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7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over

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Over the years, I have noticed some common misperceptions about coaching effective problem solving skills and developing lean thinking. Here’s a few:

1) It’s not about being smart (and it’s not about you). Good coaching is not about your intelligence and ability to solve the issue the learner (e.g., person you are coaching) is attempting to address. The more we focus on our own skills and the problem to be solved, the less we focus on the learner’s thinking process and their development.

Good coaching is about centering on the other person’s pattern of thinking as they work to develop potential countermeasures. In fact, when you have no bias and don’t actively engage in solving the problem, it becomes easier to be an effective and helpful coach. The learner is the writer, producer, director and actor: make your coaching all about them.

2) Fake it until you make it is not a sound approach. To be a good coach you don’t have to an expert in the subject the learner is exploring. In cases where the topic is specialized or highly technical (for example, chemistry or IT) and you know little about the subject, be 100 percent transparent! Pretending to be someone you are not will only erode trust between you and the person you are coaching. The supply the subject matter expertise and provide the coaching.

3) It’s not about what you would do. Redirecting the conversation in an attempt to get the learner to think a certain way steals the learning experience from the other person and is disrespectful. As a coach, your role is to gently expand the learner’s problem solving skills by asking open-ended questions that do not lead the witness. Leading the witness is doing the thinking for the other person, putting ideas in their head, cross examining them, giving direct advice (as in “this is what I would do”), or otherwise taking over solving the problem. Your problem-solving expertise is irrelevant as it relates to your playing the role of problem solver. It is very relevant as it relates to your role of coach: the better you are at applying the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust(PDCA) cycle, the better you will become as a coach if you stay clear of engaging directly in solving the learner’s problem!

4) Your stories don’t always help. Telling stories that provide clues or suggestions based on your experience often influences the direction of thinking the learner is pursuing and detracts from the value you provide as a coach. The effect is similar to leading the witness but can steal even more time and focus away from the learner. Storytelling can seem like an appropriate element of coaching but often negatively impacts coaching by making the dialogue all about you (see #1 above).

5) It’s not about asking standard questions. With the popularity of Toyota Kata, many people equate the five coaching questions as everything there is to know about lean coaching. While the Kata questions can be very effective when used appropriately, they are not the end-all be-all to good coaching. Recitation of questions read from a card (or memorized) can detract for the authentic connection which needs to be fostered between coach and learner. A great coach is constantly scanning the learner’s thinking to see where they are in their understanding and application of PDCA. Don’t allow the Kata questions or any list of coaching questions distract you from the active listening and concentration required to accurately sense and respond to the learner’s current level of understanding.

6) Evaluating the learner is harmful. In coaching, judgment can limit our effectiveness. When we place labels of the learner’s thinking, we limit our view of the other person. A great coach sees the other person as having the ability to solve their current problem as well as become a better lean thinker than they are. In fact, that’s your job: to support the other’s development to be the very best they can be and sincerely desire that they exceed your skill set. We might call this practice “coaching with humility.”

7) Eat your own dog food. To effectively connect and coach another you must be authentic. To become a good coach, you need three things: a good coach to coach you, practice, and perseverance. If we don’t practice what we preach – PDCA, continuous improvement, lead with respect, reflection, go & see, life-long learning, etc. at work and in our personal life, then we are frauds. Positioning ourselves as coaches while espousing lofty ideas but failing to apply them to us personally will become obvious to those we are coaching. If we’re not leading by example, then we’re not consistently practicing and learning – we won’t be able to make a connection with the person we are trying to coach.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Are there other misconceptions that get in the way of effective coaching?

How Lean IT can help drive growth

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The lean process improvement principles that have driven transformational change in areas such as manufacturing, accounting and supply chain management are making big waves in yet another sector: information technology.

Today, many companies are actively seeking the benefits of “lean IT,” seeking to drive out process waste and streamline workflow, turning to lean icons such as Toyota and Honda for inspiration. At The Ohio State University Center for Operational Excellence, for example, an entire community has formed for IT leaders seeking to drive efficiency and effectiveness through lean practices.

The stakes are simple but high: When IT stops, the business stops, and when it flows, it positions the business for success. But the sector – with its complexity, cross-functional interdependencies and conflicting priorities – presents a “perfect storm” of distinctive obstacles for leaders. Moving forward with a transformation, particularly in IT, requires a clarity of purpose, an alignment of people, and a sharp focus on the processes that create value for customers.

Accomplishing all of these takes more than just a set of lean tools – it requires a shift in behavior, driven by leaders equipped to change a culture.

All transformations begin with a look at 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 be very clear on why we are in business, why we are transforming and where we are vs. where we need to be. 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.

The next component is people. While clearly a central ingredient in building a highly effective organization, people also are the source of the uncertainty, disengagement, mistrust and political gamesmanship that can plague a workplace. 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.

In the hands of our people are the processes that represent the work we do to 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.

Too many organizations fail to step back and examine these elements of the bigger picture, which ultimately serves as the “True North” in the lean transformation process. Companies that have “pockets” of improvement – islands of lean in a sea of waste – often lack understanding around a shared purpose, for example.

To truly keep momentum moving, organizations need fearless leaders at the core of their process improvement teams. If they stop leading the charge, improvement work and the underlying transformation immediately begin to taper off. If they succeed, the possibilities are endless.

Why we (almost) did not write the Lean IT Field Guide

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After writing the book Lean IT in 2011, we were amazed by the the response: a great deal of “pent up demand” and interest in applying the principles, methods, and tools of lean to IT operations. This lead to speaking engagements all over the world, webinars and papers, and a number of major opportunities to deploy lean IT in both large and medium-size companies. Like any lean experience, it was journey of trail and discovery with both success and setback, and much was learned.

As I met people in the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia, I heard a common request, “I loved the book and it has changed the way I view the function and purpose of IT and the people I work with, but… [it is always what people say after the but that is most critical!]. What followed was always some form of, “but how do we actually do it?” or “What are the steps we take to introduce and mobilize Lean IT throughout our organization?”

For several years I dismissed this request because I had been taught that people learn lean by going through the often-painful process of trying something, getting knocked down, reflecting, and trying again, until they come to understand that all of lean is a learning system based on the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust method. If we were to direct people in what to do and the sequence to do it, two problems would transpire: 1) without knowing in detail the distinctive challenges of their organization, we were not in a position of understanding to suggest a course of action, and 2) by providing such a roadmap for transformation, we would rob them of the hands-on learning experience essential to lean thinking and effective change.

Mike has had the amazing opportunity to apply lean IT at a number companies including Nike, Con-way, ANZ, Aggreko, Nationwide, and Motorists. After over twenty years of learning and struggling to be a lean thinker, it became apparent that we could share the essential elements of successful lean IT deployments in a way that would not violate either of our concerns. By keeping the roadmap at a level that would be universally applicable, there is ample opportunity for adaptation, experimentation, discovery, and learning so the reader can still experience the journey of lean IT! In fact, many of our readers have emailed to say that the book is equally effective in others areas of the business including the front office, HR, purchasing, Finance, transaction-based processing, analytical work, and even manufacturing. This is not surprising to us – these ideas are based on timeless universal principles which apply well beyond IT.

Applying our roadmap, Tom spearheaded the lean IT transformation at Nationwide with incredible success. In its seventh year, lean IT has delivered a new culture of performance, transparency, and more productive, better quality, and lower costs!

We hope that The Lean IT Field Guide inspires your journey in IT and beyond!

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.

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.