Category Archives: Process 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.

 

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.

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