Monthly Archives: September 2011

How to Use Group Learning Effectively

Group learning is becoming more popular today.  There are different forums for this such as consortiums, networking groups, non-profit organizations, conferences and symposiums to name a few.  At the beginning of the year, I highlight the Smith County Lean Consortium as an example of work being done and the range of organizations that can be involved.

In order to make this type of learning successful, a couple of elements and structure have to be there.  First and foremost, the companies have to be very open.  Open to letting other companies see the work they are doing.  Open to presenting the truth of what they are doing, not a dog and pony show.  Open to honest and candid feedback from outside eyes.  Open to accepting the candid feedback in order to help them improve.  And finally, open to giving honest and candid feedback when they visit another facility.

In short, a safe learning environment needs to be present.

Once a safe learning environment has been established, then the learning process needs to be followed.  Spend some time learning about a concept, a problem, or an organization.  After learning about it, go to where the work is done and understand how to apply the concept in that environment, come up with potential countermeasures for a problem, or give suggestions to move an organization forward.  Finally, discuss what was observed with the host organization.  Help them to improve.  Then discuss how what you learned and saw will help to improve your organization.

I know this sounds simple, but too many organizations create a dog and pony show where they just show off what they have been doing and don’t really address a problem when a learning group visits.  Or they will make it an unsafe learning environment.  Usually it is unintentional.  You will hear comments like, “But our business is different.” or “Great idea, but you haven’t seen the whole picture.”

Group learning can be very effective if done correctly.  It can be cost effective too.  So the next time you want have multiple organizations learning from one another make sure to provide a safe learning environment and follow the learning process.


Making the Right Thing Easy

Error proofing or jidoka (the Japanese term) is a concept that is common in the lean world.  The basic concept of error proofing is setting something up so that there is only one way to do it.  This eliminates the possibility of errors.

This concept is typically thought of as a manufacturing concept only.  It isn’t though.  It can be translated to the data world like an electronic form that will not submit unless certain fields are filled in.

The underlying thought with error proofing is to make the right thing easy to do and the wrong thing impossible to do.  This is something I learned from Jamie Flinchbaugh.

Below is a picture of what I think is a good example of this thinking.  This is outside a shop in an indoor mall.

Keeping the store clean and easy to shop is the goal.  I have seen too many stores that ask patrons to not bring in food or drinks but that’s all there is.  This store has placed a table underneath the sign making it easier for the customer to do the right thing and leave their food and drink outside of the store.  The solution is simple and easy to understand.

Can someone not follow the instructions?  Yes.  But there are fewer excuses for people not to do what is preferred.

So the next time someone doesn’t follow what you want them to do, ask yourself how can I make the right thing easy to want to do and the wrong behavior impossible to do.

Baby Boomers to Gen Y…People Are No Different

In the workplace and the world around we are inundated with how Generation Y (or the Millennials) are such a different generation.  Questions arise asking how to bridge the gap between the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y in the workplace.  Generation Y is so much different that we have to make accommodations for them.

People contend the generations are too different and we should treat them that way.  On the contrary, I don’t believe that there are any real differences between the generations.  Sure Gen Y is more adept at using technology to their advantage but I contend that Generation X was the same way.  I always got calls from my mother about computer issues like, “How do you add a border to a cell in Excel?”

The biggest difference I hear about in the workplace is that Gen Y has a target job in mind and will change companies many times to achieve that target job.  The job may not be a specific high ranking position in management.  It has to do with making a difference and feeling like they accomplished something when they go home at the end of the day.  Gen Y was leave a company to continue to seek that.

I really don’t see how that is any different than any other generation.  That is basic respect for people.  To me, that boils down to a manager understanding what makes his employees tick and putting them in positions to use their strengths in order to succeed.  This concept is the basis of the book First, Break All the Rules.  The authors studied many mangers over the last several years.  This is before Gen Y even hit the workplace.  The basic concept is that great managers understand the strengths of their employees and develops their strengths, not their weaknesses, in order to make them successful.  People are inclined to want to develop a strength because it is something of interest so they will dive in and learn more.

This is basic human nature, not a generational gap.

I am part of Generation X.  When I was younger I heard a lot of similar things about my generation.  About how different we were from Baby Boomers and the generation before.  I don’t believe it is a generation thing at all.  It is a stage of life thing.  As people get older we get a different perspective on things.  There is nothing wrong with that.  We just have to understand it.

The next time you start to blame something on the generational gap stop and ask yourself, “Am I being and old whipper snapper?” or “Am I being a young rebel?” that isn’t understanding what stage of life the other person is in?  Or is it truly something that is a generational gap.

Learning and Leaving

The other day I was listening to a speaker discuss manufacturing jobs in the the U.S.  The speaker hit on a reason why there are fewer and fewer people with the job skills needed for the manufacturing shop floor.  The reason was employer paid training is being cut.

Manufacturing has a lot of technical based jobs.  People need to run equipment and know about machinery in most industries today.   In order to get training and stay up-to-date on the latest technical training, the employers pay for people to go to training.

In the past, this wasn’t an issue.  Employers were happy to pay for the training.  They expected people to be with the company for a very long time, so it was an investment in the employee.  Today, the expectation that a person will stick with a company for a long time isn’t accurate.  I think of myself.  The automotive company I worked for paid for me to get a lot of training on problem solving skills and techniques and some in lean, but as soon as my growth potential topped out I left the company.  That was within a year of completing my training.  The plant manager was upset but he was the one that told me my growth opportunities were topped out.  What did he expect?  I was 29 at the time.

What makes manufacturing unique is the fact that employers do pay for the training.  In healthcare, legal, or IT the individual pays for their training on their own time.  So the individual has more responsibility to not waste that training by using it wherever it fits best.

I know technology is changing fast and keeping up with it can be hard.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  And the ones that do keep up with be rewarded with better paying jobs and more opportunities.

Would manufacturing skills be more plentiful today if the individuals had to keep up with it on their one?  I don’t know.  I’m not saying that is the right answer, but it is something to think about.

What are you thoughts?  How can manufacturing skills of individuals keep up with changing technology and employer and employees feel good about the training that was done without the fear of an employee leaving once they have developed their skills?

Guest Post: Do They “Get It”?

Today’s guest post is by James Lawther.  James gets upset by operations that don’t work and apoplectic about poor customer service.  Visit his web site “The Squawk Point” to find out more about service improvement.

As you get used to improving processes, the one thing that becomes obvious, over and over again is that the more complicated we make things the more difficult it is to get them right.  Half of the time the biggest process improvement we can make is to make things nice and clear and simple.  It doesn’t really matter if you are working in high volume manufacturing, healthcare or for a bank, the principle holds true:

  • Sort out roles and responsibilities
  • Make things visible and obvious
  • Ensure that customer requirements are written down clearly (in words of not more than 4 letters)…

Why does this work?  Well that is fairly easy to answer, because if things aren’t clear and simple they are difficult, and then, lo and behold, people get them wrong.

At this point your eyes are probably rolling to the back of your head; this is not exactly new news is it?

No it’s not, but here is the rub, as process improvement people we have:

  • Theory of Constraints
  • Total Preventative Maintenance
  • ISO 2000 (and some)
  • 6 sigma
  • Total Quality Management
  • Lean
  • … and the list goes on

Not content with all of that we then proliferate like crazy, within the topic of Lean I have read about:

  • Lean Manufacturing
  • Lean Thinking
  • Lean for Service
  • Lean Management
  • Lean Sigma (my personal favourite, an excuse to sell books if ever there was one)

Then we have the audacity to complain that those we work with don’t “get it”, whatever “it” is.

Can you blame them?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Could you explain things simply for those around you?

Is it time we took some of our own medicine?

Thanks to MyFlexiblePencil

Over the last few weeks, David Kasprzak at the MyFlexiblePencil blog has featured some of my posts.  The last one posted today.  Here are the links to the three he featured:

Stop Blaming and Understand the Why

Automating Daycare

The Importance of Respect for People

I appreciate the exposure to David’s readers.  If you have not visited his blog, I would recommend you do.  There are lean insights as well as great observations from daily life.

Value the Seconds You Can Save

Improvements are improvements whether they are days, hours, minutes, or seconds.  Of course everyone wants to save days or hours when they make an improvement, but the improvements that save seconds are the most valuable.

I know.  I get a crazy look every time I say that because it is the smallest measurement of time.  How can that be a big savings?

First of all, if any savings is good then we should applaud even a 1 second savings that someone comes up with.  Organizations and people who do this are the ones that I see become more and more successful with their lean implementation.

Too many times I have discussion where people are looking for the big hit improvement.  How do I take weeks out of my lead time?  How do I get hours out of my changeover process?  The list goes on.

It is good to look for big improvements in the process, but once it is found it becomes harder and harder to find the next big improvement.  This behavior reinforces the thought that only big improvements are what we are looking for and beneficial.  When this is the mentality, the improvement process stalls.  No one is valuing the seconds that could be saved just by moving something 5 feet closer to the point of use.

When seconds being saved is valued the mentality of every improvement no matter how big or small is important is reinforced.  We should recognize a 3 second improvement the same way we recognize a 3 day improvement.  Eventually, seconds are the difference that will take the process from good to world class.

Seconds being valued makes it easier for people to find improvements within the world they can control.  The easier it is to find an improvement, the more improvements will be made.  This will lead to better engagement across the organization.

The next time someone makes an improvement that saves them or anyone just a few seconds stop and recognize them for doing so.  Value the seconds that can be saved by everyone.

“Sometimes the Right Thing is the Hard Thing”

The pro football season is upon us and one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year is the Green Bay Packers.  When thinking of the Packers I am reminded of a quote from my lean/business coach, Jamie Flinchbaugh.

Sometimes the right thing to do is the hard thing to do

Why do the Packers remind me of this quote?  After the 2007 season the Green Bay Packers management decided to part ways with Brett Favre after 16 years of service.  Brett Favre is a Hall of Fame quarterback that led the team to two Super Bowls and has numerous individual and team accomplishments.  Brett was one of the most beloved sports figures in sports at the time and the state of Wisconsin loved him.  Brett also had spent the previous two offseasons retiring then unretiring and stringing the management along.  He got a pass though because he was one of the greats of all time.

Understanding Brett Favre was going to retire someday soon the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft and let him learn under Brett Favre.

In 2007, the management had enough of not knowing what Brett was going to do about retiring so they promoted Aaron Rodgers to be the starter and cut ties with Brett Favre.  The management team believed they had a great replacement for the Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre.  The Packers front office took a lot of heat from the local and national media for this decision.  The media essentially said they didn’t know what they were doing and made a huge deal out of the situation.

It is four years later.  The Packers won the Super Bowl last year under Aaron Rodgers guidance of the offense and the are the favorites to win again this year.  The Packers are a young team that looks promising for years to come.

It was not easy for the front office of the Packers to cut ties with the face of their franchise for over a decade.  They caught a lot of heat for it but they stuck to their decision and backed Aaron Rodgers.  Could it have failed?  Yes.  Nobody knew, but the management team was the closest to the situation and believed it was the right thing to do.  It by far was not the easy thing to do.

As humans we naturally look for the path of least resistance.  As lean implementers we look to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing impossible.  This makes doing the right thing easy.  But as we decide if we should changes roles or companies or have to deal with troublesome employees, the right thing is not always the easy thing.  We have to be prepared to do the hard thing and stick with our decision.  In my experience, if it is truly the right thing then everything works out well in the end.

Control What You Can Control

Have you ever gotten frustrated that another department was pushing product to you when you weren’t ready for it or sending defects to your area or your manager was unclear about the priorities?

It is even more frustrating when you start to understand lean thinking and concepts.  We want everyone to see the world through the lean lens we have developed.  If the everyone else would see it that way then we could make a real difference.  If they don’t we feel beaten down, like we may never get better.  The waste we see can become extremely frustrating.  As lean thinkers, we may even want to give up because others aren’t seeing the big picture.

This is a common problem I have seen with people that have truly bought into lean thinking in an organization that has not.  I have had that those feelings and thoughts myself.  This is when we have to remember to control what we can control.  We have to remember there is no end to a lean transformation there is only the next step.

If we concentrate on making our work better and applying the thinking to our own world, we can slowly start to make a difference.  For instance, if you are frustrated that your boss isn’t clear about the priorities, take what you think are the priorities and write them on a whiteboard with a header of “Top Priorities for the Week of XXX”.  Make the board visible.  Let your boss see it.  That way a discussion can be had if necessary.  If he asks why you are working on something point to the board and say these are what you consider the top priorities.  Eventually, your boss will start to use the board too.

I have seen managers in non-lean organizations use lean thinking to just their little world.  As they did, their performance increased and they got increased responsibilities.  This led to their reach of lean thinking expanding to others.  The more that got exposed the better things were getting.

Lets be clear.  It still was a slow process over a few years, but these managers had a clear understanding of what they could control and they controlled it using lean thinking.

Control what you can control.  Lead by example.  Understand others may never come along the journey.  None of this is easy especially when you buy-in to the lean thinking, but it will help keep your sanity.

Leadership Lessons from an 8-Year-Old

My daughter is 8-years-old and just started the third grade.  She is a wonderful kid.  She does everything my wife and I ask of her without complaint and she loves to learn.  We are very lucky.  But with the third grade comes the start of being aware of social situations and more awareness of what trends, fashion, friendships, etc..

She comes home with so and so is trying to pull my friend away from me or  I have gotten to be the team leader in the classroom yet.  Things like that.  As an adult, we think these things seem trivial because we are worried about paying the bills, putting food on the table and a roof over our head.  Sometimes it is really hard to take it seriously and not just tell her you worry to much and move on.

If the issue is a big deal to her then as her parents it should be a big deal to us.  We have to listen to her and take it in and make her feel like she can come to us and talk about anything.  We have to teach her in a caring way what might be good to just let go and give her mechanisms to do that and what do deal with.  We have to show her she matters.

This is no different than leading in the workplace.  We have to show our employees they matter.  If they have a problem, no matter how trivial it may seem to us we have to help them deal with the issue in a caring way.  We can’t blow it off and say get over it even though we may want to.  We have to help the employee understand context and and teach them how to handle different situations so they don’t become overwhelmed.

I am still not the best at it, but my daughter keeps me on my toes and gives me a lot of practice and this.  I just hope I have it mastered by the time she is a teenager.