Blog Archives

Asking the Data Geeks to Use Good Problem Solving

The other day I was catching up on reading some blogs.  I came across one on the Harvard Review Blog titled “Seven Questions to Ask Your Data Geek.”

The title drew me in because I can be a data geek myself sometimes.

The seven questions caught my eye very quickly.  When you read them you can see they are related to what good problem solvers with lean thinking ask.

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?  You want to be sure there is a problem to solve and not just a band aide or a just going and implementing something the customer wants.  You want to truly understand what is needed.  This is the first question to ask because it helps to define the problem.
  2. Do you have a deep understanding of what the data really means?  Read between the lines and it says to get off your rump and go and see what is really happening.  The data is a good directional start, but how are people gathering the data?  How are people using the data?  The person needs to understand what is really happening.
  3. Should we trust the data? Now that you have gone out and seen how the data is really gathered, can we use the data to help with the problem we are trying to solve?  Do we need to gather different data to better understand the problem?
  4. Are there  “big factors”, preconceived notions, hidden assumptions or conflicting data that could compromise your analysis?  This is still getting at drilling deeper and understanding the current state for the data.  During the problem solving process you should be spending about 75% of the time just understanding what is really going on before looking for solutions.  As you can see the first four questions are about understanding the current state.
  5. Will your conclusions standup to the scrutiny of our markets, moderately changing conditions, and a “worst-case scenario?” Now that you have deeper understood the current state, you start looking for solutions.  Will the solution hold up?  Are you getting to the true root cause of the problem?  Will the problem be eliminated?
  6. Who will be impacted and how?  Now that you understand the problem and have a solution you need to know how this will affect the business.  Change management should always be a piece of the problem solving process, because changes always affect people.  Sometimes they embrace the change it if helps them a lot.  Sometimes they don’t embrace the change, so always be aware.
  7. What can I do to help?  Always be willing to help fix the problem.  Don’t always leave it to someone else.

These are seven great questions to ask anyone when problem solving, not just your data geek.

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IT in a Modern Company

Over the last few months, I have gain a greater appreciation for the role that an IT division plays in a company.  It use to be that IT was there to make sure the servers were running and all the software applications were working.  Not a small task by any means.  There is a lot of building, testing and monitoring that has to go on to accomplish this.

In today’s technology age, a lot more has been added to their plate.  With the explosion of wireless technology and cell phones there is a lot more to consider.  There is more security exposure through cloud computing and mobile transactions.

Most companies are trying to utilize apps on a tablet or smartphone.  It isn’t as simple as building an app.  What is security around the app?  How do you make the app available?  iTunes?  Other methods?  Are you accepting customer data from the app like credit card information?  What is the security compliance to keep that information safe?

It really is amazing all the added responsibility the new technologies have given an IT division in a company.

While all the background work may not be value added to the customer, it is necessary in order to deliver the value to the customer.  We must be able to provide the security and app in the most efficient manner.

Are there things you have seen that has increased IT responsibilities in your company?

Using Technology to Take Notes

A few months ago, I read a blog (I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it) about how note taking in meetings is changing in today’s world. With tablets and smartphones and laptops and WiFi, etc…more and more people are taking notes electronically.

The blog was about people who get upset when technology is used in a meeting because they think the person isn’t paying attention. The thought is the person is doing email or something not related to the meeting. And yes I have seen that.

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been inching towards using technology to take notes even though I still like my pen and paper. I have found it is easier to share with others and storing takes up little memory versus large filing cabinets with all the paper in it. My computer search is faster than going through a filing cabinet and Microsoft OneNote makes it note taking easier on a computer.

With that, I think there is still etiquette to be used when using technology to take notes.

  • If it is a large meeting (about 10 or more people), it may be OK just to open up the computer and take notes because several people will be doing it
  • If it is a large meeting and no one else is using technology you may ask the leader of the meeting if it is alright to use your computer or tablet device. You can ask off to the side before it starts or at the very beginning of the meeting with the whole group because others may want to do it also.
  • If it is small meeting (less than 10 people) or a 1-on-1 type meeting, you should ask if it is alright to take notes electronically.
  • A 1-on-1 meeting you still might consider using pen and paper. I know this is extra work but sometimes if you are using a computer, it can get in the way and block the view of the other person. The computer can feel like a wall between you.
  • Understand the meeting before taking notes. Some meetings don’t require you to need to take notes, so there is no need to have your computer or tablet open. Maybe detailed notes will be handed out. Another example are kaizen events. Notes don’t need to be taken by individuals in kaizen events. All the notes are captured on the flip chart paper and post-its. It is more important to have everyone 100% engaged.

All and all, taking notes electronically can be a good thing and is something more and more people are doing. It is alright to do. If you are a person using technology to take notes have some etiquette and understand who is leading the meeting and the purpose before opening your computer or tablet and typing away.

 

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?

SAP…Not So Bad

When I’m wrong, I need to say I was wrong.  For years I have been staunch supporter of eliminating SAP.

SAP bad.  Lean Good.  That was my stance.

A few weeks ago, I went to an SAP conference to learn more about their Customer Relations Management (CRM) module.  My company is implementing this module in the next year and a half.

I learned a lot at the conference.  The most important learning I had was SAP has a lot of functionality that can be very helpful even in lean companies.

Don’t mistake this with supporting ERP/MRP systems.  I still believe that ERP/MRP systems are the opposite of lean and should not be used.  The mistake I made was equating SAP with ERP.

SAP has an ERP/MRP module that is a large part of their business, but SAP also has so much to offer.  SAP has ways to get data out and digestible.  It can give directionally correct data so you can go and see what is actually happening in order to solve the issues as an example.

I equated SAP to ERP/MRP and it isn’t.  SAP has benefits to even lean companies.  Understand what SAP has to offer and what your process needs are and try to match those needs up.  This is just true for SAP, but for any technology.

Technology can be a great thing, but only when it supports your process, not defines the process.

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.

Turnoff the Email Notifications

Email is a great thing.  To be able to send a message instantly for free (sort of…I know there are charges for connection and data plans) is amazing.  Now we can get email anywhere we are on smartphones, tablets or any other device.  But, just because we can get a message instantly and anywhere does not mean we have to read or answer the message instantly anywhere we are.

I hear a lot of people talk about spending too much time with email.  Email is keeping them from getting value added work completed.  I spent some time looking at my own email practices and found it is very easy to get distracted by email.  It is more of a hindrance than a help at times.

How many of you have your email notification turned on, so when you get an email you get a sound, a box in the corner pops up, a light flashes on your smartphone, etc…?  I had notifications on everywhere.  Why do we have them on?  Because we want to read and answer the email as quickly as possible. Why don’t we turn off all of these audio/visual notifications?  What percent of the emails you receive truly need immediate attention?

I experimented and turned off all audio and visual notifications of email on my PC.  I turned off the audio notification on my smartphone, but left on my flashing light (which I am thinking about turning off).  Since doing this, I feel less stressed about answering email and the need to jump right on it.  I find that I am more productive also.  I am not switching between something I am working on and email constantly.  The thing I am working on has my full attention.  I concentrate on the work and get it done and then check email.  I have found that ZERO of my emails need my immediate attention.

My next step is to only open email at certain times of the day.  Currently, I open it whenever I feel like it.  Will this help me become even more productive?  I don’t know if it will, but I won’t improve if I don’t try.

If you are not in a role where email is critical (i.e. order processor receiving orders through email or something of the like), I challenge you to turn off your notifications and not read/answer emails as they come in.

Curse Those Stinkin’ Laptops

I will be the first to admit that I love my laptop.  At home or at work, I don’t think I could go back to a desktop as my normal computer.  The portability and ease of use is great.  In fact, I am typing this blog post on my work laptop now…shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone.

David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a user, I love my laptop.  As a facilitator, I hate the invention of the laptop.  They creep into kaizen events time after time and cause numerous distractions.  One suggestion that comes up to help with this situation is to make it a rule that no laptops are allowed or they are to be closed during work time but during breaks they can be opened to check on things.  I agree.  This a rule that I discuss at the start of every kaizen event.  It is a start but the laptops creep out day after day.

I started making sure there were breakout groups (see post here) scheduled to help keep people involved in the discussions and the laptops shut.  That works sometimes but the laptops keep coming like a bad dream.

I have reminded individuals during breaks about the rule of keeping laptops shut.  It works for awhile.  Then the laptops creep back out.  I have tried everything I can think of except putting a laptop drop off by the door so they aren’t anywhere near people.

Am I the only one having this trouble?  Is it a problem that I should really care about?

I know in  today’s world, connectivity is king.  If it isn’t the laptop, it is the smartphone.  I understand that everyone is busy also.  I am not old and can remember the days of not having any laptops or smartphones.  Kaizen events and meetings meant we were disconnected for that time. How do we capture that same feeling and spirit again?

 

Baby Boomers to Gen Y…People Are No Different

In the workplace and the world around we are inundated with how Generation Y (or the Millennials) are such a different generation.  Questions arise asking how to bridge the gap between the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y in the workplace.  Generation Y is so much different that we have to make accommodations for them.

People contend the generations are too different and we should treat them that way.  On the contrary, I don’t believe that there are any real differences between the generations.  Sure Gen Y is more adept at using technology to their advantage but I contend that Generation X was the same way.  I always got calls from my mother about computer issues like, “How do you add a border to a cell in Excel?”

The biggest difference I hear about in the workplace is that Gen Y has a target job in mind and will change companies many times to achieve that target job.  The job may not be a specific high ranking position in management.  It has to do with making a difference and feeling like they accomplished something when they go home at the end of the day.  Gen Y was leave a company to continue to seek that.

I really don’t see how that is any different than any other generation.  That is basic respect for people.  To me, that boils down to a manager understanding what makes his employees tick and putting them in positions to use their strengths in order to succeed.  This concept is the basis of the book First, Break All the Rules.  The authors studied many mangers over the last several years.  This is before Gen Y even hit the workplace.  The basic concept is that great managers understand the strengths of their employees and develops their strengths, not their weaknesses, in order to make them successful.  People are inclined to want to develop a strength because it is something of interest so they will dive in and learn more.

This is basic human nature, not a generational gap.

I am part of Generation X.  When I was younger I heard a lot of similar things about my generation.  About how different we were from Baby Boomers and the generation before.  I don’t believe it is a generation thing at all.  It is a stage of life thing.  As people get older we get a different perspective on things.  There is nothing wrong with that.  We just have to understand it.

The next time you start to blame something on the generational gap stop and ask yourself, “Am I being and old whipper snapper?” or “Am I being a young rebel?” that isn’t understanding what stage of life the other person is in?  Or is it truly something that is a generational gap.

Learning and Leaving

The other day I was listening to a speaker discuss manufacturing jobs in the the U.S.  The speaker hit on a reason why there are fewer and fewer people with the job skills needed for the manufacturing shop floor.  The reason was employer paid training is being cut.

Manufacturing has a lot of technical based jobs.  People need to run equipment and know about machinery in most industries today.   In order to get training and stay up-to-date on the latest technical training, the employers pay for people to go to training.

In the past, this wasn’t an issue.  Employers were happy to pay for the training.  They expected people to be with the company for a very long time, so it was an investment in the employee.  Today, the expectation that a person will stick with a company for a long time isn’t accurate.  I think of myself.  The automotive company I worked for paid for me to get a lot of training on problem solving skills and techniques and some in lean, but as soon as my growth potential topped out I left the company.  That was within a year of completing my training.  The plant manager was upset but he was the one that told me my growth opportunities were topped out.  What did he expect?  I was 29 at the time.

What makes manufacturing unique is the fact that employers do pay for the training.  In healthcare, legal, or IT the individual pays for their training on their own time.  So the individual has more responsibility to not waste that training by using it wherever it fits best.

I know technology is changing fast and keeping up with it can be hard.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  And the ones that do keep up with be rewarded with better paying jobs and more opportunities.

Would manufacturing skills be more plentiful today if the individuals had to keep up with it on their one?  I don’t know.  I’m not saying that is the right answer, but it is something to think about.

What are you thoughts?  How can manufacturing skills of individuals keep up with changing technology and employer and employees feel good about the training that was done without the fear of an employee leaving once they have developed their skills?