Category Archives: Continuous Improvement

Accountability: Not What You Think it is…

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Accountability. It’s a word often feared in society for being associated with the blame game – being singled out when things go wrong, even if the reasons are beyond your scope of control. It seems we are always hearing about the importance of creating a culture of accountability.

Unfortunately, when managers and associates hear the term, they often flinch! Expressions such as “We’re holding you accountable” are often seen as code for “You are liable and will be blamed if things do not go as planned!” This is a major problem for any organization that is serious about creating and sustaining a lean transformation.

If we consider the lessons of LEI’s Transformation Model (shown above), we see that the entire foundation rests on the basic thinking and fundamental assumptions (both overt and unseen) that drive current culture. For leaders who wish to transform from a command-and-control culture to a more participative one, a key assumption is that, when treated respectfully, people will align to a common purpose, deeply engage in both doing the work and improving the process, and assume higher levels of accountability.

The image includes employees taking on tasks without being told to do so, showing initiative to improve quality first and efficiency second, and genuinely caring about their customers, team members, organization, and community. This basic assumption that is so central to a lean transformation becomes null and void when accountability is seen as a liability that management assigns, rather than a self-assumed role that people undertake of their own volition.

When there is evidence of intentional avoidance of accountability, it suggests that people don’t trust the intentions of the organization, leadership, or even fellow teammates. They may be avoiding the risk of potential conflict that comes from taking on a task which the outcome is uncertain. This is true problem solving and it can be scary enough without the fear of being blamed if things don’t work out well. It is interesting to note the role that trust plays in all this.

Creating a lean environment is essentially creating a learning environment. In a learning environment, we move away from experts who tell others what to do and towards learners who run experiments (rapid PDCA cycles) to better understand root cause(s) and validate effective countermeasures. Accountability must be self-imposed in order for people to truly grasp the concept, take ownership, and take on appropriate levels of commitment.

But this can only be done when the fear and apprehension most people associate with words such as accountability are openly addressed. When reflecting on your own organization, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Do we blame people when things don’t go as planned?
  2. Do people self-assume accountability or do we assign/delegate accountability?
  3. In our current culture is there fear, anxiety or hesitation around accountability?
  4. Do we ask people to be accountable before asking if they are capable?
  5. Do accountability and authority always go together? When should they?

To learn more about creating a culture of accountability and respect through effective leadership, sign up for Mike Orzen’s pre-summit workshop, Lead with Respect: Practicing Respect for People to Enable Engagement, Teamwork & Accountability, at the 2016 Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit this June. Learn more about Lead with Respect and other Summit workshops on the summit webpage.

Note: this article also appeared in the Lean Enterprise’s Lean Post in February of 2016.

The Importance of Work Systems, Sequence, & Adaptive Lean IT Systems – Part 4

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This is Part 4 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

In the previous blog entry, team huddles and a visual management system were mentioned. These are both examples of work systems designed to encourage the specific behaviors we want to cultivate. There are many work systems that comprise a lean management system including problem solving, daily huddles, leader standard work, training, recognition, visual management, strategy deployment, measurement, and monthly performance reviews, just to name a few.

It is these work systems that impact people’s behavior most significantly by emphasizing and reinforcing those actions we want to see everyday from everyone. Where many organizations get into trouble is in the sequence and timing of how and when to introduce these systems.

SEQUENCE IS CRITICAL

Over the past twenty-four years, I have tried many approaches and witnessed what works and what doesn’t. Here’s the bottom line: each organization has its own culture, history, and work environment, so one size does not fit all. There is no standard deployment sequence or collection of work systems that apply universally. That said; there are some fundamental concepts applicable to all organizations.

1) Start by establishing a clear purpose throughout the organization. This is a prerequisite for success.

2) Acknowledge that the bedrock of lean is learning and that problem solving capability is the skill to cultivate if you are serious about transformation.

3) Strive to balance the two pillars of lean: continuous improvement and respect for people. Don’t make the common mistake of falling in love with tools of continuous improvement and ignoring respect for people.

4) Create a culture of accountability by building work systems that position your people to succeed, to learn, and to grow. This is true respect for people and promotes high levels of teamwork, engagement, accountability, and ultimately performance.

5) Work systems must be designed, built, maintained, and improved by the people doing the actual work. Outside support is fine, but the frontline people must do the work.

ADAPTIVE LEAN IT SYSTEMS

Whether you are considering bringing lean IT to your organization, currently applying it to IT operations, or determined to build a lasting transformation, awareness of the lean IT diamond and the importance of behavior, work systems, and sequence will significantly increase your odds of success.

At the end of the day, Lean IT is all about effectively responding to change by continuously improving adaptive systems. In order to be effective, IT must change its behavior and functional capabilities in response to its environment and the needs of the Business. When IT reshapes systems and technology, the adaptive change is directly relevant to achieving the goals and objectives of the organization.

SUMMARY

For IT organizations to evolve and become more responsive to the changing needs of the Business while simultaneously maintaining the stability and security they are held responsible for, IT professionals need to understand and embrace the behaviors, as well as the thinking, of Lean IT.

For additional information on how to mobilize a Lean IT transformation, see The Lean IT Field Guide – A Roadmap for Your Transformation.

 

The Importance Of Behavior – Part 3

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This is Part 3 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article originally published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

At the end of the day, all change comes down to altering our established patterns of behavior. Anyone who has attempted to make a lifestyle change (such as quitting smoking or eating healthier) can attest to how difficult this is.

It is interesting to note that most transformations tend to focus on training people in the new ways of doing things. We assume that if people know about a new (presumable better) way of doing something, they will automatically adopt it as their regular way of acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. If knowing about a better behavior caused people to change their actions and develop new habits, no one would be overweight, use tobacco products, or run on less than 6 hours of sleep!

We are all creatures of habit and become very comfortable with the way we’ve always done it, even when our routines become outdated, broken, and painfully frustrating. Why? Because it is really difficult to change the behavior of others or even ourselves. This resistance to change is a universal condition that, unless addressed directly and openly, puts all transformation efforts at serious risk.

MAKE/BREAK, CADENCE, & PREDICTABILITY

There are three factors you need to know about to effectively address this issue: make/break, cadence, and predictability. So what does it take to make or break a habit? I have confirmed it requires 40 days of practicing a new behavior before we can even begin to change old habits. At 90 days we have confirmed and strengthened the routine. At 120 days the new habit becomes deeply engrained as a part of our identity (how we see ourselves). At 1,000 days we have mastered the new behavior. Here’s the secret: the days must be consecutive! That’s right – if you miss a day, any day, the next day is Day One and you start counting from the beginning. I have personally used this approach to successfully affect change at both organizational and personal levels and it works.

Why is this approach so effective? People like routine and predictability – we are hard-wired to repeat what has worked before and to be skeptical of anything outside the conventional pattern. Most people drive to work using the same route, walk through a grocery store selecting the same items, watch the same TV programs, and go to bed at the same time – you get the picture. By enforcing a new routine and deliberately changing our behavior, we gradually provide the predictability and structure our human nature innately desires. When the changes make our work better, faster, less stressful, and prove to be more rewarding, that further reinforces the value of the routine and new habits begin to take deeper root.

As new work processes yield better results including more consistent quality, less rework, variability, and overburden, predictability of outcomes increases and we receive yet another dose of reinforcement – increased customer satisfaction!

THE KEY SYSTEM – PROBLEM SOLVING

An example may serve to clarify this approach to creating new habits. Let’s assume you have introduced lean problem solving to your IT group as part of your transformation. People have received training in basic lean concepts including PDCA, A3, and root cause analysis. The assumption is that once people understand lean problem solving, they will use it in their daily work. This rarely happens. In most cases about 10% of your people will be self-starters and try to apply lean practices on their own. The vast majority of people attend the training and think, “That’s interesting…” and then go back to work using their normal ways of getting things done. They quickly fall back to their comfort zone, which excludes the ideas and tools shared in the training workshop.

Applying the make/break, cadence, and predictability concepts, we would include problem solving as an essential element of our daily team huddles and visual management system. On a daily basis, the team would be coached by responding to questions of inquiry designed to foster new ways of applying what was learned during the training on problem solving. The only way people learn lean is by doing lean!

In the final post of this series, we’ll explore the importance of work systems and sequencing to build adaptive Lean IT systems.

Transforming IT Is More Difficult But Not Impossible – The Lean IT Diamond – Part 2

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This is Part 2 of Sequences, Behaviors and Integrating Adaptive Lean IT Systems – an updated article published in the Lean Management Journal in October 2015.

Today, many companies are actively seeking the benefits of lean IT and are undergoing constant transportation in their IT group. They are often familiar with lean and/or Six Sigma and have had some success with process improvement in other areas of the business such as manufacturing, accounting, and supply chain.

However, the landscape of IT, the complexity and dynamics of technology, the interdependency of its functional silos, and conflicting priorities when working with the Business, all combine to create a perfect storm of distinctive obstacles.

There is a key relationship that exists in all organizations. When understood and appreciated, it can provide clarity and direction to a lean IT transformation.

Let’s look at the components of the lean IT diamond and why it can be so helpful. At the top of the model, we begin with Purpose. A shared purpose is essential to create and drive a common intention, alignment, and commitment. Everyone in the IT organization (as well as the Business) needs to very clear on why we are in business, why we are transforming, and where we are vs. where we need to be.

If this shared understanding is not in place, you can be certain to see different behaviors, erratic degrees of engagement, and the consequential mixed results. Without a widely understood and collective purpose that people can clearly see within the context of their daily work, everyone is left on their own to identify what matters most and determine what they should do (or not do) about it. If you have ever witnessed pockets of improvement (aka islands of lean in a sea of waste), you can be assured there is a lack of understanding around shared purpose.

The next component is People. It may seem obvious that people are a central ingredient in building a highly effective organization. What is not so obvious, or at least publicly acknowledged, is that many work environments are abundant with uncertainty, disengagement, mistrust, apathy, fear, and political gamesmanship. In our first book, Lean IT Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation, I noted that people are often the only appreciating asset in an organization. When we treat people with respect and create systems and processes that position them for success, we cultivate trust, engagement, teamwork, and high levels of performance. Perhaps the most essential element in a successful transformation is to ensure the initiative is behavior-based. See the next post in this series for a discussion of behavior-based change.

Process represents the work we do to create value for our customers, to collaborate with our partners (the Business, vendors, supply chain, and outside resources), and to ultimately fulfill the mission of our organization. When processes are undefined, unclear, or not consistently followed, the effort required, the time it takes, the quality of the outcomes, and the frustration of staff and customers all become highly unstable and inconsistent.

The final component of the lean IT diamond is Information and Technology. It is useful to think of these two elements as distinct yet highly interdependent. With respect to information, IT is the mechanism that transforms raw data into useful and actionable information. IT, when done well, is the connective nervous system that joins people with actionable information.

Concerning technology, IT is the enabler of the business – capturing, organizing, and storing immense amounts of data, routine tasks, building transactional records, enforcing business process rules, managing secure access, all while providing work process functionality and visibility to all functional areas of the business.

The flow of complete, accurate, timely, and actionable information is a key determinant of the flow of customer value and organizational performance. When IT stops, the Business stops. When IT flows, information flows and the Business is positioned for success (of course it takes more than just great IT).

Transformation, Behavior, Sequence, and Adaptive Lean IT Systems – Part 1

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Updated article which recently appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Lean Management Journal

Transformation is today’s buzzword. It seems everyone in the lean community is talking about transformation. This makes sense given that we’ve spent the past several decades attempting to understand, copy, and adapt the improvement tools of Deming, Ohno, Shingo, and others and getting mixed results. Today we have only a handful of companies we might describe as Lean Enterprises and Toyota remains as the undisputed archetype. So what is transformation and why are so many companies pursuing it? Transformation is often described using words such as radical change, metamorphosis, revolution, and overhaul. Perhaps the most important aspect of a true transformation is that it is irreversible. This is the characteristic of lean transformation that has eluded most organizations. Granted, they have trained their people in the tools and core concepts, experienced process improvements through kaizen, made changes to the physical environment, introduced lean management systems, and have realized measureable results.

TRANSFORMATION IS DIFFICULT TO SUSTAIN – THE PUNISHMENT OF SISYPHUS

But what many organizations discover is that the momentum and energy required to keep their transformation going is being provided by a small group of people (usually the Process Improvement team, a cadre of lean coaches, or a charismatic lean champion). If they stop leading the charge, improvement work and the underlying transformation immediately begin to taper off. It’s as if organizational momentum is a large stone that needs to be constantly pushed up hill – if we stop pushing, it quickly rolls back down! This reminds me of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was punished for being deceitful by being forced to carry a huge boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down, for all of eternity. Many organizations seem to be stuff in a similar loop!

LEAN IT IS ESSENTIAL

Delivering value to the customer is a common objective of practically every organization in existence. In order to accomplish this, it is essential to deliver services, products, and information which meets customer-defined quality, at a price they are willing to pay, and at a pace that matches customer demand. With the advent of the Internet, smartphones, and unprecedented access to information, customer expectations of quality, value, variety, convenience, and delivery have been increasing rapidly and there is no end in site. In order to meet customer expectations, today’s business climate is categorically reliant on the flow of information. Modern-day business process improvement, a collection of principles, systems, and tools aimed at creating a culture of continuous process improvement has evolved over the past 100 years or so. Most recently, we have been witnessing an explosion of improvement methodologies in the Information and Technology space. This comes as no surprise given our insatiable need for the information we require to make timely, informed decisions in response to ever-increasing customer expectations.

In the 1980’s, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) emerged as a set of standard practices for IT which focused on aligning IT services with the needs of business (a novel idea at the time). ITIL has gone through several iterations and evolved to include a continuous service improvement component that embraces many of the tenets of lean thinking. Since then, we have seen the further application of lean in IT including Agile/Scrum, Kanban, Continuous Delivery, Lean Startup, DevOps, and Lean/ Agile Project Management.

I refer to this entire body of IT performance improvement as lean IT. Lean IT is the application of lean through to Information, Communication, and Technology. It’s a management system made up of two key pillars: continuous process improvement and respect for people. Lean IT is ultimately a learning system using a structured and disciplined approach to solving problems and pursuing opportunities. Lean IT focuses on engaging IT people to methodically improve IT processes in partnership with the Business to deliver more value to end users and enable the Business to deliver more value to end customers. This includes getting out on a regular basis to better understand the challenges and value equations of end users and see how information and technology are really being used. Lean IT is about engaging people, improving core business processes, and leveraging technology to enable the entire organization to accomplish more, create more, and achieve more with the least effort required.

In the next installment of this post, we’ll explore the Lean IT Diamond and that fact, although transformation is extremely difficult, it is not impossible.

Driving Transformational Behavior with Core Work Systems

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by Ben Linders on Aug 27, 2015

 

Mike Orzen will talk about using core work systems to drive transformational behavior at the Lean IT Summit 2015. InfoQ will cover this event with news, Q&As and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Orzen about the benefits that organizations aim for when they adopt lean IT, why adopting and reinforcing new behaviors is essential to creating sustained change for the better, core work systems and work processes for IT organizations, and common missteps that organizations tend to make in lean IT transformations and how to prevent them.

 

InfoQ: Can you briefly describe lean IT for the InfoQ readers?

Orzen: Lean IT is the application of lean thinking to Information, Communication, and Technology. Lean thinking is a learning system made up of two key components: continuous process improvement and respect for people. Lean IT focuses on engaging IT staff in methodically improving IT processes and technology in order to deliver more value to its customers. Lean IT is all about people and technology enabling the entire organization to achieve great results through great behavior.

 

InfoQ: Which kinds of benefits do organizations aim for when they plan to do a lean IT transformation?

Orzen: In today’s world, business runs at the speed and agility of the underlying information flow. The benefits of lean IT are essential to make it possible for organizations to perform at high levels of operational excellence. There are many rewards: improved team effectiveness and productivity, greater return on IT spend, superior project performance (quality, user-acceptance, delivered functionality, delivery time, and total cost of ownership), higher levels of engagement and accountability, greater levels of trust, communication, and collaboration with the Business, recruitment and retention of IT talent, and the creation of a fun and rewarding IT work environment.

 

InfoQ: Can you elaborate why adopting and reinforcing new behaviors is essential to creating sustained change for the better?

 

Orzen: Most companies embarking on lean (whether in IT or another part of their business) tend to initially focus primarily on the tools (value stream mapping, A3, standard work, 5S, etc.). Tools alone fail to change the deeply engrained habits we all bring to the way we think about and perform our daily work. These paradigms tend to lock people into “the ways we’ve always done it” and prevent change beyond a superficial level, let alone breakthrough improvement. That is why well over 95% of lean transformation initiatives fall short of their stated goals.

 

No one likes change when it is done to him or her, but most people willingly participate when they are part of the creation process. When people are respectfully engaged to make real improvements to the obstacles they deal with everyday, given the tools, time, and support they need to test potential improvements, and coached to reflect and learn from the improvement cycle, we unleash tremendous energy and excitement.

 

Thinking alone won’t make this happen. We’ve all heard the maxim, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think you way into a new way of acting.” We lead with a bias toward action and that means changing behavior.

 

InfoQ: Your talk will be covering core work systems and work processes for IT organizations that want to become lean. Can you give some examples of this?

 

Orzen: Core work systems set people up for success by creating transparency, collaboration, and mutual trust among associates, supervisors, managers, and executives. These systems make it very clear what specific behaviors are expected of everyone. For example, a visual management system that clearly shows daily goals compared to actual performance highlights gaps between where teams need to be and where they are. When people know whether they are winning or loosing, they can make adjustments, communicate to stakeholders, request help, and escalate issues beyond their circle of control.

 

A visual management system creates the setting and context in which managers and executives visit the workplace on a regular, scheduled cadence to stand in the shoes of the people doing the work, understand their challenges, and actively coach, support and develop their people.

 

Another example is the problem solving system. I often work with companies that lack an approach for solving problems in a common, structured way. If you ask ten people how they go about solving a problem, you’ll get at least ten answers (sometimes more!). Without a united approach to the way people identify, define, understand, analyze, experiment, and ultimately solve complex problems, we tend to make guesses and try fixes based on unfounded beliefs and assumptions, often making matters worse!

 

When there is a common approach to how problems are defined, current conditions are analyzed, and potential solutions are developed and tested, the social fabric of an organization changes and drives new levels of engagement and results. PDCA, DMAIC, and Kepner-Tregoe are all examples of problem solving work systems. But the real key is not found in forms and templates, it is in the common language and behavior of team members as they encounter problems and opportunities for improvement.

Work processes are the methods, sequences, and steps we take to get the work done. When work processes are undefined or inconsistently applied, the effort required to perform work and the quality of the product or service are highly variable. Lean IT drives quality and as a result increases the flow of work. As this happens, the visibility and speed at which problems come at you are accelerated. In a lean IT work environment, work processes need to be stable, capable, standardized, and continuously improved. This is more of an aspiration than it is a final destination. As someone once said, “there is no finish line!”

 

InfoQ: What are the common missteps that organizations tend to make in lean IT transformations? Can you elaborate why do organizations tend to make these mistakes, and what can be done to prevent them?

Orzen: As I mentioned earlier, the most common misstep is the exclusive focus on lean tools. The most successful transformations are based on core principles, built through work systems, and adjusted through the tools. Another mistake is not engaging executives and managers appropriately and at the right time. Leaders, managers, and supervisors all have critical roles to play in a successful lean IT transformation. Sequence and timing are of critical importance and many organizations miss this.

 

A third oversight happens because lean is simple to understand yet deceptively difficult to successfully realize. The nature of information and technology, the interdependency of functional silos, working with the Business, and the complexity of technology, presents a very different domain with a vast array of unique challenges.

 

I have worked with organizations that had successfully introduced lean in areas such as manufacturing and supply chain, and then ran into a brick wall when they attempted to initiate a lean IT transformation. I believe the reason for this is the behavioral component of any transformation. Nowhere in business is this more pronounced than in IT. The very essence of technology is tools-based and siloed while the nature of the work is people-based and integrated – requiring high levels of communication, collaboration, and trust.

 

In IT, many organizations discover they need a roadmap in order to do the right things, in the right sequence, at the right time, and at the right pace. That was the impetus for our new book, The Lean IT Field Guide. Every transformation is situation-based, so each organization’s journey is unique – just as their infrastructure architecture, technology stack, and configuration is unique! That said, there are some common elements we find in all successful lean IT transformations.

 

InfoQ: If people want to read more about lean IT, where can they go?

 

Orzen: I can recommend five sources:

  • our first book, Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation lays out the principles and foundational ideas of lean IT,
  • our next book, The Lean IT Field Guide (available now for pre-order and on shelves November 2015) provides a roadmap for the work systems discussed),
  • my website at com has information and resources,
  • check out my twitter feeds (always on lean IT, lean, and related topics) @mikeorzen,
  • and visit the new Lean IT Association site, this is an international non-profit group dedicated to supporting a high standard of lean IT practice. Full disclosure: I recently was appointed to their curriculum advisory board.

 

Lastly, I can be reached at mike@mikeorzen.com.

Applying the Principles of Lean IT to Data Management – Part 2

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In Part 2, we take a look at how Lean IT can be applied to make significant improvements to data quality, reducing the wasteful rework associated with incomplete and inaccurate information. See Part 1 here.

For a practical example of Lean IT and data management, see the webinar Lean IT: Driving SAP Continual Process Improvement.

How Lean IT Can Help

Lean IT is a framework for deeply understanding Information and Technology in a new light through applying the principles and methods of lean. Lean is all about creating excellence in the workplace, in the work, and in the quality of information. Bad data produces inaction-able information, which leads to errors in judgment and behavior.

If there is a chronic lack of high-quality information, it’s impossible to sustain a smooth flow of work because fixing mistakes channels precious energy and mental capacity from your employees.

The illustration above is the principles pyramid developed while writing the book Lean IT. At its core, lean IT is about leveraging technology to deliver customer value with the least amount of effort required. In order to achieve this, we remove all unnecessary effort – ambiguity of process, avoidable mistakes, self-inflicted variation, corrections, rework, delays, and extra steps. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus on the principle of Quality at the Source.

Quality at the source means performing work right the first time, every time. Imperfect work (work that is incomplete or inaccurate) is never sent forward to the next operation, end users, or customers. We measure quality in terms of percentage of work that is accurate, complete, timely, and accessible (as defined by end users and customers). The critical nature of the quality of information is well known. We’re all familiar with the truism “Garbage in, garbage out!” Without quality information, the results will always be inferior and require heroic efforts and creative rework to meet customer expectations.

The essential factor of quality information is quality data. It is amazing that many, if not most organizations, focus the majority of their effort and resources on technology while paying very little attention to the quality of data within the system. You can have state-of-the-art hardware, application stack, network, connectivity, and security, but if you have data issues, the result is in-actionable information received by end users, confusion, frustration, errors, workarounds, and the accompanying pain as a result. This wasted, non-value added effort and annoyance only gets worse over time. Why? Because once people no longer trust the system, they adapt skillfully to perform their job outside of the system to get their work done!

The Promise of ERP

Today, complex business enterprises are connected and managed through integrated information systems like SAP. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has been around since the 80s and is both a blessing and a curse. The promise of an integrated system with a cohesive database that creates a single rock-solid record of “the truth” has been the vision of ERP systems since their inception. ERP is the ultimate connective tissue of the enterprise, enabling disparate silos of the organization to work towards common objectives, access information, maintain accurate records, and share information. Imagine trying to run a modern corporation without technology!

When actionable information is missing or unavailable, it is often hard to detect. People tend to rely on what the system tells them and often only discover that information is inaccurate and incomplete after the fact by hearing about a problem from downstream operations, end users, or worst-case scenario – their customers.

Data Quality, ERP, and Respect for People

In lean, respect for people refers to management’s responsibility to create a work environment where people are positioned to be successful and grow to their full capabilities. It means creating a workplace where everyone has the tools, processes, and information they need to do great work. It also means creating a culture where uncertainty and ambiguity are actively eradicated, while transparency and trust are intentionally fostered. Knowing your ERP system is housing bad data and not doing anything about it is the antithesis of respect for people, and sends a clear message to all that management places a higher priority on other things.

If poor information quality becomes a chronic issue within ERP, users lose trust in the system and rely on ingenuity to get what they need to complete their work. Spreadsheets, stand-alone databases, pay-per user cloud-based apps, in-house solutions developed outside of IT, and other inventive efforts by users add new layers of anonymous technology in the shadows of the ERP system. This creates a black market of information beyond the integration, security, and scrutiny of the IT department! The technical debt associated with shadow IT systems accumulates over time, crippling an organization’s ability to respond to complex performance issues, and blocks straightforward upgrades to system functionality.

As the sanctioned ERP system goes through controlled releases of functional modules and upgrades, informal, unauthorized shadow IT systems proliferate spontaneously at a very rapid pace driven by user needs, the bureaucracy of IT, and the distrust of ERP.

In my next post, we’ll go more deeply into how Lean IT effectively comes to grip with bad data by eliminating its creation at its origin.

Applying the Principles of Lean IT to Data Management – Part 1

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The Tyranny of Bad Data 

We’ve all experienced the frustration and pain associated with bad data – either we’re aware that the information obtained from IT systems is inaccurate or incomplete (and the non-value added work that comes with it) or unaware that the information is based on bad data and the cascading impact of taking the wrong course of action due to misinformation. It is incredible that so much is invested on enterprise technology solutions, as little attention is devoted to ensuring high quality data is the sole source of system information. Only a handful of companies have discovered how to exploit the power of lean IT to shorten time to value development cycles, while assuring data integrity.

The ultimate purpose of information and technology is to enable people to perform great work as effectively and efficiently as possible. From a lean IT perspective, we want to leverage technology to empower people to do excellent work with the least amount of required effort. Technology has the capability to gather, store, organize, manipulate, manage, calculate, analyze, summarize, format, and report limitless amounts of data in order to create actionable information. Technology that efficiently delivers bad information only serves to enable waste, delays, and poor results. For our purposes, information needs to possess the following attributes to be deemed actionable: accurate, timely, complete, and accessible.

For a practical example of Lean IT and data management, see the webinar Lean IT: Driving SAP Continual Process Improvement.

When bad data happens to good people

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense infamously said: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” In the same way, we do business with the data quality we have, not the data quality we might want! But what happens when highly effective technology processes inaccurate, incomplete, and out-of-date data; when bad data happens to good people? 

Scenario #1 – We know we don’t know…

If people recognize that the information they are receiving is not actionable, they are forced to choose from damaging alternatives like adjusting their course of action based on years of experience, assumptions, and perceived understanding. Some develop rules of thumb based on personal knowledge, while others devise creative workarounds to obtain the information they require when system information is suspect and unreliable.

Unfortunately none of these countermeasures confronts the root cause of the problem, nor guarantees a timely and accurate business outcome. Undocumented workarounds and tribal knowledge of what to do when the system delivers bad information may work in one instance and fail in another, and all of these actions are forms of guessing that are impossible to scale and sustain.

Scenario #2 – We don’t know we don’t know…

When people rely on information from IT systems, assuming accuracy, timeliness, and completeness, and that information is actually compromised, things get much worse. Bad data generates bad information, prompting people to make misinformed decisions, mistakes, oversights, and the creation of more bad data! The compounding impact of bad data and inaction-able information is a frustrating, downward cycle of errors, corrections, rework, and delays that force people to resort to heroic efforts to deliver mediocre results. Customers instantly notice a lack of service, timeliness, and quality. As employees become more aware of data problems, they begin to lose trust in the system and resort to the workarounds described in scenario #1, which may feel better and attain some results, but do not materially improve the situation. In fact, the more exceptions and workarounds to the way work is conducted, the more variability the customer experiences in service levels, quality, and delivery time!

In my next post, we’ll explore How Lean IT addresses the issue of bad data at a level that creates measurable, sustainable change for the better.

Flow Where You Can, Pull Where You Can’t

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The Shingo Model™ captures ten timeless principles that apply to all, regardless of our beliefs or level of understanding. In my experience working with companies over the past 20 years, the principle that is least practiced addresses the idea that value should be flowed and pulled. So what does it mean to flow value? Why is flow considered a principle? How does pull enter the picture and what is its relationship to flow? Finally, why is flow the least practiced of the principles?

Value for customers is maximized when it is created in response to real demand and a continuous and uninterrupted flow. Although one-piece flow is the ideal, often demand is distorted between and within organizations. Waste is anything that disrupts the continuous flow of value.

– Shingo Discover Excellence Course

It seems that since the beginning of time we’ve all learned, “Lean is about continuously developing people and improving processes to create and flow value to customers using the least possible resources required.” Value of products and services is created through a series of work processes, some which create value and some that definitely do not (think of rework, inspection, waiting and expedited shipping). One objective of operational excellence and lean is to eliminate non-value added work to improve the flow of value to our customers, the result of which is shorter delivery cycles and higher levels of quality. Some people describe this as “creating value as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

What does it means to flow value? – Flow is the relentless, steady, continuous forward progress of products, services and information to the customer. In business we create flow by removing the roadblocks that delay or prevent the continual forward motion and throughput of work. The usual suspects are the eight wastes – inventory, defects, motion, transportation, over-production, over-processing, waiting and unused employee creativity; unevenness (variation) – both in the amount of work and in the way work is performed; and overburden of people and machines with more work than can be successfully handled on a sustained basis.

The best way to describe flow is “Make One, Move One,” which is often referred to as one-piece flow, single-piece flow or continuous flow. As the names suggest, creating flow is about making and moving one item at a time (or the smallest batch size possible) through a series of uninterrupted steps, with each step in the process making exactly what is requested by the next step while never knowingly passing poor work forward.

Why is flow a principle? – If you may recall from your Shingo training, a principle is a foundational rule that has an inevitable consequence. Universal and timeless, principles apply equally to all businesses and all people. They are self-evident, meaning they seem obvious once they are identified and explained. In fact, after learning about the Shingo Guiding Principles, many people respond, “Well that’s just common sense!” Most importantly, regardless of our understanding of a principle, we are subject to its consequences.

It is important to note that Mr. Shingo did not create the Shingo Guiding Principles. Principles cannot be invented, rather they are revealed, and the core principles we cover in the four Shingo workshops come from a wide variety of people including Deming, Toyoda, Ohno, Shingo, Fukuda, Imai, Womack, Covey and many others.

Flow is a principle because it governs consequences regardless of our beliefs and understanding of flow. For example, if we don’t honor and observe the principle of flow to the extent that we stop flow in our business, what will be the inevitable consequence? Another way to ask this is, “If we stop shipping products and services our customers are willing to pay for, what will be the result?” Can you say, “We’ll be out business!”? Regardless of opinion or beliefs, this outcome would be the same for any organization: no flow = no value delivered = no sales = no cash = out of business!

What about pull? – For many years, there has been a saying in lean environments that goes like this, “Flow where you can, pull where you can’t.” Pull is a system to control production using a signal to let upstream operations know something is needed downstream. The key to a pull system is that nothing is produced or moved until an authorization signal (kanban) is received from a downstream operation. In a perfect world, we would have a seamless, uninterrupted flow of value-creating activities from order receipt, to order release, to production, to packing, to shipping, to billing, and so on and so on.

In the real world, we often encounter disconnects in the production process that force production to become decoupled. This is where flow stops and pull is introduced. For example, let’s say you run a cheese factory and production is divided into cheese making, aging, cutting, packaging, picking and shipping. In a one-piece flow environment, you would make one and then move one. With cheese, it might make more sense to produce a large batch for a number of good reasons (efficiency, quality, product consistency, etc.).

You accept this principle and know there will be negative consequences if you do not strive to create flow in your factory. You apply the principles, methods and tools of lean to remove the waste, variation and overburden from your production processes, but still do not achieve uninterrupted flow from beginning to end of the value stream. Don’t panic – this situation is encountered when production processes, machinery and physical locations create barriers to flow by decoupling the connection from one part of the value stream to the next.

This is where pull systems can be introduced to coordinate production activities between upstream (think of cheese cutting) and downstream operations (think of packaging) when their connected interdependence has been broken.

Why is flow the least practiced of the principles? – Flow is often not actively pursued because people feel it is more realistic to eliminate waste from work processes, introduce workplace organization through 5S or apply other lean tools. This is a mistake – it turns out that, when you introduce flow into any process, problems (i.e., opportunities to deliver customer value) become vividly apparent and demand immediate attention. Introducing flow can be a bit scary, but it can also sharpen your focus on improvements that will be immediately felt by your customers!

Enterprise Transformation Through Continuous Improvement

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Enterprise Transformation

Many organizations reach a point where the acknowledge that the tools and processes that brought them to their current level of success are not sufficient to take them to a higher level of performance. The realization can be very painful and what to do about it even more agonizing.

To ensure your effective transformation, there are key elements that must be in place which include:

  • Engaging People At A New Level Of Respect, Challenge, and Accountability
  • Achieving Targeted Results
  • Intentionally Driving Strategic Alignment
  • Leveraging And Preserving “Keeper” Components Of Your Organization

Enterprise Excellence requires four key dimensions of performance in order to create and sustain great results with great behavior.

    1. Cultural Enablers – A work environment built on respectful engagement and active participation of leaders, managers, and associates
    2. Continuous Process Improvement – Team-based problem solving, trust, and transparency of problems are common throughout the company
    3. Alignment – People share a common purpose and bring their focus and behavior into line with that purpose to achieve great results
    4. Awesome Results – Measureable and sustainable outcomes are achieved by teams using a common set of principles, systems, and tools

These elements can be found in any great company, and most organizations have some degree of all four elements. An effective approach is to identify where you are strong and where you are weak, and to respond appropriately.

The Transformational Leader

In our experience, Leadership is the most critical element in an effective transformation. So much has been written on the topic of leadership but most of it lacks the specific actions of a leader required to rally, drive, and sustain those new behaviors necessary to create lasting change long after the leader is gone.

There are countless examples of companies who realized significant improvement in their culture, operational results, customer satisfaction, market share, safety, and more. However, when the leader who was at the helm during the makeover retires or moves on, often the changes begin to revert and the “magic” is lost. We have worked with many organizations, which lived through this painful, costly, and disruptive devolution from a culture or excellence back to a culture of mediocrity.

Leaders strive to achieve greater results, stronger alignment, more effective continuous improvement, and greater efficiencies; many believe they need a radical transformation to attain higher levels of performance. Yet leaders must do more than buy in and support the hard work of creative a culture of excellence. The good news is this: there are specific actions and behaviors which drive lasting, effective transformation.

The Key Systems That Drive Lasting Change

Work systems are those procedures, policies, practices, and tools in place to get work done. Systems can either enable the right behaviors or encourage the wrong behaviors. Over the course of 20+ years of experience working with companies to create a culture of excellence, we have identified a collection of key systems that drive the right results with the right behavior. These work systems complement each other to reinforce collaboration, respect, transparency, and accountability to create a culture of performance.

All of our clients benefit from the lessons we have learned over two decades of trial and discovery with a variety of industries. These lessons are embedded in the key work systems we mobilize to crate a foundation from which to cultivate and reinforce and the right behaviors in your people. Actions influence thinking and, in turn, create a new norm. We see culture as the agreed upon way we get things done. As new norms of behavior emerge, a new culture begins to form. With work systems in place designed to reinforce the new norms, sustained transformation takes place!