Category Archives: Improvement

Rating Yourself Is Important to Growth

Personal improvement is important.  It shows others a person is will to take a hard look at themselves and hold themselves accountable for their actions.

When others see a person doing this it can cause them to take action to improve.  This is what happened with me.

I saw my colleague rating herself on skills she wanted to improve every day.  I asked her how she was going about the work.  It led to a good discussion and me taking action.

Here is a simple way to do it.

Personal_Rating

Understand what skills you want to improve and then create a  daily chart.  At the end of each day take a couple of minutes to rate yourself based on a predetermined rating system.

Even if you don’t do anything to improve the skill that day, it will be top of mind everyday as you rate yourself.  Pretty soon you will be noticing you haven’t done anything on a skill.  Then you will start thinking about it during the day.  You become more conscious of when to apply the skill you are working on.

Before you know it, the skill will become second nature.

Always Keep the Door Open

Opportunities seem to present themselves when you least expect it.  Not when you are trying to seek out an opportunity.

That is why it is important to keep as many doors open.  It increases the possibility of an opportunity.

Network with people in new areas.  This can open the door for a career opportunity.  Or the opportunity for you or your team to do work in a new area, highlighting the capabilities your and your team bring to the organization.

The best way to know if you have an interest in something is to try it.  Taking job assignments in new areas on a trial basis or working on a project in a new area can lead to finding new passions and interests.

None of this is possible with an opportunity from a relationship or doorway you have kept open.

How many doorways do you have open?

It’s Not Always About the Big Improvement

With any improvement philosophy, people always want the BIG improvement.  When there are none to be had a re-organization or a shift in direction is implemented.  This may work for a short period of time, but eventually the results normalize back to their old levels.

A uniqueness with lean is creating a focus on getting better each day.  Even it if is just a second or two better.  Saving 1 second each day while maintaining the savings from the previous day will yield 8.7 hrs of savings after a work year.  What would you do with a full extra day of capacity?

Paul Akers has called this 2 second lean.  It is extremely powerful.

Focusing on small improvements means focusing on what bothers you and your customer and fixing it.  It could be as simple as always having to search for a stapler when doing paperwork.  Or moving the placement location of a label.  This saved a group I worked with 1 second per label…we timed it.  Over the course of the year, that was a savings of over 30 hours for the team!

People don’t like to focus on small changes because it isn’t “sexy”.  Guess what?  Sexy falls apart quickly and usually has no substance.

Build lasting change a little at a time.  It takes patience and understanding but two years from now you will have better actual results than people chasing only the “big” improvements that never get completed.

Ahhhhhh…Sustainment

As a person helping others implement lean, there is no better feeling than knowing things have been sustained and benefits gained.

I recently had a walk through with a team I have been working with for 10 months.  The most rewarding part of the walk was seeing that 90% of the things we have talked about and the team implemented has not faltered. 5S to daily metrics to visual management.  It all has sustained.

What is different about here vs other places I have been?

1. The leadership commitment.  The managers have been involved and leading the effort.  Not supporting the effort.  This does not mean they are making all the decisions and doing all the work.  They are getting people involved and auditing to make sure the improvements are sticking.

2. Leadership is involving the employees.  Leadership is asking what improvements the employees need and what they feel is most important.  Then clearing a path so the employees can help make those improvements.  Showing the employees their ideas and thoughts do matter.

3. Leadership is hungry to learn and improve.  The leadership wants to understand more and learn themselves.  They do not think lean is for “someone else to do.”

It sounds simple, but if it was everyone would be doing it and doing it well.

How are you sustaining your lean improvements?

Lean at Home…by My Nine-Year-Old Son

The other day my son came up with a great improvement at home.  It saves only a few seconds but it is in the true spirit of continuous improvement and kaizen.

A few weeks ago, I bought a DVD player with WiFi and the internet apps to watch through Amazon, Netflix, MLB.TV, etc…  I set it up so it is plugged into Input 2.  Our cable is plugged into Input 1.

Over the first few weeks of using the new DVD player we have found that if when you turn on the DVD player it automatically switches the TV to Input 2 without hitting any other buttons.

My TV has a total of 8 inputs.

That led my son to ask if we could switch the cable and the DVD inputs.  When I asked why?  This was the response he gave me, “Because it makes the easier.  When I turn on the DVD player it switches to Input 2 automatically but when I turn it off I have to hit the input button seven times to get the TV back to Input 1.  If we switch them then I only have to hit the button once to get to the TV when I am done with the DVD player.”

HOLY SMOKES!  That is simple and easy to change.  It is the true spirit of kaizen.  Keep make small improvements and they will add up.  Yes.  This was for watching TV, but it is such a great example.

How are you making small changes to improve?

Always Be Improving

“If it’s not improving, it’s degrading”
— Toyota

This is a quote that I found a few years ago from someone at Toyota. I find this to be a very powerful quote.

The quote implies there is no status quo. As an organization, a process or a person, you are either improving or degrading.

Some will make the argument that their metrics are holding steady and haven’t moved; therefore, they are holding in a constant state or in status quo. And that may be true, but while you are holding there are others that are improving. This is degrading your status.

A great example of this is GM. The maintained what they were doing for years, while Toyota kept improving, slowly degrading GM’s status over time until Toyota passed them.

We should be working to improve at all times. Being satisfied with where we are at does nothing but cause problems down the road.

How are you pushing to improve everyday? Every year?

Jumpping to Improvement

I have talked in the past about the importance of direct observation.  The power in seeing the waste for yourself.  It really shines a light on what is really happening and it also is the best way for a person to continue to learn.

The question is,  “What do you do with those observations?”

Most often, I see people run out and try to eliminate or reduce the waste or even assign it to someone else to do.  While not entirely a bad thing, if you are trying to instill a lean culture don’t just jump to trying to improve.

Stop and reflect about what you are trying to do as an organization and use the waste you saw as a way to further the lean culture.

Most organizations I have seen do not have a systematic way to eliminate waste.  Usually, this is because waste is one of the first things people learn about lean.  What happens is people just go out and attack waste (again not a bad thing) without any direction.

If your organization is early on in trying to implement a lean culture, think about how you can make the waste elimination systematic.

Is this a good way to engage employees in a kaizen event to start to build trust?  Could be an easy win for everyone.

Should an improvement board to post the waste seen and how it is detracting a better option?  Use the waste you saw as an example of how to use the board and go and eliminate it yourself or with the help of others, but be involved.

If you observed multiple areas, do you want to concentrate in one department?  Make it a model for others in the organization.

Think about how you can make the waste elimination sustainable and systematic.  This will benefit you and the organization in the long run.

My Continuous Improvement: Personal Kanban – 4th Revision FAILED!

A couple of years ago, I read a blog post by Tim McMahon about his experience with using personal kanban to manage his work.  It inspired me to try my own.  The first one didn’t work as I mention here.

Then I tried again.  I had great success with the 2nd board.  I used it for a year and a half.

With a new role where I have multiple desks, I am constantly in different areas of the building.  I may not be back to my desk for several days or even a couple of weeks.  I wasn’t able to keep my board up and I had work to do written in several places.

I wanted to find an electronic kanban that would work for me.  I found one that worked well.  It was a computer only board.  I explain it more in this post here.

This new electronic kanban work well.  I could take a note or email myself on my phone with what needed to be on it and then transfer it when I got to my computer.  If I had my computer with my, I just added right then.

As a person always looking to eliminate waste, you can see where there was waste in emailing myself and then re-typing it for the kanban board.  A friend of mine recommended Trello for me to try.  It was web-based.  I was able to download an app to my phone which I could open and enter the work and not send myself emails to re-enter.

Everything looked great so I gave it a try for the last 3 months of last year.

It wasn’t hard to use.  It had plenty of features and it was setup very similar to the electronic kanban I was using.  For some reason, I couldn’t get the flow of it.  Trello was not working for me.  I tried for three months and I couldn’t get into the flow of using it and making my life easier to manage.

I have no idea why it didn’t click with me but it was a disaster.  I forgot some things that needed to be done.  I felt disorganized and stressed.

So, to start 2014 I am going back to my electronic kanban board on my computer and not using Trello.  I already feel more organized and less stressed since I switched back.

I’m not dismissing Trello yet.  I need to reflect as to why it wasn’t working for me.  Was it something truly with Trello?  Or did it have something to do with the enormous project I was on and I just couldn’t keep up with trying something new at the same time?

The important thing is to understand what was happening because maybe Trello can work for me and help me reduce my waste in maintaining my kanban board.

Learning is important and not just living with a change because we need to change.  The change needs to be given a fair chance and if it is failing then you can’t be scared to change back if necessary.

Does anyone else have any experiences with a change that totally failed?

Leading Lean – Apply Lean to Your Work

Last week, I mentioned that I would talk more about the lean forum I attended.  The theme of the forum was leading lean.  Several speakers presented and they all did a fantastic job.  One of the speakers was Jamie Flinchbaugh of the Lean Learning Center.  Jamie outlined five leadership moves that demonstrate lean leadership.

  1. Leaders Must Be Teachers
  1. Build Tension, Not Stress
  1. Eliminate Both Fear and Comfort
  1. Actively Engage, Don’t Just Delegate
  1. Apply Lean to Your Work

Over the next few posts, I thought I would share the message and how I personally have exhibited the behavior positively and negatively, because we all must learn from our mistakes.

Apply Lean to Your Work

As leaders it isn’t good enough to just talk about lean and how it can apply elsewhere.  Leaders apply lean thinking to their own work in order to help themselves improve continuously.  Structuring the day or week using standard work and learning ways to eliminate waste from their own work show a commitment to lean and how it can apply to anyone doing any kind of work.

Applying lean to my own work has helped me grow as a lean leader and gain credibility over the years.  I had standard work that I followed when I was working in the manufacturing facilities that called for dedicated observation or waste walk time.  This really allowed me to understand what work I was falling short in and make corrections.

Also, I have standard work for how I conduct lean improvement (kaizen) events.  I have it down to the minute for each section.  Because of this, I have been able to try new techniques to see if they allow me to reduce the time for a given section without sacrificing the quality of the event.

The biggest change was seven years ago when I added 45 minutes every Friday morning to reflect on my week.  This has helped me better understand things I have tried and why they worked or didn’t work.  Adding planned reflection time every week is probably the single most important thing I have done to learn.

With all the positives, I still don’t have standard work that I use for the week in an office environment.  This has caused me to not be as effective in high work volume times.  I have gotten so busy at times that I haven’t taken the time to reflect and improve.  We should always create time to reflect and improve so during the next heavy workload maybe it isn’t so stressful.

There are plenty of opportunities to apply lean to our own work.  We just have to take the time to do it as leaders.

How are you applying lean to your work?

Lean Leadership Example

Last week, I attended a lean forum with speakers and breakout sessions.  It was done very well.  I was very excited that I was able to attend.

One of the speakers was a General Manager at a distribution center.  She told the story of how lean has evolved at her facility and where it stands now.

When listening to transformation stories I try to listen for a few different things to see if they are really getting it or just going through the motions and implementing tools.

I will say her story, I haven’t directly observed, is a very promising and exciting story.  I believe they are doing things right and well.  There were two bits of evidence that lead me to believe this.

First of all, she is holding the staff, managers and all employees accountable for learning about lean and taking action.  Not a lean group or a someone else.  Herself and everyone around her.  In fact, they integrated the lean staff into manger roles and no longer have that crutch to lean on.

There were stories of the General Manger’s own learning and changes.  How getting dissolving the lean group but expecting better results helped make everyone accountable.

While dissolving the lean group worked for her and her facility don’t go do this just to remove the crutch.  This General Manager was a true believer in what lean could do for her and she partnered with other local companies that were doing lean very well.  She had a support system but it was one that held her accountable for leading lean.  Not supporting it.

The second piece of evidence was a video she showed of a great employee driven improvement.  Great it was employee driven, but what really stuck with me was the General Manager promoting the small improvement.  It was about a five to ten second improvement in a manually process.  This one small improvement was going to save $40,000 in a $19 million target she was going after.

Most people look for the BIG improvement to get the whole chunk at once.  They don’t understand the large gap is made of hundreds of small problems.  They don’t have the patience to go after the small problems.  This General Manger understood this concept.  It was very refreshing to see.

The facility still has a long way to go, but they are traveling down the right path and that was invigorating.

I will share more from the forum at a later time.

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