Archive for February, 2012

ROWE v. Lean – My Two Cents

Recently, fellow-blogger David Kasprzk, introduced me to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy.  Later, he invited me to guest post with him on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Tim and David are good people with some great things to say, so I was happy to oblige.

Here’s the first half of my post. (Or, you can access the entire post right here, now.)

ROWE, created at Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, espouses a philosophy under which employees can work where they want, when they want, and how they want – as long as the work gets done.

I love meritocratic thinking!

Of course, there’s nothing like a brand new philosophy or system to challenge, and/or sharpen, one’s personal belief systems. You can’t defend that which you don’t understand.

Admittedly, I am more than a bit fuzzy about ROWE. I’ve done some reading on the internet, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m considering buying the seminal book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, but haven’t pulled the trigger.

In any event, here’s my two cents on what I think I know about ROWE. I could break into the Donald Rumsfeld spiel about known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns…you get the point. So, in the end, what I have to say is worth just about $0.02. Definitely, nothing more.

As you read this, or perhaps more appropriately, after you read this, check out Kasprzk’s latest post on ROWE. It’s right here on Tim MacMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Consider this a type of good-natured point/counterpoint between the two of us.

Here it goes…

ROWE ostensibly engages and empowers the workforce. It strips away some of the organizationally and self-imposed muda of rigidity and silly limitations and focuses on accountability and results. It’s tough to argue with that.

Of course, this almost seems too easy. The “Free Love” days of the 1960’s sounded great, but were not necessarily the best thing from a socio-ethics perspective.

Stupid analogy!? Maybe.

Part of my concern has to do with interdependence. In an enterprise, we can’t all be free actors all of the time – whether we are part of a natural work team or are individual contributors.

Please go to the rest of this post.

Past guest posts: “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!”, The Best or Nothing, Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle

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My Experimentation with Personal Kanban

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Dan Markovitz’s excellent new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance. I also took Dan’s work as a call to personal action.

Thus far, I have successfully adopted several of his recommendations in order to boost my marginal in-office productivity. By the way, my “office” also includes the hotel rooms that I too often inhabit.

Well, recently I finally pulled the trigger on a personal kanban. I had been thinking this one through for way too long. It was time to “do.”

I purposely limited the application of the kanban to my major distractions – the things that tend to interrupt the (hopefully continuous) flow of my work. Oh, many are the snares of the knowledge worker!

So, here’s a description and photo of my fledgling kanban. I “borrowed” some poker chips from my oldest (he’s away at college and really knows nothing of this borrowing) to represent authorized daily uses of the things that tend to distract me. The chips fall this way (sorry, couldn’t resist):

  • 4 white poker chips for daily email activity (MS Outlook is shut down at all other times) ,
  • 2 blue chips for daily Gemba Tales blog activity,
  • 1 green chip for checking LinkedIn, and
  • 1 red chip for checking Twitter (not a big tweeter).

At the beginning of the day, all of the chips are stacked at the left side of my laptop. As I trigger a chip usage, I move that chip to the right side of my laptop, do that activity and then close the application or log off, as required.

This instills a necessary level of discipline and moderation for me.

The chip usage happens around my calendar, my task list (between 10 and 2 minutes of work content per item), and my just-do-its (the stuff that’s too small for the task list).

So far, so good. Daily improvement, right?!?

Oh yes, check out the pic below of my fancy travel kit.

Related posts: Book Review: A Factory of One, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings


12 Narrow Lean Gates

Within virtually any serious lean transformation effort, there are moments of truth. The “truth” represents not the orthodoxy of lean tools and even systems, both extremely important, but lean principles themselves.

Violate the principles and fail that moment of truth. Do it consistently and the lean transformation will be nothing more than a lean charade.

Effective lean leaders must be unbending when it comes to principles. See figure below for the lean principles as identified in the Shingo Prize Model.

So, why do lean leaders waffle on lean principles?

There are a bunch of possible reasons. Now don’t overthink this from a 5 why perspective, but wafflers often suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Ignorance,
  • Impatience,
  • Superficiality (a.k.a. lacking conviction),
  • Implicit or explicit pressure from others (mostly above),
  • Lack of humility (the smarty-panted lean cafeteria folks take what they consider worthy and ditch the rest), and or
  • An inclination to take the easy way out (yup, lean transformations are really, really hard).

This brings us to the proverbial narrow gate.

Now, I do not intend to offend anyone’s religious or secular sensibilities here (in other words, lighten up), but I believe that this verse (7:13) from Matthew’s gospel fits the bill:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.”

Yes, you guessed it, the wide gate is the easy way. Wafflers enter through that one and take the broad road to lean transformation failure or perhaps, if they’re lucky, lean mediocrity.

The narrow gate? Well, those who do not compromise on lean principles enter through that one and take the constricted road that “leads to life.” In fact, “[t]hose who find it are few.”

The statistics (the ones about lean transformations) routinely prove that statement true.

click to enlarge

Lean leaders encounter the choice of wide versus narrow gate on a daily basis. Conviction, solidarity, alignment, knowledge, experience, humility, respect, good coaching, and a bunch of other things help folks choose wisely.

The trouble is that leaders are tested very early in the journey when their lean maturity is well, pretty immature. I’ve identified 12 of these tests that many leaders end up encountering sooner rather than later. I know it’s perhaps a little clunky, but let’s refer to them as 12 lean narrow gates (otherwise the title of this post doesn’t work).

In no particular order:

  1. Adhering to standard work. Isn’t it fun creating continuous flow and establishing standard work, especially if no formal standard work pre-existed the effort? Well, standard work is useless unless it’s followed. Same goes for leader standard work. Wide-gate leaders don’t sweat adherence.
  2. Redeploying excess workers. Standard work is “polluted” when we staff processes with excess workers, as defined by the standard work. Heck, try playing baseball with 13 defensive players on the field…whose ball is it? When we carry excess workers, we hide the waste and avoid short-term pain, while foregoing long-term improvement.
  3. Dealing with top performers who are “concrete-heads.” What to do with the person who consistently meets or exceeds targets, but openly disdains the principles of lean? Narrow-gaters defy conventional wisdom and, if unsuccessful in converting the top performer, remove the saboteur.
  4. Moving beyond event-driven kaizen only. Kaizen events have their place, but without the bulk of improvements generated through daily kaizen performed by engaged and empowered workers; there is no credible, sustainable lean transformation. Few have the courage and conviction to transition to principle-driven kaizen.
  5. (Really) establishing the KPO. Wide-gaters hedge their bets if and when they get around to establishing the lean function within their organization. Often the resources are too few, part-time, corporate-centric, and/or represented by folks with insufficient core competencies and technical aptitude.
  6. Addressing organizational design. Organizational design constricts or facilitates the flow of value and power. Sooner or later, organizational design and power structures need to be rationalized. Value stream-based organization anyone?
  7. Deployment beyond operations. Organizations do not get transformed by only improving one function. Operations are typically the lean beachhead, but breakthrough performance requires multiple functions to tango. The broad and easy road keeps lean an ops-only thing.
  8. Applying checkpoint rigor. Yes, we have value stream improvement plans and hoshin matrices, but will we actually use them to run the business and drive PDCA? Those who gravitate towards the wider road tend not to apply the necessary rigor.
  9. Rationalizing performance metrics/management. What gets measured, gets done…especially if it’s in your annual goals. Narrow-gaters address misguided metrics and performance management mechanisms to promote alignment and encourage lean behaviors.
  10. Extricating executives from conference rooms. Wide is the derriere of the non-lean executive. You don’t burn too many calories if you don’t walk the gemba. Genchi genbutsu is for losers, anyway. Right?
  11. Celebrating problems. If problems are potholes, narrow roadways provide little leeway – you’ve got to fix the potholes, even embrace them. In the land of the wide roads, potholes are something that are driven around…until they become sinkholes.
  12. Admitting we don’t know the answer right now. Narrow-gaters are humble enough to admit that they don’t know the answer themselves. They’re willing to challenge their folks, while helping them to regularly muster the courage to apply their creativity, fail, learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.

Some good news – even if we have taken the wrong path in the past, we can endeavor, today, and hereafter to choose the narrow gate.

The bad news – there are a lot more than 12 gates.

Stay true to the principles.

Related posts: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!, How’s Your Lean Conscience?, Bridging to Daily Kaizen – 15 (or so) Questions

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Scrunchie Lean

I never anticipated posting something about scrunchies (you know the decorative pony tail holding device) or quoting Coco Chanel. But, here I am.

Heck, it’s Friday, why not share something light about lean?

Truth be told, I LOVE really simple and creative applications of lean. Even better when it’s the voluntary work of a relatively new lean convert, like my friend Lisa.

During a recent kaizen activity, I took notice (how could I not, it was visual…AND functional) of Lisa’s laptop power cord.

Take a look at the following pictures. Note the visual differentiation of her plugged in cord versus that of others. It can be a drag trying to figure out what plug goes with what laptop. Do I pull this one, or that one, or…?

And, then there’s the challenge of wrapping up and stowing your power core (and adapter), if you have had the misfortune of losing your velcro strip or rubber band thingy. The scrunchie is an excellent and visually differentiating replacement.

Now I am not saying that the scrunchie is for everyone. I, for one, would feel a bit self-conscious using one (in my insufficient hair or as a power cord accessory), but we can probably all agree with the late French fashion designer, Coco Chanel:

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

Related posts: Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes, Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining