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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.

Intentional Respect

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Change is hard – we all know that – and ignoring the element of respect for people makes engagement and lasting change practically impossible.

Most of us are familiar with the Toyota Production System House, with its two pillars of Kaizen and Jidoka, but the model that resonates more deeply with many is The Toyota Way House as you can see below. This is certainly the case for me, and I’ve been reflecting on why this is.

Here’s a thought: the Toyota Way model suggests a relationship between the technical and social sides of a lean transformation that we intuitively know to be true.

On the left side is continuous improvement or kaizen, and here where most people invest their time, learning, and experimenting with the myriad lean tools available: value stream mapping, 5s, A3, PDCA, standard work, visual management, kanban, heijunkahoshin kanri, etc. These tools can be very effective at making a significant impact on safety, quality, delivery time, throughput, and productivity. However, most people discover that a tools-based approach to lean transformation is impossible to sustain and does not create anything approaching a lasting change for the better of people, teams, or organizations.

It’s really not surprising then that, according to McKinsey, 70% of all organizational improvement initiatives fail. This isn’t surprising considering the very few examples we have outside of Toyota of enterprise-wide lean transformations. There are many reasons why this is, but perhaps one key factor is that most organizations fail to intentionally balance the technical tools side with the social side of Lean. Most people say, “We respect our people. In fact, it is one of our core company values!” I don’t deny that most of us strongly believe in respect for people and that is great. But there is a big difference in believing in something and acting in a way that aligns with that belief.

On the right pillar is respect for people, so what does that really mean and what sort of actions can we take that shows we really practice respect for our people through the way we do our work? It comes down to this: how are we engaging our people? Is the purpose in peoples’ hearts aligned with our organization’s purpose? What specific behaviors are we taking to stand in the other person’s shoes and develop a deep awareness of their point of view? Do we try and try again to see the work from their perspective?

We spend so much effort trying to design perfect work systems and improve business processes focusing on lean tools, while simultaneously failing to connect with people on a level that awakens mutual trust, engagement, effective teamwork, and self-generating accountability (in other words accountability wherein people are intrinsically inspired – people assume accountability because they want to, now because they are being told to, measured, or threatened). A key takeaway from the illustration above is that creating a balance between the technical and social sides of Lean is not just good, it’s fundamental. It is the foundation upon which everything else rests. So, what are you doing in your organization to create this balance?

The next gemba walk you take, kaizen event you participate in, or daily stand up you attend, or A3 you review, ask yourself two questions:

  1. “What are we doing to show our people how much we care and how much we respect their opinions, ideas, contributions, and potential to transform?”
  2. “Are the actions we are taking to lead with respect fostering the levels of engagement, teamwork, and accountability needed to attain our vision and purpose?”

I recently worked with the Lean Enterprise Institute to create a new workshop, Lead with Respect, to address this very issue. The two-day experience is based on the book, Lead with Respect, a novel of lean practice, by Michael and Freddy Ballé. We developed the workshop with the support and input of Professor Ballé over the course of eight months and uses hands-on exercises to reinforce the specific behaviors of respect for people while applying the technical side of lean – those tools we are all so familiar with. This workshop raises our collective level of awareness of what effective leadership looks like and builds a bridge connecting the tools side of lean to the results and relationships side. Indeed it is only when we create an environment of mutual trust that we can change work habits and sustain high levels of performance.

Note: This version of this blog entry first appeared in the Lean Enterprise Institute’s Lean Post.

 

Applying the Principles of Lean IT to Data Management – Part 3

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In this final installment of this 3-part series, we look at how the practices and principles of Lean IT provide the approach and tools needed to eliminate data quality issues at the source. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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

Lean IT as Part of the Solution

In lean, all improvement starts with the people. The first step is to engage with your employees by leading with respect, creating a meaningful challenge, and fostering a workplace where excellence is the norm. When you engage with people respectfully, they respond in ways you never could have dreamed plausible.

Bad data entered into high-performance IT systems produces what one CEO described as, “Crap at the speed of light!” Even if we successfully create a lean application development environment, bad data will efficiently yield inaction-able information and over time, people will disengage and lose trust in their leaders, as well as the ERP system. The resourcefulness and genius of most workforces lies dormant beneath layers of distrust, uncertainty, and unreliability of the systems they are forced to contend with.

You engage with people because they really are your most valuable resource; in fact, people are your only appreciative resource! It is those who are closest to the work (as well as closest the problems) that most deeply understand the challenges and are best positioned to develop effective countermeasures.

In lean, we engage those closest to the work to define a target state, determine our current status, measure the gap, and identify roadblocks and obstacles. We run a series of experiments to strengthen our understanding of cause and effect and validate which countermeasures effectively move the dial and achieve measureable results. This cycle of learning and discovery (referred to as PDCA – Plan-Do-Check- Adjust) is a process that is frequently repeated until it becomes embedded into daily work routines. Although it seems straightforward and relatively simple, it is wickedly difficult to accomplish!

Figure 2 illustrates the PDCA cycle – an educational cycle of trial and discovery. The initial step of the process is Plan which starts with going and seeing where the work is performed in order to fully understand the current situation from the perspective of customers, end users, and those doing the work. Emphasis is placed on facts (data) over opinion and discovering potential obstacles that threaten the attainment of a target state (where we need to be in terms of quality, delivery time, productivity, cost, and customer satisfaction). As we tighten our grasp of the situation, we develop experiments to validate our understanding.

In the Do phase, we run the experiment and compare outcomes with our expectations. Again, we place an emphasis on measuring what matters most to customers, end users and those doing the work. In Check, we reflect on the results of the experiment and learn. If the results are what we anticipated, we have validated our understanding of cause and effect and demonstrated that the countermeasures intended to spark improvements actually work! If the results show a gap still exists, then we still do not fully understand, and need to consider alternative approaches.

Finally, in the Adjust phase, we determine our next step on what we learned during Check. If we have identified a working solution, we make it part of the standard work process. On the other hand, if we have not discovered an approach that gets us to where we need to be, we enter another cycle of learning and discovering by repeating the PDCA sequence. The cycle is repeated until we attain the results required.

The power of PDCA or lean problem solving is in its scalability, neutrality, and methodology. PDCA works well with relatively simple challenges as well as complex enterprise-level problems. It is domain neutral and functions effectively in any discipline, be it IT, supply chain, finance, manufacturing, service, healthcare, science, or other fields. The structured methodology supports a way of thinking and mental framework of how we approach problems that drive higher quality analysis and more effective responses.

So where does technology fit into lean IT? The answer may surprise you: it fits in last! First we engage the people and provide the tools, training, and support they need to drive improvement to core business processes. Those people in turn focus on the process to enhance quality at the source and flow of value to end users and customers. Then and only then, do we implement new technology and/or reconfigure our current systems to enable and automate redesigned processes that focus primarily on effectiveness.

This is not easy work, but the payoff creates new levels of performance, a cultural shift, and a competitive advantage that are almost impossible to match. Happy people do great work. When people experience the positive feeling of solving problems at the root cause level (rather than repeatedly working around chronic problems), they experience radical shifts in performance, personal growth, and teamwork. When they have the tools and information they need to succeed, that’s where the magic happens. When it comes to technology, it starts with quality at the source and that means accurate, complete, and timely data.

If you want to succeed, data quality is not an option, it’s a necessity. The quality of your data will determine the quality of your information, which plays the defining role in the quality of your work. Lead with respect by creating work systems and processes that produce great work!

So Now What?

So what can you do to effectively address data quality problems and leverage lean IT to extract greater value from SAP?

Learn: start your lean IT journey by reading our first book Lean IT, Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation, and by pre-ordering the “How To” book The Lean IT Field Guide (available November 2015). Pre-order the book here.

Connect: engage with your employees by going to where the work is done to better understand the challenges they are experiencing and to see things from their perspective.

Involve: introduce lean process improvements by applying the PDCA cycle of experimentation.

Automate: only after you have engaged your people and improved core work processes, should you consider new technology and/or reconfiguration to automate and streamline newly improved processes.

As we discussed earlier, lean IT is all about engaging people, improving processes, and leveraging technology – always in that order. The sooner you begin to address the issue of data quality, the sooner you begin to realize the impact of high-quality actionable information.

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!

Too Busy For Improvement

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The number of people I meet who tell me, “I don’t have time to make improvements to my work,” amazes me. “It’s all I can do to keep my head above water!” is often the point they drive home. Have you ever heard the voice in your head say something to this effect? A perceived barrier is very real to the person thinking it, and something needs to be done to counteract the paralyzing effect of these thoughts.

 

A paradigm is a mental map or pattern of how we view the world. Some paradigms help us (e.g., belief in respect for people) while others hurt us (belief that young people don’t care about doing a good job). The “I don’t have time to make improvement part of my daily work” paradigm is particularly pernicious. Here are the thoughts and actions I use to help others and myself shift to a new way of thinking and abandon their old paradigm:

 

  • Accept that work processes are either getting better or it is getting worse. Left alone, processes atrophy and decline into a state of disorder due to the inevitable changes that occur and interdependencies along the value stream (think hand offs, conflicting priorities, and lack of visibility). Standard work is not sufficient to stem the tide of process degeneration.
  • A key reason we don’t have the time to do improvement work is because we are consumed with unplanned This is the work that eats away at whatever discretionary time we think we might have. Primary sources of unplanned work include rework, variation, break downs in the flow of information and materials, overburden, ill-defined work processes, and the unforeseen surprises that stem from conflicting priorities and a lack of transparency of the work (backlog and work in processes).
  • Daily process improvement is the only way out of this trap! The only way to free up time to do more important (read: process improvement) work is to begin to chip away at the sources of firefighting and rework that are generating your unplanned work.
  • Start small – it is better to consistently practice your improvement work for 15 minutes a day, than to begin with the intent of spending an hour a day and then abandoning your commitment after a week from failing to find a free hour in your day. Daily practice is the key thing here. Aim for 40 consecutive business days of a new practice to create a habit. We tend to get good at what we consistently think about and do!
  • Get Visible – there is tremendous influence when we make things visible to our peers. Creating a simple board that shows the date, topic, action taken, and next step(s) can be a game changer. A quick glance at such a board can quickly tell others whether or not daily improvement work is taking place. This step takes courage because you are making your commitment public. It also works because no one likes to make a commitment and not follow through.
  • Get Kata – you don’t have to discover an effective routine and thought process to support a move towards daily improvement. Mike Rother’s gift to us all is Toyota Kata[i]. This book skillfully explains the activities of daily problem solving, improvement routines that can be practiced and mastered, and the critical coaching element essential for developing people and creating internal problem-solving capacity. If you have not read this book – get it!

 

What techniques have you used to successfully counter the “I don’t have the time for improvement” paradigm?

[i] ­­ http://www.amazon.com/Toyota-Kata-Managing-Improvement-Adaptiveness/dp/0071635238

Real Transformation: Enabling People to Adapt, Make a Mark, and Engage

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Unless your team puts their individual interpretation into lean methods & tools, the transformation simply will not become embedded and quickly fades away. When you look at an old school picture, who is the first person you look for? If you are like most people, it’s you! There is actually part of the brain that lights up when we see an image of ourselves, or an object that sparks our self identify. We feel good when we identify with who we are, especially if we are part of making something better through a challenge – a situation, a relationship, or the unmet needs of another person.

 

In order for people and teams to take responsibility for the work systems and outcomes of their area, they need to see themselves rooted in the process. This means that their ideas, challenges, hunches, frustrations, and experiences are reflected in the way work processes are improved over time. They have to get their fingerprints on the work processes to care enough to own outcomes. People self-select responsibility for process when they know their opinion matters and what they do and say has a direct influence on how things change.

 

When workers see their own reflection in the work they do, they identify more deeply and become vested in the outcomes. Any countermeasure aimed at specific problem is a temporary fix at best. The best teams expect that today’s solutions will certainly not last long. When teams understand the fleeting nature of today’s customer demands, they naturally anticipate the need to check for change and adjust work practices as needed. Improving the way work gets done becomes part of doing daily work.

 

In order to make the right changes, a clear understanding of purpose must be in place. Objective measurements, some of which are under the direct control of the team, are essential here. When those closest to the work align with purpose and own their process, behavior, and the resulting outcomes, they participate and contribute at a heightened level of engagement.

 

When lean tools (like value stream mapping and A3s) are hoisted onto teams without the opportunity to accept and assume ownership, we disrespectfully dump a load of tools and training on them, and then expect people to connect! This is how the term “accountability” gets such a negative connotation. It’s crazy to hold anyone accountable when they have been given no reason or opportunity to engage in the change. They don’t see themselves in any of it.

 

Try to see it from their perspective: “I don’t feel my opinion matters, I don’t know whether we are winning or losing, I am not clear on our purpose or how my work contributes towards it.” With that outlook in place, they then consider their manager’s directive, “Hey, get engaged with lean, take ownership, and make improvements!”

 

What would you think?

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!

 

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