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Agile Retrospectives = Reflection

In an earlier post I mentioned the similarities in agile and lean from a problem solving perspective.  Lean and agile are also the same when it comes to the learning cycle.

One of the principles of lean that I have learned is Create a Learning Organization through Learn-Apply-Reflect.  This principle helps drive home the importance of reflection.  Many people and organizations do a great job of learning something new and then trying to apply it.  Where most people and organizations fail is forgetting to reflect.  The reflection step is where all the learning and applying comes together to understand how what was learned can best be applied in the organization.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should be kept?  What should be changed?

A sign an organization is doing this well, is the reflection is planned and not a reaction because something went wrong.  The reflection is part of the project plan and will is scheduled upfront with no agenda but to learn and improve.

Agile has a methodology and a term it uses for this reflection and learning.  It is retrospectives.

Agile uses planned retrospectives, usually once a week, to take a time out and gather the team to understand what is working and they should continue doing.  As well as what is not working and should be changed or thrown out.  It takes a monumental act to cancel a retrospective.  These retrospectives are ingrained in the methodology and help the agile teams continue to improve on their process and work.

This is a great of example of Lean-Apply-Reflect.  The agile team takes the learnings from the week, apply them and then have a planned reflection time a week later.  The agile methodology does a great job of fostering the principle of creating a learning organization.

Do you have any examples of planned reflection in your organization?


Four Most Influential Lean Books

Recently, I reviewed The Lean Turnaround by Art Byrne.  The book was excellent and really struck a cord with me.  So while writing the review, I paused for reflection about what are the lean books that have influenced me the most and why.  I came up with a distinct list of four books.  Below is the list in order that I read them and why it had such an impact on me.

  • The Toyota Way By Jeffrey Liker – This was the first book on lean that I read.  Of course, right?  It is the foundation of everything else.  All the principles clicked instantly with me.  The book showed me that others are doing it a better way.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean By Jamie Flinchbaugh & Andy Carlino – I read this book after learning and implementing lean for about 4 years.  The book took everything I had read from the internet and been implementing and organized it in a way that really made sense to me.  The principles allowed me to organize my thoughts and actions.  This allowed me to become a better coach/teacher/trainer.
  • Better Thinking, Better Results By Bob Emiliani – This book was a great case study of how you can transform every aspect of a company.  Not just manufacturing, but HR, Sales, and Finance.  It showed how using lean to become more efficient can free up cash to grow or pay down debt.  Great case study that really reinforced that lean can be done anywhere and should be.
  • The Lean Turnaround By Art Byrne – This book reinforces what I learned from “Better Thinking, Better Results” but Art also laid out actions to be taken to have a successful lean turnaround.  Art stresses and demonstrates the importance of having the top leadership engaged in the work and not just supporting the work.  It was the first book I read that is designed for executive leadership.

Deeper reflection leads me to recommend reading these books in this order for anyone that hasn’t read any of them.  It has a nice progression to understanding what lean is and what are some guiding principles to understanding how effective lean is when done throughout the entire organization and finally the need for executive leadership and how to lead a lean turnaround.

What lean/business books have influenced you?

Create Superheroes Through a Strong Process

It is amazing to me the amount of confidence a person can have of producing a successful outcome when they are supported by a strong process.

“A bad process beats good people” is a quote I picked up from Jamie Flinchbaugh and Any Carlino.

The point of the quote is to stress that even good people will fail within a bad process so design the process so it will repeatedly deliver good results.

Let’s look at the same thing but in a different way.

“A strong process turns good people into superheroes!”

When a strong, repeatable process is designed and followed it will instill confidence of the people using the process.  The more the people use the process and the more they see successful results the more confidence is built.  The person looks like a superhero because they are delivering on results time after time.  Confidence can build to a point of almost arrogance because they know they can deliver the results wanted if they follow the process.

This is true of kaizen events and problem solving as well as day-to-day work execution processes.

This does not mean a strong process can’t be improved because you can always make it stronger, but understand if you have a strong process and use it to your advantage.

Turn yourself into a superhero as well as others around you by developing a strong process for something you do and following it.

No More Lean Reading!

I have decided to try something different for 2012.  I am not going to read a single lean or leadership book for the entire year.  I read my first book on lean and/or leadership about 5 years ago.  The Hitchhker’s Guide to Lean by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino was a gift to me as I left one job for another.  Being the avid learner, I was hooked.  I kept reading more and more books on lean.   As I’m sure many of yours are, my completed reading list on lean and leadership is a mile long.

So why stop reading books on the subject this year?

Not because of burn out or because I want to stop learning.  On the contrary, I want to learn but by putting more of what I have read into practice.

I have used some of what I have read over the years when the time was right, but recently I seem to have read so much especially about leadership and lean that I am jumping from on thing to another without giving anything a serious try.  This year is going to be dedicated to trying to put some of what I have learned about into practice without diluting it with more information.

I plan on continuing to read blogs and non-fictional and a few fictional books this year, but my lean book reading will be on hold.

My learning is going to come from doing.  I will have to dig back through some of my books to refresh myself and I am looking forward to that.  I am looking forward to the challenge and seeing the results.

Is there anything from your past reading that you want to learn more about?

My Continuous Improvement: Reflection is Key to Learning

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

A few years ago, I took a class at the Lean Learning Center.  The class taught the lean principles as presented by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  One of the five principles is to “Create a Learning Organization Through Experimentation and Reflection.”  The point that resonated with me was the importance of reflection.  Without reflection, there can be no learning.  Reflection is the time when we take what we have learned and applied and decide how it has worked or not worked for our situation as an individual, group, or organization.  The difference isn’t reflecting after the fact, but planning the reflection in as part of the process.

It resonated so strongly with me that I block off one hour every Friday morning (or last day I work in the week) to reflect on the previous week.  I have been doing this for almost four years now.  There have been weeks when I have missed the reflection time, but that is OK.  It signaled that something was different.  It is such a habit for me that co-workers have stopped interrupting during my reflection time.  I look back at the work done over the last week and how to move forward the next week.  I make note of some of the challenges and mentalities I have encountered over the week so I can reference them if need be at a later date.

I still have room for improvement in how I reflect and the content to make it even more meaningful, but there is no doubt that doing this has helped me understand how I have handled different situations over the last few years.

It’s not the learning and doing that makes us better.  It is understanding how and why the learning and doing makes us better.

Want Things to Change? Then Give the Experiences.

This is my final post about things that really hit home with me during my second go ’round at the Lean Experience class that Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino, from the Lean Learning Center, put on at my company.

When discussing lean principles you naturally start to talk about behaviors to look for to understand if that principle is being followed or not.  The only way to get people to change their behavior is to change their beliefs (nothing religious just from a lean standpoint).  Such as a belief to manage by going and directly observing the work being done and not manage from behind a desk reading reports.

This makes a lot of sense.  The part that has always been missing is, how do we get them to change their beliefs?

That answer, as Jamie and Andy explained, is to give them the experiences demonstrating the new behaviors/beliefs and let them experience the difference.  In fact, the whole Lean Experience class is designed to set up and give experiences demonstrating the lean principles.  It starts the change process.  One experience does not change the belief.

While giving experiences may seem straight forward, it isn’t easy to remember to do.  This hit home because recently I completely abandoned this while trying to implement a kanban system for a component we use.  I have had multiple experiences of implementing a kanban, so I had the belief this was the right thing to do for our situation.  But some of our internal suppliers did not.  I got to a point of frustration that I told them to just do it and listen to me.  Well, I think we all know how that worked………not so good.  One of my partners kept building the kanban and did some compromising with the internal supplier and got the kanban up and running.  Over the last 2 months, a 20 year old problem that happened several times daily has only happened one time.  The internal supplier is ecstatic that we aren’t calling him all the time now begging for the components.

This is the internal supplier’s first experience he has been given with a kanban system.  He has now changed his view on it, but still isn’t all the way sold.  This is where we have to continue to give positive experiences to continue to change his beliefs.

As we continue to spread lean to more and more people, we have to remember to ask, “How do we give them the positive experiences?”

This concludes my reflections from the Lean Experience class.  Here are the links to all the reflections:

Solve Problems to the Generative Level

This is the second to last post about my reflection and learning from the Lean Experience class taught by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

On Wednesday morning, the class participated in the Beer Game.  It is a simulation showing the effects of processes on a system.  At the end all the teams had to chart their results.  A quick debrief showed how different teams used different strategies during the simulation.  The eye-opener was that all of the charts from the different teams showed the SAME pattern on every one of them.  That really struck me on how processes drive everything (something I have always believed but the example was powerful).

Jamie and Andy went into explaining their Iceberg model that is below.

As problem solvers we seem to talk a lot about being reactive versus proactive.  This is definitely better but we never seem to talk about problem solving to the generative level.  Jamie and Andy use the iceberg to show how we spend a lot of time reacting to what is happening now (fire fighting).  This is what we can see easily so it is shown sticking up above the water.

When we get below the surface, we start to see factors that are contributing to the results.  These factors create patterns and when we problem solve to fix the patterns is when we are being proactive.

Being proactive is good but it isn’t deep enough.  We need to solve a problem at the systems level so no matter what strategy we use we get the desired out come we are looking for (just like the Beer Game).  When we dig this deep and change the systems we are getting to the generative level.  This is the level that starts the generation of results we see at the top of the iceberg.

Lets look at a bearing going out on a machine as an example:

Reactive would be to wait until the bearing goes out and the machine shuts down to replace it.

Proactive would be to change the bearing before the machine shuts down when you notice a difference in the machine’s sound or it starts to vibrate.

Generative would be to understand how long the bearing typically lasts before it starts performing at a less then optimal level.  The have a maintenance program that replaces the bearing before it can even perform at a less than optimal level.

I know that I have done some of this problem solving in the past but I always looked at it as proactive.  I now have a new lens to look at it and ask better questions to make sure we are changing the system and not just addressing the pattern.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Systematic Waste Elimination

My three posts this week will be the final three posts about some of the deeper understanding I got from attending the Lean Experience class facilitated by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

One of the five principles of lean they talk about is Systematic Waste Elimination.  A common definition of lean out there is a eliminate waste from the process.  Jamie and Andy talk about the key word in the principle….Systematic.  I remember learning this three years ago, when I took the course the first time, but over time I have lost sight of it.  Not eliminating waste, but systematically eliminating waste.

By systematic, Jamie and Andy mean have a structure to do it in.  Don’t just go around talking about eliminating waste and expect people to just do it.  Have a mechanism for someone to identify and surface the waste.  Have a way for that person to go about eliminating (or reducing) the waste.  Give it structure and a repeatable process.

Being systematic about eliminating waste, will give the organization a better chance at sustaining the momentum when someone engages and eliminates waste in their work.  Having structure will allow successes to build upon one another.

I have seen structure put around waste elimination in manufacturing environments and even office environments such as order processing.  I thought about how we could put structure around identifying and eliminating waste in our central lean change agent group that I am a part of.  If we can’t do it in our own work, how can we expect others to do it?

Eliminating any waste, no matter how much, will add up and make things more productive.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Kaizen Events Are Work Arounds

This post is another in a series of reflections I have had after attending the Lean Experience class by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

For several years, I have have seen kaizen events as a tool.  It is a tool to help get people together to drive improvement or to help re-energize the employee engagement.  Some may mislead you and say that it is lean to do kaizen events.  It isn’t lean, but just another tool of lean.  Like any tool, you need to know when is the appropriate time to use it.  This was reinforced during the week.

The ‘a-ha’ moment I had is when Jamie described kaizen events as a work around for an organization that does not normally work cross functionally naturally.

In a company that is displaying lean behaviors, people in the organization would work together cross functionally naturally, without being “forced” through a kaizen event.  Another way to put it is the internal customer and supplier relationship has a strong bond so both are naturally considered and involved in the improvement process.

If this is the case, then in an organization that working across functional boundaries well, are kaizen events even needed?  Are companies that brag on the number of kaizen events, just really good at work arounds?  Is the ideal state to have no kaizen events (because of good cross functional work, not just stop doing them)?

If you look at it in this way, then it really pushes how we view the way work should be done.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

Andon – Subtle Difference Changes Mindset

Last week, I got a refresher and a deeper understanding the lean principles as presented by the Lean Learning Center.  One thing deeper understanding I got was around andon (or signals).  We started the week off by doing a case study around Toyota.  The case study introduces the andon system that is on the production lines at Toyota.

A quick overview of the system.  When an operator has an issue, any issue, they pull a cord at the line.  The cord sets off music and lights telling the team leader their is a problem.  The team leader responds immediately and asks, “What is the problem?  How can I help?”

The first time I took the class, 3 years ago, I learned to use sound with the lights.  In case the team leader wasn’t looking in the direction of the lights, the sound would tell them the problem.  I have used this thinking in the last three years to install a few andon systems.

For three years, I looked at sound and lights as a way to get the team leader’s attention.  Here is the subtle difference that I learned this time. Use the sound to alert the team leader of a problem and the lights to indicate where the problem is.

I know this is very subtle, but had I taking this understanding in the past, I would have implemented some andon systems differently.  In some cases, I did you sound and lights to alert and tell where, but that was purely by accident.  In some cases, I used sound and light just to alert and the the team leader had to find out where.  Having this small change to my understanding gives me a whole new perspective on signaling when there is a problem.  It allows me to put in systems with even less waste now.

I know this may seem small, but it has caused me to go back think about the small things and WHY I do them.  It has me questioning things I haven’t question in a long time or ever before.  It re-emphasized the importance of why.

As lean thinkers, implementers, teachers, and coaches we should always be thinking about the why and gaining a deeper understanding.