Last season a favorite TV show of mine had it’s final season (House). This season a new show has started that I am enjoying quite a bit (Elementary). The common thread in both shows is the main character is enthralled with solving the mystery. The main tool they use is direct observation. They are incredibly keen with what they see and what it means.
A trait both main characters share is the lack of social grace. They can be considered jerks with the way they ask questions. Yet, people overlook this because they solve the mystery.
I know these are TV shows, but to be that great at directly observing work, do you have to forget about social grace? Does it allow the person ask more direct questions easier? I don’t think so. I may not be Dr. House or Sherlock Holmes but people can observe without losing their social grace. I just find it interesting how TV portrays people with a keen skill for directly observing.
What are your thoughts? Do you believe a person can ask questions and directly observe without being a jerk and do it at an extraordinary level?
One of the lean principles I use is directly observe work as activities, connections and flows. This sounds like a principle that would be easier to change. In an environment where the deliverable is physical and moves between physical work spaces this principle is easier to live. An example would be a manufacturing environment, where a widget is moving from machine to machine. Is is easier to take the principle literally and go out and directly observe the widget. A person can see the widget and the changes made to it.
Lean is not just applicable in these type of environments. Lean is applicable in a transactional office or service environment as well. This does not mean directly observing work is not possible. It just means it is harder.
In a transactional/service environment you can sit with the person doing the work and ask questions as they do the work. You will be able to learn a lot on an individual basis.
What if a group needs to learn and wants to observe?
It is really hard to cram multiple people into a cube or office…believe me, I have tried. A different way to directly observe the work as activities, connections and flows is by creating a visual map of the process on a wall. There are many types of maps and ways to map. That isn’t as important as getting everyone to have a common understanding of what is actually happening.
The deeper purpose of directly observing work is to gain a thorough understanding of what is actually happening. Not just one person. Every person that is necessary must have a common understanding. Reports can’t do that. Neither can sitting behind a desk.
There may be other ways to directly observe the work. What is it you need to know? What don’t you know/understand about the problem or process? Once you understand what you need to know then you can determine how the way to gain that common understanding is for your situation.
How have you gained a common understanding around a process or issue?
I am a couple of weeks behind on this one, but I thought it was a good blog and worth mentioning.
The title hijacked me right away. Title alone goes against everything lean is about. Then I read the article and found Michael was actually advocating for lean leadership behavior without calling it that.
…this vignette affirms my belief that leaders need to “go to the source”even before they turn to their best people. Seeing the data raw instead of analytically pre-chewed can have enormous impact on executive perceptions.
Sound familiar. Michael is talking about directly observing the work. A foundational principle of lean. He gives a second example of why directly observing is important.
At one global telecommunications giant, for example, a critical network software upgrade was not only slipping further behind schedule, but the bug density was slowly creeping up, as well. The program managers’ key performance indicator dashboards showed nothing alarmingly unusual except the seemingly usual slippage and delays associated with a complex project with moving parts worldwide. The executive responsible for the deliverable (but not the software engineering itself) felt something amiss. The error rates felt too high and the delays too long, given the clarity of project milestones. He wasn’t technically sophisticated enough to read the code or analyze the testing, but he asked several project managers to share how their code was being documented. The raw material astonished and appalled him. The code was both hastily and poorly documented; the result was confusion and ambiguity that not only created delays but introduced errors into the software. The deadline-driven programmers, unfortunately, thought nothing of improvising just-in-time documentation via email, and misunderstandings and typos quickly propagated program-wide. The result was a worsening mess.
The executive intervention — making documentation a priority, streamlining version coordination, and changing the testing protocols — didn’t get the complex program back on schedule, but stopped things from getting worse, and dramatically improved both product quality and post-launch maintainability. It could never have happened unless leadership had the courage and competence to go to the source.
Great examples to bring drive home the point of how important directly observing the work is. But, I do disagree with Michael on one thing…
Is this micromanagement? You bet! But real leaders are constantly called upon to create new contexts for people to succeed. Sometimes holding people accountable is the path of least resistance rather than what’s best for the organization.
I don’t think so. Understanding current reality is not micromanaging. It is necessary to be a great leader.
Micromanagement is telling your employees how they should be doing their job. Worrying about how each detail is done which is different than worrying about what are the details and understanding the current reality. There are quite a few comments below the blog mentioning similar thoughts also. Micromanagement is more than just understanding the process and current reality. Micro-managers fret about HOW you got the raw data or HOW you completed the work and try to tell you HOW to do the work.
Overall, a very good post. I just hope it does not lead people down the path that understanding is micromanaging and then it carries over to be a black mark for lean.
What do you think? Directly obrserving work or going to the source, Micromanaging? Or not?
A few weeks ago, Ultimate Factories on National Geographic premiered an episode about LEGO. My son is a HUGE LEGO fan and seems to have almost the whole LEGO City setup. So this episode really caught our attention.
My son loved watching the artist/builders design the new Police Station and seeing all the sets being made in the factory. What caught my attention were the things that seemed lean like.
Here is the full episode. It is 45 minutes long. Below are some highlights I picked out with time markers as to where they are at in the video.
(1:15 – 4:10 in video) Right off the bat, the show describes how the artist/builders go about designing a product. The product manager takes his team out to real life sites of what they want to build to study them. They look at what the site has and needs to feel authentic. It is truly direct observation of what the team wants to build.
(6:40 – 10:00 in video) LEGO takes full advantage of standardization as much as possible. The Police Station turned out to be a 700+ piece set, but none of the pieces are new and require tooling to be made. Because the designers were able to build the Police Station out of existing pieces they were able to use that budget to design a police dog that is brand new adding to the experience. My lean lens sees this as cost management in order to reinvest in innovation. The innovation leads to a better experience and more revenue.
(36:12 – 36:20 in vide0) The video does not talk about 5S but there is some evidence of it. In this clip, you can see the tape outlines on the floor for the staging of finished product.
(36:20 – 38:10 in video) In the 1990s, LEGO went through a period when sales were declining. LEGO decided to go and see why this was happening. They discovered their products were not meeting the needs of the adult customer, which is 50% of their market. People were hacking the Mindstorm systems and creating bigger sculptures with the robotics. They didn’t try to shut the hackers down. LEGO embraced them and created new products. They still invite customers to come in and help with designs. They are focusing on customers needs. Everything starts with the customer.
These are some of the quick examples I picked out. If you notice, nothing I saw focused on lean manufacturing although I believe I saw some lean like things in manufacturing and distribution too.
I would highly recommend watching the full video because it touches on every aspect of business. From customer focus to product development to manufacturing to logistics. It is very complete. If you are a LEGO fan, this video is a must see.
In the comments below, tell me what you saw from a lean perspective. What did I miss?
It is a brand new year. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves over the weekend with plenty of football and food.
This is the first post of a new year. I thought I would start with reflection of how I did with my goals from 2011. Here is a recap of my three goals for the 2011:
- Continue to blog for a full calendar and make it meaningful and thought provoking to my readers – I did it! I made it a full calendar year and celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the blog. I can’t believe I made it. It was definitely a lot more work than I could have ever anticipated but it was worth it.
- I want to meet more people from the blogshpere – Check. Tim McMahon, Karen Wilhelm, James Lawther, and Christian Paulson just to name a few great people that I met during 2011 through the blog. I look forward to meeting more people in 2012.
- Make my first reaction to a problem to go and see – Pretty close to a full check. Most of the time my first reaction is to go and see the problem, but it wasn’t 100% of the time. I did do a lot better at this in 2011 though.
Now to my goals for 2012:
- Expand the blog and bring new bloggers to Beyond Lean
- Learn 3 new things from fellow bloggers that help me improve my work
What are some of your goals for 2012? I would love to hear them.
Good luck in 2012!
As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers. I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me. I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.
I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better. It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else. I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.
One idea that I have gotten from others like Jamie Flinchbaugh (here) and Kevin Meyer (here and here) is the stand-up desk. I read about the benefits of a stand-up desk. It is healthier. It makes it easier to drive the ‘go and see’ behavior. It makes you more accessible to your employees and so on.
When I was assigned to a manufacturing facility, I got myself a stand-up desk out in the middle of the production area I was working with. It was great. I could see what actually was happening at any time. The employees liked having access to me without having to leave their production area. People who came to see me to chat didn’t stay long because they didn’t like to stand, so I also became more productive.
Then I transitioned to our corporate office. I am now working with more office environment processes. After a couple of months of sitting in a chai I was going nuts. I asked for a stand-up desk. There was some crazy red-tape to get through but a couple of months ago I got it. I have a nice sized cubicle, so I took a section and had it raised with the help of our ergonomic expert.
It isn’t pretty but it works very well. I am able to get some of the antsy-ness out from spending so many years in manufacturing and walking on the floor. I noticed more of my colleagues stopping by to ask questions. More importantly, I got off my lazy can and now go seek out people to ask questions. I don’t just pick up a phone and call people that are 50 feet away. And finally, as you can see I can enjoy the nice view out the windows. Even if it is the aluminum siding of another building.
I get some crazy looks and sometimes my cubicle neighbors can feel uncomfortable because they don’t know if they should be saying something to me. I have even been used as a landmark. “I sit in the cube next to the guy standing. You can’t miss him.” That might be because I am 6’2″.
I have enjoyed it and it shows that it can work in an office environment as well as a manufacturing environment.
This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.
There were a lot of technology companies presenting at the forum. The companies had a lot of pretty cool technology that could be used. AT&T presented their business mobility solutions. It was not around the iPhone. It was technology designed to bring real-time visibility to supply chain needs, inventory and performance dashboards.
I was very intrigued by what they were presenting. The lean thinker in me thought to slooooooow down. What would be the purpose of the technology? How would it help? It does no good to implement technology on something that will not drive any action.
Real-time technology for inventory, supply chain needs, and dashboards can have a negative effect. If the leadership is not in the habit of going and seeing what is happening all real-time technology will do is allow a quicker solution response without understanding what is actually happening.
The real-time technology can be a great enhancement for leadership that is in the habit of going and seeing. The quick alert of an issue can allow them to get to the area to witness the problem before it disappears. Since the leadership sees the problem in real-time they have a better understanding and can have a countermeasure in place quicker.
Without the real-time technology, the leadership may not find out about the issue until it has disappeared which means they have to wait for the issue to come up again in order to understand the problem or spend time recreating the issue. The team loses time before they can have a countermeasure in place.
If the leadership does not have the go and see mindset then all the real-time technology in the world will not help change the behavior. Technology is a wonderful thing, but “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center. His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program. He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques. Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.
Lean teachers have taught us things like “go see”, “ask why”, and “thoroughly understand what is happening at the gemba”. Enough practice with these mindsets can teach you how to quickly and effectively evaluate current states and identify where our gaps may exist on the way to our ideal state.
If you are like me, you probably really enjoy touring other people’s operations or even watching shows like “Ultimate Factories” or “How It’s Made” on TV to see how other people do what they do. You’ve also probably tried to copy an idea or two that you’ve seen doing one of those things. I know I’ve tried several tips, tricks, or notions that I’ve picked up through these observations. Some have been fantastic. Some have been total, immediate failures. And some others may not have worked right off the bat, but have triggered discussions that have led to some really great solutions. Those types of activities aren’t really what I think of when I picture benchmarking. I would put those in the same group as reading a book or taking a class and applying an idea from one of those. Great places to get a seed to plant or to identify rough milestones, but you shouldn’t really be finding blueprints in them.
The danger in a benchmarking mindset from some circles comes from looking at similar processes or industry data and working in a “We should do it just like they do” mindset. Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely valuable to have an understanding of where the competition is or where the bar is set at. One of my favorite examples of this in lean lore is how, in the early days, Toyota believed that German manufacturing was 3 times as productive as Japanese manufacturing and the Americans were 3 times as productive as the Germans. Toyota then determined they had to become 10 times better than they currently were to be better than the best manufacturers and compete on a global scale. This scale wasn’t used as an excuse to copy American manufacturing, it was used as a line in the sand to set a goal.
Another mantra that I continually remind myself of comes from statistics/data analysis guru Dr. Donald Wheeler who says “No statistic has any meaning apart from the context for the original data.” All of our observations or industry data studies or side by side comparisons of plants only work if we can phrase them in terms of the context. If they lack context or we don’t understand the context well enough, we may not get any valuable information from which to build. In the wrong hands, this can lead to a tremendous waste of time and resources to try to be like someone else. I don’t think that’s why we do what we do as Lean thinkers. Our greatest abilities as lean leaders don’t lie with our ability to recognize and copy someone else’s answers. Our greatest strengths come from our ability to thoroughly understand our own states and solve our own problems.
Last week Steve Martin had a great post about data and going to see what is actually happening over at theThinkShack blog. It struck a nerve with me because it reflects something I seen happening on a regular basis. I am tired of people trying to solve problems while sitting in a conference room.
Don’t misunderstand me. Ten years ago you would have heard me say some of the same things. So, I do have patience with teaching people to go and see. Once I learned to go and see it became very freeing because I didn’t stress about what the data said. I spoke to facts.
Data is a good thing. I am not saying we should ignore data, but we need to know its place. Data can help point us in the direction of problems. It can tell us where we should go and look for facts.
Facts to me are what you actually see happen. What you have observed. It isn’t the hearsay you get in a conference room. Facts explain what is actually happening and add deeper meaning to the data.
I lived a great example recently. In a conference room, managers looked at the data and saw a problem that was happening. They started talking about what was happening and why. They asked if I would look into fixing it. I said I would look at what is actually going on. I spent 2 hours directly observing the work and realized the one problem they were talking about was actually several different problems out on the floor. I asked the person actually doing the work to take a couple weeks worth of data based on what was actually happening. The data showed they actually had 2 big problems that made up 80% of the total errors the original data showed. I then did another hour of direct observation between an area that had the problem and an area that did not. I was able to explain the problem with facts that I observed and data to support those facts to add concrete to what I observed. At that point, there was some obvious ways to correct the situation.
Data and facts are different. They are not substitutes for each other. Data and facts can be a very strong combination when used together to understand a problem.
facts truths – use eyes – go and see
Link to Steve Martin’s Blog Post: http://thinkshack.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/garbage-in-wheat-and-soybeans-out/
I have read about three quarters of the Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. It is a very good book. One that provokes a lot of thought even from people that have been implementing lean for a long time. This post isn’t a book review of the Toyota Kata. It is a reflection on a point made my Mike Rother in the book about training and doing.
In the book Mr. Rother talks about moving from a system where we train in the classroom and then ask them to go out on the floor and do. Instead, the mentor needs to be with the mentee on the floor training and doing at the same time. Below is a graphic to try and illustrate that it isn’t two steps, but one combined step.
As I thought about this, I remembered some of the coaches that I got the most learning from. In every case, the coach was out on the floor with me observing me learning and resolving the problem. The coach invested a lot of time in me. He made sure I was thinking about the problem in every way possible and would ask questions and guide me when he saw I was off course.
In contrast, I had coaches that would train me in the classroom and then give me an assignment. The coach would come back a week or month later and see how my work had progressed. The coach would try to get an understanding of my thinking but it would be hard. I learned but not nearly as much or as fast as when I had my coach there with me as I worked. This isn’t an indictment on the coach. It was just the way the process was set up.
It may seem that having coaches for a lot of employees that can spend time with them on the floor is not feasible. In our current system and thinking that may be true. What is amazing is that Toyota has found a way to do it. Leaders at all levels are coaches to their employees so they are training and doing at the same time. This creates hundreds of coaches training and doing on the floor across the organization.
Our organizations may not be able to do this right away. If it is truly important to the company to create learning an investment will need to be made. Start small. Get a few people coached and then have them coach. Slowly let it spread. Start with a small part of the organization. It allows for experimenting with the training and doing process before spreading it.
I know this is easier said than done. It was a method that worked for me in the past. To show how slowly it can move, I was coached and then I coached 5 others and then they started to coach. Just to get to that point took 3 years. That started with a base of one, just me in our plant. The whole purpose was I was there with them training on the floor as they were doing. It is definitely a huge commitment.
I believe this huge commitment and slow process is why organizations are not successful at it. It takes patience.
I hope your organization is willing to make the commitment.