Lean Management: No Posers Allowed!

A lot of executives have heard about Lean management and would like to try it – seems like a good idea.

(Even the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service thinks Lean is a good idea!)

Are you ready to Rock?

For those who have heard of Lean, they usually think of exercises like 5S or Kaizen blitz. These are tools that let people sample the Lean approach and gain some quick wins – without making a real commitment. Unit managers can dip a toe in the water while still reporting to the C-Executives that, “Yes, we’re doing Lean!”

But running a couple of workshops and re-organizing the supply closet – then declaring yourself a Lean shop – is like learning to play three chords on a guitar and declaring yourself a rock star.

Just because you can play a little doesn’t mean that you are ready to live like a rock star – Rock and Roll is a lifestyle, man! No posers allowed.

Live Below the Waterline

Peter Hines and his co-authors, in the book Staying Lean, employ the (overused and tired, yet still appropriate) Iceberg metaphor to describe what really drives successful and sustainable Lean adoption.

In this interpretation of the Iceberg you’ll find the obvious, visible aspects of Lean above the waterline:

  • Technologies, Tools & Techniques
  • Processes

But, as always, the centre of gravity – and the aspects of Lean that will ultimately determine the long term success of the initiative – lies hidden below the waterline:

  • Strategy & Alignment
  • Leadership
  • Behaviour & Engagement

Enough about Lean

“But isn’t Lean supposed to be about focusing our efforts on the customer, eliminating waste, and continually improving our processes?”

Yes.

Now, this is where we stop talking about Lean for a minute.

It doesn’t matter what approach to managing your business you choose, if you don’t have those items that are “below the waterline” –

Strategy & Alignment, Leadership, Behaviour & Engagement – working, it doesn’t matter what approach you use. It won’t last, and you will soon be off chasing the next ‘flavor of the month’.

And that next approach will probably offer some nice short-term gains that are, again, not sustained. Rinse. Repeat.

Back to Lean.

Given that, couldn’t you just focus on those three items and forget about Lean? Yes, absolutely. But those three bullets are so difficult for managers to get right that often an external framework is useful to guide their behaviours and actions.

Note – we are not talking about “employee” behaviours and actions.

Unfortunately, that is the mindset that many managers take when they start to explore Lean as an approach to guiding the activities in their organization. But it’s not about “them”. It’s about “you”.

With that in mind, I would like to talk about the single most important tool that a manager has to support a successful Lean rollout.

Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi genbutsu is Japanese for “go and see for yourself”, often referred to in North America as going gemba.

This is a simple concept that can be further simplified for the North American manager: “Get out of your office!”

You will never get the real story sitting at your desk. Reports will be filtered for any number of reasons – most emerging directly from CYA issues.1

This is not a “take charge” event. Your goal is to observe and ask appropriate questions; perhaps the most important – and least employed – tool that a manager has.

Stop making excuses. You are not too busy. You want to call yourself a leader? Get out of your office and go talk to your people. Every day. Nothing that you do is more important than this.

Scratching the Surface

This Lean project? It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

Obviously, we are just scratching the surface of these topics, but the resources available are vast. Some are free, some not. The most important thing?

First, you have to care.


1CYA

‘Stones’ Photo Credit: Jonathan Bayer via Compfight cc
‘Office Door’ Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

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Kotter’s 8 Steps to Change: More Relevant Than Ever

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.
– John Wooden

In 1996, John Kotter published Leading Change, which quickly became the seminal work in the change management space.

15 years later—an eon in the Internet time-space to which we have become accustomed—and Leading Change is still the work that most change management professionals will point to when asked “how to do it.” There have been some other blips on the radar in the change management discussion, most notably the high-intensity spotlight wielded by the Heath Bros, Chip and Dan, in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Yet everyone keeps coming back to Mr. Kotter. (welcome back!)

leading-change-kotterWhy? Because effecting change—real change—transformative change—is hard. Really hard.

And The Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change that Kotter spelled out in Leading Change has been proven to work better than most anything else when appropriately implemented. The Eight Steps give organizational leader/managers a clear map to follow when most are wandering in the dark as they face the challenges of non-linear acceleration of change as we move into the 21st century.

But this post is not intended to re-hash every aspect of the Eight Steps. Rather, I wanted to remind everyone how unique it is in this “management” space to have a book that has held up so well over time. So many flavour-of-the-week approaches to managing an organization have come and gone in the last fifteen years that we could, and have, fill a library with them.

The other, really unusual aspect of Leading Change as a cornerstone work, is that its relevance has only increased since publication. Business-as-usual did not pass this book by; it is virtually required reading for anyone who leads an organization today.

The Eight Step Process

For those who are not familiar with Kotter’s work, here is a list of his Eight Steps, with some recent comments that he has made on those issues that he finds to be critical for success (I’ll include a link to these comments when/if it becomes publicly available):

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

  • This is the absolute starting point.
  • You must appeal to both the intellectual AND the emotional.
  • Repeatedly screaming at people “Your platform is burning, you are going to die!” does not work.
    • Threats lose their value.
    • It results in a demoralized workforce.
    • Talent leaves as soon as there is a good out.

2. Create a Guiding Coalition

  • If you want transformational change, you must create transformational leadership.
  • If you want transformational leadership, hierarchical-command/control structures will not work.
    • Good managers, utilizing good policies and practices, can create great results—but they cannot create transformational change.
  • Note the use of the term Coalition: if you want transformational leadership, this must represent a broad cross-section of people from all levels of the organization.
    • people who have their hearts in it
    • people who will provide leadership
    • people who will attack barriers
    • people who will get others on board
  • If you don’t do this right, it will effect everything else that follows.

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy

4. Communicate the Change Vision

  • It’s not likely that you will under-communicate a little bit; you will probably under-communicate 10x to 100x too much. And your initiative, no matter how well planned, will fail.

5. Empower Broad-Based Action

  • Give away authority. The hierarchy must give way to the network.

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

  • Make the wins real and they will be powerful.
  • If people don’t see results, cynicism will quickly follow.

7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change

  • Never let up!
    • You must maintain the urgency.
    • If you hand your initiative off to a change management “department” or “committee” — you will fail.
    • Don’t get discouraged, it might require cycling back and trying new things.
    • Don’t let your “command and control” genes take over.
  • It’s like tending a fire, you can’t start it and walk away.

8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

  • You don’t “change your culture” to create transformation.
  • It’s the reverse, if you want to create a culture change then go through the other seven steps — then, after success has been created, the outcome will be a change in the culture!

Management v. Leadership

I think it’s safe to say that we are all exhausted with the manager or leader debate. I’ll not waste too much time on that. However, a couple of quotes from Kotter that make it very clear; change management is a task for leaders.

Managers can define projects, develop measures, and monitor systems—they cannot create change.

“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.”

“…linking the discussion back to the engine that drives change—leadership—and in showing how a purely managerial mindset inevitably fails, regardless of the quality of people involved.”

Change Leadership

So, the question that spins out of all of this focus on leadership:

Is it time to change the term “change management”?

Would the process be more accurately conveyed if we started referring to it as “change leadership”?

Read the Book

Again, if you haven’t read Leading Change, and you have any interest in creating lasting change in an organizational environment, you really should pick up a copy.

Not only do you stand to gain some critical knowledge, I think you will be shocked at the prescience of this 15 year-old book.

updated 11 October 2011 – added a link to the recent Kotter webinar


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 5 October 2011

Sewage Pumps and Leadership

If you don’t read Jim Taggart’s Changing Winds leadership blog, you really should add it to your list – he does a great job!  Yesterday I read his latest entry Work Hard, Play Hard: Leadership Lessons to Redefine Your Thinking about Michael Abrashoff, retired U.S. Naval Captain and co-founder of GLS Worldwide.  Jim’s post is a review of Michael’s book, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.

As I read this post it reminded me of the time I heard Michael speak in Toronto a few years ago.  He told one story in particular that always stuck with me – and it’s about time that I shared it with someone else…

The USS Benfold

When Captain Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold in 1997,

the ship had one of the poorest service records in the U.S. Navy.  One year later the crew of the USS Benfold achieved the highest performance ratings in the fleet – and went on to win multiple awards and achievements.

The details of this remarkable turnaround are well worth the time it takes to read the book – I highly recommend that you check it out.

Sewage

Here is the story (as I remember it)…

its_your_ship-196x300

During the first 30 days of his new command Captain Abrashoff spent most of his time exploring the ship,
and one of the lessons he learned was that he had a sewage problem.

In the lowest part of the ship, in the dark of the bilge, there are pumps that move the ship’s sewage. It seems like such a meaningless thing – sewage pumps.  This is a fighting ship of the sea, outfitted with the latest technology that the U.S. defense industry can attach to a floating vessel with the purpose of blowing other things up.

But the sewage pumps were junk.  And they were junk in all of the ships of this class.  So there was a shortage of parts to keep them running.  And – as these things always go – there was a shortage of engineers who knew how to keep them running.

Big deal – these are just sewage pumps.  They have no impact at all on the ship’s capacity to launch missiles.

However, if these pumps are not functioning, the ship is not combat ready.  No sewage pumps, no operations.

Every Day

So, Captain Abrashoff, recognizing the importance of these pumps, but more importantly, recognizing the importance of the sailors who kept them functioning properly, would make the difficult climb down into the depths of the ship to check on his staff – every day.  Let’s repeat that — every day.

industrial_pump-280x187He could have just as easily picked up the phone and checked in, or had one of the ship’s officers do it for him.  But he recognized the critical failure point that these pumps represented in his efforts to change the performance and culture of his command.

So he took the time to personally visit these sailors so that they would clearly understand how important their work was to the success of the organization.

Where Are Your Pumps?

You might lead a small group or a large organization — either way, there are some great questions in this story:

  • Do you know where your sewage pumps are?  Can you describe — right now — which functions (processes) will stop your organization in its tracks.  Which ones seem vital, but under scrutiny maybe aren’t so critical as you thought?
  • How much time do you devote to those items deemed “important” by your managers and leaders that don’t add any value to actual accomplishment?  Do you have the guts to ignore these for the good of your organization?
  • Do you hide behind paperwork and reports or do you climb down into the “bilge water”?  How often do you get out of your office and talk to the people who make your organization actually work?  Not the “junior officers” and other middle-managers, but the “coal face” workers who make real things happen?
  • How important is prestige in your organization? Does the value of the paycheque dictate the value of the individual? Does your culture acknowledge the importance of those who “do” being just as (more?) important as those who “discuss”?

What other questions or observations can we draw from this story?  I would love to know if this story resonates with others as it did for me.


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 31 August 2011

2 Rules to Organize Yourself: Personal Kanban

Update 1 June 2011:

I have been exposed to Kanban and other Lean tools for a few years, which led to my exposure to Personal Kanban via the Lean community.  However, I was of the belief that this was a generic term and practice.  Apparently, not so.  I saw this tweet this morning, and must assume that Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban, with Tonianne DeMaria Barry, originated the concept and name.  My apologies and regret for the oversight.  I did link to a review of the book in the N.B., but I should have been more thorough in my research.  Go read it and visit his site.

– Geoff

We have written extensively in this space about the relentless pace of change and turmoil that is accelerating around us. This upheaval is not limited to “the world”, but trickles down into the everyday demands that each of us must face as we “do more with less” – smaller budgets, reduced staff, and seemingly fewer hours in the day as our personal and professional lives bleed together.

The result is a flood of priorities – both small and large, both personal and professional – accompanied by the projects, the emails, the voicemails, the to-do lists – the endless number of things that we have to remember, attend to, and complete.

Your time and your attention are fixed, a non-renewable resource, regardless of the number of tasks that get “delegated” to you.

Productivity Porn

The psychological burden that each of us carries with us every single day continues to grow with each new ball that we have to keep in the air.

And so we seek new and better ways to keep track of it all.

Some of these things – dubbed Productivity Porn by the irrepressible Merlin Mann – are truly excellent (thinking of the David Allen empire or Atul Gawande and his Lists) while others I just find baffling (can someone make me understand the emotional need to pay triple for a paper notebook because it has a Moleskine label?).

So let me introduce yet another system for personal organization that may not be familiar: Personal Kanban.

Kanban

Kanban is a system of visual communication – in Japanese “kan” means visual and “ban” means card – that was developed for the shop floor at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno to create transparent communications to everyone in the production process, not just the managers.

Eventually Kanban became another of the tools used in the Toyota Production System (TPS) – also known as Lean Manufacturing or World Class Manufacturing.

Email and Lean Manufacturing

So, what do just-in-time manufacturing processes have to do with your exploding Inbox? And what makes this Kanban nonsense any different from GTD or FranklinCovey or any of the other systems?

First, Kanban is not another personal productivity system in-and-of itself. It’s more a way of thinking about how you implement the system that you are currently using.

Kanban has only two hard and fast rules:

  1. visualize your workflow
  2. limit your work in progress

Visualize Your Work

Much like the GTD approach, Personal Kanban requires that you do a complete mental “dump”. You need to write down everything that is on your plate. Every project big or small, every task you need to remember, every little niggling thing that sits at the edge of consciousness abrading on your peace of mind.

The point is to get it all out of your brain and onto paper (pixels?).

Then it is placed into some version of a Kanban Board. This can be a cork board with note cards, a white board filled with post-it notes, or any one of many digital versions. It doesn’t matter which approach you take – it only matters that you are able to create a visual representation of your tasks.

The board is broken into three columns:

  • Backlog – these are your tasks that are waiting to be done
  • Doing – these are the tasks that you are working on right now (work in progress)
  • Done – yes, capture what you have done, see it

Limit Your Work in Progress

It’s becoming more apparent that the human brain doesn’t multi-task well. Yet we insist on multi-tasking all of the time in an effort to “be more productive”.

Kanban abhors this approach.

We each have a finite capacity. So, we must limit the amount of Work in Progress (WIP) to allow for proper focus on the task at hand. The human psyche isn’t a great juggler – too many balls in the air reduces our efficiency and makes it far more likely that one of them is going to drop. And the amount of concentration and psychic energy spent on constantly shifting contexts is concentration and psychic energy that isn’t available for the work itself!

Implementation

Kanban doesn’t ask for great changes in the way we approach our own organization. However you sort and prioritize right now – keep doing that.

The steps that are required to use Personal Kanban:

  1. You must visualize your work – get it out of your brain and onto paper.
  2. Place your tasks in the ‘Backlog’.
  3. Based on your system of prioritization, pull two or three or four of those into the ‘Doing’ column. Only you can determine the proper amount of active tasks that you can handle. (Though I would note that very few people can juggle five balls…)
  4. As you complete a task, it gets pulled over into the ‘Done’ column.

That simple.

Why bother with the ‘Done’ column – why not just trash those tasks as completed? Two purposes are served:

  • It provides a record of your workflow for review and refinement. Are you working on the “right” things?
  • Back to that concept of “psychic energy” – visual cues from the ‘Done’ column provide an excellent source of positive reinforcement.

Your board can be reviewed on a daily or weekly basis – whichever works best for you. What matters is that you visualize your work and that you don’t take on too many things at once.

And, once you understand and implement this approach on a personal level, you can apply the same methods with your teams and your organization for greater transparency and efficiency in your communications.

N.B.  This post doesn’t pretend to provide a complete discussion of Kanban systems or how to best incorporate them into your own life. If you are really interested in exploring this topic, deep guidance is only a Google search away – or have a look at this review by Tim McMahon.

So what do you think? Does this approach resonate with you or is it yet another plank in the great pile of productivity porn?

 

Picture Attribution:
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note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 31 May 2011

Managers, it’s Time for an Easter Egg Hunt

I have two kids.

They love kid things – colouring, bikes, skating, dolls, birthday parties, video games, dancing, hockey, braids. All the usual stuff. And they really love holiday celebrations, with the Easter egg hunt coming in very near the top of the list.

It has always been fun for my wife and I to set up the hunt. We’re plastic egg people. I know, it’s not traditional – yes, we have a fake Christmas tree too – but it’s convenient and let’s us mix things up with the treats.

But here’s the deal. As the kids get older, setting up the hunt gets more and more challenging. Parents, you know what I’m talking about.

When they were 3 years old, we would just walk around the yard and put plastic eggs down wherever we felt like it. Everything was out in the open and easy to spot. Yet they still would not see all of the brightly coloured eggs. Why? They would just walk around, head down, staring at the ground in front of wherever their body ended up pointing. Egg was a foot off the ground sitting on a swing? Couldn’t see it – it wasn’t where their attention was focussed.

But with time and the hard-won experience of multiple Easter adventures, they learned to take in more of their environment. Perhaps the eggs were above the ground, maybe even above their heads – higher than they could reach without climbing. They realized that Mom & Dad even put eggs in places that they couldn’t find without making an effort to get to places where they had never been before.

Now we have to work to find places that are challenging for our little bloodhounds to find. Why bother? It’s not as fun when it’s easy.

The Peter Principle – not Peter Cottontail

As a manager, time and experience have the same effect on you.

As so often happens, The Peter Principle placed me in a manager’s position before I had acquired the emotional maturity and life experience needed to be really effective at leading a group of humans toward a common goal.

I was so inexperienced that I just couldn’t see some serious problems that were right there in front of me – out in the open. They may as well have been trapped in a big pink egg and sitting on a swing seat. I was focussed on the ground in front of me.

But I didn’t get fired, and time and hard-won experience led to some inevitable growth. I learned to sit back, relax, and scan the environment with a practiced eye. And, eventually, I could pick out those bits of colour where there shouldn’t be any.

Still, I didn’t grow into a real and effective leader for my team and manager for my department until I got off of my seat, out of my office, and started looking in the places where I had never been before. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was scary to go into those places. But eventually – like everything that is worthwhile – I struggled through and I learned.

It’s Time for Your Easter Egg Hunt

Here’s my challenge to you as we head into the egg hunting season – get off of your seat, out of your office, and go looking in those uncomfortable places where the real challenges and problems for your team will be found.

  • We have been trained to provide consistent and clear feedback to our direct reports. When is the last time that you asked for their feedback on your performance? Do you think that they will feel confident and secure enough to provide you with honest feedback? There’s a nice, cozy dark place to start in. Nothing like a little dose of self-awareness to rattle our assumptions.
  • Do you know the short and long term goals of each of your staff? Have you ever asked this question and given sufficient time, space, and – most important – attention to allow the individual to develop a comprehensive answer? Do they have learning and development plans in place to support these goals?
  • Do you understand the preferred working and communication style of each of your team members? Are your team members clear on your preferred working and communication styles? Are you aware of the importance of generational differences in these preferences?
  • Do your employees believe that you “have their back”? When trouble appears do they feel like they are on their own, or are they part of team that pulls together and has a leader that will work for the greater good of the team – not for his/her own personal benefit?
  • Does your team trust you? How can you be sure?

There are many more challenges that could be added to this list. The point is, you’ll never know if you don’t search.

The answers won’t be in plastic eggs sitting out in the open – they’ll be difficult to find. But that’s ok, it’s not as fun when it’s easy.


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 21 April 2011