Friday, October 23, 2020

Lean Quote: 5 Ways to Seriously Value Your Employees

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 more we retain our people, the less time we need to commit to recruiting new people.  — Christine Thatcher, VP of Human Resources at TW Metals

We often hear the phrase “Our Employees Are Our Greatest Asset,” but what does that really mean? Is it just a recruiting slogan, or is it a viable approach to building a stronger business? And how can you tell when a company is serious about valuing employees and when it’s just window dressing?

People are one resource we don’t think about enough in manufacturing. But, if we’re good to our people, it actually saves us time in the end. Working to retain employees is exponentially more sustainable than overworking them and having to replace them. Want to save time? Be good to your employees.

Research shows that companies that view employees as valuable assets, and not cost centers, outperform companies that don’t. When you know what to look for, there are clear signals that prove that a company is serious about investing in its people.

When it comes to valuing people, actions are more important than what the company says. If you want to seriously value your employees, do these five things:

1. Show employees how their work affects business outcomes.

When employees understand how their work contributes to results, they’re more likely to be engaged on the job.

With a broader understanding of the company’s inner workings, they’re better equipped to identify areas where they could work more efficiently or to solve problems they may not have known existed.

2. Model trustworthiness.

Communicate clearly with your team and show your support.

3. Invest in employees.

Guide your team members toward training, development and mentorship programs in your company and in the community. Enable your employees to develop skills that are personally fulfilling and help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

If an employee has everything they need with your company, they’ll be less likely to look for a new job. Engaged and content employees are also more likely to provide the discretionary effort that drives innovation and productivity.

5. Build a strong community.

Successful leaders have a clear mission for their team, create a supportive culture, seek employee feedback and value good communication. Their employees feel free to raise issues that interfere with the mission and to share ideas to help the team achieve its goals.

Without a strong community and clear mission, employees are more likely to look out for themselves instead of the whole company.

6. Encourage team members to try new things and innovate.

When employees are engaged, well-trained and supported, they need freedom to keep growing and innovating. Good leaders make that possible by guiding staff to be productive and creative without micromanaging them.

Investing time, attention and other resources in your team members can help build a culture that values people. When business leaders respect the time and effort of their staff to the point where it’s engrained in the identity of the business, employees are more inclined to be thoughtful about the business.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

DIVE Deep to Understand Root Causes and Solve Problems

In lean manufacturing, root cause countermeasure tools are often used to help perform the necessary discovery and analysis, and to provide the insight needed to develop an effective and permanent solution.

Good problem solving is an iterative effort that requires strong leadership, good teamwork and relentless follow-through. If it were easy, you wouldn’t need to spend time diving deep in an effort to understand the root causes and solutions. You’d simply solve the problem.

The DIVE acronym (Define, Investigate, Verify, and Ensure) outlines the key elements of root cause analysis problem solving.

Root cause analysis requires taking the necessary time to both analyze and affect change deeply so that we achieve a permanent positive outcome.  Here is a high-level outline of the DIVE process:

D – Define the Problem consists of narrowing and then accurately articulating a problem statement based on real data trends, determining if the performance gap is a “caused” or a “self-created” problem, and understanding clearly why the problem needs solving.  The mnemonic image used here is a tree, where the branches represent symptoms and the roots represent the problem’s true source.  A team approach is critical at this stage – all interested parties need to gather and agree or affecting change may be difficult later.

I – Investigate Root Causes includes going to the actual location of the problem to focus further our attention.  We then use the “5 Whys” questioning framework (creating a casual chain) to dive deeply and thereby form a hypothesis about possible root causes.  Next, we gather data at the problem source and compare this data with our initial hypothesis.  Put simply, it’s the scientific method; and the mnemonic image used here is a funnel, aka deductive reasoning that drives our thinking ever downward to the fundamental causes of our problem.  What’s fun about this stage is that we get to use math and draw histograms!  Specifically, we deploy the Pareto method, i.e. 80% of an issue typically results from only 20% of its root causes.  Pareto analysis allows us to make the biggest (and quickest) impact to our problem with the least amount of energy.   Remember to spend most of your time in the Define and Investigate phases, so you don’t waste resources later “fixing” a mere symptom instead of a root cause.

V – Verify and Implement. This stage is where we evaluate possible (realistic) countermeasures.  Verification includes testing these countermeasures and validating their effectiveness.  Once we’re satisfied that our get-well plan might work, we implement our countermeasures and then watch.  We need to confirm through monitoring that the previously identified problem or gap is closing.

E – Ensure Sustainment.  A few of our countermeasures will be more effective than others.  Let’s keep the effective countermeasures in play because they had the greatest impact.  We’ll also need to rebuild any standard work processes that relied on the older (less effective) process and deploy additional resources to sustain the change we’ve just implemented.  Long term, we’ll return to the source of the problem to ensure results consistently improve over time.

The goal of the DIVE method is to provide a reliable and robust way for people to analyze problems in a structured and consistent manner, identify causes, and develop and implement preventative actions that can be sustained over time to keep the problem for recurring.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

3 Critical Facilitation Skills For Root Cause Analysis

Imagine a root cause analysis has been triggered by an unplanned incident or event which falls into any of the safety, quality, environment, production, equipment failure or similar categories. You have been appointed as the root cause analysis facilitator by a superior/manager who is responding to the particular event. What are the critical facilitation skill necessary to make the analysis successful?

1. Be dynamic

As facilitator, you need to guide the direction of the group and yet still be alert for other cause paths that may crop up. You are the prime mover, controlling the focus of the group. Don’t be a bystander to the process. You are the conduit through which the group is interacting.

Ask questions that are as precise as possible. This will elicit better, more concise responses which make it easier to identify causes. Good questioning will also eliminate unnecessary discussion and storytelling from the group.

Once the information has been recorded, get the group to help you organise the information and then challenge the logic of the way that information is linked together. Your cause and effect chart needs to make sense – or it risks being challenged and disregarded by those who look at it.

2. Be a good listener

Attentive listening skills are critical. You need to be able to hear more than one response at a time. Your ears should be like radar, picking up on all signals. Don’t miss a response while recording another. You need to record everything.

Being a good listener means keeping an open mind, suspending judgment, and maintaining a positive bias.

It also requires the efforts of the whole group – ask the group not to have discussions on the side, as they might come up with causes that should be included but may not be shared with the group. This will also help you to hear all responses more clearly.

3. Don’t profess to be an expert

Don’t profess to be the expert about the problem at hand. You were appointed to be the facilitator, an independent guide, without a vested interest in the outcome. Ask the others in the group to explain what they know so that everyone can follow and understand it. That is why they are there.

Remember … you don’t hold all the answers. That isn’t why you are the facilitator or it shouldn’t be. A good facilitator plays dumb whilst still directing traffic and working the cause and effects paths to a reasonable stop point.

Every organization needs advanced problem solvers who can lead timely and effective issue-resolutions and prevent their recurrence. Developing facilitators goes hand-in-hand with building new capabilities in an organization. Adoption of new skills is a driver of results. Better problem solving skills is key to achieving maximum ROI around any initiative to improve quality within an organization. Problem-solving facilitators can help others transition new skills to the workplace and lead teams charged with resolving complex issues in a timely fashion.

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Friday, October 16, 2020

Lean Quote: Ask and Answer “Why” Five Times to Get to Real Cause of Problems

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 Toyota production system has been built on the practice and evolution of this scientific approach. By asking and answering ‘why’ five times, we can get to the real cause of the problem, which is often hidden behind more obvious symptoms.  — Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

I am a big believer in the 5-Whys process. The 5-Whys have withstood the test of time as a successful process for problem solving in hundreds of companies around the world.

The technique consists of the following:

Start by identifying a problem that you’re having.

Ask “why” that problem is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact. You should be able to state the proof or evidence that you’re relying on for your assertion of the reason why the problem is occurring.

Once you have an answer, ask “why” again.

Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem. Usually, you’ll be able to identify the root cause of a problem after asking “why” five times.

Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, come up with a counter-measure that prevents it from recurring.

Here’s an example involving an individual who’s late for work:

Problem: You were driving to work and your car broke down.

First “Why?”: The battery died.

Second “Why?”: The alternator stopped functioning.

Third “Why?”: The alternator belt broke.

Fourth “Why?”: The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not been replaced.

Fifth “Why?”: The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (This is the root cause of the problem.)

Solution: Fix the root cause of the problem by implementing a maintenance schedule for the vehicle in accordance with the recommended service schedule.

Five Whys is effective because it is simple and can often help you get to the bottom of a problem. The simplicity is part of its genius. It is easy to learn, easy to teach, easy to understand, and easy to use. Companies are naturally complex, so the challenges they face can be complex as well. The 5 Whys helps break these problems down into manageable sections. And, while 5 Whys is designed to identify process errors, it can also be applied to business strategy as well. Its versatility and functionality make it a fantastic tool that can be applied to both process and strategy.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Review: The Lean Strategy

Lean goes beyond a set of tools to improve your business to change the way we think to unleash innovation, create a competitive advantage, and deliver sustainable growth. Four highly respected figures in the Lean world, Dr. Michael Balle, Daniel T. Jones, Jacques Chaize, and Orest J. Fiume, came together in 2017 to dispel common myths about Lean and explain the strategy. They coauthored The Lean Strategy as a guide for CEOs to develop an approach to deliver enduring customer value that will drive business sustainability for the foreseeable future. 

The Lean Strategy is not groundbreaking or revolutionary as it claims. The authors do not add anything to the idea of lean itself, but do take a stab at promoting its wide application. There is plenty of evidence presented that a lean strategy is beneficial to companies in manufacturing, that much is clear. However, in my mind the authors fail to demonstrate how lean can produce better results for “society at large.”

For me, there a couple key contributions to lean thinking presented in The Lean Strategy:

  1. Different approach to decision-making: the switch from a traditional top-down approach, separating decision-making from implementation

A framework characterized by 4Fs:

Finding the next things the organization needs to do better, facing up to the inadequacies of the current system or the challenges for the future and measuring those and focusing on those and then, framing those challenges for all the teams in the business to come up with proposals for projects to improve them. Finally, out of all of that experimentation, you form new solutions.

  1. Lean is fundamentally about changing leadership habits in both thinking and behavior.
  2. We can’t solve problems by taking out the impacted people. People should be at the center of the solution.
  3. Create a learning organization culture - it's all about gemba, training, teaching, learning, thinking, and practicing.

It is written in a repetitive, inefficient, confusing, and sometimes contradictory manner. In The Lean Strategy, the authors define “strategy” as what “sets the direction for the firm: what distinctive value proposition to the customer will give us a competitive advantage.” However, when reading the book I found two different descriptions of what a lean strategy is. On one hand, the authors have titled the book “The Lean Strategy” and put forward that Lean is a “new business strategy.” Then, several paragraphs later, they also propose that Lean is a way of thinking about strategy: “Lean strategy is about learning to compete.” This is followed by similar arguments elsewhere in the book such that: “Lean presents a fundamentally differ way to think about strategy” and “there is no such thing as a Lean company. There are only companies led by Lean thinkers.” So is Lean is a strategy unto itself, a framework for developing a specific strategy, or both.

Terms like “kaizen” and “gemba,” along with a myriad of alliterated acronyms, are used repeatedly throughout the book. If you’re not familiar with lean lingo, you may find yourself going back to the index. If you are familiar with lean and its history, then The Lean Strategy may be worth a read. The book is a breakdown of how companies over the last 25 years have applied lean to improve their bottom lines by eliminating wasteful processes.

This book can be a resource for leaders at all levels but best suited for anyone who has a desire to approach things in the right way.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Lessons from Christopher Columbus’ Life

There are many important and valuable life lessons that we can gather from the adventurous life of one of history’s most famous pioneers. Christopher Columbus had many ups and downs in his life, but he never let that stop him from what he wanted to achieve. I think we can learn most from Christopher Columbus strong and brilliant character. We can learn from his innovative thinking, persistence, and his mental strength. Columbus was definitely a man to be admired and deserves all the credit and glory he receives in our country and around the world. 

When I say we can learn from Christopher Columbus’s innovative thinking, I mean the fact that he believed that man could travel west to the new world. The prior belief was that you could only travel around the tip of Africa and east to go to the new world. Christopher Columbus challenged this belief with his own firm belief. With funding and great help from King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, he set out on his voyage to the new world with his route that went west instead of east. Columbus successfully completed his voyage and found the Americas. The point of this is that America would not have been founded until much later if it was not for Christopher Columbus’s innovative thinking. We can all take a lesson from that as we go about our day and move on with our life. We need to think of ways to go around, above, or under the obstacles we face in our lives instead of always trying to go straight through them without weighing out our options. We, as human beings, can be as innovative as we want if we put our minds to it. 

The second great and probably most prominent characteristic of Christopher Columbus was his unbelievable persistence. Many times in Columbus’s life he was put down or told that he could not do something, yet he saw past the pessimists and accomplished his goal. There are many great and prime examples of this. One of these examples occurred when everyone told him that he would not find land if he sailed west. The general belief was that Columbus would die at sea. This being said Columbus stayed persistent and believed in his idea that he could sail west from Europe and find land. Another prime example occurred on Columbus’s first voyage to the new world. The date that the ship had calculated to arrive at had passed long ago so the crew on board of Columbus’s ship was very restless and decided to mutiny against Columbus. With mutiny at hand, Columbus persisted and kept sailing west. Finally, they found land and Columbus was saved. This was an absolute perfect example of Columbus staying persistent in his beliefs and the end result being a good one. In today’s society, people get down on themselves too fast and then do not follow through with their ideas. We need to be more like Christopher Columbus in the sense that we need to be as persistent in our ways like he was. If we stay persistent like Columbus was then there is no telling what great things lie in our future. I realize that being persistent is much easier said than done but people need to make a consciences effort to stay persistent in their ways. 

Columbus’s third awesome characteristic was his mental strength. Columbus’s mental strength was what got him through all of his life. He stayed mentally tough throughout all the criticism throughout his life. We can take a great lesson from this in many important ways. If we stay mentally tough trough our hardest and most difficult endeavors then our confidence will soar. We will also feed off of this and not let anything stop us from achieving our goals. For example, when a student sits down to study for a test he or she has two options. The first option is to study diligently even if there are more fun things to do or to not study and wander off and do something else. This is the point where a student or anyone in else in life must exhibit mental toughness and discipline to make themselves study. This is just one simple example that is on more of a small scale. Columbus’s decision were on much more a larger scale and sometimes he had to exhibit mental toughness in life or death situations. 

Finally, I feel like if we were all a bit more like Christopher Columbus than the world we live in would be a much better place. The three characteristics that I discussed are what separate the people who are remembered in history to those who are not. Hopefully, we will all follow in the footsteps of one of history’s greatest men.

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Friday, October 9, 2020

Lean Quote: Leaders Must Give Hope For the Future

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 have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.  — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Hope is the one thing that lifts the human spirit and keeps us going despite our difficulties that we face. Hope looks beyond life’s hardships to a better, brighter tomorrow. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, tomorrow’s light will shine brightly. Hope is seeing the future; a future we can attain if we keep moving forward and, as needed, adjusting, and adapting. A leader’s hopeful outlook enables people to see beyond today’s challenges to tomorrow’s answers.

Leaders must give hope for the future, mobilize people in a direction, and believe deep in the core of who they are that there are great opportunities on the horizon. Here are 7 ways leaders can instill hope:

  • Be visible. Be Present.
  • Be as open, honest, and as fair as possible.
  • Emphasize Optimism.
  • Encourage and Motivate.
  • Focus on Possibility.
  • Let your people know how much you Value them.
  • Invest in People

Giving hope to your people combines the alignment, engagement, and vision of the organization. A leader's ability to do so will reap enormous benefits for your organization and your people.

Hope is not always a guarantee for success, but a leader will take the slightest amount of hope to chip away at the barriers of reality and impossibility. An astute leader will dove-tail hope into the vision and mission of their organization. They will work to make sure that everyone is "laser focused" on the task at hand. More importantly, they will make the vision bigger than the obstacles that threaten the mission itself.

The ability to instill hope is a necessary leadership trait. The leaders’ hope surrounds the belief that his/her goal will be attained. It enables one to face tough times with creativity and resilience. Leading in these uncertain times requires inspiration more than ever.

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