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Who is Your Real Customer?

Lean is focuses on adding value for the customer.  But, who is your real customer?

Many groups will talk about supporting another group within the organization.  The focus is on making the internal customer happy.  Delivering what they need and want.

Internal customers are important.  As a supplier, the focus should be on delivering what the internal customer wants.  But, they are not your real customer.  The real customer is still the end user or the consumer of the organizations product or service.  That never changes.

Even if a group never touches the value added processes making the product or service, the group should be focused on the end customer.  As the group works with the internal customer, questions should be asked if what the internal customer needs/wants lines up with adding value for the end customer.

Common thought is it’s not the support group’s job or position to ask because the internal customer group is assumed to already know what is being asked for is adding value.

Amazon.  Zappos.  Danaher.  Safelite.  Organizations that have figured out it is EVERYBODY’s job to focus and ask questions about what adds value to the end customer have a significant competitive advantage.

Problem Statement…Got One?

Defining the problem well is a very important step in solving any problem.  Yet, in coaching problem solving, problem statements are very rarely written well or even understood.

There are five components to a well written problem statement:

  1. What is under performing?
  2. What is the actual performance?
  3. What is the needed performance?
  4. Why does this need to be addressed?
  5. What will be affected by solving this? (Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost, Morale)

Example: Number of critical software issues in testing was 13 and needs to be at 0 because the software can not be released until the critical issues are resolved which delays the cost savings and increased revenue of using the new software.

(Color coded to show the components of the problem statement).

There is a clear understanding of what is wrong, where the performance needs to be and why it is important.

As a team works on solving this problem, they can always bounce their root cause and potential countermeasure against this statement to see if they are delivering on what is important.  The team always knows how they are affecting the business (reducing cost and increasing revenue).

“The software has too many issues to release,” is not a good problem statement.  What kind of issues?  How many?  What are the repercussions of the issues?

This is the type of statement that I see way too often.  As you can see, there are too many questions to get a clear understanding of the problem.

A well written problem statement will get a solid problem solving process started on the right foot.

 

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.

Inspiration Update

In January, I posted a blog titled “Create Inspiration“.  In that post I stated a goal for myself.

I want to post 51 blogs in 2016, so I am going to use Seth’s example and every day until the end of February I am writing a topic in my notebook.  Some may never get written about.  Others will end up here on Beyond Lean.

The experiment has worked.  Here are the results:

  • I wrote an idea down on 17 of the 21 working days in February.
  • I documented 25 topic ideas
  • Every post since the start of February has come from that inspiration list

I still have room for improvement.  I didn’t get an idea added everyday, which was my goal.  I could also increase the average ideas/day.

There is a well wish people give to others sometimes, “I hope inspiration finds you.”

Don’t wish for inspiration to find you.  Go find inspiration!

Try Q-Storming Instead of Brainstorming

Have you ever been stuck on a project?  Don’t know where to go?  Looking for ideas?

A common tool people will use in groups to help with get things moving will be to brainstorm.  The problem with brainstorming is it helps people converge on a particular answer.

People will put up any and all ideas they have already thought about.  Then ideas are voted on to narrow the field.  When finished the group ends up with a handful or less of ideas from the person with the strongest voice in the room.  Typically, these ideas are along the lines of the current direction of the work.

What if you don’t want to limit yourself in your thinking?  Come up with idea(s) that haven’t been thought of yet.

Have you tried Q-storming?  Instead of ideas, think of as many questions as the group come up with.  In a recent exercise, the group came up with over 30 questions about the work to be done.

It caused the group to dig in more and find answers to some very good questions.  The door was opened to several different ways to attach the problem.  Some of which were not even on the radar before the q-storming.  The team was able to shatter some assumptions.  Allowing them to work in a new way.  It was very freeing.

If you want your thinking to diverge from norm then try Q-storming.  Or if you have a need to converge your thinking use brainstorming.

Collaboration Does NOT Equal Consensus

Two words that seemed to get interchanged in business are consensus and collaboration.  These words are not the same.  Definitions pulled from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Consensus: a general agreement about something : an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group

Collaboration: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

Consensus means getting everyone to agree.  This is what happens when a jury goes to deliberate on a case.  They must come to a consensus or it is a hung jury.

Collaboration is working together towards a common goal.

People can work together towards a common goal without agreeing on the method.

In today’s world, collaboration is a must for much of what people do.  People must work together to understand a customer’s needs and then develop and manufacture that product.  If consensus had to happen before any work was started, work would never get completed.

Have you ever worked on a team where someone tried to get consensus before moving on?  It can be painstaking.  Especially, when there are varying opinions.  This is where a leader steps in and makes decisions that sometimes are very tough.

Good leaders know the difference between collaboration and consensus.  They know when consensus is important and when it is not needed.

Do you interchange the two?

What Experiences Are You Giving Your Employees?

People behave based on their experiences at work and in life.  If a person has been mistreated by someone close to them, it may be hard for them to trust others.  If a person is being told how valuable they are to the company, then people may have a positive attitude when going to work.

I worked with a group a few years ago during an improvement event that had bad experiences with past managers on trying new things.  The team had no problem identifying a lot of great improvement ideas.  When I said it was time to start working on implementing them, they sat and stared at me with confused looks.

The team refused.  Thy said it was not their place.  The manager would not allow it.  After five minutes of discussion and no progress, I called the manager into the improvement event.

I asked him, in front of the team, if it was alright if the team tried the suggested improvements.  The manager said, “Absolutely.  We can test anything the team believed would help.”

It still took a few minutes to convince the team, but in the end they made the improvements and started becoming more engaged.

The team had so many bad experiences they were guarded and didn’t trust the new manager.  The team finally got a new, positive experience and mindsets slowly began to change.

What experiences are you giving your employees?  Are they experiences to exhibit the behavior you want to see out of them?

Want More Productivity? Focus on the Whole

Ever been a part of a meeting after the meeting?  Have you tried to keep resources you had to yourself because later you know need them but now you don’t?  Are you concerned more with how your group does rather than the whole division or company?  Only take care of your own.

These things are hard to avoid and happen quite often.  In fact, we may not even think about them as it happens, but we should.  These things affect the productivity of individuals, teams and the company.

How can these productivity killers be avoided?  Through alignment and establishing high agreement of both the what and the how.

The previous post discussed establishing a true north or purpose.  Communicate this purpose repeatedly.  When everyone knows what will be said before it is said, it is a good indicator it is been communicated frequently.

Also, establish high agreement on both the what will be done and how it will be done.  Most organizations do a good job of agreeing on what must be done: Reduce lead time by 25%; Implement software X by January 1st; or Increase quality by 40%.

What most forget to is come to agreement on how those goals will be reached.  Who will be accountable for certain projects?  How do we prioritize for shared resources?  When will a project start/end?  And the list goes on.

When there is alignment and high agreement on both the what and how then productivity increases.  Meetings after the meetings are reduced.  A manager doesn’t want to horde his resources because he knows he will get them when he needs them.  And everyone starts to work for the goals of the company AS a company, not individual departments.

What Direction Are You Heading?

It’s really hard to get anywhere if you don’t know where you are heading.

Every organization needs a direction.  A true north.

True north is why the organization exists.  It is it’s purpose.  When everyone in the organization understands aligns to that purpose it becomes very powerful.  Everyone pulling towards that true north creates better, faster results.

A true north is not something that changes annually or  even every few years.  A good true north is something that doesn’t change for 20 or more years.  The graphic below is from Joe Murli.  It shows how true north guides your business.

TrueNorthPyramid

To develop a true north, the organization has to understand what and how it’s customers, employees, investors and community view the organization.

Ask, “What do we aspire to be that will differentiate us in the marketplace?”

That marketplace could be the consumers or it could be another internal department that is served.

Is everyone in your organization heading in the same direction?  What is your true north?

Examples:

Toyota: Deliver the highest quality, lowest cost automobile in the safest manner while demonstrating respect for people and society.

Internal department of a company from my past: Internal manufacturing is the supplier of choice for product A and product B.

 

The Most Important Lean Tool

Your eyes.  Plain and simple.  Without them you can’t go and see what is actually happening.

There are stories about Taiichi Ohno leaving engineers in a circle for hours to observe the process.  The engineer was to discover the waste in the process.  What was not creating value?  Then address it.

Organizations have instituted a policy stating that a person can’t talk about a problem unless they have seen it.  The goal is to get everyone to understand what actually is the problem and not what they hear is the problem or jump to solutions.

A person can walk out their doors and onto the production floor in order to observe what is happening.  But observation may not always be easy.  What if it is an order entry person that does all their work in a computer?  Sit with that person and actually watch them enter orders.  Ask questions.  Use tools like process or value stream maps to create a visual of the work to see.

Even leadership work can be made visible in order to observe what is actually happening.  I put my scheduled on a white board so the area could see when I was going to be there to look for waste.  Every Tuesday at 2:30.  If I didn’t show up, people knew it and asked about it.

Are you using your most important lean tool as often as you should?

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