Archive for category Lean Management System

Leader Standard Work and Kamishibai [Case Study]

case studySituation. A multi-national manufacturer was implementing a lean management system (LMS) in a phased manner within one of their facilities. The target facility operated four separate comprehensive value streams. The LMS implementation incrementally covered the first pilot value stream and then continued to deploy it throughout the remaining value streams. LMS elements included daily tiered huddle or reflection meetings, gemba-based leader standardized work (LSW), one-on-one coaching meetings, and andon/andon response.
Problem. Due the breadth of the value stream(s) relative to the number of processes, number of natural work teams, plant floor footprint and the like, the sheets that the senior leaders used to conduct their LSW became too large and too complex to easily manage. For example, the site leader needed to personally check the sufficiency of and adherence to operational standardized work throughout the plant. However, the potential targets to check were in the many dozens. To illustrate, just two of the many checks were: 1) check one operator within cell XYZ to ensure that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient – right steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard WIP, and 2) check ABC FIFO lane to ensure that the max level is not exceeded and materials are pulled in first-in-first-out manner. Even after spreading the targets over multiple days and weeks so that the site leader only had a handful to check per day, the sheets were several pages long and it became difficult to understand what checks should be conducted at what time.
Action. Leadership desired to maintain the underlying principles of the LMS, but needed to find a way to conduct the LSW checks so that they were less onerous. They adopted the use of a kamishibai board (a.k.a. “standardized work audit board,” or “K board”), a visual tool that captures each LSW check for a particular area on an individual card. Each card lists the condition to check on both sides. One side is green in color (normal condition), and one side is red (abnormal condition). These cards are pulled by a leader from a box or bin attached to/near the board. The leader then conducts the check. If it is found that the condition is normal (i.e., the FIFO lane quantity is below the max, materials are flowing first-in-first-out, etc.), then the card is placed on the board green side out. If there is something abnormal (i.e., the FIFO lane materials are being pulled based upon how easy they are to build downstream and not first-in-first-out). The card is placed on the board red side out with a written explanation of the abnormal condition. The area leader, with coaching from their leader(s), as required, will then identify the root cause and the countermeasure and record on the same board. These boards are refreshed periodically – often daily or weekly.
Results. By using the kamishibai concept, the company was able to simplify the LSW sheets, thereby reducing confusion and stress. Many of the items on the sheet were replaced with instructions to go to the kamishibai board in a particular area and then randomly pick two cards (for example) and conduct the audit. In addition, the kamishibai board made abnormalities even more visible to the various stakeholders and prompted more sustainable fixes.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, Respect the Process

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Bus Schedules and the Lean Management System

What do bus schedules have to do with a lean management system?bus schedule

Quite a bit…even though, obviously, the notion of a bus schedule is more metaphor (or is that analogy?) than reality.

Effective lean management systems are largely constituted by “mechanics” and lean leadership behaviors. The mechanics include, among other things:

  • tiered meetings (a.k.a. huddles or reflection meetings) to drive alignment and problem solving,
  • gemba walks during which leaders check the adherence to/sufficiency of standardized work
  • andons to flag and quickly respond to abnormalities and drive timely containment and problem solving at the lowest/most appropriate level in the organization
  • one-on-one coaching to facilitate problem solving and personal development of the coachee

These are critical elements that must “cascade” through multiple levels in the organization. Tiered meetings, by their very nature roll bottom-to-top, for example the natural work team meeting(s) occur first, followed by the value stream tiered meeting, etc. Similarly, there is built-in redundancy in gemba walk based standardized work. For example, the team leader, group leader, and value stream manager may “check” the same stuff, but will do so with differing frequency.

The basic underpinnings of all standardized work are sequence, standard WIP (SWIP), and takt time. To that we can easily extrapolate to steps, sequence, timing, cycle time, SWIP, and takt time.

…Which gets us to the bus schedule.

All of the lean management system elements must follow a cadence and with that, an explicit and synchronized schedule. Without that, there is chaos and a system that is not very systematic, and thus not effective.

Ultimately, these notions get us to lean leadership behaviors which include respect for the individual and consistency. Respect for the schedule is respect for people.

The mature lean organization maintains a profound and pervasive respect for the schedule and thus the scheduled times to conduct tier meetings, gemba walks, and one-on-one coaching meetings. Not only do we want to ensure the right stuff gets done at the right time, we want to instill a rhythm of expectation and execution within the organization.

I’m probably stating the obvious, but it is nearly impossible for lean leaders to:

  1. check the adherence to/sufficiency of the leader standard work and the application of lean leadership behaviors of their subordinates if they don’t know when the observable events (huddles, gemba walks, one-on-ones) are going to occur. And, if the leaders can’t directly observe, their coaching will be less than effective.
  2. Avoid setting meetings and other commitments for folks that will compete with the lean management system activities.

Therefore, the schedule must be pervasively known and understood throughout the organization. It should only be violated in very, very extreme situations. (Of course, we know that leaders will occasionally have someone else cover for them, but the “show must go on.”) And, the standardized schedule should be adjusted only when the lean management system is adjusted for improvement’s sake.

So, how’s your bus schedule? And, are your buses running on time?

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

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Build the Lean Management System and the Behaviors Will Come. Not Exactly.

OK, I know that what I’m about to say may sound cynical, but 20 years of personal, hard knock lean experience tells me that this is reality. And most folks I think would, or at least should (I hope), agree with me.

The majority of companies pursuing a lean implementation do so superficially. (Did I just hear you yawn?!)

Many fail to understand the transformational lean principles, much less have the will to rigorously live them. Lean wannabes are attracted by and then reproduce the easily reproducible “shiny objects” and “eye candy.” The objects and candy are the tools and trinkets that are seen in books, seminars, and drive-by benchmark visits (a.k.a. industrial tourism).

Lean management systems are chock full of shiny objects – huddle (a.k.a. tier or reflection meeting or metric) boards, leader standardized work, visual process adherence tools, suggestion boards, task accountability boards, etc. But these things are just things.

An advertisement that I spied on the backside of a Philadelphia area bus is pretty darn profound…and relevant,

Until you know what it really means, it doesn’t mean much.

In other words, just having trinkets doesn’t make a lean management system. In fact, a trinket-only system is pure muda.

So, what ANIMATES a lean management system? What is its soul?

Lean leadership behaviors.

Now, I prescribe to the notion that an organization can act its way into a new way of being, as reflected in the figure below.

principles in action

BUT, lean principles in action are initiated, taught, coached, and reinforced by lean leaders largely through their behaviors within the context of the lean management system.

What the heck does that mean? Behaviorally speaking:

  • Instilling discipline. Human systems don’t naturally gravitate to discipline and rigor. Effective leaders readily model, promote, and enforce discipline first and foremost by doing their own leader standardized work.
  • Prompting critical thinking. Critical thinking and lean thinking go hand-in-hand. Most folks, at least initially, are deficient in both. Leaders develop the critical thinking skills of team members by consistently prompting reflection by asking open ended questions and resisting the almost irresistible urge to tell and fix. And, lean thinking is infused, explicitly and implicitly in everything.
  • Facilitating daily kaizen. Daily kaizen doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Most companies have, accidentally and/or purposefully, smothered the kaizen spirit and failed to develop the necessary technical capabilities. Lean leaders constantly coach folks to aggressively identify and acknowledge opportunities (and prioritize them when appropriate), identify root causes, formulate and execute countermeasures, and then follow-through. This is a powerful mix of know-how and behavior that leverages critical thinking, challenge, creativity, and the freedom to fail.
  • Coaching personal kaizen. Here lean leaders coach folks to apply critical thinking for their own personal development. Coach guided self-reflection yields the identification of personal behavioral and performance gaps and ultimately, the formulation of coachee-owned personal countermeasures with a follow-up plan that the coach can check on. Over time, the coachee should eventually be able to use the same methods to coach others.

This stuff just doesn’t magically appear when the huddle boards are populated and hung-up and the first huddle is conducted or when the leaders conduct their standardized work audits, etc. Indeed, that’s just wishful thinking.

Only proper lean leadership behaviors and technical know-how can animate the accoutrements of the lean management system. And, that can only happen if at least a nucleus of the leaders possess those things to begin with…or who have ready access to one who can coach them.

Related posts: Lean Management System: Accountability’s Four Questions and Two Tools, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings, Why Do You Ask?


Balancing Two Types of Visual Controls within the Context of Lean Management

Some folks may wonder what the heck I mean by “two types.” Within the context of a lean management system, we can make the following distinction:

  1. Visual process performance (VPP). These are typically metric based visuals that provide users with meaningful insight into the health of the process or value stream. For example, we can easily relate to graphs that are displayed on tiered team meeting boards. These graphs, often categorized in people, quality, delivery, and cost-type buckets, trend and compare performance to targets. They help team members and leaders quickly identify and acknowledge performance gaps, which should naturally lead to root cause identification and implementation of effective countermeasures. But, VPP visuals are not limited to simply metrics. A classic example is a plan versus actual chart (a.k.a. production analysis board). It captures typically hour (or pitch), by hour (or pitch) planned production and compares it against actual performance for a given line or cell. The visual, as all good visuals, should be worker managed, and will reflect the reason for any substantive misses.
  2. Visual process adherence (VPA). Leader standard work requires leaders to assess both adherence to and the sufficiency of standard work. This is largely about PDCA’s sister, SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust), and provides necessary insight into process and value stream health. So, what kind of visual controls are we talking about here? The examples are pretty far and wide – standard work sheets, standard work combination sheets, FIFO lanes (and the related max levels), shadow boards, supermarkets (and the related kanban cards, their flow, and the periodic supermarket re-sizing process), heijunka box (including, how it’s loaded and relieved), etc., etc.

Assuming that the notion of VPP and VPA is less than radical, why my concern about balance?

Because, frankly, I see so many folks who care somewhat (plus or minus) about VPP, but not a lick about VPA.

That’s illogical!

Effective lean leaders care deeply about what the process or value stream is producing from an output perspective (at least better, faster, and cheaper) AND how the process or value stream achieves (or doesn’t achieve) those results from a process perspective. In other words, lean practitioners want both…

…because they really, really NEED both.

Besides, how does one identify performance gaps and then not fix process!?!

We’ve probably all seen the following characterization, but it’s worth revisiting.

  • Good results, bad process means we probably just got lucky and the likelihood of repeating the good results is remote.
  • Bad results, bad process should be expected.
  • Good results, good process should be expected and all the more reason to ensure adherence to the good process(es).
  • Bad results, good process should be impossible…if the process was indeed good…and was followed rigorously. Further investigation is warranted in such a situation.

So, why would folks not seek the proper level of visual balance within their organization?

There are a few possible reasons why an organization is “performance heavy:”

  1. Developing good VPA visuals is hard work. For example, developing standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets for a number of different processes can be daunting.
  2. Checking on process adherence and sufficiency is hard work. Let’s face it, this is really auditing the system. This requires multiple levels of leadership to perform their leader standard work audits at regular intervals at the gemba and identify abnormalities (think 5 why’s) and sometimes have hard conversations with folks who don’t really like to adhere to standards, ever.
  3. The culture values outputs, not process. This is the realm of non-lean thinking hero cultures. You know, the “we don’t need no stinkin’ standard work, we have a bunch of super smart folks who will work a ton of overtime and pull a victory from the jaws of defeat…every month, or every project, forever.” Heck, why fix problems and keep them fixed with good standard work, when you can wrestle with the same ones, over and over again?

If the reasons are #1 and/or #2, it’s time to get busy. But, do it smartly via a pilot. Go narrow and deep. Learn and then expand. The results of VPP and VPA balance are within your reach.

If the reason is #3, there’s probably a need for some fundamental leadership education and alignment first.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

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Lean Management System: Accountability’s Four Questions and Two Tools

Lean oriented questions tend to be straightforward, but not necessarily easy.

The same goes for the four basic questions around the daily accountability process – the process by which leaders facilitate effective follow-through. The follow-through that I am referring to is about the countermeasures necessary for what some refer to as (team-based):

  • Maintenance kaizen. Kaizen to bring a process back to standard, and
  • Improvement kaizen (redundantly named). Kaizen to elevate performance from a given standard.

To that kaizen-duo, we can add perhaps more mundane, but still important, countermeasures, and plain old action items, that help to appropriately drive awareness, communication, adherence, purchase a new right-sized cart, etc.

The four questions:

  1. What? Here the lean leader must capture a specific countermeasure (the what) that will address a particular problem’s root cause. To this question many folks very appropriately add a short problem statement (to which the countermeasure is being applied). This facilitates and demonstrates good problem-solving rigor and thinking. The “problem to be solved,” in the context of a lean management system, is typically identified during the application of the lean management system’s leader standard work (and the related audit of adherence to and sufficiency of the standard work), team-based tiered meetings and reflection, and andon response. If you say this sounds a bit too neat and tidy, you would be correct. It is darn difficult to accurately nail down a tight problem statement, identify root cause, and come up with an effective countermeasure in the span of a 10 minute daily tiered meeting (during which much of the time is allocated to other things). In fact, unless some quick 5 why activity can get the team there, the hard work of problem-solving is typically done off-line. This means that the captured “countermeasure,” more like an action item, may be for an individual or team to apply the necessary problem-solving rigor. In other words, sometimes it’s a plan for a plan. Know that the countermeasure or action item is not the sole brain-child of the lean leader, it’s usually developed with/by the team, as facilitated by the lean leader.
  2. Who? A countermeasure, no surprise, needs someone to execute it. Often it’s more than one person, but accountability is best served when there is one “belly-button.” The lean leader can record more than one who, but there must be a primary who!
  3. When? What good is a countermeasure or action item without a date certain? Clearly, not much. Many folks, unfortunately, are more than happy with an ambiguous due date. It’s an infinitely open loop.
  4. Status? Without a formal check to verify that assigned and agreed upon countermeasure have been completed, there is ZERO accountability and ZERO follow-through. Simply checking on completion is basic stuff. It is often appropriate to periodically check countermeasure status between assignment and completion, assessing execution status across the PDCA spectrum.

Admittedly, these are not the sexiest of questions. But, they are the bread and butter of the accountability process…along with the requisite lean leadership behaviors.

Once these questions are infused in the minds of lean leaders and team members, along with solid problem-solving skills, things get exciting. Folks get better at identifying problems, converging on problem-solving, and holding themselves and each other accountable.

And now the tools…

There are two basic tools to help in the accountability process. They are used primarily within the context of regular, typically daily, tiered team reflection meetings and help integrate the four questions within the “conversation.”

Each tool and its derivatives has pros and cons. None are perfect, but each are powerful.

  1. Countermeasure tracker form. This simple form records at least the following: 1) countermeasure number (nothing fancy – 1,2, 3, etc.) 2) the countermeasure (what), 3) who, 4) when, and 5) status. Some folks add a column in which to record the “problem to be solved.” The form is often hung on a tiered meeting metric board and are an active tool during the meeting as new countermeasures are recorded by the leader and old countermeasures are “statused” as part of the standard tiered meeting agenda. There are two basic ways the countermeasure tracker is used on a tier board: 1) one form for the entire board, or 2) one form for each of the metric categories (i.e., People, Quality, Delivery, Cost).
  2. Task accountability board. This board (sometimes paper) captures each assigned countermeasures/task on a single Post-It® note or card. The note/card, which also reflects the countermeasure due date, is then placed on the board in the row designated for the assigned tiered meeting member, intersecting the column which reflects the appropriate due date. See below for an example.

click to enlarge

Related posts: Tiered Meeting = Team Stand-up A3, Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

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Tiered Meeting = Team Stand-up A3

For some time, I have searched for a metaphor to convey the meaning and delivery of a tiered meeting (a.k.a. huddle, reflection meeting, sunrise meeting, etc.).

I think that I’ve settled upon a decent (sort of) metaphor – “team stand-up A3.”

The simple explanation is that tiered meetings, a critical element of an effective lean management system, are: 1) team-based, 2) conducted in the standing position (to discourage long-winded discourse), and 3) is largely about practicing PDCA (A3 thinking).

The team stand-up A3’s agenda approximates the following. The underlined words represent traditional A3 section titles.

  • Team leader shares the meeting theme (what the team is about to talk about) and provides some background (why they’re talking about it)
  • Team leader facilitates team exploration of the current conditions and target conditions (as represented by the performance metrics on the team’s board, leader standard work insight, etc.) and identification and acknowledgement of the problem(s) (the gap between current and target)
  • Team leader facilitates team problem analysis to identify root causes
  • Team converges on countermeasures (who, what, when) or a plan to do/continue problem-solving at another time after the meeting
  • Team leader facilitates follow-up on prior action items
  • Team leader facilitates “round robin” to seek out any open issues, suggestion, and/or questions
  • Team leader verifies take-aways and closes the meeting

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Animated Cartoon: “What’s the Problem?”, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

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Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”

I love simple questions. Specifically, I love questions that are ostensibly simple, but can spur deep reflection about important stuff…and ultimately improvement.

As discussed in a prior post, I like the question, “So what?” Those two words seek to identify the “actionability” of things like performance metrics and visual controls. For example, if tier I meeting performance metrics do not provide unambiguous insight to stakeholders on the causality of performance gaps AND the causality can’t be at least partially addressed by the stakeholders, then the metrics probably don’t pass the “So what?” test. In fact the metrics have entered the realm of bad wall art.

So, I’ve got a new question – “Do you see what I see?”

Yes, I know it’s three times longer than, “So what?” But, I think it’s equally as weighty. (Heck, we can abbreviate it as DYSWIS?)

Here’s two ways DYSWIS? can be applied in a lean context.

PDCA of leader standard work. When leader standard work is developed, it is typically done in conjunction with visual controls. The visual controls provide critical assistance to the leader so that he or she can easily discern whether the audit target is normal or abnormal. Well, like in any development mode (think PDCA), we need to check whether each visual control is effective and whether the desired normal condition really makes sense. The best way to check is for multiple people to walk the leader standard work and apply DYSWIS?

An example – three people walk the newly designed leader standard work. They stop at each audit point and, without conversing, do the audit…and then share. The latest stop is at a location of raw pre-staged castings for a machining center where visual controls are supposed to indicate whether the pre-staged material is in the proper location, replenishment has been triggered and its replenishment time (if one has been triggered) has not come and gone without being fulfilled. One of the three thought he could easily tell that things were normal. Another found the visuals to be ambiguous and wasn’t sure. Another thought the “normal condition” of two pallet positions, triggered for replenishment when one was empty, etc. was not sufficient given the waterspider’s cycle time. Do you see what I see? I guess not, we need to make some adjustments.

Gemba walk-based coaching. Gemba walks are a great opportunity for leaders to teach. The walks can be done one-on-one or one-to-many.

An example – an operations director has noted a recent spate of abnormal conditions in an area within a specific value stream. The director takes the young value stream manager for a gemba walk. They pause at a number of targets. The director frequently asks the manager what he sees. Often the manager properly identifies normal and abnormal (and the manager addresses the abnormalities). However, in several areas, in fact the ones that the director was initially concerned about, the manager incorrectly identifies some abnormal conditions as normal. In fact, in a couple situations, it seemed like the manager was guessing (yes, I think that the kanban batch board is maintained properly!?)  At each trouble area, the director shares what he sees and why he sees what he sees…and they reconcile why they don’t share the same insight. Again, DYSWIS?

So, I humbly propose, “Do you see what I see?” as, at the very least, a worthy lean question.

Related posts: Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

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6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

Regular tiered meetings are a staple of any company’s lean management system. The quick stand-up meetings represent part of the daily accountability process which, when combined with leader standard work and visual controls, provide the foundation for sustaining gains, rigorously practicing lean behaviors, aligning the organization, and moving to daily kaizen. Great stuff!

The effectiveness of any tiered meeting is largely driven by the leader. Here, we’re talking about multiple levels of leadership. For example, Tier I is usually comprised of the natural work team with the team leader being the supervisor or, well…team leader. Tier II often has a broader composition (and focus) and may be led by the value stream leader with line supervision and support folks participating. Tier III may be led by the plant manager, or general manager, etc. and have still a wider focus.

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, suggestion status board, etc.

So, let’s get to the 6 habits. Tiered meeting leaders need to regularly practice certain behaviors in order to facilitate an effective meeting and engage the stakeholders. In no certain order:

  1. Follow standard work. Like anything lean, the tiered meetings should have their own standard work, including the agenda/sequence, timing and duration, and required visuals. The leader needs to adhere to the standard work or modify it, but never blow it off. Time management is big here. I once had a client who started the meeting by setting an egg timer. Once the timer went off, the meeting was concluded…even if he was mid-sentence. We want meeting participants, not hostages.
  2. Tell the story. An old sensei taught me that, “Charts talk, people don’t.” What does that mean? Tiered meeting leaders don’t need to over-narrate the obvious. Good visual performance metrics show trends and targets. However, the leader’s job is to weave together the story, if there is one within a particular metric and/or between metrics.  For example, underwriting inventory and aging is well within target, which means we have some available capacity to go visit some agents and help drive new business…which, as we can see from the new business metric(s), is lagging behind by x…so, let me know by noon what your business development plans are for the rest of the week.
  3. Integrate. Consistent with telling the story, the leader needs to integrate beyond what is just hanging on a performance metric board. There are many other relevant sources of insight: leader standard work observations, tier meeting points (suggestions, problems, etc.) from the level above or below, plan vs actual activity, customer feedback, etc. The leader’s job, among other things, is to expand the team member’s line of sight and ultimately their lean thinking.
  4. Get closure. Nothing is worse than talking about the same problem day after day. It’s absolutely maddening.  We need to “kill” problems, so that they don’t come back again. This can only be done by properly defining the problem, identifying the root cause(s), formulating an effective countermeasure(s), assigning the countermeasure, executing the countermeasure and validating that the countermeasure worked. The leader must make sure that the team gets good at getting closure. Often this requires a separate kaizen activity.
  5. Engage stakeholders. The tier meeting has to pass the “so what?” test. Meeting visuals and dialogue must be understandable, important, and actionable. Otherwise, the meeting is more like watching a cable weather report. The leader has to be adept at reading whether the participants are checked in or out. If they’re in sleep mode, then the leader needs to change things up, call people out, educate folks as to what the metrics mean and why they’re important, make people take a rotation as a meeting leader…whatever it takes.
  6. Pull ideas and facilitate problem-solving. Tier meeting participants need to regularly use their eyes for waste and flex their problem-solving muscles. The meeting is an opportunity for the team to reflect on the last 24 hours, anticipate the next 24 hours, and discuss issues, problems and opportunities. Daily kaizen means a lot of voluntary kaizen. The leader can breed this through challenge, creativity, courage, and coaching, within the context of employee suggestions, kaizen circle activities, etc.

Related posts: Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

An effective lean management system, among other things, drives process adherence and process performance. The daily accountability portion of the system includes brief tiered meetings with the stakeholders.

At the tier I level, the core meeting participants are pretty much the natural work team (with hopefully key support people and rotating attendance by the manager(s)). You know, the folks who actually do the value-adding work.

The backdrop for tiered meetings is often a performance metric board, as supplemented by things like task accountability boards and thoughtful reflection on what is being seen by the leaders when they conduct their standard work.


Sometimes the performance metric board, its purpose, “story,” relevance and “actionability” are a mystery to the tier I stakeholders. It fails the “So what?” test. If it can’t pass that test, the meeting is muda.

How can that be?

Well, my experience is that it’s part of a lot of things, including part training and communication, part “presentation” (board design and execution), part change management, part performance management…and so on.

The categories of lean performance metrics are simple. True north metric families are pretty much quality, delivery, cost and human resource development. To that, you can add continuous improvement. Everything else is more or less a derivative from those families.

A performance metric board should answer relevant questions about the team’s balanced process performance within the value stream. Questions like, “Are we satisfying customer requirements relative to time, accuracy, completeness? Are we becoming more productive? Are we performing our work more safely?” And the answers should give us insight into the what, why, where, when, how and how many.

Often the focus is around the last 24 hours and the next 24 hours. But, we must care about trends, we must understand targets, and there has to be appropriate vertical and horizontal alignment within the organization. It’s all part of the dynamic of PDCA.

When performance metrics are a mystery, then we miss out on a whole dimension of engagement.

Assume that you’re a tier I stakeholder who has just been indoctrinated within the tier I meeting process. The experience too often goes like this (in your head), “Hey look, there’s a board…with lot’s of metrics on it. What does it mean? Heck, I can’t even read it. Too small, too many numbers. Where do those numbers come from? I don’t even think the team leader knows what it means. Why do we suddenly care about this stuff? What is the target? The leaders keep talking about the elimination of waste – this meeting is 10 minutes of waste, ‘Blah, blah, blah…'”

Take the Mystery out of It

Clearly, folks must be trained in the system and elements of the lean management system. This will provide a necessary foundation for understanding, application and change.

When it comes to team specific performance metrics, the training must be pretty deep for the stakeholders. Unfortunately, we often take short cuts here.

Instead, when metrics are under development (think PDCA), there must be a kind of precision to ensure that the critical few, balanced metrics do pass the, “So what?” test. In order to do this, consider creating a metric profile for each and every metric. The profile forces rigor and it can then be used to help train people on the metric itself.

Furthermore, the metric profile should be hung up on the metric board underneath the metric. Think of it as metric standard work. Update it as you clarify it and make improvements.

So, what should be included in a metric profile? Here’s some elements that I usually include:

  • Metric name. This one is obvious.
  • A picture of the metric. It helps to know what it looks like…or should look like – line graph, stacked bar chart, etc. It’s OK for the template to be computer generated, but the data, bars and/or lines, etc. should be hand drawn – the quicker to generate and easy to read from 10+ feet away.
  • Purpose of the metric. It’s very important to understand the “why” of the metric. For example a cumulative production run chart provides insight into the linearity/level production day over day.
  • Implications, a.k.a. the “So what?” To continue the example from above, if the cumulative production run chart reflects less than level production (here an upper and lower control limit can provide a target), then the leader should investigate the root cause(s). Potential root causes can include demand variation, overproduction, capacity constraints, etc. The implications follow suit.
  • Metric target. Good PDCA usually requires targets. Folks need to understand expectations and the magnitude of the performance gap(s).
  • Data source. It’s important to specify where the data reflected (directly or through calculation) within the metric comes from in order to ensure accuracy and consistency.
  • Calculation, if applicable. Many times data is taken directly from a report, stick count, etc. and posted/charted on the metric template. Sometimes the metric calls for a calculation using source data. For example, prior day productivity (number of units/person/hour) may require someone to take prior day output, divided by day staffing, then divided by hours worked. There should be no guess work on how to perform the calculation.
  • Frequency. Metric “actionability” typically calls for more frequent measures. Much of the time this means daily measurement, however, weekly and even monthly may be more pragmatic for less dynamic metrics (for example, employee satisfaction survey results).
  • Owner. It makes sense to specify the keeper of the metric so that there is no ambiguity. This does not preclude rotating the preparation and presentation of a given metric(s) on a rotating basis among meeting stakeholders to facilitate understanding and engagement.

What else should be on the profile?

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

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Lean Management Systems and Actionable Empathy…or, “How Was Your Day?”

We have all experienced significant stress. You know, the feeling that you’re treading water after just being dunked by more than a few unforgiving waves… and more waves are coming…and it’s dark.

There’s nothing worse than giving maximum effort and knowing that it might not be good enough. Well, actually there is something worse – feeling like you’re all alone and no one cares.

Primary care physicians can experience that kind of stress. Often they are a pretty autonomous lot. This can enhance the feeling of isolation. Enter the benefits of tiered meetings as part of an effective lean management system.

Tier I meetings, typically a short (5 to 15 minute) daily  meeting, fosters communication and helps focus the natural work team on process performance, improvement opportunities that have been surfaced in the last 24 hours, and planning for  the next 24 hours, etc. But, I never really thought too hard about the role of empathy within the tier I…until I heard a doc, a recent lean convert, describe how it has helped change everything.

His team of nurse, medical assistant and secretary, within what they appropriately reference as a tier I “huddle,” regularly starts with the staff asking the doc the important question of, “How was (is) your day?” Now, this didn’t start as part of the tier I’s standard agenda, but instead was an intuitive question asked by a caring staff.

As the physician described the tier I, he focused on the discussions around schedule, patient wait times, rooming performance, and team implemented improvements, but he also talked about how he no longer felt like it was him against the world. The question of, “How was your day?” seemed to change so much. His team cared, wanted to help and regularly did.

Patient satisfaction has improved dramatically over the last several months and so has provider and staff satisfaction. It all makes sense.

Related post: How to Audit a Lean Management System

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