Monthly Archives: May 2011

Dilbert – Eliminating Redundancies

I thought a great Dilbert cartoon would be just right for today.  A fun break from the norm.

Have you ever started a project and then found out someone else is working on the same thing or something very similar?  It can be very frustrating.  How about Dilbert?  Trying to eliminate redundancies only to find out there is redundancy.

(click on image to enlarge)

Dilbert has great intent because it is a good thing to eliminate waste.  This is why alignment throughout the organization is so important, especially today.  Resources within companies are too scarce to have people not aligned.  Multiple employees working on the same thing is waste that companies can ill afford.

Have a great Memorial Day!


Leading Successful Transformation

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

Over the two day period at the OpsInsight Forum, there were a few presenters that touched on leading transformation efforts across organizations.  Mike Evans, Kotter International, had the unfortunate draw of presenting last on the second day.  I lot of people had left to catch flights because the last day was a Friday.  It’s too bad many people missed Mike speak.  He really hit home on some great points about leading a successful transformation.

The quote from Mike that stuck with me is, “Great leaders paint such a great picture of the future people will release from ‘have to’ and move to ‘want to’.”

I thought this sounded a lot like leading as though you have no authority which is a popular phrase at Toyota.  It means engage the people, don’t command and control them.  The quote from Mike sounds like it is hitting on that philosophy.

Typically, during a transformation they leadership spends about 75% of their time managing the business and only 25% of their time leading the change.  Kotter International says this is why some many transformations are not successful.  The leadership should be spending 75% of their time on leading the transformation and 25% of their time on managing.  This flip is important because if the organization is going to go through a transformation, it must be important and if it is that important then the focus should be there.

Mike outlined Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change.

  1. Acting with Urgency
  2. Developing the Guiding Coalition
  3. Developing a Change Vision
  4. Communicating the Vision Buy-in
  5. Empowering Broad-based Action
  6. Generating Short-term Wins
  7. Don’t Let Up
  8. Make Change Stick

These steps sound very similar, if not the same, to what the lean community talks about when trying to create a lean transformation.  In the lean community we talk a lot about creating a burning platform which gets to “Acting with Urgency”.  When leading a lean transformation the lean community talks about envisioning an ideal state, then communicating it over and over so everyone buys-in and then get people engaged in creating that changes.  Sounds like steps 3, 4, and 5.  The short-term wins (step 6) is how we get the transformation started to show it will work and that we should continue with the transformation.

Mike’s presentation was about any transformation, but it was great to see how it aligned with what the lean community talks about during a lean transformation.

The Math Behind the Innovation Process

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

One of my favorite presentations was done be Dr. John Evans, Vice President of Business Innovation, from Lockheed Martin.  The presentation wasn’t only about innovation but how to look at the innovation process and the math behind it.

Dr. Evans displayed the graph below.

The graph shows a high uncertainty of success means a larger hurdle rate to clear for the innovation to be profitable.  Companies should work towards removing uncertainty as much as possible to lower the hurdle rate for the innovation to be successful.  This does not mean that all uncertainty can be removed.  Companies need to be acutely aware of the uncertainty in new innovation in order to give the idea the best chance for success.

Dr. Evans discussed the typical stage gate process for innovation.

(click on image to enlarge)

What the graphic shows is a classic Marchov Chain.

As an idea moves through the stage gates it has an 80% chance of passing.  The costs are split evenly between the stages.  This means there is only a 51% chance the idea will pass all the stages and $10 million will have been sunk into the idea.

Dr. Evan’s point was the innovation process should be very light on cost on the front end but very hard to pass Stage Gate 1.  This allows companies to save resources on ideas they believe will actually deliver.  What innovation process tasks can be moved to the front so the cost is under $1 million (compared to the $3.3 million above) but only have 20% chance of passing the stage gate.

The best is front load the process with high risks, but low costs.  As the idea moves through the process, the gates are easier to pass.  This helps to prevent adding a lot of cost to ideas that don’t make it to the market place.  The idea has a higher chance of success in the market place and removes more uncertainty from the equation, moving the idea more to the left in the first graph.

The innovation stage gate process and how a company evaluates ideas adds value more than the idea itself.  The innovation stage gate process is critical to removing market place uncertainty from an idea.

I probably did not due Dr. Evans justice in his thoughts but I tried.  It was very interesting and provide a lot to think about.

Guest Post: Serenity Now

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.  

One of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld is ‘The Serenity Now’.  In the episode Frank Costanza yells out the phrase “Serenity Now” every time he feels his blood pressure rise as a method of dealing with the stress.  I’m sure many people are aware of the Serenity Prayer in which people ask for the “serenity to accept the things that they cannot change.”  I sometimes find myself needing to do one or the other (and sometimes both) because of the way that Lean has focused my view of the world.

Lean thinking seems to me to be a mindset that you have to go all in with to be effective.  You can’t sort of think Lean.  Once you have learned to go through the cycle of identifying gaps, seeking out the waste and problems and implementing countermeasures, it becomes very hard to go back and not think that way with everything you do.  The thought process colors not just how you work, but how you process the news, how you order your coffee, how you view your government operating and on and on.

There lies the challenge for some of us.  We want everyone to seek out waste and eliminate it with the same passion that we would attack it.  We want all of data we get to be presented in the proper context.  We see the waste, the inefficiency, the lack of direction and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see the world in the same light.  We become like the kid in The Sixth Sense, except instead seeing dead people everywhere, we see waste everywhere.  The frustration can drive you crazy or make you angry if you let it.

What can I do about it?  Here’s the challenge I’m placing to myself.  Every time I sense my frustration with a situation because of the waste I see, I ask myself if there is anything I can do to help change it.  If there is, I make the effort to change.  Sometimes that means helping other people and sometimes it means that I have to put myself in a different situation.  If there isn’t anything I can do, I just yell out “Hoochie Mama” and move on.  Sometimes we have to accept that there are only so many things that we can change.  That there are only so many things we can control.   There may come a day when everyone sees the world through Lean eyes.  Until then, I’m going to work on trying to make sure that my lens doesn’t unfairly color the world.

Building Operational Excellence

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

Robert Miller presented about the principles and dimensions The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence uses to assess companies for the award.  Robert explained the important factors for any company that wants to achieve operational excellence.

Companies need to:

  1. Define Excellence
  2. Define Continuous Improvement
  3. Understand Transformation
  4. Tell the Truth

The first two are about setting expectations so people know what is expected of them.  The third is about understanding what your people will be going through.  The last is the most important.  An organization needs to be honest with itself and where it stands.  They can’t sugar coat their situation and they can’t hide it from their employees.

Companies need to bake operational excellence into their culture.  In order to do this, it starts with principles that help define systems that help to build tools to support.  I have recreated the graphic that Robert showed that helps explain why companies fail in building operational excellence into the culture.

Have you seen this to be true?  With lean transformations, I have seen this quite a bit.  Companies start by implementing tools and then later figure out the tools aren’t working because they don’t have the systems in place to support the tools.  Then even later the company realizes they don’t have the same underlying principles that a company implementing lean successfully does.  By this time it may be too late.  The lean implementation may have been thrown out the window.

If the lean implementation does last long enough to realize the principles are needed to lay the foundation then the company has wasted a lot of valuable time.  It is good they got there.  The company could have had larger or better sustaining gains if they built the same direction as they thought about it.

When a company can think and build from left to right, the greater chance of success of embedding operational excellence into their culture.

Asking the Right Question to Create Innovation

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

One of the breakout sessions that I attended at the OpsInsight Forum focused on innovation.  David Silverstein from BMGI led a great discussion on how to ask a different question in order to stir new innovation.

(Side note: He had innovation in his presentation…be didn’t use any slides.  It was a per discussion.  Almost like you ran into him in the hall.  Very well done.)

Here is the simple question that David presented to stir the creative juices: “What are wee hiring the product/service to do?”

David then gave a couple of examples to drive home his point.

Example #1:

In the 1880s, candle makers wanted to be more innovative.  If they wanted to improve, what were they working on?  Making candles that don’t drip?  Scented?  Candles that burned longer?  Burned cleaner?  Easier production processes?

Now ask the question, “What are we hiring the candle to do?”

Answer: Create light.

Asking that question, allowed others to invent the light bulb.  Unfortunately, the candle makers were not part of that innovation and their business was significantly effected.  Had the candle makers asked that question, maybe they would have invented the light bulb.

Example #2

Today if you go to a lawn mower producer and ask about what innovations they have you will get different responses.  Some of them might be: Developing a cleaner fuel engine, self-guided mowers, or mowers that run like the Roomba vacuum.

What if the lawn mower producers ask the question, “What are we hiring the lawn mower to do?”

Answer: Cut the grass because it keeps growing and we want our lawns to look nice.

So what if the grass didn’t grow?  There would be no need use a lawn mower and our lawns would still look great.  Well, scientist have already designed no mow grass.  (Links to articles here and here.)

The candle makers and lawn mower producers are focused on the product and not what the product is hired to do.  In one case, candle makers became a rare breed.  For lawn mower producers it is a matter of time.

The other significant thought David talked about was connecting the dots to create something innovative.  He referenced the phrase, “Connect the dots.”  When you connect the dots you have thought of something in a new or innovative way.  The more dots you have in your head the easier it will be to connect dots.  Dots in our head is information and learning.  If we continue to keep learning, it will be easier for us to eventually connect the dots.

The best time to connect the dots is between 10pm and 6am.  During our sleep.  At that time, our brain is accessing everything we have learned, read, been taught over the years trying to connect dots.  The brainstorming session is just the extraction of those connections you have already made.  That is why so many times when we are relaxing or sleeping “something just hits us.”

It was a very interesting presentation/discussion around innovation.  A new question to drive innovation.

Redesign to the Beyond Lean Blog

A couple of months ago, I had a post about changing the look of the blog site.  I finally got around to making some changes.  I figured there was no better time than the 1st anniversary of the site, which was last Friday.

I am limited in my resources and know how but I knew that I wanted it to be more readable.  I felt the font on the previous layout was small.  This design has a font that is easier to read and the space for the body of the post is wider.

You can still connect to me via RSS or Twitter.  The half hidden icons in the upper right corner are quick easy ways to do it.  I am still working on a LinkedIn connection.  You can still have an email subscription which is on the right sidebar.

My favorite feature is on the sidebar.  Under the email subscription is a feature to search for posts in different ways.

  • Green Folder – Shows the categories the posts are under.  The number of posts for the category is in parenthesis.
  • Blue Tag – Shows the most commonly used takes.  The larger the font the more times the tag has been used.
  • Grey Clock – Shows the Archive of the posts by month.  The number of posts for the month is in parenthesis.
  • Orange Star – Displays the top ten blog posts by the number of comments.  The parenthesis show the number comments for the post.
  • Orange Comment Bubble – Displays the last eight comments made on the site.

There still may be some more tweaks to come, but over all this is the major change.  I hope everyone likes it.

Beyond Lean’s One Year Anniversary

It is hard to believe but it has been one year since my first post.  Over the last year, I have learned a lot.

I now have a much greater respect and appreciation for the regular bloggers out there.  I didn’t realize how much it takes to keep up with regular posts.  I only post 3 days a week and I feel swamped at times.  Also, the writer’s block can get frustrating.  Or just planning ahead for times I am out of the office or tied up in some work to schedule posts.  I don’t take any of that for granted anymore.

I have deepened my thinking on lean and business over the last year and the blog has helped me to deliver my thoughts more concisely.  I believe my writing skills have gotten better but I leave it up to  you to judge that.

Most importantly, I have enjoyed the writing and I have met a lot of new people through the blog.  Without the readers, I wouldn’t be writing.  Your support has been great and I appreciate it very much.  All of the comments you leave create a deeper and richer discussion and provides me with feedback on what is important to you.  Thank you.

So hear is to Year One in the books and Year Two kicking off.

Technology Can Help the Go and See Process

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.”

Companies Trying to Target Customer Focus and Alignment

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

There were some great keynote speakers at the OpsInsight Forum.  The topics ranged from execution excellence to optimized S&OP process to transforming innovation.

What causes me to be optimistic about the potential success of lean progressing through companies is that almost all of them were talking about lean concepts, ideas, and thinking without knowing it.

In my opinion, the work does not have to be called out as being lean.  The most important part is the thinking and concepts becoming part of the company’s DNA.

The two concepts that were repeated over and over were focusing on the customer and the company being aligned to the work to deliver value.

Focusing on the customer.  This is the root of lean.  The very first seed that is planted.  The main focus is the customer or consumer that buys the product.  If what you are doing is not adding value for them we should ask, “Can we eliminate it?”  If not, then “Can we reduce it?”

In order to be the most effective in delivering value to the customer, everyone must be aligned.  Over half of the speakers brought up the issue of having everyone aligned to the business goals and clarity around the work that was needed to achieve those goals.  A few speakers specifically called out strategy deployment tool that could be used.  Others didn’t call out strategy deployment but talked about the catch ball process.  This is the process where Level 1 managers talk with Level 2 managers about how they can help achieve the goals and then Level 2 meets with Level 3 and so on and so forth.  The discussions go down and the back up the levels a few times to develop a comprehensive and achievable plan.

All of the speakers mentioned that lean was a way to support the work and help make it better.  These comments add data to my data set that lean still isn’t truly understood for what it is very widely still.  The good news is that people are trying to implement lean thinking and concepts.  They just don’t realize it.  That gives me optimism as I continue to implement lean thinking at the company I work for.

Look for areas where lean thinking is being implemented.  Don’t try to change the language.  Instead try to foster the thinking and help it grow.