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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Lean Roundup #176 – January, 2024

A selection of highlighted blog posts from Lean bloggers from the month of January 2024.  You can also view the previous monthly Lean Roundups here.  


The Pearls and Turds of Continuous Improvement – Kevin Meyer illustrates keys points of continuous improvement in small sequential steps and learning from failure from the documentary Stutz he recently watched.


What Conversations Does Your VSM Drive? – Mark Rosenthal discusses how the values stream map can change the conversation in your organization and drive continuous improvement.


Mastering Mistake-Proofing: Insights from Toyota’s Poka Yoke Approach – Mark Graban discusses Toyota's revolutionary approach to mistake-proofing, a concept that has redefined workplace efficiency and quality.


Many Ways to Win – Bob Emiliani says the passing of time, experience, and facts prove that we, collectively, were wrong to think of Lean management as a replacement for classical management on a widespread basis, given that there are many ways to win in business.


Embracing System-Level Problem Solving over Firefighting – John Knotts explores the paradigm shift from individual, ad hoc problem-solving to systemic approaches that empowers every employee to be a hero in their domain.


Complexity is a Crude State, Simplicity Marks the End of a Process of Refinement – Pascal Dennis explains the issues of complexity within strategy and advocates for simplicity.


Keep Calm and Stop the Line—Part 1 & Keep Calm and Stop the Line—Part 2 - Christoph Roser explains the reasons why you would want to stop the production line.


New Competency #3: How We Learn, Develop, and Improve - Christopher R Chapman reviews Peter Scholtes’ six new leadership competencies by taking a look at the third entry, Understanding How We Learn, Develop, and Improve; Leading True Learning and Improvement.


Why We Care So Much About Continuous Process Improvement - Maggie Millard shares 12 reasons why process improvement is so important and it’s role in different industries.


Are You Organized for Leadership? - Josh Howell reflects on a recent learning tour to Toyota and GE Appliances, sharing insights the group gathered about lean transformation.


Things I Have Learned – Bob Emiliani shares his learning about people and systems over the last 15 years in the Lean community.


Mastering Mistake-Proofing: Insights from Toyota’s Poka Yoke Approach – Mark Graban discusses Toyota's revolutionary approach to mistake-proofing, a concept that has redefined workplace efficiency and quality.


Cultivating a Culture of Learning: Overcoming Fear and Futility in Problem-Solving – Mark Graban shares a recent mistake he made that illustrates the two elements necessary to overcome these mistakes.


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Monday, January 29, 2024

Lean Tips Edition #294 (#3436 - #3450)

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 #3436 – Articulate and Communicate Goals Clearly

A great example of setting work goals is being able to communicate them to the team in an effective way. Often, ideas and professional goals may make perfect sense in the mind but when it’s time to share them with the team, it could be incoherent and incomplete.

The professional skills to articulate goals clearly requires leaders to have exceptional communication skills. Before sharing professional goals with the team, make sure it answers the following questions:

  • What? (The actual goal)
  • Why? (You want to achieve this professional goal because …)
  • Which? (Resources and skills that I need …)
  • Who? (Who will do the work? The team)
  • When? (Timeline/deadline for the goal)
  • How? (Steps/plan to achieve it) 

Answering these questions is a great way to ensure that the goals you have in mind are as ready as they can be in their draft version, before sharing them and improving them with your team.

Lean Tip #3437 – Make Goal-Setting a Team Exercise

The difference between a good leader and a great leader is that the former sets work goals for their team whereas the latter sets goals with their team. 

Team leaders that include team members in the process have a lot more to learn and a higher probability of succeeding. 

The reasoning is simple. Open conversations with your team create a constant feedback loop, refining the outcome every time. This can strengthen the communication channel between you and your team and make them feel included and understand how their work contributes towards the overarching goals. 

Lean Tip #3438 – Clearly Define Success.

Determine clear success criteria for your priority so you know what it looks like to achieve the goal. If your goal is a business one, ensure your expectations of success are aligned with everyone on the team. Everyone needs to agree on when we reach the goal to ensure that we are achieving success. We use a simple Red-Yellow-Green method to set clear success criteria:

  1. Red = Failure or unacceptable performance on the priority
  2. Yellow = Between Red and Green
  3. Green = Successful completion of the goal
  4. Super Green = Stretch goal

Lean Tip #3439 – Change Your environment to Meet Your Goals

In order to reach some goals that you have, change your habits. If you have organizational goals, then one of the first places you can start is by organizing your office and making sure that everything is ready to use.

Even some of your professional development goals can be tied to regular daily habits. For example, if you would like to increase employee engagement and team collaboration within your organization, you might have to start by simply thanking people for the work that they do.

Lean Tip #3440 – Redefine Your Goals When You Fall Short

Every single person on this earth has failed at some point in their life. What really matters is not when you fail, but what you do to affect change in your life. Ultimately, you have two choices: 1. You sulk when you don’t reach her goal, or 2. You pick yourself up and try again.

Lean Tip #3441 – Educate & Emphasize the Importance of Kaizen

Educate on the meaning of kaizen and emphasize a personal understanding of the philosophy of kaizen across all levels of the company. Building a company culture with a steady focus on improvement is critical to maintaining momentum in your kaizen efforts.

Lean Tip #3442 – Empower Your Employees in the Gemba

Employees who are closest to the problems in your operations are the best-equipped to solve them. They are your greatest assets in your kaizen efforts, so give them the support they need to implement improvements. Developing your team’s abilities through training and support should be as much a part of your continuous improvement program as making improvements to manufacturing processes.

Lean Tip #3443 – Document Your Process and Performance Before and After Improvements Have Been Implemented

In order to evaluate improvements objectively, existing procedures must be standardized and documented. Mapping the process’s initial state can help you identify wastes and areas for improvement and provide a benchmark for improvement.

Lean Tip #3444 – Standardize Work for Improvement to Last

In order for improvements to last, they must be standardized and repeatable. Standardizing work is crucial to kaizen because it creates a baseline for improvement. When you make improvements to a process, it’s essential to document the new standard work in order to sustain the improvements and create a new baseline. Standard work also reduces variability in processes and promotes discipline, which is essential for continuous improvement efforts to take root.

Lean Tip #3445 – Create Your Own Kaizen Guidelines

Reflecting on your kaizen efforts after improvements have been implemented is an important part of the continuous improvement cycle. As you reflect on your efforts, develop your own kaizen guidelines. Start by creating guidelines based on your own experiences improving the workplace. Keep in mind that these guidelines should be for your colleagues, your successors, and yourself to understand the problems you have overcome. These guidelines will ultimately help you as you approach your next challenge.

Lean Tip #3446 – Encourage Leadership to be Open-Minded

Continuous improvement works especially well when individuals are encouraged by senior leaders. Prepare your leadership team by offering special training to encourage new ideas and removing any blockers that may be in a team member's path as they are trying to improve a workflow.

Lean Tip #3447 – Don’t Make Perfection the Goal

One of the hardest parts of using the continuous improvement model is the desire to strive toward perfection. This is an impossible feat, and the philosophy behind kaizen is to make small changes to be better than you were the day before. Focusing on perfection can lead your team to make changes that aren’t actually necessary.

Lean Tip #3448 – Troubleshoot in Real Time

One of the most useful concepts in continuous improvement is the encouragement to confront problems head-on in an effort to solve it faster. If an issue becomes apparent fix it immediately instead of searching for the “perfect” solution.

Waiting will inevitably cost time and valuable resources. Instead, on-the-spot troubleshooting allows production to continue while the new, improvised solution can be analyzed using continuous improvement techniques. You might find that what was first a temporary fix could lead to permanent positive changes. 

Lean Tip #3449 – The Rule of 1% Improvement 

Improvement is a never-ending process. There’s always something that can be improved, and there are many ways of doing so.

The Rule Of One Percent Improvement: The rule states if you improve just one per cent each day then at least three hundred sixty five improvements will have been made by your business by the end of the year. It’s about Marginal Gains and it’s like compound interest but for business results.

This means even small changes done consistently over time lead up to big results! Transforming performance may seem like an impossible task but with kaizens, it becomes much more manageable as we take continuous steps towards our goals through our teams and our people.

Lean Tip #3450 – Challenge the Status Quo

Throw out all your old fixed ideas on how to do things. Replace “sacred cows,” personal opinions, and “it’s the way we’ve always done it” with performance facts and data. Numbers are the language of improvement. Avoid the emotional traps of blaming people or making excuses that prevent you from discovering the real problem. Once you have established the new best-way of doing something, stick with it until a better way is found.

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Friday, January 26, 2024

Lean Quote: Reducing Burnout in the Workplace

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 greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.  —  William James 

Stress is one of the most daunting obstacles to employee engagement in the modern workplace. Stress makes people nearly three times as likely to leave their jobs, temporarily impairs strategic thinking, and dulls creative abilities. Burnout, then, is a threat to your bottom line, one that costs the U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs.

As managers and companies, we need to examine our employees and the environments we create for them. We need to make sure we are providing an office that fits our employees' definition of “not stressful,” not just what we think that looks like.

Increase psychological safety. If your employees perceive your workplace as a threat, then you cannot build the trust your team needs to collaborate and innovate effectively. There are three steps you can take to build psychological safety. First, make your expectations obvious by giving your employees clear goals. Second, make sure everyone feels like their voices are heard, and that everyone knows that you want their voices to be heard. You can do this by inviting people to speak up in meetings and conducting brainstorming sessions more than you impose top-down decisions. Third, develop a work environment that is both challenging and unthreatening. Let people know it’s okay to fail.

Be transparent. If your team members are confused about how their work connects to and serves both the short- and long-term company goals, they will naturally become more stressed and less productive — especially in times of uncertainty. Part of your job is to help them see the big picture, or the role they play in helping the company achieve its larger goals. While you may not be able to share everything with your team, you can provide them with the information they need to understand how their work is contributing to the company’s mission. You want to reduce the stress that accompanies ambiguity.

Give as much autonomy as you can. When possible, give your team control over how they manage their projects. Employees are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have a choice in deciding what tasks to do, when to do them, and how much time to spend on each. To make sure someone is ready to work independently, ask them to shadow you on a task or project first, and then allowing them to practice under your supervision. During this time you can give them feedback and gauge when they will be ready to work on their own.

Create a culture of recognition. Publicly recognizing the hard work and contributions of team members decreases feelings of stress and increases feelings of connection and belonging. Research has shown that companies with high-recognition cultures perform better and have less turnover than those that don’t. This is, perhaps, because support and recognition make it easier for people to cope with the demands of work by showing them that their efforts are valued. Team meetings are a great time to call out exceptional performance. Unexpected gestures that communicate sincere appreciation can also be effective.

Decades of data have confirmed that higher employee engagement, or the strength of the mental and emotional connection an employee feels toward their workplace, has many positive benefits — including reduced stress, improved health and job satisfaction, as well as increased productivity, job retention, and profitability.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Unlock the Power of Teamwork

Have you ever seen a team fall apart because of bickering, infighting, or a failure of accountability? Not only is it frustrating to watch, it's also incredibly disheartening.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, defines “Teamwork is the state achieved by a group of people working together who trust one another, engage in healthy conflict, commit to decisions, hold one another accountable, and focus on collective results.”

High performing teams are the cornerstone of healthy and cohesive organizations.  Building these teams is not a complicated task, but many leaders fail because they allow one of the following issues to manifest within the team.

TRUST – A team needs to be comfortable with being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. Trust grows when relationships are strong!

CONFLICT – A team needs to share their passions, disagree, and challenge and question one another.  The stronger the relationships, the healthier the conflict!

COMMITMENT -   A team buys into important decisions (even if they initially disagree) once all ideas and opinions have been considered. Strong relationships promote buy-in!

ACCOUNTABILITY -  A team does not rely on their leader to be the primary source of accountability but rather deals with their peers directly. Strong relationships build comfort levels creating the ability to discuss missed deliverables and mistakes, and encourages ownership.

RESULTS -   Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions and hold one another accountable are more likely to put aside their individual needs and focus on what is best for the team as a whole. When relationships are strong, team needs become the priority!

Use your awareness of the five dysfunctions to recognize issues as they happen, so that you can help your team to be more effective. And remember that these are just five of the factors that can affect the performance of your team, so use these alongside other team effectiveness tools.

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Monday, January 22, 2024

The Real Impact of Poor Quality

Quality affects a company in a variety of ways, from productivity and profitability to customer satisfaction and public perception. In addition, quality affects the overall operating costs of a company. Focusing on quality helps keep a company strong in all areas.

In this article I highlight three effects on how poor quality can affect your organization.

Influencing Customer Satisfaction

Quality has a direct bearing on customer satisfaction. If a company produces a quality product, satisfied customers will rank that company higher in surveys than companies that fail to provide quality products or services. In addition, dissatisfied customers are more vocal in their criticisms of a company with quality problems. Various websites will rank different companies according to customer satisfaction and quality products. Poor companies may get an initial sale of a product or service but it will not create repeat customers.

Causing Problems with Productivity

Poor quality costs a company a significant amount of money in terms of productivity problems. If a company uses low-quality parts, systems break down, regardless of any high-quality parts also used. Low-quality parts can cause mechanical breakdowns, as well as work slowdowns or even stoppages. If quality is not a proactive measure, employees will spend their time on inefficient process and fixing incidents on a regular basis. It is crucial to find out which processes are inefficient and how to improve them.

Impacting Company's Profitability

Poor quality can have a significant impact on a company’s profitability. While using less expensive parts and equipment might cut costs in the short term, the long-term effects might be far more expensive. This could also be a lack of quality in human, physical, financial or knowledge factors that are needed to perform business processes.

Good quality increases profitability. When employees are engaged in a work environment in which teamwork is emphasized and where quality products are the goal, the work environment flows more smoothly than one in which quality is an afterthought.

The Solution

Investing in proper quality control is key to reduce poor quality. Focusing on quality can help a business maintain a satisfied customer base. When focusing on quality, it must be a team effort, with everyone within the company committed to implementing any quality changes managers mandate.  Ultimately, the cost of working with an ineffective system are exponentially higher than the cost of working with a proper quality management platform.

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Friday, January 19, 2024

Lean Quote: Don’t Be Left Wishing You Had Started A Year Ago

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.

"A year from now, you may wish you had started today.  —  Karen Lamb 

It never feels like quite the right time. There’s always something just a little bit more pressing to finish up first. You’ll start that new project or new hobby tomorrow, or maybe this weekend. You’ll get started learning a new skill as soon as you have a little more time. Pretty quickly, a week has passed, then a month, and then a year. Looking back you’ll realize, that if only you had started way back when, you’d be a year into your project. You’d be a year into mastering a new skill.

This quote, attributed to author Karen Lamb, might inspire you to get going on that project you've been putting off for "someday." "A year from now you may wish you had started today" simply says: The time is now.

Nike had a motto for its athletics line for a while, “Yesterday you said tomorrow.” It resounded heavily with those who often find themselves saying they’ll start running or hitting the gym tomorrow, or this weekend or next week. Everyone knows that feeling. You tell yourself you don’t have enough time tonight, or the weather isn’t great or that you really just don’t feel like it. Tomorrow comes, and the same excuses get used.

Combat this procrastination by taking that other Nike motto to heart, “Just do it”. Plan a day to begin and don’t miss that date no matter what. Dig deep, drag yourself to the gym, or to that seminar or class and just get started. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to keep going once you’ve started. Once you’ve been at it for a year, you’ll be proud of yourself for everything you’ve accomplished in the year, rather than lamenting the fact you never got around to beginning.

It's easy to delay working on our goals when the day-to-day stuff takes up so much of our time. But as The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin says, "The days are long, but the years are short." Just a simple reminder not to let the years fly by without meaning or enjoying them as much as you can.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

10 Ways to Make Goal Setting Extraordinary in Your Business

Setting effective and achievable business goals is at the heart of any good business goal setting strategy. While many people say they want to achieve success in business, not everyone has the wherewithal to follow through and do so.

Determining the right direction for a business requires setting ambitious and inclusive—yet attainable—goals. If a business’ leadership team aims too high, it’s likely to create frustration, lost opportunities and unhappy clients, and if goals are too narrow, lagging areas are likely to affect the entire company before long.

Setting comprehensive yet achievable goals may not be easy, but it’s necessary if a business is to grow. Here is my top 10 list of the ways I’ve seen goal setting go from ordinary to something useful in aligning, enabling, and accelerating individual and organizational performance.

  1. Align to Company Mission – Goal setting, at its best, is used to align the individual goals to those of the organization, in support of executing on a competitive strategy in service of the organization’s mission. Make sure the individual goals are consistent with, aligned to, and enable the organizational strategy or that they are relevant to the organization’s mission. The natural flow is: Mission >> strategy >> objectives >> plans (budgets) >> capabilities >> performance >> behaviors. A great check to see if the behaviors enable better performance to achieve the strategy is to ask: “If this person delivers 1000% above their set goal, what difference will that make to the organization achieving its strategic goals?” If the answer is “nothing” or “not much” then you are either measuring the wrong goal or you may have to look at how that job is designed.
  2. Manage Risk – The riskier we make goal setting and performance reviews, the more defensive the activity will become. This risk is where people will maximize their outcomes. If you have a risky environment where people who fail to meet their goals get fired then that will drive a defensive approach to goal setting (e.g., sandbagging or under-promising to then over-deliver). First, risk mitigation is to de-couple goal setting and performance reviews from compensation discussions. Yes, performance and compensation should be aligned. But we all recognize that more goes into compensation than just goal setting. The more tied to compensation, the more likely you are to see ‘gaming the system’ or other manipulation for personal maximization.
  3. Fewer, Simpler, More Meaningful Metrics – We have a growing capability to measure a lot of things. That data can become overwhelming. Some of the best people who are measuring performance boil it down to one, two, or three key things. Too many metrics, too many goals and they will invariably come into conflict with one another or get so complicated in tracking that the marginal utility turns negative. Even people who measure a lot of things, over time will tend to simplify things into a primary measure with a few supporting measures. For example, Apple Watch uses 10,000 steps as a proxy for activity. It is not complete or definitive, but it is directionally correct, easy to remember, easy to monitor, and easy to action. There are hundreds of other metrics they could use.
  4. Focus on Outcomes, not Activity – Goals should reflect the outcome we are trying to create. I ask clients which they would prefer: the person who accomplishes a task in 2 hours or the person who accomplishes an outcome in 20 hours? Let’s not reward activity. The goal should be SMART, but also reflect the outcome. SMART goals are specific, measurable, are attainable, relevant, and timely. Avoid counting hours or number of times attempted or other work-in-process indicators. What is the result you are looking for?
  5. Understand Your Contribution – One of the most important elements in a goal setting conversation is the discussion to understand how well the person setting their goals really understands their context. How well is the company doing? What is their contribution to key processes? Are they part of a cost center or a profit center? What are the key things the organization competes on in the marketplace and what is their contribution to achieving that. Be sure to ask a number of questions to check their level of understanding. If they don’t understand the business, then that could be one of their goals.
  6. Motivate, Not Discourage – Goal setting and performance management is an opportunity to build the capabilities of the people in the organization. Only in a few cases does being critical to a person become motivating to them. Those people tend to do well in athletics or the military. Most people work better from encouragement, mentoring, and guidance on what to do. Often simply stating the impact their actions or inactions have had are enough to motivate a desire to improve, then the focus can shift on helping them to improve. That help should start with building on what they are already doing well.
  7. Be Aware of Set Backs – Goal setting usually involves doing something more or different or new. If it’s a case of doing something different or differently or new, as the reviewer you need to expect performance to drop initially. This effect – where performance degrades as the person tries new skills or behaviors, but eventually returns to baseline then improves – is called the J-curve. Putting in new systems in warehouses or data processing, we knew it would take 13 weeks of practicing the new way to get back to baseline and within 6 months there would be significant year-over-year improvement. So, build that learning time into the goal setting.
  8. Behaviors are More Important than Numbers – When you are trying to adopt new ways of working or achieving higher performance, focus more on the demonstration of new behaviors and less on the actual performance metrics. When Harley-Davidson moved to a new production method in their York plant in 2009, the focus was on the behaviors, not on the metrics. They knew that if they focused on recognizing and acknowledging their team members doing the right things, then the performance metrics would eventually show that improvement. Simon Sinek has a great example about working out and eating healthy – if you look in the mirror every day after working out, you won’t see much progress, and you’d be tempted to say after a few days that it’s not working, even though there is long-term data that exercise and good diets promote health.
  9. Vertical Accountability – Goal setting is as much about the person setting the goals as it is about the person they report to. Goal setting for the manager and executives should be aligned throughout the vertical reporting chain. Meaning, as a manager, one of my goals should be that my team members achieve their goals. Getting the boss invested in helping their team members succeed is an important way to gain alignment and support. If a manager has a team where no one meets their goals, chances are good that it’s not entirely the fault of the staff. Know what your boss’s boss’s boss’s priorities are. Even better is to hold the leaders accountable for their teams achieving their goals.
  10. Increase the Frequency – Employees entering the workforce today are digital natives. They are used to getting things on-demand (e.g., Amazon, Google, YouTube, etc.). They are feedback intensive. They want to know if they are doing a good job – and they want to succeed. If they are working for you, and you are still reading this, chances are they (and you) did well in school. Digital natives had instant feedback and constant pressure to get an A in school. So, the more you can move goal setting and performance feedback from annual to quarterly to monthly to constant, the more they will benefit from those short conversations where you check in on their progress, ask them what help they want from you, and offer some suggestions. They will love the feedback and strive to achieve their goals and, in doing so, achieve your objectives, and in doing so, help the organization deliver on the strategy and serve their mission.

Exceptional leaders understand that goal setting is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process that requires commitment, resilience, and adaptability. By setting SMART goals, aligning personal and professional aspirations, developing action plans, tracking progress, and staying motivated, leaders can unlock their potential and achieve extraordinary success.

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