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Learning Happens When Realized Value is Verified

A project is proposed.  Most projects have an return-on-investment (ROI) associated with them to help sell the idea.  The ROI lists out the benefits of completing the project.  The project gets approved.  People work on it until it is completed…hopefully.  Congratulations are given on good work.  People move on to the next project.  The End.

Notice anything missing?  Arguably the most important part?

No one goes back to verify if the project produced the benefits that were stated in the ROI.

How does the organization know if the investment was a good one?  A bad one?  Or a great one?

Checking the benefits isn’t the “sexy” part of the project, but it is the rewarding part of the project.

Why don’t people go back and check the benefits?  Is it because it is a month to a year after the project is complete before they are seen and people forget?  Is it because people put inflated benefits on the ROI statement and they don’t want to get called out on it?  Is it because putting a value to some of the benefits is extremely difficult?

Whatever the reason, it can’t stop you from checking the actual value realized from a project.  What if you didn’t reach the realized value stated?  Can something be done to increase the realized value.  What if you exceeded it?  Don’t you want to celebrate it?  Use the learnings to sustain the extra value realized.  The learning from verifying the realized value is immense.

How to Observe

Last blog, I talked about the most important lean tool being the eyes.  The eyes allow a person to the reality of what is happening and gather facts.

So, if direct observation is important then how should a person go about doing it?

Here are a few pointers I have picked up along the way:

  • Have a purpose before you go out to observe.  Are you going out to see a particular problem?  Are you going to audit a specific process?  Is there a process you trying to improve?  A specific type of waste you are looking for?  Whatever your purpose, understand it before you go out to observe.
  • Explain what you are doing.  People get cautious and worried when someone is just standing to the side watching their every move.  Tell them why you are there and ask them to explain anything they feel is important.
  • Be in the moment. Don’t answer the phone.  Don’t start other conversations.  Just observe.  Stand in one area and watch what is happening with scrutinizing intent.
  • Ask clarifying questions.  If you need to better understand something, ask the person doing the work questions.  Don’t leave without having answers to your questions.
  • Take notes.  You are there for a purpose, so write down what you need to remember.  Notes of what you observed are your facts.
  • Take prompt action.  Don’t wait days to do anything with the facts you have gathered.  Things change quickly so use what have you seen before the facts become outdated.

Good luck and happy observation!

Process of Shaving

If you are a male like me you may hate shaving as much as I did.  I saw it as a chore.  Something that had to be done because I didn’t want a huge ZZ Top beard.  Because I didn’t want to do it, I took the short cut.  I used an electric razor and then used a multiple blade hand razor to get what was left.  The results…lots of ingrown hairs, a super sensitive face that stung when any lotion was applied and bleeding through my neck area.  Not cuts but blood seeping through almost like a scrap.

shaving_brushA few weeks ago, my wife talked me into going into a shave specialty shop.  I spent a good 30 minutes with the sales woman.  She showed me their natural shaving products and then talked about the proper process for shaving.  I learned that for most men, the multi-blade hand razors are still very irritating to the skin.  The best are the old school single blade razors that you screw into the handle, not the cheap disposable kind.

So what is the proper process for shaving?

  1. Wash your face
  2. Apply an essential oil to help the hairs stand up and to lubricate
  3. Apply shaving cream to a shaving brush in a small amount.  I learned that badger hair is naturally anti-bacteria.
  4. Use the shaving brush to apply the shaving cream to your face
  5. Shave face going WITH the grain.  Use short strokes and rinse.
  6. Apply more shaving cream with the shaving brush
  7. Shave face going AGAINST the grain.  Use short strokes and rinse.
  8. Rinse face and dry
  9. Apply after shave balm for soothing and moisturizing

If you are like me, you are thinking, “really?!  That seems like a lot and over the top.”

My wife convinced me to give it a try, so I bought the brush and the oil, shaving cream and after shave balm.

It has been a few weeks and I have to say the results are amazing.  I get a much closer shave so I don’t have to shave as often.  I have had zero ingrown hairs, my face is less sensitive and I don’t bleed when I shave.

You might be thinking, “Great to know, but in the world does this have to do with lean?”

The answer is…a lot.

Too often we don’t want to follow the process because it seems long, over done or a pain, so we take short cuts.  We may end up getting some good results once, but that won’t be repeatable.  Take the problem solving process.  We may short cut investigating the current state and what the problem truly is.  One time we may get a good solution in place, but other times it is patchy results at best.

As tedious as it may seem at times, we should always follow the process when we know it will give us good, sustainable results.

Balance Process and Results

In the lean world we always stress how important a good process is to achieving results.  One of my favorite graphics I have seen is the one pictured below.  It shows the four outcomes of balancing process and results.Process_Results_Grid

  • Having a Good Process and Getting Good Results is the gold star.  We know we have a solid process that will give us the good results we want.
  • Having a Good Process and Getting Bad Results is half way there.  We know the process works like it should.  It just doesn’t give us the results we want so we need to go back and redesign the process.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Good Results you are gambling.  You got lucky to get the good results and it won’t be consistently repeatable.
  • Having a Bad Process and Getting Bad Results is just not good.  Nothing is working and you should start working on this right away.

I am one of the first to stress process, but as you can see it must be balanced.

When designing a process it must have the right mix of structure and flexibility because it is about understanding, learning and getting the results.

For example, when designing a manufacturing process you may be more prescriptive because of the need to get a particular assembly done correctly.

For a process around coaching or problem solving, there needs to be more flexibility.  A determined process should be designed and used but it shouldn’t be as prescriptive as a manufacturing process.  It allows for the person to be able to go where the problem is taking them but achieving the desired results is still extremely important.

The need to balance the importance of a good process and the getting good results is a key skill to have when teaching people about lean.

Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Designed to Add Waste

Sometimes you just wonder if people design processes in order to create waste.  Like it is a hobby and creating all the waste is just fun for them.

People I am close with recently had a death in the family.  He was a veteran with illnesses from handling Agent Orange in Vietnam.  He passed at the VA hospital.

The family believes the unexpected complications that lead to his passing are related to his illness from handling the Agent Orange.  The VA hospital asked the family if they would like to request an investigation and the family did.

After close to 6 months, the family receives a letter stating the investigation is complete.  If the family would like to see the results they need to submit a request for the results.  Really?!  How many people do you know that request an investigation into anything and don’t want to know the results?  So the VA wants to create more paperwork and processing to send something the family requested months earlier.  Again, the family originally requested it.  Why wouldn’t the VA just send the results?

As ridiculous as that sounds, that isn’t the biggest waste of this ordeal.  A week later the family receives a letter stating they will receive the results via the mail within 2 weeks.  What?!  Why wouldn’t the VA just send the results?  They have already set the expectation that it won’t happen quickly because the investigation didn’t.

Someone has a job that is sending letters saying the information is being sent.

I don’t know where to even begin with this.  The family has been through enough.  The VA should be making things easy on the family and not more frustrating.

Quick simple solution.  When the family requests an investigation have the results sent directly to them after the results have been finalized.  No requests for sending the results.  No letter saying the results are in the mail.  Just send it.

When you hear of something like this, you really have to wonder if anyone is paying attention to this process and how it got designed so poorly.

Process Work Changes People’s Thinking

I am still amazed at what can be accomplished by improving the process first and then looking at how technology can support the process.  I have always been a big advocate of looking at process first.  Yet, still today I see great cases of studying the process first and then implementing supporting technology.  In most cases, the technology needed to support the process is simpler than the original technology plans.

The rewarding part of the work is having success in an area that was hesitant to have the process work done.  An area claiming just to need the technology.  After completing the process work and seeing the benefits, that same area starts to ask for more process work to be done.  That is a great feeling.

Another benefit of getting people to see the benefit of doing the process work first is they start to ask more questions around the end-to-end process.  People start to see the entire process and the affects a change has in one area can have on another area.  The end-to-end discussion becomes easier for people to have.

This shift in mentality can start to break down work silos and get more people engaged in the entire process.

Are you doing end-to-end process improvement at your company?  Is it starting to change people’s perspective?

Process Before Technology

Before I start, technology is a wonderful thing.  It has helped to make processes more efficient and work to be done much easier.

With that being said, before technology is used or put into place, the processes that technology will support should be examined.  Take the time to create a value stream map or a process map and examine the process for waste.  Design the future state of the process.  Then define what are the changes where technology is not needed and what changes where technology is needed.

The technology should be designed to support the process.  Not the process designed to support the technology.  This is an issue that occurs quite often.

Improving the process first creates a better understanding what is truly needed from the technology.  A company can save a lot of money by improving the process first because technology may not be needed at all or fewer components may be needed than originally thought.  Also, if your put technology into a bad process all you have done is make a bad process go faster.  That means you are throwing away money faster than you before because of the waste in the process.

The key to remember is the technology should support the process.  We shouldn’t be putting in technology as a substitute to better the process.

Technology is here to stay.  We should use it to our advantage, but we should use it correctly to support our processes, not to define them.

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.


Respect for People on the Harvard Business Review Blog

I am way behind on a couple of great blogs I saw on the Harvard Business Review Blog. One of them is Get Your Workers to Disrupt Their Jobs by Brad Power.

The blog is about engaging employees to improve their processes.

…start process innovation by asking front-line workers how to improve their jobs. Competition and customer demands mean that the most efficient and effective process should always be sought — but finding it requires contributions from the people doing the work. The benefits of the front-line driving improvements include pride of ownership that sustains the changes, less worry for managers about whether the changes will be adopted, and reduced costs for outside consultants. Changes that are imposed are at best accepted grudgingly and at worst sabotaged.

Bingo! I think Brad nailed it well. Then a friend of his asked a good question that I have also gotten in the past.

But a friend was skeptical that workers will identify radical, cross-functional changes to a process that will step on others’ turf or could eliminate their jobs. Is it really possible he asked, to create the conditions where workers will disrupt or even eliminate their jobs and the jobs of co-workers?

Short answer is yes, if there is no fear of losing their jobs do to continuous improvement. I have worked for companies that have made that promise and it has worked to engage the people. When I worked for an automotive supplier, three employees came to management and said they could get the work cell from 3 people to 1 person and meet the demand. The management said do it. It worked beautifully and the other two people were assigned to other work cells that needed help.

Brad got the same opinion from Orry Fuime.

Consider Wiremold, a manufacturer of cable management systems. In 1992 the company was in cost-cutting mode, and, as former CFO Orry Fiumetold me, it was consequently offering an early retirement package designed to reduce headcount. But the company also needed to make its processes more productive, and didn’t want employees overly focused on headcount reduction, so immediately following Fiume’s announcement, the new CEO Art Byrne told employees that nobody would lose employment due to process improvement activities. He felt this was necessary to encourage employees to identify all the changes the company needed, including those which might disrupt their jobs. W. Edwards Deming, the guru of total quality management, called this “driving out fear.”

But most CEOs will strenuously resist making a qualified job guarantee like Art Byrne. Why? Because they believe that nobody can guarantee employment. Notice, however, that Wiremold did not guarantee employment. It assured employees that they would not lose their job as a result of their participation in continuous improvement activities. It didn’t say their jobs wouldn’t change, or that the company wouldn’t lay off people for survival in the event of a major economic downturn, or that individuals couldn’t lose their job due to poor performance.

I found the blog interesting because all but one company/person mentioned were well respected lean companies/people (Orry, Art Byrne, Dr. Deming, Wiremold, Parker-Hannifin, Lantech). The overriding theme was the respect for people. Ask for their ideas to improve, share the big picture with them don’t hide it, reward them for their help. These all have to do with respecting the people of the business and organization.

I hope this blog gets circulated around. These are the behaviors to look for within a company. These are behaviors a lean company exhibits whether they use the term lean or not is not important. Respecting the people is. With their engagement in the continuous improvement process a company can make great strides in productivity and growth.

Importance of Kaizen Event Follow Up

An often glossed over part of a kaizen/improvement event is the follow up after the event.  Why is this?

Part of the reason is the plethora of information available on how to run a kaizen/improvement event.  I have even written blogs (here and here) about executing an event.  It is easy for people to focus on, because it’s a big deal to get so many people from cross functional areas in one room for a long period of time.  Facilitators want to make sure it is a valuable use of the people’s time and not wasted sitting around.  This is a reasonable expectation.

However, coming out of a kaizen/improvement event there usually are a few action items to still be completed.  If these are not completed, the full value of the event won’t be reached.  The event would have wasted some of the participant’s time.  This is a hidden waste.  The participants are busy during and after the event with work they are completing at the time.  If the full value of the event isn’t reached, it isn’t seen by everyone.  It is pretty obvious if people are sitting idle in a conference room.  It is frustrating to the participants as well.

renjith krishnan /

The 30, 60, 90 day follow up is an important tool to help ensure none of the time participants’ time is wasted.

The 30, 60, 90 day follow up is used to drive accountability to complete the action items and verify the results are moving in the desired direction.  The follow up is valuable time to reflect on what is working so far and what is not.  The team can make adjustments if necessary and drive to the results that are desired.

The event is draining and hard work, but the real work begins once the team leaves the kaizen/improvement event and embarks on implementing their new process.

The hype is around the the event itself, but don’t forget the follow up or you may be wasting people’s time.