Archive for July, 2010

Lean Leadership – Lessons from My Dog Obedience Sensei

My dog, Bailey, has a sensei – a dog obedience trainer. Actually, my wife and I have a sensei… to teach us how to train our dog. In fact, my wife and I have used the same dog obedience trainer for the last three dogs, all German Shepherds. No one will mistake us for Mr. and Mrs. Dog Whisperer.

Recently, while I was on business travel, my wife and Bailey had a lesson with the trainer. In short, the trainer was not impressed. Bailey was unfocused and not very successful at executing the new commands from the prior lesson.

The trainer astutely noted that the dog was suffering from the effect of inconsistent training. Yes, I was the master at the previous lesson (while my wife was out of town with kid #2) and maybe, just maybe,  I did not train rigorously enough to help Bailey master the latest technique…and maybe I did not effectively transfer the knowledge to my wife so that she could herself learn the new technique and practice it with Bailey.

If you have ever taken your dog to obedience school or done the private lesson thing, it does not take long to figure out that the training has more to do with the master and less about the dog. In other words, the dog does not magically absorb Lassie-like obedience and intelligence in a few hours of training.

The master is responsible for learning the techniques and commands through practice (PDCA) with their animal under the tutelage of the sensei. Then the expectation is that the master(s) will rigorously practice the new techniques and commands (more PDCA) over the following week or weeks until the next lesson, whereupon they will demonstrate their new (sort of) mastered skills and be ready for new learnings. To help, my trainer even leaves a one page “standard work” document after each lesson. It details the proper technique, command, etc.

So, the connection to lean leadership…or what my dog obedience sensei has reinforced for me:

  • Lean leaders must learn proper behaviors and techniques from the external sensei, so that they in turn can coach others within the organization.
  • Lean leaders cannot abdicate their responsibility for transformation to the external sensei.
  • The followers in the organization can only absorb so much from the external sensei during his/her relatively short time at their gemba. The long-term effect (or lack thereof) is purely up to the lean leaders.
  • The lean leaders must be absolutely (and pragmatically) consistent in message, principles, systems and tools, otherwise the workforce will become confused and frustrated.
  • Even though lean leaders often know what to do, how to do it and why they should do it, they often don’t do it. A good external sensei will keep them honest.

Dog is man’s best friend – they are loyal, loving, obedient and can prompt useful lean reflection.

Related post: WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?

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Time Observations – without Rigor, It’s Just Industrial Tourism

It happens way too often. Folks who are ostensibly conducting time observations frequently:

          • don’t appreciate the full importance of the exercise,
          • are not properly trained in how to conduct time observation methods (and the the related spaghetti charts, percent load charts and standard ops forms), and/or
          • are  just too lazy to do a thorough job.

The first two conditions are more straightforward in nature, the last, well…that’s a behavioral issue.  In any event, insufficient rigor will hamstring the effort to identify waste within a given process. A prior Gemba Tales post, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, covers a lot of relevant ground here.

Lack of rigor and technical know-how can yield some very bad things – not the least of which are marginally useful time observations. This means that individuals and teams can come up with a stilted understanding of the studied process, miss or incorrectly identify the waste and opportunities, develop a less than least way post-kaizen future state standard work or…even worse, create new standard work that is going to go through tremendous adjustment during the PDCA process because it does not square with reality. Think “rework ” here.

So, what drives me absolutely crazy? Lazy observers! [By the way, here we assume that the time observation is worth doing in the first place (right scope, worthy target,  appropriate tool, etc.)]

We cannot be proponents of industrial tourism. Time observations require hard work and a good dose of stamina.

Hey, stopwatches are much more difficult to operate than one would think and breaking down the target process into the smallest observable elements is a pain in the neck. Observing multiple cycles, so necessary to getting a handle on variation (and thus opportunity), means more time on your feet, more writing and attention firmly directed on a process which may be as exciting as watching paint dry…in perhaps extreme heat, cold, noise, whatever. Following the operator or worker EVERYWHERE can also be a drag. And observing a process that has varied work content based upon different factors (such as warehouse picks from high bay versus low bay locations)  … can make it even more maddening.

My answer? Suck it up! Grind it out! Man-up (not really politically correct, but you know what I mean)!

It’s not that I am without empathy. I have personally conducted countless time observations of cycles that were many hours in duration, sported crazy variation and permutations, etc. It was at times, very, very painful. But, you really can’t get the proper insight into the waste and opportunities within a process without such a personal investment, and without going to the gemba. In fact, genchi genbutsu, “go and see for yourself” …and help facilitate that seeing with the rigorous application of a time observation form.

Don’t be a tourist! You owe an A-plus effort to yourself and most importantly, in the spirit of humility and respect for the individual, you owe it to the other stakeholders – the person(s) that you observe,  teammates, customer, etc. You must pragmatically conduct the best time observations you possibly can.

What do you think? Am I too demanding here?


The War Room – More than an Interior Decorating Statement

Several weeks ago, a client mentioned that they were planning on establishing a “war room,” but did not especially like that name. I suggested “transformation room.” It’s a little less militaristic (not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps a little over the top within healthcare) and more descriptive relative to its purpose.

Here are a few things to think about when contemplating a war room.

Purpose. In a nutshell, the war room’s primary purpose is to establish and sustain effective organizational focus on the stuff that’s required to transform its performance and culture.  The focus must be intense, specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bounded. By definition, it must encompass both PDCA and SDCA, meaning breakthrough improvement, daily kaizen and sustainability.

Audience. The notion of “room” infers that its users are small in number…maybe elite. Well, the war room should be worn out by the executives, but it shouldn’t necessarily be an exclusive place (unless a war room is dedicated to working out some especially sensitive issues, like organizational design decisions). In fact, if at all pragmatic, the room should be in a high traffic area. Hence, the “room” for some lean companies has become a “glass wall” – a physical, transparent wall, which sports the information for all to see and demonstrates leadership’s competent and credible commitment to the lean transformation.

Contents. What’s in the war room? Charts, graphs and solemn statements that drive/share:

  • clarity in the enterprise’s vision, mission and purpose,
  • the identification and recognition of the current condition,
  • articulation of the desired future state and the gaps between current and future state,
  • the execution (and the adjustment, as required) of detailed gap closure plan(s),
  • safety, quality, delivery, cost, innovation, and morale performance,
  • countermeasures, their ownership and status, and
  • recognition of victories, large and small

We’re talking about strategy deployment matrices, bowling charts, A3 reports, current and future state value stream maps, value stream improvement plans, top tier performance metrics, posted top leader standard work, task accountability boards, etc.

Context. The war room, by itself, is just a room with lots of paper on the wall. Its value is derived by the structured engagement of the lean leaders in and around that room – the focus, application, execution, learning, and adjustment within frequent strategy deployment checkpoint meetings, daily tiered meetings and the like. The war room represents the top tier within a multi-tiered lean management system.

The war room is clearly more than an interior decorating statement. What’s your take on the room?

Related posts: The Post-Value Stream Analysis Hangover, Why Bowling Charts? Trajectory Matters!

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Good Lean Leaders Come from Good Lean Followers

My oldest is a fourth class cadet (actually a “swab”) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He is (hopefully!) enduring a 7 week orientation (think boot camp) called Swab Summer in which he becomes a member of the armed forces, prepares to join the Corps of Cadets, and is readied for the academic year.

It is not easy and there is no guarantee of success. More than a few of the 290 swabs will DOR (drop on request), get medically discharged, etc. It’s extremely challenging physically, intellectually and emotionally. But, that’s one of the reasons that the USCG is the best coast guard in the world!

A common theme that is expressed around the Academy is that in order to become good leaders, the cadets must become good followers – especially in the important fourth class year (freshman). It’s a bottom up learning experience. Academy graduates are commissioned as ensigns within the CG.

So, why is followership so important? First of all, not everyone can be the supreme leader. That’s just plain impossible. You’ve got to have effective followers, ones who know how to follow individually and, more importantly, collectively as a team. It’s a prerequisite for execution and for developing an exceptional culture.

Given the dynamics of hierarchy and the fact that leadership is often a shared responsibility (we don’t want a bunch of lemmings), many folks will serve as leaders to others. And here’s a blinding flash of the obvious – if you don’t know how to follow, it’s really hard to be a good leader and mentor. Poor followers  often have a significant challenge understanding what their followers do and deal with within the  technical and emotional realm. Great leaders have a clue about the principles, systems and tools and they have empathy.

Another blinding flash of the obvious, when one is made a leader, it is not eternal and all encompassing. No one walking on this earth is perfectly complete. This means, every leader must be a follower at some time, in some way. It’s how you learn, how you grow and how you leverage the collective, value-creating strengths of the organization.

So, where am I going with this (especially in a lean context)? Effective lean leaders must also be good followers. The renowned Steven Spear‘s recent blog post (looooonnng title), Why C level executives don’t engage in ‘lean’…Two reasons: Delegate to ‘technologists’ or trained to decide, not discover and develop…, touches upon a bit of this phenomenon.

C level executives are often absent from ‘lean initiatives,’ ‘lean transformations,’ and the like.

This is unfortunate given the truthy cliche, “what is interesting to leaders, is fascinating to followers.”

The question is, “Why?”

Let me suggest two reasons:

  • Lean presented as a kit of system engineering tools which senior leaders feel they can delegate to technologists.
  • Senior leaders not taught/trained for an environment of continuous improvement/discovery.

Presumably, if C-level executives were better followers when it comes to lean, they would be better at truly leading lean transformations…and not bastardizing the implementation.

So, what followership things can executives do to boost their lean leadership effectiveness? Some thoughts:

  • Genuinely seek out other true lean leaders at bona fide lean organizations, visit, observe, ask stupid questions, and listen…with humility.
  • Fully participate (clear the calendar and bury the Blackberry) within kaizen activities (including values stream analysis) as a team member. Make it clear that you are there to contribute and to learn…and then do just that.
  • Consider hosting president’s kaizens with your staff, as facilitated by a respected sensei who will keep you and your staff honest (relative to kaizen standard work, lean principles and group dynamics) and ensure that you get meaningful stuff done.
  • Actually READ and STUDY those lean books that are on your book shelf.
  • After getting certified through a train-the-trainer process, train some of the folks in the organization in Lean 101.
  • Conduct routine gemba walks with your sensei (internal or external), listen, get grilled, try to answer and learn.
  • Spend a day or two as a front line associate, dealing with the stuff they deal with (warts and all) and following their standard work.
  • Spend a day or two as a mid-level lean leader, dealing with the stuff they deal with (warts and all) and following their leader standard work.

I am sure there are a bunch of other follower activities that can be added. What are your thoughts?

To the United States Coast Guard, thank you and Semper Paratus!

Related posts: Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back, Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?

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Lean Metric: Waste Elimination Effectiveness

It happened about 15 years ago, but I remember it very clearly. My sensei, never one to mince words, shared his thoughts on the performance of the four teams. He grabbed a flipchart and scratched out a formula – one that I now call “waste elimination effectiveness.”

The W.E.E. = identified waste X acknowledged waste X eliminated waste. It’s cumulative, like rolled throughput yield (i.e., 80% X 60% X 65% = 31%). A low % in any of the factors is NOT good, multiple factors, disaster.

Some teams fared a lot better than others in the sensei’s semi-quantitative assessment. I don’t remember the scores. Not really important. What is important are the underlying principles and perspective. Here are some of my humble W.E.E. reflections.

The great Hiroyuki Hirano calls the practice of identifying waste “wastology.” Pretty cool term.  In my estimation, it’s about 85% technical skill and 15% behavioral. In other words, with study, hard work , the right tools/techniques, and a lot of practice, you can learn how to identify waste. In order to drive the W.E.E.’s waste identification number, you also have to apply sufficient rigor and stamina.

Now, you can teach a person to identify waste, but you can’t MAKE them acknowledge it (kind of like that horse and water thing). The willingness to acknowledge waste is primarily behavioral. I put this at a 10% technical and 90% behavioral “skill mix.” A retributive culture and/or a lack of humility will minimize acknowledgment. Of course, lazy folk know that if they don’t acknowledge the waste, then they won’t be obligated to try to eliminate it (“Waste? What waste?”).

…And even if people acknowledge the waste, you can’t MAKE them eliminate it.  Some just don’t have the killer instinct. I see elimination as a 50%/50% split between technical and behavioral. A lack of bias for action or aggressiveness will limit waste elimination. Similarly, from a technical perspective, if the kaizener does not apply adequate countermeasures, and apply them against the real root cause(s), they’re just spinning their wheels.

So, generating a high waste elimination effectiveness level is not easy…but, pretty much anything worth accomplishing isn’t easy.

Related posts: Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes, The Truth Will Set You Free!