Archive for January, 2012

Book Review: A Factory of One

Last month, I had the opportunity to read Daniel Markovitz’s new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance.  It is published by Productivity Press. My hopefully pithy review is now posted on his book website (where you can also get a FREE chapter):

How can this book NOT be for EVERYONE?! Dan Markovitz has written a truly unique, readable, and actionable book about personal lean. A Factory of One will help the reader reconnect with the value-creating portion of his or her everyday work. Dan’s book is a gift to all knowledge workers.”

If you don’t know Dan, or at least know about him, you should.  He is a personal productivity sage and, admittedly, is a lot smarter than I am (despite attending a rival “Little Ivy” college). Dan is the founder and owner of TimeBack Management, faculty member of Lean Enterprise Institute, renowned speaker and now, author.

Often folks rightly believe that book reviewer comments are puffed up things written by someone who may have read the book introduction, if that. The fact is that I read the whole work and covered it with a bunch of notes.

The notes? Well, those were mostly to highlight important passages and personal productivity learnings for myself.

A Factory of One is a “me book.” The “me,” represents whoever is fortunate enough to read it…and genuinely respond to its challenge to continually engage in personal practice kaizen.

Dan’s stated goal of the book is consistent with this notion:

…to help you work more mindfully – to be aware of what you are doing in the moment because you have removed the physical and psychic clutter that dilutes your productivity. The book will teach principles and tools that help you structure how you do your work so that you can identify the best approach – one that helps you get more done, and done better, consistently. You will make the best practice, common practice.”

Markovitz’s book is 145 pages in length – certainly a quick read. It is comprised of five chapters, along with a brief introduction and conclusion. Each chapter contains real-life illustrative stories (you’ll love the one about the $14 million check) and, with the exception of Chapter 5, concludes with “Next Steps” – a pragmatic punch list of activities that support the strategies and tactics discussed within the chapter.

Here’s a summary of the chapters:

  1. What’s Your Job? Dan begins by challenging the reader to go beyond their job title and get at the essence of their role. This, of course, requires an understanding of value from the perspective of one’s “customers.” A Factory of One is about enhancing personal productivity around value-added activities, not becoming really, really good at the non-value added stuff. This is not a how to book for “email ninjas.” Chapter Next Steps include creating a customer value map and completing a time-tracking log for one week.
  2. Spotting Value, Spotting Waste. Markovitz talks persuasively about “information 5S.” Dan has the audacity to claim that the desktop is a workshop and not a storage space! Next Steps include ruthlessly 1S’ing your office, using a 3-tray (“inbox”, “outbox,” and “reading”) system, creating “working,” “reference,” and “archive” files and electronic folders, etc.
  3. Flow. Yes, this is all about the flow of knowledge work! I have copied Dan’s figure of “4Ds workflow” and now have it hanging over my desk. It’s a relatively simple reminder to keep things moving. When the “stuff” comes into my inbox (real or virtual), I have got to either: 1) do it (if < 2 minutes of work content), 2) delegate it, 3) designate it (task list if <10 minutes, calendar it if >30 minutes), or 4) discard it. Of course, it doesn’t end there. Once Markovitz gets you to set the table, then it’s time to dispel the myth of multi-tasking, and introduce strategies like “worst first,” serial tasking, compressing your available time to better identify problems, and level-loading repetitive tasks. Next Steps include applying 4Ds, use of recurring calendar appointments to force you to do the necessary but not favorite tasks first, keeping a notepad next to your computer to record phone calls you need to make and emails you need to send (and thus avoid stopping flow), and scheduling specific time(s) to process email.
  4. Visual Management. Dan challenges the reader who finds comfort in keeping all their working files on their desk – it’s a wildly ineffective strategy to combat “out of sight, out of mind.” The author introduces personal kanbans and then proceeds to discuss the integrated use of the calendar and task pad, the need for slack in one’s schedule, etc. For me, living in my calendar versus my inbox is one of my Achilles heels! Chapter Next Steps call for the movement of all tasks, projects, and ongoing commitments into an electronic calendar and tasks pad (see 4Ds, above). The projects should be visually tracked using a simple personal kanban board.
  5. From Bad to Good, and from Good to Great. This chapter does not have a formal Next Steps section – it’s ALL about next steps. The knowledge worker must embrace PDCA and, by definition, standardized work around the if, how, what, when, where, and who of their work. Just applying the first four chapters does not let you off the hook!

Bottom line, buy and apply A Factory of One. It will improve your personal performance!

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Undercover Hospital Sensei’s Diagnosis – “Healthcare is Broke” [guest post]


When You Want to Ask Why 5X, Just Because You’re Curious…

Absolutely nothing serious here, or long. Just wanted to share this picture of a freshly returned rental car that pulled in next to mine.

Did the driver not notice an abnormality? Maybe did, but didn’t care? Who knows, other than the “operator”?

click to enlarge

I wanted to engage the person in some 5 why’s, but I thought it a bit too forward. Of course, I’m sure me taking a picture while the driver was standing nearby wasn’t too strange. Amateur lean photojournalists are relatively immune to embarrassment.

One lean lesson here? Unasked questions are hard to answer.

Harder still if you were not engaged in direct observation at the gemba when the defect occurred.

This one will haunt me forever…

Related post: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining


Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning

During a recent trip to the great state of Texas, I heard some down-home wisdom, “Before you season your food, why don’t you taste it first?”

The person who uttered that question was NOT talking about food. Rather, he was challenging someone who was a little too hell-bent on changing something without truly understanding it.

Sound familiar?

Heck, even etiquette folks will tell you it’s rude to season before tasting.

“If you season your food without tasting it, you will convey to the cook that you are already assuming the food will be bland and tasteless. It is more polite to taste food first and then add seasoning if you think it’s necessary.” (How to Season Food With Table Manners)

But, the point of this post isn’t about manners…as important as they are.

It’s about standard work.

People are relatively quick to pick up on the notion of kaizen – making things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Self-induced kaizen is fun, even freeing.

It’s better and more fun to give than to receive.

Of course, improvement without standardization is stillborn to say the least.

No doubt, we have heard the Taichii Ohno quote, “Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” Standard work implies that there must be adherence. Without it, it’s more like a standard wish…as fickle as the wind. We can’t sustain improvements and we have little foundation for the next.

However, adherence, especially when “virgin” standard work (you know, that first step from the wild no standard work west days) is introduced, requires folks to often significantly change the way that they do work – new steps, sequences, cycle times, standard WIP, etc.

It can be hard learning a new way. It can be frustrating. It can feel limiting. But, it ensures that people are working to the current one best way…until it is improved again.

So, here’s the rub (pun intended).

How long does one need to go before they start adding seasoning?! How long before the standard work should be subject to improvement?

We know the likelihood of any given standard work being perfect is essentially ZERO. It’s one reason why we apply SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) – to assess not only adherence, but the sufficiency of standard work.

Improvement should follow.

But, try this scenario on for size. Standard work has been developed during a pilot, regularly subjected to improvement over a period of many weeks. It’s been battled tested and has facilitated significant, measurable improvements in productivity and quality. Then, it is introduced to another line or location, with an appropriate application of change management. (Hopefully, this includes the rigor of a net change activity to understand and compensate for any true differences in the adopter’s value stream versus the pilot’s…)

The next line or location quickly goes from no standard work to adopting the new standard work. It’s painful. Within minutes the new adopters think, “I don’t like this.” It’s not “sufficient.” It plain old su*ks.

Not long thereafter, the new adopter folks start thinking about seasoning, about “improving” the new standard work. Hey, I tried it for a day, time to exercise my Ohno-given right to kaizen. Almost, an “it’s my ball, and I’m going home…with it,” type of mentality.

So, here’s a question for you – how long should someone taste the new standard work before they are genuinely ready to consider seasoning it?

I’ve got my thoughts. What are yours?

Related posts: Standard Work Is a Verb, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Lean Decay Rate


Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2011 – Steven Spear

This is the final of my three contributing installments to John Hunter’s fourth annual review roundup. In this installment, I

Steven Spear

am honored to review Steven Spear’s self-titled site.

Steven’s website, I hesitate to call it (only) a blog, accurately reflects that he is a “lecturer, author, and expert in leadership, innovation, and operational excellence.” I don’t think that there is any hyperbole in the description.

His website categories include articles on the auto industry, business strategy, economy recovery, health care, process excellence, and Toyota. Not totally unexpected from a senior lecturer at MIT.

Spear is a five-time Shingo Award winner for his works that include the book, The High Velocity Edge (previously known under the title, Chasing the Rabbit), and the Harvard Business Review articles, Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System (co-authored) and Fixing Health Care from the Inside.

Bottom line, some fancy themselves as “thought leaders,” Steven Spear is the real deal. Like many great sensei, he can reduce what most folks cannot readily fathom into graspable concepts, while at the same time eschewing shortcuts.

He’s the guy you want the lean wannabe leaders within your organization to heed.

Here is a brief survey of Steve’s 2011 articles. Note the consistency within his message.

  • Operational Excellence: From Fragmented Vocation to Principle-Driven Profession. Now here is an absolute gift. Steven’s post addresses the notion of how the parochialism of the different camps – lean, TPS, six sigma, lean six sigma, TQM, etc. isn’t necessarily productive. His seven page paper of the same name (here’s the “gift” part – a PDF of the paper!) highlights the “commonality in objective, commonality in path, and compliment in approach” amongst the different vocations. All, when well applied, embrace the following principles:
  • Design work to capture [the] best known approach,
  • See problems when and where they occur, and
  • Solve problems with discipline.
  • …but what is the cost of stupid? We’ve all heard the truism, “you can’t fix stupid,” but I can honestly say, I never thought about the cost…until I read this brief and pointed post.
  • First, recognize that all professional disciplines—those that rise to prominence in organizations—are built on simple, sound principles (be they called ‘theories,’ like option pricing theory, or ‘laws,’ like laws of Newtonian mechanics or thermodynamics), and expertise is displayed by the application of those principles to ever more sophisticated situations in order to create value.
  • Second, reframe operational excellence to be like other professional disciplines, moving from the vocational application of tools, artifacts, and isolated applications and moving to bona fide principles of design, operation, and improvement in pursuit of maximizing created value [not merely eliminating waste].
  • What is a QI project… In response to someone’s question about how to define a QI (quality improvement) project. Steven, no surprise, cautions against tool-kit thinking. He then summarizes the core capabilities of exceptionally performing organizations:
  • Design work with sufficient specificity to capture best known approaches and to operate work systems to reveal problems when and where they occur.
  • To swarm problems when seen both to contain their spread and to investigate their root causes and develop treatments/countermeasures while the problem is still ‘hot.’
  • To share and incorporate systemically what is learned locally.
  • To lead so as to develop the seeing problems, solving problems, sharing learnings behaviors.

I hope that you visit Steven Spear’s site, read his excellent content, and purchase his book and articles.

Also, please check out ALL of John Hunter’s 2011 Management Blog Carnival activity right here!

Related posts: Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2011 – A Lean Journey, Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2011 – Lean Blog, Management Improvement Carnival #126


Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2011 – A Lean Journey

Tim McMahon

This is the second of my three contributing installments to John Hunter’s fourth annual review roundup. In this installment, I am honored to review Tim McMahon’s A Lean Journey blog.

Tim founded his blog in 2009 and is its primary contributor. We both live in the same geographic area and have shared several animated lunches over the last 18 months. The cuisine each time was Japanese…I know, I know.

Tim is a very talented, patient (he has coached this bumpkin on Twitter basics, for example), and humble person. He readily admits that he is learning, just like all genuine lean folks should. These admirable characteristics, when combined with his diligence, yield a terrific and continuously evolving blog.

Tim’s article, Top 10 Posts of 2011 on A Lean Journey, reflects how he published 230 posts last year! During that time his readership has increased tremendously – nearly 79,000 people visited his site in 2011.

This may make Tim the James Brown of lean blogging. Introducing Tim McMahon, the Hardest Working Man in Lean Blogging!

Anyway, before I review a handful of Tim’s top 2011 posts, I would like to share some of his blog’s regular features:

  • Lean tips. Tim frequently posts concise tips for the lean practitioner. For example, tip #371 is “Think Before You Speak.” The blog’s hyperlink will bring the reader to A Lean Journey Facebook page with further explication.
  • Lean quote. Every Friday (where does he get the time?), Tim posts an article around a particular lean or lean related quote. The November 11th quote was, “Success always starts with failure.” So true.
  • Lean Roundup. Each month, Tim compiles a list of highlighted posts from the lean blogosphere. Sometimes, I am fortunate enough to be included – like in October’s Lean Roundup.

Now, here is a brief survey of several of Tim’s top 2011 articles:

  • 12 Ways to Start Building a Continuous Improvement Culture. This post shares the slides from Tim and occasional webinar partner (and fellow-blogger at Gotta Go Lean), Jeff Hajek’s webinar of the same name. Three of the 12 ways include: plan for 10% improvement time, have the proper attitude towards failure, and don’t harvest (all of your) gains. Go to the article to see the other 9 ways contained within the 18 page slide deck.
  • Ten Ways to Show Respect for People. The Toyota Way is founded on two pillars, continuous improvement and respect for people. Tim shares ten straightforward, but not necessarily easy ways, to show respect for each individual. How can you do it? Keep your promises, be on time, look at people when they talk, let the buck stop with you…
  • Visual Management Board. This article is primarily about Lantech’s Allison Meyer, as she explains within the embedded video how she and her team manage marketing activities using A3’s and a related visual board. Maybe, someday, I’ll embed a video that’s not Monty Python or cartoon related.
  • The 6 Pillars of 6S – Free Posters. There’s nothing like free stuff, especially if it’s good. Here Tim provides PDF versions of his company’s 6S posters. Why re-invent the wheel?

I hope that you visit Tim McMahon’s blog, read his excellent content, and participate in his ever-growing community.

Also, please check out ALL of John Hunter’s 2011 Management Blog Carnival activity right here!

Related posts: Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2011 – Lean Blog, Management Improvement Carnival #126, Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – John Shook’s Lean Management Column, Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Lean Homebuilding, Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Evolving Excellence