Posts Tagged daily accountability process

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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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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How to Audit a Lean Management System

The lean management system (LMS) is an integral part of an effective lean business system. It’s critical to the development of a lean culture and the sustainability of hard-earned improvements. In simple terms, it is really hard to live SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) without it.

So, how can you quickly tell whether or not an organization’s LMS  (not to mention its lean effort) is the real deal or not? Well, no surprise – you audit it!

A well-developed LMS is, by its very nature, easily audited. And lean leaders should make it a point to do this on a routine basis. Here’s some quick and simple ways:

  • Leader standard work. Review samples of recently completed leader standard work. Check them for completeness, recurring issues and problems, and evidence of good lean thinking in determining countermeasures. And, oh by the way, if there aren’t any (or many) abnormal conditions identified, look at that with some professional skepticism. As the saying goes, “no problem is a big problem.”
  • Gemba walk. Walk the gemba with leader standard work in hand to determine its sufficiency and to observe, firsthand, the state of the gemba. When a senior leader conducts a gemba walk with his team, tag along. Observe whether they follow gemba walk standard work relative to attendees, timing, path, audit points and criteria, rotating “deep dives,” conclusion/reflection and countermeasures. Assess the thinking, understanding, participation, sense of urgency, evidence of improvement(s), coaching, chastising, questions, answers, etc.
  • Daily accountability meetings. Attend tiered meetings to determine the sufficiency of and adherence to the standard meeting agenda, while also assessing the level of the leader and the team’s engagement, understanding, lean thinking and real countermeasures, both immediate and planned.
  • Tiered meeting boards. Review the various supporting visual boards to assess the actionability, relevancy, timeliness of the performance measures and their trends. Also, check the type and status of the assigned countermeasures and employee suggestion activity, among other things.

A solid lean management system is “well-wired.” A lean leader should be able to quickly audit and discern whether the team, plant, division, office, etc. is practicing fake lean or is really and genuinely leaning forward.

Related posts: “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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“So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question

It’s not quite on par with the 5 whys (heck, that’s five questions, more or less), but “so what?” isn’t far behind. It’s a question that begs closure, as in, “what are we going to do about that?”

Lean can be summarized partly as: 1) find a problem, 2) fix a problem, 3) keep it from coming back, 4) repeat. How can you fix a problem if you don’t deal with it or don’t understand the situation well enough to even know if there is a problem? “So what?” should be generously applied whenever we assess the current reality.

An Example “So What?” Forum

The daily accountability process, part of a robust lean management system, includes daily tiered meetings. Those brief stand-up meetings typically require, among other things, the review of a handful of key performance metrics as well as issues and barriers that have surfaced over the last 24 hours.

The “so what?” litmus test can be applied to tiered meetings, beginning with the effort to establish the very performance metrics that serve as a critical backdrop for the daily accountability process. We can start the questioning around metric relevancy and move on from there…as in what does it mean to the stakeholders, what is the linkage to the business’ strategic imperatives, what does that performance metric graph mean, how do we interpret it, is it actionable, what do those trends mean, are we getting better, getting worse, or staying the same, how are we doing relative to the target…in fact, where is the target!? In other words, “so what?” Implicitly, this is followed by, “now what?” Often, we need to reassess the utility of the performance metrics and retool them so that they drive the right lean thinking and behaviors.

Same goes with the narrative around tiered meetings once they become part of the fabric of daily operation. When an issue is identified, for example, “that’s the third time this week that machine X has experienced unplanned downtime,” or “the call abandon rate has exceeded the target every Monday for the last three weeks,” we can’t ignore it. So frequently, we end up reporting the news, collectively agree it’s a bad thing, offer some weak commentary, then move onto the next subject. Guess what? That problem is going to come back again unless we drive to the, “so what?”…and then do something about it.

Leadership is a shared responsibility, but if no one else asks, “so what?” the lean leader of the tiered meeting has got to ask it. Unrelentingly…until it comes to a head, until a countermeasure has been identified, with a due date and an accountable person assigned. This is where the daily task accountability board, another part of the daily accountability process,  get’s its use. The board captures the actionable answers to the “so what?” question and serves as a visual for assigned countermeasures and their status.

“So what?” is not the same sassy question that we threw around in grade school. Rather, it’s a thoughtful question that’s founded in a bias for action. So, “so what?”

Related post: Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, The Truth Will Set You Free!

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Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts

swiss army knifeImagine that you were only allowed one chart (or board) at the gemba. What would you pick? What is the Swiss Army knife (I’m more of a Leatherman Multitool fan myself) of charts that gives you insight into process adherence and process performance?

For me, it’s the plan vs. actual chart – also known as the production analysis board (or chart), day-by-the-hour chart, etc. It is typically a paper chart (my preference) or dry erase board that is positioned at the pacemaker process. It’s refreshingly low-tech and reflects, at a minimum, the line, cell or team name, output requirements (number of picks, assemblies, invoices, etc.) for the day or shift, the related takt time, the planned hourly (or smaller time increment) and cumulative outputs for the day or shift, the actual hourly and cumulative outputs (or in some practices the cumulative deficit or surplus) and fields to record the problem or reason for any hourly plan vs. actual deltas as well as a sign-off by lean leader(s) as proof of review.

So, why is the plan vs. actual so powerful? Here’s 5 reasons.

  1. Communicates customer requirements. The chart reflects the demand, by type or product, quantity, and timing and sequence. It reflects a takt image.
  2. Forces the matching of cycle time to takt time. Standard work should dictate the requisite staffing (and related cycle time, work sequence and standard WIP) to satisfy the customer requirements.
  3. Engages the employee and drives problem-solving. Like any visual control worth its salt, the plan vs. actual is worker-managed in a relatively real-time way. It highlights abnormal conditions (hourly and/or cumulative shortfalls or overproduction) and drives self-correction or at least notification/escalation and containment. The plan vs. actual also spurs PDCA in that the worker is required to identify the root cause of the abnormal condition and ultimately points the worker, team and leadership to effective countermeasures.
  4. Focuses lean leaders within the context of leader standard work. A good plan vs. actual will have fields for team leader/supervisor sign-offs on the hour and managers twice daily. This is essentially proof of the execution of leader standard work in which the leader should ensure that the plan vs. actual is maintained real-time, is complete (i.e., no unexplained abnormalities), and that countermeasures are being employed in order to effectively satisfy customer requirements.
  5. Focuses associates and lean leaders within the context of the daily accountability process. The prior day’s plan vs. actual and trended performance (including pitch logs) should be reviewed within daily tiered meetings. These meetings help drive the identification of improvement opportunities and countermeasures at the individual, team and value stream level.

So, what’s your Swiss Army Knife chart and why?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

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