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Leading Lean – Build Tension, Not Stress

Last week, I mentioned that I would talk more about the lean forum I attended.  The theme of the forum was leading lean.  Several speakers presented and they all did a fantastic job.  One of the speakers was Jamie Flinchbaugh of the Lean Learning Center.  Jamie outlined five leadership moves that demonstrate lean leadership.

  1. Leaders Must Be Teachers
  1. Build Tension, Not Stress
  1. Eliminate Both Fear and Comfort
  1. Actively Engage, Don’t Just Delegate
  1. Apply Lean to Your Work

Over the next few posts, I thought I would share the message and how I personally have exhibited the behavior positively and negatively, because we all must learn from our mistakes.

Build Tension, Not Stress

Tension is what compels an organization to take action.  Tension will cause the organization to improve.  Stress is what causes the organization to freeze because it doesn’t know what to do.  The stress will cause the organization to break.

There are two components top create tension.  The first is current reality.  We must fully understand current reality and more importantly be very honest about what is current reality.

The second component is having a definition of the ideal state.  What does perfection look like?  Not what is best practice or best-in-class, but what is perfection.

This gap greats tension to move the organization forward.

I have always been a harsh critic of my own work and where I believe an organization stands.  Sometimes to a point where I have offended others in the organization because they believe we are better than my assessment.  I have even been called negative because I don’t see the current reality as ever good enough.

Where I have struggled in the past was defining the ideal state.  I didn’t always do this.  I would define a future state which is somewhere between current reality and the ideal state.  This led to teams not improving as much as they could have.  The team may have gotten a 20% improvement but we could have gotten more if we would have defined the ideal state and stretched ourselves.

By building a future state and not an ideal state or by believing you are better than you are, you take all the tension out of the organization.  The loss of tension creates an culture of no action.

What are you doing to build tension in your organization?

Bruce Lee and the Ideal State

Today, I have the pleasure of being a guest blogger over on the Lean Leadership blog by Christian Paulsen while he is away on vacation.

Christian always has good quotes from historical people that seem to relate to lean.  I thought it would be fitting then to center this post on a quote.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at.”

—Bruce Lee

When solving a problem, whether it is designing a new process, eliminating defects or developing a strategy, it is necessary to have the ideal state in mind.

You can read the rest of the post by clicking on this link.


Game Changing Improvements Hard to Discuss

Kaizen events are multi-day improvement activities aimed at creating change to a process.  During the event, the improvement team understands the current state, defines an ideal state and then develops a plan to create change headed in the direction of the ideal state.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Most teams don’t have any trouble discussing the ideal state.  The team can state the ideal state of a process but don’t necessarily believe they will get there anytime soon.

The hard part comes when discussing how the improvements they can make happen will change the process. Too many times I have seen groups scale back the improvement ideas.  They try to just change a few things within the current process.  The team has a hard time making bigger changes, even if it is just a recommendation.  In organizations where lean is not prevalent and traditional management behaviors have created silos and squashed improvement ideas from the employees, the employees do not believe the bigger changes they want will be put into action.

There can be time during the event spent convincing the team it is the right thing to recommend the bigger changes even if they think the leadership will not accept the changes.  It is about painting a picture.  The team has to walk the leadership through the current state and have them understand where they are.  Then paint a vivid picture of the ideal state.  More times than not I have seen the intermediate future state accepted by leadership when a vivid picture is painted and current and future state maps are made to make the process come alive.

Improvement teams cannot be afraid to recommend what they believe is truly the best option.  If the team feels strongly the leadership will not like it, then there is nothing wrong with having a Plan B.  But, never start with Plan B until you have tried everything to get Plan A bough into.

With No Ideal State, Stagnation Sets In

I repeatedly get asked, “Why do we need to have an ideal state?”  There are a few ways I have answered this.  For example, it gives direction for improvement suggestions.  Is it worth working on if we aren’t improving in the direction of the ideal state?

The best reason I give for developing an ideal state is it helps to eliminate stagnation.

How many times have you heard, “Our process is better than it ever has been,” or “Our process is better than industry standard,” or “People benchmark against our process.”  These are just a few comments that throw up a red flag that the organization is satisfied with their process and not continuing to improve.  When digging deeper, the organizations that have grown stagnate have done so because they have no ideal state vision they are striving towards.

It is easier to keep an eye towards improvement when an ideal state has been developed to help give direction to the organization.  If stagnation becomes a problem people can point out the ideal state and question what the organization is doing to get closer to the ideal state.  This should cause a feeling of uneasiness that jump starts more improvement.

Stagnation and complacency becomes the norm when there is no ideal state to help remind and motivate the organization.  Someone might suggest the process is as good as is going to get if there isn’t the defined ideal state to say, “No.  This is where we want to get to.”  In some cases, we may never get to the ideal state, but we must keep moving in that direction.

The next time you see an area or organization that is stagnant in their continuous improvement efforts ask them what their ideal state is.  I would be they don’t have one.

Basics of Problem Solving

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have been certified/trained in many different methods of problem solving.  Some of them include Shainin Red X, Kepner-Tregoe Is/Is Not, the basics of Six Sigma and DMAIC, PDCA, SPC, and the list goes on and on.  Quite frankly, I have lost track of all the problem solving methods and tools I have used.

After many years of using all of these techniques, I have boiled problem solving down to just 4 basic steps that can be used/seen with any of the methods I mentioned above.

1. Identify Current State

2. Identify Ideal State

3. Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States

4. Attack!

Identify Current State: I firmly believe that you have to know where you are and what is happening before you can think about improving.  I have seen people throw everything out and just do step 2 and 4.  I don’t understand this, because they have almost always re-created some of the same headaches that they currently have or had in the past and then have to re-fix these issues.  You have not gotten where you are because everything was bad or wrong.  So what is good?  What is value added?  What is non-value added?  How does the process work?  Understand these things about your current situation and you will learn a lot about the process.

Identify Ideal State: I see some people want to identify the future state instead of the ideal state.  That can work, but I prefer the further sighted ideal state.  You won’t necessarily get to the ideal state by solving just this one problem, but you want to make sure you are heading in the direction of the ideal state.  You don’t want to create a countermeasure to a problem that is heading in a different direction than your ideal state.  Have you ever had a future state that isn’t aligned with your ideal state?  Do you want to start working in one direction only to be redirected later?  Define the ideal state, even if it is just bullet points, so you know that any countermeasure you put in place is directionally correct.

Analyze the Gap between Current and Ideal States: Now you must understand what it will take to get from where you are at to where you want to get.  How do we close the gap?  It may not fully close the gap but we are making progress towards the ideal state.  Sometimes you may find that you have to do a major process redesign or a big project.  Sometimes you may need to do smaller more manageable tasks to get there.  It is OK to not close the entire gap in one jump.  Just make progress.  If you make progress and have a plan, my experience has shown that you will get a lot of understanding.

Attack!: Now it is time to implement.  By implementation, I mean try out the countermeasures, verify the results, and make adjustments base on what was learned or make the new countermeasure part of the standards.  Basically, the Check and Act of PDCA.

This approach can work for simple problems like needing to reduce walking in a process.

1. Identify Current State – I walk 10 steps between my desk and the fax machine, 20 times per day = 200 steps.

2. Identify Ideal State – I don’t want to walk at all to the fax machine

3. Analyze the Gap – 200 steps per day is the gap, I can’t get a fax machine for my desk (not in the budget), but I can move the fax machine closer but I need to talk with others to make sure I’m not making more work on them.

4. Attack – Others are OK with me moving the fax machine.  I move it.  I am now walking 5 steps per trip, 20 times per day = 100 steps.  50% reduction.  That is the new standard now.

It also works for complex problems like creating single piece flow

1. Identify Current State –  A common tool used here is a Value Stream Map

2. Identify Future State – Create a future state Value Stream Map

3. Analyze the Gap – What projects and kaizen events do I need to do to reach my future state.  Develop an action plan.

4. Attack – Implement action plan.  Reflect on results and process of implementing and make adjustments as necessary.

I know this boils it down very simply, but there is a lot of work that has to happen in each step.  There are many tools/concepts that can be used to complete these steps, but remembering these four steps is a great start.