Blog Archives

Setting Objectives with Goals

As the year comes to an end, companies and organizations start to evaluate how they performed for the year and what they need to do to make next year better.

The planning for the new year starts with objectives.  What is it the company needs to do to be successful in the upcoming year?  Reduce costs. Increase sales.  Bring new products to market.

Objectives are only half of the work though.  Too often, I see companies set objectives above but never publish a goal for the objective.

Can I reduce costs by $1 and be successful?  $100 million?  What?

How much do I need to grow sales?  What part of the company’s market needs to grow in sales?

How many new products need to hit the market?  How much revenue to new products need to generate?

Without answers to these questions how are people suppose to know if they are being aggressive enough during the year?  Maybe we only need to reduce costs by 5% or maybe it is 25%.  The answer to this question will inform how you go about reducing costs, growing revenue or bring new product to market.

As leaders, we need to set goals/targets for each objective.  Then we need to give updates during the year to understand how we are progressing towards these objectives.

These isn’t new or earth shattering.  But it is something I see quite a few companies neglect.

What are your objectives for next year?  What is your goal for that objective?

Getting Lean Buy-In

A few weeks ago Industry Week published a great article by Jamie Flinchbaugh entitled “Securing the Elusive Lean Buy-In.”  I wanted to build upon his article.

Jamie’s first strategy was “Treat them like an customer, not an opponent.”

He couldn’t be more right with this one.  When meeting with an executive or anyone you are trying to get lean buy-in from it is important to view them as a customer.  Ask them what their needs are?  What are some issues they are having?  Use lean as a way to help them resolve their issue.  Work with the person so they see the benefits from a customer’s point of view.  Once people see the benefits they usually become supporters and give the buy-in.

The next strategy was “Have a multistep strategy.”

This ties in with the first strategy of viewing the person as a customer and not an opponent.  Ask yourself, “What does my customer need to understand what I am talking about?”  Part of that strategy can be to show results through solving a problem for them.  While solving the problem look at taking them on a benchmark trip to see something that relates to the problem but will expose them to other aspects of lean.  Let the person see how other leaders are using lean and let them get the questions answered that they want answered from another point of view.  Inject teaching about how you are solving the problem using lean so the person starts to understand how you are using lean in their world.

You may have one central approach where you are injecting other approaches to make it seem like you aren’t attacking them from a hundred directions.  When learning something new teach it 7 ways, 7 times.

The third strategy was “Overcome the valid “no.””

Jamie is right.  There is a valid concern or baggage that causes someone to say no.  It is our job to dig deep and find what the issue.  It is natural for people to be resistant to change.  A lean transformation is a change.  We should be aware of their concerns and try to help them through it.

The last strategy mentioned was “Call in reinforcements.”

This can be a difficult thing to do.  This does mean being able to have the humility to know when you need help getting the buy-in.  This does not take away from you as an individual.  In fact, it shows more character, strength and security.  I have called in consultants to help reach executives or peers to reach people because there was a better relationship there.  To get buy-in at an executive level, I had to get a director to agree to meet with a consultant.  Then work with that consultant for a year before starting to talk about getting the consultant to work with executives.  It took over two years to get there but it is happening.  It takes patience and others to help sometimes.

I’m sure there are other strategies to gaining buy-in, but these really rang true to me as I read them.  What are your thoughts?

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?

Guest Post: Lean and Guitar Building

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.  His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla. 

Every now and then, you find someone singing the praises of Lean in a place you’d least expect them.  That happened to me last week.

I was reading called “Guitar Lessons” by Bob Taylor.  Taylor is the co-owner and for a long time main guitar builder and designer for the company that bears his name, Taylor Guitars.  The book is partially an autobiography but more so a history of the 35 plus year old guitar company.  I was reading along about the early days of the company when I hit a passage on page 84 that nearly knocked me out of my chair.  Here’s an excerpt in his words describing a conversation that he had with another luthier, Augie Loprinzi:

    “We were talking about production flow and the fact that I was having difficulty getting my guitars done on time.  He explained how he made his guitars ‘one at a time’, so to speak. In other words, every day he’d set up the jigs and make the parts he needed for that guitar that day.  I argued with him that it was more efficient to set up the jigs once and make all the parts for a batch at a time-heck, even to make enough for six months.  I told him how we made our guitars 10 or 12 at a time to take advantage of the setup times.  He cross-examined me and got me to admit that we never actually finished those batches of guitars on time….

“Augie asked me, “Bob, which would you rather have, one done guitar or 10 half done guitars?”

“It only took a moment for me to get the idea….I immediately recognized this as being a way to help solve everything from cash flow to training new craftsmen.  I would be able to go home and make guitars every day rather than every week.  This became the backbone of the production at Taylor Guitars.”

He goes on to add:

    “Everyone is exposed to some truth, some solution to the puzzle, some overarching concept that could change their working lives, or some idea that they could make their own in order to drive a lifetime of fruitful work habits and improvements.  That is the role this particular principle assumed in my life.  Since then, I’ve had other guitar shop owners ask for advice and I tell them about this, but I haven’t seen anyone take the bait.”

My favorite part is the timing of this conversation…it took place in 1978.  At the time, Taylor was making on average 8 guitars a week.  Taylor refers to the importance of Lean several times (he actually uses the term, although more as a common language point than a technical one), as being critical to their survival and growth to now producing 900 guitars a day in two factories.

I wanted to re-tell his example for a couple of reasons.  First is that it can give us all another example of a company that has adopted Lean to help it survive and grow and become something bigger than it may have ever become without it.  The second reason is that it helps provide a simple reminder of what a Lean mentality should do for us…help us find better ways to do what we do so we can keep doing it.  For academics who want to debate which is the correct 9th waste, the information won’t be satisfying.  But for the more pragmatic, it’s a nice reminder of the value of Lean and the magic of the moment that it became the truth that changed their working lives.

Are you McDonald’s or Burger King?

In any industry two companies can produce the same product but have very different strategies.  The fast food industry is a good place to see this at work.  McDonald’s and Burger King both make hamburgers, but their strategies are completely different.

McDonald’s takes the approach that you can have right off the shelf product.  If you want a double cheeseburger, it comes with onions, ketchup, mustard, and pickle.  If you want anything different you have to wait.  Because of this strategy they hold inventory in the finished goods state.

Burger King, on the other hand, has a strategy of “Have it your way, right away.”  This means they are into customization.  They will only put on the double cheeseburger what you tell them.  Each customer is unique in what they may want.  With this type of strategy they hold very little in finished goods inventory and more in the WIP inventory.

Neither strategy is better than the other.  Both have positives (McDonald’s is a little quicker if you don’t want special order, Burger King is more flexible) and both have negatives (McDonald’s not as flexible, Burger King not as quick).  The point is to understand what is your business strategy and select the inventory solution that best fits your strategy.  Don’t try to force the McDonald’s model of inventory if your business strategy is like Burger King or vice versa.

So which are you McDonald’s or Burger King or Neither?


Pointy-Haired Boss’ Budget Strategy

I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day.  It’s a good day to enjoy the weather and company of family and friends.

Memorial Day is a good day to lighten up the mood a bit on the blog.  This is a quick video of how Dilbert’s wonderful boss proposes to handle a situation we hate…………budget balancing.

As funny as this cartoon is, it is something too many people really experience.


EPA using Lean to go Green

I was shocked, but happy when I read the EPA is trying to educate businesses on lean principles in order to help improve efficiency resulting in a better environment.   The interview is with George Wyeth, a professor at Lawrence University who leads the innovation efforts with the EPA.

From the interview with Mr. Wyeth:

Lean manufacturing is really a business strategy, not an environmental strategy.

Mr. Wyeth recognizes lean as more than a set of tools to get a greener world, but a business strategy that can help companies reduce waste resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.  It sounds like they are trying to educate on the how (lean principles) in order to get the what (cleaner environment) that is wanted.

Lean, because it focuses on the elimination of waste, has a lot in common with what we call pollution prevention, which we’ve been preaching for 20, 25 years. As companies focused on eliminating waste, we realized they were doing pollution prevention and didn’t even know it.

It is refreshing to see someone recognize the synergies between lean and green.  How they are intertwined with each other.  When I worked in the auto industry in the early 2000’s, we knew we had to control our costs better.  One way was to use the water from our painting and electroplating lines more efficiently and what we was excess we needed to recycle back through the system.  This was before the green movement become so overwhelmingly popular.  We spent quite a bit of money to implement the system but it paid itself back in less then a year in not only water savings, but also less cost to cleanse the water before disposing it in the city drain.

From the article:

We thought that presented an opportunity for us to take the message we’ve been preaching for a long time and presenting it in a way that would be better understood and be more easily incorporated into the business, so it’s not seen as, here’s the government with a hammer forcing you to do something.

The EPA knows they are a regulatory agency.  Unfortunately, the perception is very similar to the cost versus quality perception.  You can’t have both.  It is either one or the other………..regulatory compliance or low cost.  The EPA wants to educate that you can have both and using lean principles is a way to get both.  WOW!!!  Cost, Quality, and Low carbon footprint………you can have them all?!  Who would have ever thought?

Companies must be interested in how lean can help with the environment:

We get a lot of hits on our website on lean manufacturing materials, and there’s a lot of interest from people who want to talk to us.

I am glad to see the EPA has lean materials on their website. Not only about lean and the environment but also lean and government.  Is this a way to get more people interested in lean principles and how it can help their business?  I hope the EPA continues to help companies see the benefits.  They could be another outlet to reinforce the lean message.