Blog Archives

Owning a Small Business is Very Educational

crimson_hillIf you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean,  you may know that my wife has her own small business.  It is just her and I.  She runs the business 24/7 and I help where I can on nights and weekends.

Both of us have learned about a wide range of business aspects over the last couple of years from her small business.  My wife has a background in marketing, but has learned a lot about IT and web design, materials, costing, production of a consistent product, using data to determine what the customers like and a lot more.

I have been working quite a bit with display booth setup and teardown (quick changeovers), preparing raw materials for usage and investment decisions.

When owning and running a small business a person can see everything from end-to-end.  How a packaging decision can affect sales?  How does shelf life of a product have an effect on the quality?  How do certain ingredients react when mixing for production?  Do they cause immediate quality issues?  Do they cause quality issues over time?

In our experience, we have seen how lean thinking can be more natural for a small business.  There is more of a concern about inventory and cash on hand, so there are many decisions that go into building to stock or building to order.  Using visual management to make things easier to see when work needs to be done or not.  I have some examples from my wife’s business that I will post at a later date as well as examples I have posted in the past.

I have learned numerous things from working with my wife in her small business that I carry on to my other job as lessons to apply.

Owning a small business is very hard work.  You have to learn about things that don’t necessarily interest you, but if you want to be successful you have to get it done.  In the end, it can be very rewarding and extremely educational.

P.S. ……. K.I.S.S.

Problem Solving…Keep It Stupid Simple (as in really simple).

Recently, this is the valuable lesson I learned in coaching problem solving using an A3 to show the thinking.

Typically, when I have coached problem solving using the A3 I have had the A3 broken down into big sections (Background/Business Case, Current State, Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis, Action Plan and Results).  Under each section there were more segments that broke down the process to help try to go through the problem solving step-by-step.

With another group, by necessity, a colleague and I informed them of what an A3 was, gave them a 20 minute high level explanation on the big sections and a single point lesson to help guide them.  A week later the three A3s we saw were probably the best first pass A3s I have ever seen.  There was still some learning and some tweaking to do to tell a good story but overall they were very good.

Upon reflection, people that got the minutia explanation were trying too hard to “fit the form” and not use the A3 to show there thinking.  The coaching became much harder and the people kept focusing on filling the A3 out correctly.  This cause frustration and in a lot of cases people didn’t want to use the A3.

The group that got the high level explanation felt the freedom to explain their thinking any way they saw fit.  The A3s were quite different but they all had the big segments (at least through the areas they have progressed).  The questions and coaching around these A3s were much different.  More around different modes of thought and next steps in the problem solving process.  Not what do I fill in here.

Just like physical processes…keep it simple when teaching and coaching problem solving using the A3 as a tool to make the thinking visual.

What are your experiences?  Is simple better in your eyes?

Standardized Work Lessons Learned

This week Beyond Lean is focusing the discussion on standardized work.  There will be four posts throughout the week from different bloggers.  Joe and I will post a blog as well as Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey and Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership.  The purpose is to look at different aspects of standardized work from several perspectives all gathered in one location and within the same time frame.  We hope this spurs thought, reflection and action for our readers around standardized work.

I’m not going to lie.  Writing about Standardized Work makes me a little anxious.  For me, there is a huge gap in what I internally understand about Standardized Work and what I can articulate or explain.   So with that as my background, here’s a list of my lessons learned about Standardized Work.

  • Standardized Work is not job instruction or a substitute for training – This is kind of a slippery slope for a lot of people.  I think there is something comforting about codifying the steps of a job at the level of Standardized Work that tends to make people think that we can pick up any new hire, hand them the document and they’ll be off and running.  Can it be an aid?  Absolutely.  But it shouldn’t be meant as a standalone substitute for skill development and teaching.
  • Standardized Work is a tool for Visual Management – Much like 5-S, the tools have value by themselves, but are much more valuable as pieces of a visual management culture.  The team members following the Standardized Work should be able to execute the job without referring to the document every cycle.  With that as the framework, the document helps observers to identify when issues exist that are keeping the work from being performed according to the standards.
  • Standard Work in Process Inventory (SWIP) is part of the tool – This was an interesting lesson for me on two fronts.  The first time I worked on rolling out SW documents, I didn’t include it.  Mostly that was a result of trying to satisfy folks who thought the document could be used in place of a trainer.  The second front that made it difficult is that it can be difficult to quantify what exactly the SWIP should be.  In an environment where you are transitioning from not at all Lean to kind of Lean, there may be process disconnects that mean different size batches in and out.  Or, put another way, there is no normal to become the standard.
  • There is no simple way to explain the concept of Standards that are constantly under review for improvement – I have found this to be one of the most difficult Lean aspects to teach.  The discussion seems to end up in circular questions about “how can something be standard if we want to change it” and “if we are going to continuously improve the processes why document all of the changes.”  It seems to be one of those concepts that you can only learn by seeing or experiencing.

That was my top lessons learned about Standardized Work.  Nothing really earth shattering, just some thoughts on things I wish I had known at the beginning that would have helped me out.  Maybe one of these click for you or you have a lesson learned that you would like to share.   If so, please add a comment below and we’ll add it to the list.

Other posts from this standardized work series: