Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry New Year!

This weekend will bring a New Year.  As we usher in the new year, I was reminded of a movie scene a great comedy…Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd.

Just a reminder of the melting pot that is New York and the United States.  Enjoy!  And have a Merry New Year!  Hahahahahaaaaaaa!


A3’s Are Hard!

A3’s are a report format that a lot of lean people talk about using.  The reporting is not what it is about.  The purpose to make the thinking visible and easy to understand in order to have more meaningful discussions about a problem or issue.

As important as they are it is still hard to do.  A3’s take time to put together.  Just putting something down on paper isn’t good enough.  It is taking the time to think about what the message is and conveying it clearly and very concisely because space is limited.  If the message isn’t clear then there can be misunderstandings that cause delays.

People usually don’t take the time to write an A3 as they are going along.  Not because they don’t believe in them but they get so busy working on the problem they don’t pause to do it.  I am guilty of this myself.  I miss opportunities to write the A3 and get my thinking down on paper for others to understand.

When I have taken the time to write the A3 as I went along I found a few things to be true.  Pausing to write the A3 gave me time to really think about the problem I was working on and I saw things from different angles and more clearly.  My business partners and I communicated more clearly when I use an A3 and we focus on the paper when we talk not anything personal about each other.  It never becomes an attack on a who but a discussion on a what.  Finally, I seem to finish my projects quicker because of the better communication which leads to better understanding and a quicker resolution.

A way I have found to help keep me on track with writing my A3 as I go along is to plan it into my work.  Schedule it so it is an appointment you have to keep.  This way I revisit it and keep it fresh as the project continues to move forward.

A3s are a great tool but they are hard.  No question about it.  The benefit is worth the effort though.

Dilbert Animated Cartoons

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday.  A little Dilbert treat for the holidays.

The Pointy-Haired Boss makes it so hard to get clear objectives and Dilbert is stuck between a rock and a hard place.


Does any of this sound familiar?  Clear objectives and misaligned values can cause a lot of confusion in an organization.  The confusion can lead to nobody taking action.  No action means no improvement.  I hope your objectives for 2012 are clear.

Guest Post: Leadership Is About Serving Your People

Today’s guest post is from a friend and a lean thinker and consultant, Mark Welch.  Mark recently shut down his blog that took a look at the similarities between Christianity and lean leadership.  Since Christmas is just a few days away, I thought this was a great time to have Mark post some of his thoughts.

Last year I read The Servant Leader by James A. Autry (also the author of Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership). Without going into a full book review, I do recommend this book. As I read it the similarities between servant leadership and lean leadership became apparent.

In the first chapter Autry offers a list of six things he believes about leadership:

1. Leadership is not about controlling people. It’s about caring for them and being a useful resource for them.

2. Leadership is not about being boss; it’s about being present for people and bulding a community at work.

3. Leadership is not about holding on to territory; it’s about letting go of ego, bringing your spirit to work, and being your best and most authentic self.

4. Leadership is less concerned with pep talks and more concerned with creating a place in which people can do good work, can find meaning in their work, and can bring their spirits to work.

5. Leadership, like life, is largely a matter of paying attention.

6. Leadership requires love.

The notions of anti-command and control, humility, breaking down silos, and creating a culture in which people can do good work (good quality, safety, productivity, etc.) are very clear in his thoughts and they are consistent with lean leadership. However, while I’ve never read anything in the lean literature about requiring love, it does include a genuine concern and interest in what the customer values and for employees to have good experiences when trying to deliver value.

Jesus is the Ultimate Servant Leader. He wanted us to be servant leaders as well. In John 13: 14-15 He tells the disciples, “I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you.” In Luke 22: 26-27 He is even more clear: “…rather, the greatest one among you must be like the servant. Who is greater, the one who sits down to eat or the one who serves him? The one who sits down, of course. But I am among you as one who serves.”

And of course, there is the core of our faith, His sacrifice for us at the cross while forgiving those who were crucifying and mocking Him. Is there any deeper instance of servant leadership than this?

I hope that the spirit of the Ultimate Servant Leader is with you this Christmas and into the new year.

Determining What Problem to Work On

When teaching someone about problem solving methodologies, the question that most commonly comes up is “How do I prioritize what problem(s) to work on?”

The good news and the bad news is there is no defined way to determine which problem to work on.  Some people do not like that answer because they can get paralyzed by so many problems they don’t know where to begin.  If that is the case, the person can pick a method they like to prioritize and use that to help them.

In reality though, there are many different types of environments, cultures, and situations so being flexible in how you prioritize can a great advantage.  Some ways are straight forward such as your manager prioritizes the issues to work on for you.  But others aren’t.

Most people tend to prioritize by the problem that will have the biggest impact on the metrics or process when it is solved.  Most of the time this can be a good way to prioritize.  The “bang for your buck” factor.

What if you are in a situation where people are skeptical that things will work or can even be fixed?  Choosing a problem that isn’t the biggest but can be solved quickly and convince people to join in and help may be a better way to go.  Get the quick win and build momentum.

If there is work that is done on a consistent basis that causes problems, the way to prioritize may be to fix what is bugging you the most.  Fix something that relieves the pain points for people allowing them to add more value to the process quickly.

Quick summary on ways to determine what problems to work on:

  • Biggest impact to the business
  • Solved quickly and get a quick win
  • What is bugging you the most
  • You manager assigns the problem

None of these ways is better than another.  There are different ways to choose and being flexible can help you pick the way that is best for the situation you are in.

Are there any other ways that you may prioritize problems to work on?

Don’t Let Success Close Your Mind

Success is great.  We all strive for it.  We want our projects, teams (work or sports), children, and ourselves to achieve better results than anyone expected.  We want to be considered successful.

But there is a flip side to being successful.  When we are successful we can lose sight of what got us there.  We can think the process or the method that got us to the top or achieved the great results is what we should continue doing in order to stay at the top.

It was just the process that helped us succeed.  It was the continuous improvement we went through to discover the thinking and the process that helped us succeed.

How many times have you seen upper level managers fight against changing what they have done for so many years?  It has gotten them the success they have achieved.  Why should they change?  They should change because they are open to new ideas.  Even after success we must stay open minded to new ideas so we can continue to improve and gain more success.

After a kaizen event, evaluate the process of the event and look for new things to try to make the next event even more successful.  After the promotion at work, how do you continue to be noticed, positively, and find ways to be more successful as a manager?

Use GM as an example.  They did not change their ways that made them successful for so much of the 1900’s.  Then around 1990 things started to change and GM never was open to new ideas in managing their business.  Eventually, they were not #1 anymore and if it wasn’t for the government bail out they would have gone bankrupt.  Even after the bailout, GM has not changed their business practices and are struggling.

Ford can be seen as an example that wasn’t open to new ideas and almost needed the bailout too.  Instead, they became open minded and changed some of their business practices when they hired Alan Mulally.  Now, Ford is much more financially stable.

While we all want and strive for success, we must remember that a big part of what made us successful was being open minded to new ideas.  Once we are successful, we can’t forget that.  We should always stay open-minded and continue to improve.

When All Else Fails Eliminate the Value

It is no secret that the U.S. Postal service is in dire straits and getting pressure to improve it’s financial position.  I thought I had seen it all until I saw this article last week in the USA Today.

The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to save $2.1 billion a year and fend off possible bankruptcy threatens to end almost all overnight delivery of first-class letters and postcards next year.

Isn’t the way the U.S. Postal Service adding value by delivering letters and packages as quick as possible from Point A to Point B?  So instead of addressing waste in the process, they are going to eliminate a value added feature.

This will surely affect businesses.

“Everyone from Netflix to timely magazines to the greeting card industry to political campaigns who still rely massively on traditional mail deliveries will be negatively impacted,” says Adam Hanft, a consumer-marketing specialist who heads Hanft Projects.

Online retailers — not to mention small and midsize businesses — that are dependent on timely shipping could feel the pinch. Nearly one-fourth of local merchants use direct mail as a crucial marketing strategy, according to MerchantCircle, the largest social network of local business owners in the U.S.

This just is just backwards.  If you are going to cut something, cut something that is adding little to no value.  That would be something that is not being used by your customers.  Would an automaker stop putting radios in cars to save money?  No.  They add value for the customer so it would stay.

Plus, stamps are going up next year again.  I’m sure another raise in package rates is right behind it.  If a normal, business cuts an item that adds a lot of value for its customers and raised it’s prices at the same time it would not survive.

These moves aren’t going to save the Postal Service.  They are going to squash it.  What a chance for UPS and FedEx to jump in and increase it’s business.

If the U.S. Postal Service wants to survive, it should focus on the customer needs and eliminate what does not add value.  Not what does.

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2011 – Lean Reflections

This is my final review for this years Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.  I have enjoyed reviewing blogs for John Hunter at Curious Cat Management blog.  The previous blogs I reviewed were:

Final review is the blog Lean ReflectionsKaren Wilhelm is the author of the blog.  Karen and I met last year during the Blog Carnival roundup.  It was her roundup post last year that encouraged me to try new blogs this year.  That led to me discovering Squawk Point and All Things Workplace.  Thanks, Karen!

Karen’s post are thought provoking.  Here Karen raises the question of understanding the brain more might help lead us to understand why people resist change and lean.

This post talks about Temple Grandin and her ability to use visual thinking to see the improvements that are needed in the process flow of the livestock industry.  It stresses the point that we need to pretend we are the product moving through a process.  Be the thing in order to better understand what is happening to the thing.

Karen’s blog is a great read.

Don’t forget to look for more reviews from other bloggers during the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2011 – All Things Workplace

This is my second review for the 2011 Annual Blog Carnival Roundup as part of the Curious Cat Management Blog.  So far I have reviewed:

Today’s focus is on All Things Workplace.  The blog is written by Steve Roesler.  Steve is a leadership coach and has worked with many organizations.

The blog isn’t necessarily about lean, but Steve talks about many things lean thinkers struggle with.  One of Steve’s most recent post talks about ways to be coachable.  He talks about the characteristics of someone who is coachable.  It is a great insight to understand the roadblocks you may have in coaching someone or shine a light on why you may not be receiving coaching very well.

Lean implementers are leaders of change.  We struggle with change management and the human factor involved in wanting to change to new way to do something.  Here Steve talks about how to prepare people for change.

A characteristic of a good lean leader is the ability to keep learning.  In this post, Steve suggests that smart people are people that keep learning that is why they can do so many things.

I encourage you to read Steve’s blog.  There are a lot of subjects related to lean and leadership there.

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2011 – Squawk Point

I have the honor of participating in this year’s Blog Carnival Annual Blog Roundup.  The roundup is hosted by John Hunter at the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog.

Today’s blog, Squawk Point, is the first of three blogs I will review.  The blog is hosted by James Lawther.  James is a middle manager that has held many roles within operations.

James approached me earlier this year about his blog.  I am glad he did because I hadn’t seen it before.  James does a very nice job of making his points clearly and with some humor and great analogies.

The blog is split into three categories: Operations Analysis, Process Improvement and Employee Engagement.

Operations Analysis touches on subjects such as Statistical Process Control.  One example is knowing when things have changed.

In Process Improvement, James takes on topics like Man vs. Machine.  When is it alright to ask a machine to do something in place of a man or to ask a man to co something instead of a machine.

James tackles Employee Engagement issues.  A great post was about how to measure employee performance.

If you haven’t read Squawk Point, I encourage you to give it a try.