisons to a goal or target, leaders get caught in an overly-reactive cycle of getting too excited or too upset about every change in a metric. Or, they react to the wrong things (a metric that becomes red) instead of reacting to more meaningful, more statistically significant changes in the metric. Even if people don’t want to read my book, I have a number of blog post case studies about a better method that is the core of my book: “Process Behavior Charts.”

The subtitle of the book captures, I think, the core message of Measures of Success – when we react less and lead better, we can improve more.

I also felt compelled to write this book because I feel fortunate to have been exposed to Wheeler’s methods. I’d guess 95% of Lean practitioners and 99% of leaders haven’t been exposed to these methods. We shouldn’t blame people for not using a method they’ve never been taught. We should challenge “the way we’ve always done things” that that includes the we way we’ve always done metrics or the way we’ve always done Lean management.

Q: What message or key points do you hope the reader takes away for your book?

Mark: The core message is to use Process Behavior Charts on your performance metrics. These charts will allow you to make better decisions. Knowing when to react and when to step back and improve more systematically is a very helpful thing to learn. Process Behavior Charts are Wheeler’s term for what has been called “Control Charts” or “Statistical Process Control Charts.” To those with deeper statistical knowledge, Process Behavior Charts are “Control Charts for Individuals” or “XmR Charts” (since the full methodology calls for plotting the data, “X”, and creating a second companion chart of the “moving ranges,” or the change between each two successive data points). With the X Chart, we calculate and plot three additional lines – the average and the “lower and upper natural process limits” (aka “control limits”). The limits are basically plus and minus three sigma around the average. The limits, combined with three simple rules, help us find “signals” – indicators that something has changed in the underlying system that generates the metrics.

But beyond the statistical methods (that aren’t that complicated), this is really a book about managing better. The Process Behavior Chart methodology is something that I’d hope to see used in the context of local metrics (on “huddle boards,” for example) and high-level executive methods (on “strategy deployment walls”). People who have read the book say they’ve gained great insights from the Process Behavior Charts they’ve created. Instead of wasting time reacting to or explaining every up and down in a metric, they can better prioritize their limited time around reacting to signals… and they can, when needed, step back and use a more systematic problem solving approach (like an A3) to improve a system in a less reactive way.

Q: What advice would you offer someone who wants to make better decisions with data?

Mark: The core advice is found in the ten “key points” that I share throughout the book. My first piece of advice would be to stop comparing just two data points to each other. As somebody told me, “Our organization is data driven, but we need more than two data points.” Another bit of advice is to stop looking at lists or tables of numbers. It’s much easier to see the routine variation and any trends by creating a simple run chart (aka a “line chart” in Excel) and looking at a historical context of at least a dozen data points (which means not starting each year with a blank chart, by the way). Better yet would be to use the use of Process Behavior Charts, because the simple math and rules mean that we don’t have to guess about the appearance of signals and trends. Again, when we stop reacting to all of the noise, we have more time for real improvement.

One piece of advice, as I discuss in Chapter 9 of the book, is to start small… to take a Kaizen approach to the testing and adoption of Process Behavior Charts in your organization. Instead of training everybody on a tool and pushing them to use it, think about effective change management tactics, which start with helping people realize that there is a need for change and an opportunity to do things better. But, old habits die hard and it’s difficult to effect change when people are comfortable with the way they’ve always managed.

Q: What's in store for you next? What's the next project or activity?

Mark: While I continue doing “Lean healthcare” work, I have increasingly started doing work related to Kaizen and Process Behavior Charts in other industries. Teaching and coaching people on continuous improvement in a biotech lab or office setting isn’t really that different than being in a hospital (with the exception of patients not being present) – you’ve highly skilled and very motivated people who are often stuck in a system that’s more difficult and less effective than it could be. The same could be said about smart, motivated managers who are hampered by management methods that are more time consuming and less effective than they could be.


I am still working hard to open people’s eyes to Process Behavior Charts and the methodology there, which includes more writing, speaking, workshops, and coaching. I’m still involved with KaiNexus, a software company that helps spread continuous improvement in organizations in many industries. I am fortunate to have lots of varied, interesting things to do and various creative outlets… but beyond keeping busy, I more importantly want to make a difference.




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Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Review: Measures of Success


Companies rely on metrics to run their businesses but are they just reacting to noise or responding to meaningful signals in the metrics. The success of your company relies on learning the Measures of Success.  Mark Graban penned an insightful, practical guide to encourage a new way of thinking about your KPIs.

Accepting a better way requires first that we recognize problems and shortcomings with our current management practices. This book presents a practical, simple method (“Process Behavior Charts”) that separates “signal” from “noise” in our metrics, so we can learn when and how to evaluate and respond to our performance measures appropriately overtime.

Mark starts with choosing the right metrics and the danger of arbitrary targets. He explains why process behavior chars are more effective then other comparisons. When there is inherent variation that is part of a stable process and when there are signals that the system is performing out of the norm and has assignable special case variation. By learning and practicing PBC organizations will be able to react less to noise and waste precision time and spend more time in a state of continuous improvement, by making system changes by understanding and addressing signals in a process.

While the book centers around numbers and calculations it is not another statistics book. Mark includes 10 key points of Measures of Success along with 3 core questions that we should ask about all systems and metrics. Mark shares a number of case studies including lessons from the red bead game. He makes the connection to the Lean mindset of continuous improvement and A3 thinking. Follow the concepts in this easy to understand book and you will learn a new way of thinking about variation and improve more while pursuing excellence.


Measures of Success is a book for managers, executives, business owners, and improvement champions who want to learn how to get the most out of your process and continuously improve. If you and your organization want to be more successful, to improve more, and to be less frustrated I recommend you read Mark Graban’s book.

Disclosure: The author provided a copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing it.



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Friday, November 30, 2018

Lean Quote: Appreciation Can Make a Day, Even Change a Life

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.


"Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary." — Margaret Cousins

If you want your employees to be happy and productive, you need to give them recognition for a job well done and let them know their work is appreciated and important. In a workplace committed to creating an attitude of gratitude and employee recognition on a daily basis, every day should be Thanksgiving Day.

Research has shown that recognition and appreciation is the top driver of employee engagement. Perhaps it seems elementary, but if you want employees who are fully engaged, you need to ensure they are recognized when they do great work and that they know you appreciate their contributions to the organization. Motivated employees do a better job of serving customers well. Happy customers buy more products and are committed to using your services. More customers buying more products and services increases your company's profitability and success.

Thank you may be among the first words our parents teach us, but as we get older we seem to forget how to say them. Many managers usually recognize the major achievements--they celebrate the completion of a successful project, they honor an employee of the month. But how often do managers recognize the little steps their employees complete along the way?

Employees need to be thanked…a lot. So says “guru of thank you” Bob Nelson, author of the bestselling 1001 Ways to Reward Employees—and he should know. Bob said, “The number one reason people leave their jobs today is that they don’t feel recognized for the job they’re doing.” We have all heard the adage “you get what you reward.” So if what you want is more outstanding work from an employee, say thank you the very next time that employee performs an iota of outstanding work.

The best recognition is thoughtful, happens daily, and has a personal touch. Even better, it's usually free.  Demonstrate appreciation!  Write a note, take them to lunch, acknowledge the work in a staff meeting…whatever seems right.  Just remember to say thank you.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lean Roundup #114 – November 2018


A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of November, 2018.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here.

Five Questions to Reflect on Both Process and Results of Problem Solving – Jon Miller shares five questions to ask when evaluating both the process and on the positive outcomes of our problem solving efforts.

A Reader Question about Process Behavior Charts and Business Metrics – Mark Graban answers should we be using financial statements in that way or is there a better approach given our knowledge about different types of variation?

Where Problem-Solving Goes Wrong: Helping People Learn A3 Thinking – Gregg Stocker shares areas in a problem-solving effort where coaching is needed to truly solve problem.

Lean Football – Bob Emiliani shares example of Lean football to dramatize the effect that Lean transformation has on the vested interests of owners and other stakeholders of any manufacturing or service business.

…but where is the problem solving?  - Mark Rosenthal explains that problem solving is not about some specific tool or template.

Sometimes People ARE the Problem – Jeff Hajek discusses the difficulties of processes versus the skills and capabilities of employees running those processes.

Change Management – Post Change Evaluation and Action – John Hunter explains why changes shouldn’t be adopted without any process to evaluate the effectiveness of the change.

How does Lean Thinking Help Us to Prepare for the Unpredictable? – Jon Miller says some things are unpredictable because of their nature and other things because predictable human behaviors make them so.

How Standard Should Standard Improvement Boards Be? – Joseph E. Swartz shares a model of maturity for improvement boards and explain the journey to the highest level.

Thinking About the Why of the What of Problem-Solving – John Shook discusses Art Smalley’s new book “The Fourt Types of Problems.”

Can Lean Succeed in a Strong Labor Environment? – Art Byrne says Lean is all about people, treat people like people not union members and you will greatly increase your chances of success.

First, You’ve Got to Show That You Care – Dan Markovitz shares a story about why you have to show you care first if you want engagement.

Divide and Conquer Creates Need for Management Control – Johanna Rothman explains why divide and conquer causes less learning opportunities and lack of collaboration in product development.



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