Blog Archives

Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2012 – My Flexible Pencil

At the end of the year, John Hunter does a great job of facilitating an annual roundup of business and lean blogs at Curious Cat Management.  The roundup is a review of blogs by other bloggers.  This year I have the honor of participating in the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.


A couple of years ago, I met David Kasprzak through blogging.  David is a professional that has worked in large companies throughout his career and recently finished his MBA.  During this time he started his blog, My Flexible Pencil.

David covers a wide range of topics.  He discusses observations of business he has from being with his family, like how helping his son pick something out for show-n-tell was a lesson in teaching people how to develop answers not directing them towards an answer.

David also blogs around business issues like continuous improvement, project management and behavior & culture.  At the beginning of 2012 David had a long series of blogs about ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment).  The topic spurred great conversation from many in lean and ROWE alike.  David wrote a few blogs on the similarities and differences of ROWE and Lean.  Then wrote his own thoughts after hearing both perspectives.  I think it is worth reading and developing your own opinion on the subject.

I read a lot of blogs and respond when I have time to as many as I can, but My Flexible Pencil has caused me to sit back, think and respond more than any other blog.  My Flexible Pencil is a great read.

Saving time: How Visual Management Benefits Knowledge Work

Today’s guest post was written by David M. Kasprzak.  David has worked with all levels of management in large commercial organizations and government agencies on budget development, project planning & performance measurement. Over the course of his career, he has realized that it is the qualitative elements of work that determine success or failure.  Based on this realization, he began to explore the principles of Operational Excellence and Lean process improvement, and apply those concepts to other areas of both work and life.  In 2010, David created the My Flexible Pencil blog to share his ideas on these topics.

Time, as we’re all well aware, is our most precious resource.  When it is gone – it is gone for good.  It doesn’t change form or turn into some other less complicated element – it is simply gone.  When it is used well, we can say that our time was turned into some useful activity or tangible product.  When it is wasted, the shame is greatest, since the time is gone for good and nothing of value was created to take its place.  Yet, for some reason, wasting time seems to be, by-and-large, perfectly okay.

Think of this: What if you hired a group of people to plan, coordinate, and execute taking thousands of dollars from people.  The group you hired became so adept at it that they were able to take that money from people who were so duped they gave it willingly.  What’s more, those who took the money then lit it on fire.

Doing such a thing is, of course, both bizarre and criminal.  However, when we set hapless managers into an organization where they have little ability or willingness to work on the business and not just work in the business, time is taken from people at every turn without so much as an afterthought.  Boring, useless, meaningless drudgery that simply wastes time is so frequently the norm that it is not just tolerated, but expected.

How can this tremendous waste of time be prevented?  Take a look at the typical office environment and you’ll see an immediate answer.  Or, rather, you won’t see it – because you can’t see much of anything.  Most of the workers and, therefore, the work are both hidden behind rows and rows of neutral-colored cubicles.  While some of those workers are, indeed, wasting time by delving into any number of distractions while hunkered down in their fabric-covered boxes, this is not the norm in most places.  The greater shame is that the way they are going about their genuine work is entirely out of the line-of-sight of anyone who is trying to see the work progress through the organizations.

While the completely open office environment isn’t the answer, either (it’s much too distracting and too noisy for people to concentrate), there is a need to invoke some visual controls in the office environment too.  How is that new software development project progressing?  Is there a clear, visual roadmap that lays out the steps the project must go through and status boards to communicate progress?  How do you know who is working on what – and not just as a general assignment, but in terms of who is working on what for how long right now?  How do you know when that person is stuck, waiting on some input?  What’s the status of that input?

In most places the answer requires sending emails, calling meetings, or – heaven forbid – getting up and going over to talk to someone.  All of which leads to information standing still or, at best, travelling much too slowly.  If, however, more visual cues were invoked so that information was shared more openly, more quickly, and with greater appreciation of the need for immediate, intuitive understanding of how work is progressing (or not) – information would transfer faster.  Instead, things are typically thrown into a powerpoint presentation that is shared in a meeting once a week – which is the equivalent of a factory floor batch-and-queue process that builds up a bunch of widgets only to release them to the cell once a week – whether the cell is ready for the batch or not.

Committing to visual controls information moves faster.  The greater the velocity of information exchange, the greater the awareness of potential problems and ability to take action before those problems materialize.  By adopting better visual controls, knowledge work environments can greatly increase both the amount and velocity of information moving through the organization.  While this seems obvious, it is a bit daunting that the habits and practices that have been developed outside of the shop floor, such as hiding people and work behind tall cubicle walls, do more to hinder the flow of information than to facilitate it.

Lean Series on Visual Management Next Week

Back in March, Beyond Lean hosted a week long series on standardized work.  Joe and I posted about standardized work (Lessons Learned and Foundational to Continuous Improvement).  We also had guests post from Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership (SW and Your Packaging Line) and Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey (What It Is).

The week went over very well with readers so next week we are bringing the series back.  The lean series will be focused on visual management.  Joe and I will have our contributions as well as new guest bloggers Danielle Look and David Kasprzak.

The lean series is a way to get a concentrated dose of information on one subject by only having to go to one site.  I hope you enjoy it.

Article Roundup

In the spirit of other blog sites, especially the Management Carnival, I thought I would share some links to a few blogs that found very interesting over the last month or so.  I hope you enjoy them.

A Tough Obituary to Write by Bill Waddell – This is a different perspective on the passing of Steve Jobs.  This is a point of view I had thought about writing but Bill beat me to the punch and I didn’t want to redo something he had written so well.

Building Your Personal Value Proposition by Bill Barnett – A great post about understanding yourself and what you are interested in.  Use that knowledge to know where you fit in a company and build your personal value.

Encourage Talent If You Want It To Grow by Steve Roesler – Steve hits on some great points to help grow talent through encouragement.  Even when you feel an employee is doing what they should be doing it is good to encourage them.

Building Manager Standard Work by Jamie Flinchbaugh – This blog will link to his full article at Industry Week.  Don’t but a process in place for something that already has a process like check email every day at lunch.

Planning On Not Knowing by David Kasprzak – We won’t always know what do to next but that shouldn’t stop us from planning.  Plan in spots to review and determine what to do next.

Manufacturing Skills Gap or Management Skills Gap by John Hunter – If the people don’t have the manufacturing skills they need is that their fault?  Or do we have a gap in our management skills?

Assembly Mag Thinks Whirlpool is Lean. Really. by Kevin Meyer – This is about Whirlpool and the fake lean.  It hit home because I grew up in Evansville and watch the decline of Whirpool.

Thanks to MyFlexiblePencil

Over the last few weeks, David Kasprzak at the MyFlexiblePencil blog has featured some of my posts.  The last one posted today.  Here are the links to the three he featured:

Stop Blaming and Understand the Why

Automating Daycare

The Importance of Respect for People

I appreciate the exposure to David’s readers.  If you have not visited his blog, I would recommend you do.  There are lean insights as well as great observations from daily life.

Don’t Drain the Learning Ability Kids Have

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a blog post by David Kasprzak from My Flexible Pencil.  It was a great post called Born to Learn: Cognitive Science, Learning, & Education.

The post introduced me to 21st Century Learning Initiative organization that started the Born to Learn site.  I think it is a really interesting and original approach to educational leadership.  The video below is from the Born to Learn website and was part of David’s post too.  It is very good.  I had to post it here also.

Learning is a key aspect of lean.  We should always be learning about our processes, our work, our company, and ourselves.  As we learn we are able to use this new knowledge to help improve any area we are working in.

Born to Learn is about getting back to experimenting and learning from a hands on perspective.  From the time we are very young we are taught things but given few opportunities to learn and develop in areas that are of interest to us.  My son is 6-years-old and has mastered any Lego set you can put in front of him.  It is amazing to watch him work, but he has interest in using tools.  Of course, he is too young to be playing with saws and the like, but a few times I have taken him out to the garage and let him drill into wood blocks and use screws to fasten them.  This is great but I’m not always in the mood for this and he wants to do it constantly.  A couple of weeks ago, we found an Erector set.  The are hard to find in stores, but now he can use small tools and screws to build trucks and the like.  It is more of challenge than the Legos and allows him to continue to learn.

Now, that is a good example but I’m not always thinking of his learning as I tell him to sit still and don’t touch, etc.

I really like the premise of Born to Learn.  Giving kids the experiences to learn and not just be taught something.  I am the type of person who can see something and pick up on it but until  I do it I don’t truly learn it.

How can we continue to give kids learning experiences and not drain that curiosity as they turn into teenagers and adults?