Monthly Archives: July 2012

Use Data that is Meaningful

A couple of months ago, Joe wrote a great blog on Problem Solving Pitfalls.  I have read that post  few times.  Partly because Joe and I made some of those mistakes together.  Partly because I think there is another to add to it.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just because data is being collected does not mean it is useful.

Too many times I have watched people (including myself) use data because it was available.  It was not the data that would tell the story of the process.  You may have to decide what data would be helpful and devise a way to collect the data.  he data does not have to be what is available in a computer.  Having it captured by hand is a viable way to collect the data.  The data may only need to be collected for a specific amount of time during the problem solving process.  Once the problem has been solved, there may be no need to collect the data.

This can be difficult but it will be well worth the effort in the long run.  You will get a better picture of the problem you are trying to solve and in turn this will lead to an easier time getting to the root cause of the problem.

More From The Fine Folks At Taylor

About a year ago, when I was merely a “Guest Post”-er, I wrote this little piece about some really interesting things I read about in a book called Guitar Lessons written by the co-founder and namesake of Taylor Guitars.  As a companion to both that post and the one earlier this week with some personal Lean inspiration, I wanted to share another link and story that fits both categories.

(As an aside, it was brought to my attention that I may have quoted an incorrect number in the previous post, but I wasn’t able to get confirmation on that.  If anyone with Taylor would like me to correct it and is willing to help, let me know.)

This really cool piece of information comes in the form of the most recent copy of the company’s magazine “Wood & Steel”  and is written by the other co-founder (and CEO) of the company, Kurt Listug.  (If you clicked on the file, I’m referring to “Kurt’s Corner” that shows up on the left side of the .pdf page 3 or magazine page 4).  In his ‘Corner’, Listug refers to a “Process Improvement Project” that sounds, as a whole, like it was build on some hardcore Lean principles.  I don’t pretend to know enough about what goes on at their facility to make a judgement either way on what or how they are doing what they do.   What I do know is that it excites me to read about companies using these types of concepts (whether built directly on Lean/TPS or not) to do things like 20% increases in daily production, improved quality, reduced queue times from weeks to next day, and growing employment built around value adding work.   These successes, whether I had a hand in them or not, remind me of why I chose to work in this field.  I have no idea what Taylor’s path looks like from here, but I do appreciate reading about companies that are working to try to be the best they can be.

I realize I sound like a fanboy for Taylor and that’s fine.  If I didn’t own a couple of their guitars, I wouldn’t have received the magazine to read in the first place.  But, in addition to the small piece above, I highly recommend at least 2 other pieces in that publication.  The first is a piece on Taylor’s involvement in Ebony supplying in Cameroon.  (It starts on magazine page 12, pdf page 7).  On it’s own, it’s a fascinating story about a company getting involved in its own supply chain, finding a way to work with existing government regulations, creating a better situation for the people and the forests in the area, and pretty much turning that in to a role supplying their competitors.  From a purely business standpoint, I’d read an entire book on the way this evolved, regardless of what company was involved.   The other small piece is from an ongoing bit they started called “What are you working on?” where they talk to people that work in their factories about their jobs.  (Magazine page 28, pdf page 15).  As somebody who is engrossed with manufacturing, I find it fascinating to see what people do in their plants.

I hope you enjoyed reading some of the pieces (if you were able).   I always enjoy seeing what other people are doing to make their business run better and I love finding little bits of inspiration in places where I’m otherwise looking for a distraction.

Have a great weekend!

Practical Visual Management

I am always on the lookout for good examples of visual management.  I like visual management solutions that are simple and solve a consistent problem especially around quality.

Here is a picture of one from my wife’s small business:

My wife makes natural, hand-poured soaps.  This is a soap pop.  It is part of the kids line of soaps she has.  They are made to look like popsicles and are a great party favor at birthdays (part of a shameless plug for the business).

She wanted to be consistent with the layer from soap-to-soap and batch-to-batch so she drew lines with a sharpie on the outside of the molds.  The mold is semi-transparent so she can see when to stop when she is pouring the soap.  This creates a uniform look that shows here customers she does care about the quality and their experience.

Visual management is a concept that can be used by anyone trying to make a problem visible no matter the size of the company or problem.  Do you have any simple examples of using visual management to solve a problem?

Hitting the Refresh Button

I think this may be the first time I’ve posted a video without it being an aside to my comments.  But lately, I can’t seem to get this out of my head.  As I view part of what I do as sharing inspiration, that’s exactly what I hope to do.  I must have watched this a dozen times in the last couple days alone just trying to really ingrain the message in my head.  I know it’s been around on the Tube for a couple years, but it never ceases to be great.


(As you can probably see, this clip originated from the Kaizen Institute and is not mine.  I just really like it and wanted to share the awesomeness of it.)

Managing Through Fear and Intimidation

It seems I couldn’t get on any news wire without seeing something on Marissa Mayer last week.  I read a few different articles on Marissa, but The Truth About Marissa Mayer caught my attention the most.

This article from Business Insider talks about a view some at Google had of Marissa.

The other view, more common amongst long-time Googlers, is that Mayer is a publicity-craving, lucky early Googler, whose public persona outstripped her actual authority and power at the company, where she was once a rising star—thanks to a bullying managerial style—but had become marginalized over the past couple of years.

That is quite a view.  What could make people view her in that way?  The way she manage.

This source described an executive who “will work harder than anyone” and “is smarter than 99 percent of the people,” but “can’t scale herself” and “doesn’t understand managing any other way than intimidation or humiliation.”

This source says that when she worked with Mayer at Google, Mayer “was just a nightmare”—someone who had her own publicist, forced underlings to sign customized NDAs, and maintained “a shadow HR staff and a shadow recruiting staff just for her team.”

“No one understood why she had the power that she had, except that she will literally work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

“She used to make people line up outside of her office, sit on couches and sign up with office hours with her. Then everybody had to publicly sit outside her office and she would see people in five minute increments. She would make VPs at Google wait for her. It’s like you’ve got to be kidding.”

This source says that for a time, Mayer attended executive coaching lessons with Bill Campbell, but that the gossip is he refused to keep teaching her because she was unreceptive to feedback. Another source confirms a falling out between Campbell and Mayer, but doesn’t know why it happened.

This sounds like a text book example of traditional management style through fear and intimidation to the extreme.  Really.  She made people (including executives) wait outside her office for 5 minute meetings!  Some of this is Google’s other leaders’ fault because they allowed it to happen.

It was mentioned that most of this happened earlier in her career and some believe she has changed.

This source is now a “huge fan” of Mayer’s, but says “I used to not be.”

“I honestly thought she was crazy [during her early years at Google].”

This person says that Mayer used to be a polarizing executive at Google because of quirks—like how she managed her underlings and fought political battles with other top executives—but that “she is really not so much any more.”

“She is 37 now, and she was in her late 20s less than a decade ago. Like all people, she matured and learned. It’s not fair to cast her in the mold of when she was 28 or 29. She is a different person and leader now.”

And

But, says this source, there are lots of people at Google who want to work for her. For example, there’s the story of Jen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick went on maternity leave while working for Mayer. When she came back, she had a new boss. Google had gone through a massive re-org, and Mayer had been moved to a different organization. Mayer then asked Fitzpatrick to join her new team. If Mayer was a tyrant, this would have been a great opportunity for Fitzpatrick to say no, and escape. But she didn’t; she joined Mayer’s staff.

It sounds like Marissa Mayer is changing.  This is good.  I imagine she is still has a traditional fear and control style of management but it is softer.  If she hasn’t changed enough, will she lose the backing of Yahoo!’s employees?  The article points to the fact that it worked for Steve Jobs.  So we should copy that?  No way.  I see Steve Jobs as an exception.  Is Yahoo such a name brand company to work for that people will stay no matter what?

I wouldn’t expect Yahoo! to adopt lean anytime soon.  What do you think?

P.S. ……. K.I.S.S.

Problem Solving…Keep It Stupid Simple (as in really simple).

Recently, this is the valuable lesson I learned in coaching problem solving using an A3 to show the thinking.

Typically, when I have coached problem solving using the A3 I have had the A3 broken down into big sections (Background/Business Case, Current State, Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis, Action Plan and Results).  Under each section there were more segments that broke down the process to help try to go through the problem solving step-by-step.

With another group, by necessity, a colleague and I informed them of what an A3 was, gave them a 20 minute high level explanation on the big sections and a single point lesson to help guide them.  A week later the three A3s we saw were probably the best first pass A3s I have ever seen.  There was still some learning and some tweaking to do to tell a good story but overall they were very good.

Upon reflection, people that got the minutia explanation were trying too hard to “fit the form” and not use the A3 to show there thinking.  The coaching became much harder and the people kept focusing on filling the A3 out correctly.  This cause frustration and in a lot of cases people didn’t want to use the A3.

The group that got the high level explanation felt the freedom to explain their thinking any way they saw fit.  The A3s were quite different but they all had the big segments (at least through the areas they have progressed).  The questions and coaching around these A3s were much different.  More around different modes of thought and next steps in the problem solving process.  Not what do I fill in here.

Just like physical processes…keep it simple when teaching and coaching problem solving using the A3 as a tool to make the thinking visual.

What are your experiences?  Is simple better in your eyes?

My Half Full Glass of Studying

Last week I began really applying myself to my studies for the ASQ CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt) exam.  On a personal level, I’m pretty opposed to doing this because I really feel like I am chasing this certification for the piece of paper and no other reason.

My first thoughts in looking at this were pure dread.  I haven’t forgotten what DMAIC stands for, nor have I forgotten what the steps entail.  I haven’t forgotten what the statistics mean or how to interpret them, even if I let software do most of the heavy lifting.   I still remember the quotes from famous quality people in the study manual and can recite the punchline in the Dilbert that is placed in the beginning of the book.  What I did forget was to send in some paperwork on time.  I’ve already taken and passed the test once, but let my certification lapse out of ignorance and inattention.   In that sense this is more of a personal rework loop than a doing-it-right-the-first-time kind of step.

However, once I got past my selfish whining, I realized I could look at this completely differently.  Instead of just trying to cram in enough tidbits to squeak by, I could give myself a personal “Ohno Circle” to study from.  What I’ve found is that I’m not really tied to having to learn the material the same way I did the first time around, so I’m free to focus and explore some of the smaller details I may not have thought through before.  I can try to seek out some new knowledge out of an “old” source.  I guess it’s sort of like me trying to look for new ideas for improvements after the kaizen event report out, except there really is an exam at the end.

I realize I’m stretching the metaphor a bit far, but once I switched the way I looked at my personal learning in the same way as a manufacturing process it opened some new lanes of thought for me.  I am now itching to dig back through and re-read some of the books on my shelf from Ohno and the Toyota Way series and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to see what may be in there.  I’m sure there are things in each book I didn’t pick up the first time or that have slipped from my mind since I first read them.  I really wonder what is out there in the material I already have.  It’s almost too bad I have to wait to get there until I’m done with this test!

Have a Purpose. Don’t Innovate.

One last blog post I read that I am way behind on.

Please, Can We All Just Stop “Innovating”? is posted at the Harvard Business Review Blog.  Bill Taylor tackles how companies are over killing innovation as a business practice.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which did not get nearly the attention it deserved, made the case that the word “innovation” has outlived its usefulness. “Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days,” the hard-hitting piece noted. “But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.”

Innovation is used everywhere for everything today.  I agree with the WSJ article.  A lot of the “innovation” is a quite ordinary change.

Here are three examples in the post about truly innovative work.

Southwest Airlines never said, “We want to be the country’s most innovative airline.” Its leadership said, “We want to ‘democratize the skies’ and give rank-and-file Americans the freedom to fly.” They perfected a new way to be an airline by virtue of what they wanted to achieve as an airline. They did what made sense to them, even if their strategies made no sense to the legacy carriers.

Tony Hsieh and his colleagues at Zappos never said, “We want to introduce innovations to e-commerce and do a better job of selling shoes over the Internet.” They said, “We wanted to build the greatest customer-service brand in the world, a company whose mission is not simply to deliver products but to deliver happiness.” Thus Zappos created a special culture, a unique way of doing business, and an almost mythic status among its customers, who have given the company permission to sell all sorts of products above and beyond shoes.

Cirque du Soleil did not set out to make a few tweaks to the traditional three-ring circus, or market-test a few new acts as a way to offer innovations vis-a-vis Ringling Brothers. Rather, an immensely talented group of street performers set out to define a whole new category of live entertainment, a creative leap that made perfect sense to the artists who dreamed it up, but made no sense to circus veterans or to audiences who had never seen such shows before.

The common theme Bill points out is having a purpose.  In all three cases, having a strong purpose that was communicated and believed in led to the innovative thinking.  It was delivering to the customer that mattered.  Not being “innovative”.

Have a purpose you believe in.  Understand the customer.  Deliver to the need.  Innovation will come.

My Kaizen Day

I have spent a lot of time here discussing data.  I have covered in and around topics like data integrity, data quality, data interpretation, and even motivations behind data.   I am pretty passionate about making decisions based on high quality data.  But, sometimes you just don’t have data that you can trust.  Maybe it’s from the measurement system or some other human bias, maybe it’s just too poorly compiled to do anything with.  That usually leaves you with 3 choices:  Do nothing, Get Better Data, or Do Something.

Today, my M.O. is to DO SOMETHING.  It may sound obvious, but I’m going to spend time today focusing on making a change in a process instead of focusing on what I should be looking at.  It may mean I’ll work on something that I later realize is the 5th or 7th most important topic, but at least I’ll knock that off the list as I’m trying to figure out what should be the number 1 priority.

I think there is a lot of gray area between “Analysis Paralysis” and “Shooting From The Hip”.  Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, it’s really easy to get lost there.   Today I’m going to lend more to the latter than the former and learn something new along the way.   Hope you find some improvement on your way today.

Learning A3 Downloadable Template

If you look at the page links above you will see a page that has been added labeled Downloads.

This page will have files you can download to keep and use. The initial thought is these will mostly be templates that can be used, but I am not limiting it to just templates.

My intent is not for it to be a template just to fill in but a way for people to learn. I want it to be a tool that can be helpful to understanding lean and facilitate conversations.

Here is the template. There are two worksheets in the template.

  • SWI – Intent of Use – This is meant to explain the best way I have learned to use the learning A3. It tries to answer the questions of what is the purpose of the learning A3 and how to use it. It also, gives a standard operating procedure to go about using it.
  • Learning A3 – This is the template to start with. It leads you through several discussions on what business need is the learning tied to, what is the purpose of the learning, what behaviors and concepts will be the focus on learning and actions to take to reach your targets in the upcoming year.

Please feel free to download and use it. Any feedback on the ease and clarity of use would be appreciated.

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