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Agile Is a Lean Work Cell

A common concept discussed with lean is setting up work in a value stream and not functional silos.  This means getting people from cross functional areas to sit and work together in a work cell.  An example would be someone from customer service, credit check and order writing all sitting together to make the work of order taking flow.

This allows for the handoffs to occur immediately and increased communication between the functions resulting in reduced lead time and better quality of work.

Agile is a great example of putting the work cell concept into action.

An agile software development team brings the business partner, software developers, data managers and quality assurance together in one room.  This allows for quick turnaround discussions when someone is stuck getting to a resolution quicker and moving the development along.

There are many other aspects to agile but the work cell is a instrumental component to allowing many of the other concepts and tools to work so well for an agile team.

Work cells are not just for the manufacturing floor.  They are applicable anywhere you need to bring cross functional teams together in order to drive a quicker more efficient process.

No PowerPoint. You’re Unprofessional!

Over the years I have continued to learn how to communicate better.  Through lean I have learned how to communicate more clearly using illustrations and eliminating the “other” information that isn’t necessary to get my story told.

One tool that has helped me communicate more clearly is the A3.  The limited space really focuses me on what is important to talk about.  Understanding waste, and not wanting to duplicate my work I use my A3s in during discussions with groups of people instead of creating a multiple slides in PowerPoint stating the same words.  If I need a drawing to support my discussion, I use a white board or chart pad to draw it out, because the drawings can take time to recreate in PowerPoint.

We are taught the A3 is a communication tool.  Don’t duplicate work.  The story is important and that is what needs to be communicated.

WARNING!!!!!  Know your culture and where you are in your lean journey at all times.

After the first few times of using A3s and chart pads to communicate within my current company, I was pulled aside by a couple of senior leaders and told that I come off as unprofessional and not prepared because I didn’t use PowerPoint.

Having no filter, I asked if it was better to spend three hours working on the issue or three hours putting together PowerPoint?  I also asked how I came off unprepared because I could answer any question they had about the issue?  Aside: you might consider how you are talking with before being that direct.

The point is, the leadership and culture at that time were not ready to be communicated with in that fashion.

If you are in a similar situation, I would recommend using slides as a supplement to the A3.  Yes, it would be overprocessing waste, but it is better then people not listening because of a format issue and having to rework everything.

Walmart’s Visual Management

There is a new Walmart being built near my house.  It is just a couple of weeks away from opening.  As I drove past, I noticed the lines for the parking spots were two different colors.  The lines for the spaces that are near the building are painted white.  The lines for the spaces away from the building are painted yellow.

I had my suspicions as to why and they have been confirmed.

The spaces painted that are away from the building are there to indicate where employees can park.  The white spaces are to be reserved for customers.

Auditing will only be effective if Walmart employees have some kind of sticker or indicator on their car.  Or do they trust their employees will do the right thing?

Either way, the visual communicates to the employee a message in a simple manner, “You are parked too close or you are not.”

Note: I tried to take a picture but couldn’t get at a good distance and elevation to show the parking lot effectively.

Model the Advantages of Using an A3

The A3 is a great communication tool.  It can help tell a story succinctly and clearly making it easier for people to understand your thought process.  An A3 will contain some background information, the current state, what the desired or future state is and an action plan to get there or measurements showing the success of the work.

Putting together an A3 can take some time.  It isn’t actually putting the A3 together as much as it is truly understanding the issue and stating it clearly and concisely.

When your manager doesn’t understand the time it takes to truly understand how to put together an A3 it can be frustrating.  As a lean learner, I encourage you to fight through that frustration and use the A3 to communicate with your manager or other managers.  Show them the power of tell a good story on an A3.

The A3 won’t be perfect, but this is OK.  If the others you are sharing it with understand your thinking then they can better add input.  This better input leads to quicker high agreement and quicker resolution.

Think of using an A3 correctly as taking your time to do something right the first time, like setting up a machine.  It may seem like it takes a long time but done right there isn’t as much rework because everyone understands quickly and you don’t have to have conversations over again because of the lack of understanding.  Just like the machine being set up right the first time and not having to make tweaks over and over.  In the long run, it is shorter to take your time upfront.

Eventually, others will see the benefits and the effects will spread.

Emotional Intelligence The Key To Sustaining Relationships

As agents of change, relationships become an important part of the work.  Without relationships it becomes very hard to influence others to change.  It seems very intuitive when you say it, but sometimes it is forgotten.

RelatinshipEQ_SkillsIQDuring a class that discusses the importance of having open and honest relationships, the graphic to the left was shown.

At the start, it is your knowledge and skills about the subject (Skills/IQ) that creates the foundation of the relationship.  If you prove to the person you know what you are doing, it creates a foundation of trust.

As the relationship progresses over time, it becomes less about your knowledge.  You have proven overtime the skills and knowledge to the other person.  Now it becomes about understanding the other person and what makes them tick (Emotional Intelligence/EQ).  Keeping the connection while still having open and honest conversations becomes the skill that helps create more and more influence as time moves forward.

I heard this and took the time to reflect on my own relationships.  I found this to be true.  My skills have gotten my “foot in the door” with people and then once my knowledge was established then it become about how I could connect with the person on a one-on-one level.

As you think about your relationships, do you find this to be true?  What are your thoughts?

Aligning Your Business

In today’s tough economic climate, it is even more important the work we do is aligned with the company’s goals and priorities.

As companies reduce headcount while still driving towards revenue growth, decisions have to be made about what are the top priorities for the company.  If you cannot strongly link your work to one of the company’s priorities then you should really question yourself and/or your manager about the validity of finishing that work.

Everyone in the company should know the priorities and should be asked to understand how their work is linked to achieving success on the priorities.

One good way to do this, is through strategy deployment.  This is process by which the priorities of the company are used to determine the priorities of the division and then those are tied to projects and/or initiatives for the current year.

In a good strategy deployment process, catchball is used to get input from the layer of management below.  This helps drive accountability and alignment throughout the organization.

If you cannot link your work to one of the projects/initiatives that is part of the strategy then you have to ask if it needs to be done.  Sometimes the answer may be ‘yes’.  An example might be updating your servers or you won’t be able to run some of your IT systems.  This may not be one of the priorities but it must be done in order to keep the business running.

It is good to capture the linkages on an A3 document and use that as your guide throughout the year.

It is amazing the power of alignment has on driving a company to achieving its top priorities.  Are you aligned?

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?

Dilbert Takes on Transformational Change

Scott Adams does a great job of nailing how typically organizations take on transformational change.

(click on image to enlarge)

Two concepts I see Scott Adams touch on here.  The first one is the idea of just speaking about transformational change will cause transformational change.  It isn’t enough to just talk about it or say it.  It is very hard work to create transformational change.

Which leads into the second concept shown.  Transformational change does not have to be bad or painful on people..causing us to want to hurl.  It can be good and as management we need to convey a clear message and show actions that back that message up.  We have to consider how people process change differently and create change plans with that in mind.

If all else fails….just show them this cartoon.

Confronting Leaders About Their Decisions

How is the culture in your organization when it comes to confronting upper management about decisions or direction that may hurt the company?  Does your culture allow employees to push back on upper management about a decision?  Or does your culture shy away from pushing back afraid the manager will get angry or upset and hold it against them for bringing it up?

We can’t allow our cultures to be afraid to bring up decisions that may be costing the company money.  We have to have the fortitude to raise the question and challenge it appropriately.  I’m not suggesting to confront leadership with every decision or to do it in an emotional way because you have passion about the decision.

There is a proper way to raise an issue.

  1. Understand the Current State – Understand what the decision was and how it is understood to help the organization (grow revenue, cut cost,etc…).  List the ways the decision is affecting the organization in a negative manner (Causing cost in another area).
  2. Gather the Facts – Once you have the list of the benefits and negative impacts you need to quantify them.  How much revenue is the decision actually generating?  How much cost are we saving?  What is the cost in the area being impacted negatively?  How much rework is the decision causing?
  3. Make a Recommendation – If you believe a decision is not what is best for the organization then that suggests you have an idea of what would be better.  What is the recommendation you have?  Quantify what you believe the results would be?  Why do you believe that?
  4. Get Your Ducks in a Row – Think of different angles upper management could take.  What are the facts around those options?  Would they say, “Become more efficient in the other are.”?  If so, how would you become more efficient?  What would it cost to implement the efficient way?  What would be the savings?  When would it pay back?
  5. Present Your Case – Set up a meeting with necessary people and present your findings.  Do it in a business-like manner and stick to the facts.  Don’t let emotion control the discussion.

I have found over the years that approaching situations in this manner usually brings out a great discussion and upper management respects the way you handled the situation.

Nobody likes to be lectured about how the decision they made was wrong.  It can be disrespectful.  Show them it isn’t emotional.  It is factual.  A lot of times they may not have known what their decision was doing to another area or that it was actually costing the company money looking end-to-end.

I have approached different leaders in this manner several times over the years and all but one case the leader changed their decision once they saw the facts.  The other time they still stuck with their decision which was their choice since they were the leader and the decision maker but at least the facts were presented.

How does your organization handle situations like this?

RACI can Clarify Your Process Decisions

An often overlooked aspect of designing a process is defining the who the decision maker is for directional decisions.  When it is not clearly defined as to who has the final say then a lot of waste occurs.  Decisions are made by the wrong people that can cause rework later in process.  Confusion can occur as to who someone should go to for a decision causing delays or decision not to even be made.

A common tool I have been using for the last couple of years is RACI.  Catchy isn’t it.

R – Responsible – This is the person who does the work.  Responsible for taking action.

A – Accountable – This is the final decision maker.  The “buck stops here” with this person.  They own the work or project and have power of the veto.

C – Consult – This is someone who is asked to give input to the action/decision.

I – Inform – These are the people that are notified of what is being decision has been made or action will be taken.

An example would be product development.

R – Designers are Responsible for creating the product.

A – Product VP would be Accountable for deciding the product will meet the consumer needs.

C – Finance and Manufacturing Consult on what is cost and manufacturing feasible for the new product design.

I – Distribution and Sales are Informed of the new product and when it will be ready.

It is amazing at the efficiency a process can gain by defining and documenting the RACI for decisions and actions that are executed in a process.

Have you clearly defined your RACI?

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