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Write your story

How much of your story is the result of past dreams and aspirations?

In a professional sense, the answer is a measurement of setting and achieving goals. But from a personal standpoint the answer includes influences from friends, parents, and social factors.

Jim Collins defined Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS) in his classic book Built to Last. The BHAGs are long horizon visionary goals for a business. They provide a guide for setting direction and determining what to do and what not to do. In the fall of 1989, I filled out a form in college declaring my major course of study. I was influenced by a number of things to do this, including a Christmas gift (Apple IIC) and a high school teacher. It was my first BHAG and the moment was the beginning of a dream and now part of my story. But there have been other long term goals in life I’ve not completed or abandoned. Whether success or failure, each aspiration has in its own way impacted my story.

Writing a life story is the journey.

There are four groupings for the goals we set:

  1. Goals committed to and achieved.
  2. Goals committed to and still working to achieve.
  3. Goals committed to and did not achieve because we weren’t really committed.
  4. Goals not committed to because we were scared of what might happen.

Most personal dreams and aspirations are in areas of finances, education, family, skills, hobbies, social impact, and faith practice. It is clear to me, personal goals and aspirations are achieved in much the same manner as those in business. They have to be a priority and we have to commit time to them. They become the basis for decision-making. They have to be consistently worked, molded, and attended-to. They require daily disciplines.

New Year resolutions are fleeting because we aren’t really committed to the journey. New Year resolutions tend to be more emotional and based on impulse. Passion is a difference maker when it comes to achieving long-term goals because passion is the driving-force behind commitment and action.

The story worth telling.

Have you noticed how an audience reacts to the journey of storyteller as much or more than the destination of the storyteller? Think about the athlete profiles during the olympics. We are inspired by the athletes’ commitment to the journey as much as their competition in the games. Many of the athletes’ stories involve their journey fighting through conflict, setbacks, and adversities. It makes a great story because it connects with other people and maybe even inspires them to keep going through their difficult times.

If you haven’t already, make a goal in your life (a BHAG!) in an area where you have passion, resolve, and commitment. Pick an area where you already have a few skills to help you through the tough times and setbacks. Don’t pick a goal because of social pressures, rather pick something you care deeply about in life.

Go write a piece of your story.

 

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: Dream by Greg Westfall – https://flic.kr/p/7Xse8c

 

Straight Talk for Documenting Standard Work

Creating documentation is arguably the most dreaded task for working professionals. Not many people like to document why a program or procedure exist or how the pieces of a program fit together to make a working application. For those who do create documentation of procedures, standards, or architecture, maintaining the document becomes another challenge. It’s a conundrum; we don’t like to write and maintain documentation for processes and procedures, but we want to reference the documentation if we are unsure how to perform an operation. But it shouldn’t be this way. When we understand and appreciate the value of documentation then we’ll see the effort to create it is not wasted and provides value to everyone.

In the context of operational work, we like to use documentation to define standard operating procedures (SOPs). Gemba Academy defines Standard Work as “setting a standard and bringing conditions in conformance with the standard.” A defined and documented standard is useful for maintaining quality, simplifying processes, and creating the basis for continuous improvement. Who could argue with those benefits?

Here’s how we are approaching and working with standard work in my work group:

  1. Define a common template to use for standard work definitions. In most cases we find the template is sufficient to document the procedures we follow for recurring tasks. It’s expected the template may change a little over time. We can do updates as complete the annual review mentioned in step 4.
  2. Provide information in the template about the creation date and last review date of the standard. This makes is easy to see when the document is opened when the last time the procedure was reviewed. We put this information in the header of the document so it is the first viewable element when the procedure is opened.
  3. Store the procedures online. Our online repository shows who created the procedure, when the procedure was created, when the procedure was last modified, and who modified the last procedure. Since the material is online it can be easily sorted or searched to find a specific document(s).
  4. In the leader standard work of the management team, we set a task to review and/or update standard work at least annually. Adherence to an occurring review reminds everyone on the team which documents exist and how that procedure is defined. If all of the standard work is kept in the same repository then it’s easy to locate and to determine what to review.

Practical benefits of standard work:

  1. We can’t improve upon what we haven’t defined and standardized. Taiichi Ohno said, “Without standards, there can be no kaizen.” Once all the members of the team see the definition of the standard they can begin to find ways to continuously improve it.
  2. It provides a script for training new employees. How many times have you onboarded new team members and only given them verbal instructions on how recurring tasks are accomplished in your department. We just hope they get it and can repeat their training during live execution of the steps. For the benefit of the employee, training, and company, the SOP document is meant to provide the quickest and most consistent training. It takes a burden off the manager. It provides a sense of security of the employee. It produces consistent and expected results for the customer and company.
  3. If all of the SOPs are grouped together on an electronic board then it is easier to group and keep organized for updating. Every year, we can sort our standard work document library by last-update-date to quickly determine which SOPs need to be reviewed.

In my group, we are starting to define and add SOPs each month. The value we receive from the documentation far outweighs the time required to create the document. Standard work is a journey, not a destination. Define the work. Execute the work. Review the work. Improve the work.

Onward and upward!

The Fall of the House of Jargon

Inspired by Poe, ghoulish tales, and corporate jargon.

I arrived at the House of Jargon on a windy day, overcast, with a steady drizzle of rain. The letter from Roderick Jargon arrived late because he didn’t follow best practices and the large attachment exceeded the size of my mailbox. His words said he had fallen ill trying to synergize members of his house and needed assistance to flesh-out ideas and restore his health. Visible on the outside of the house, was a large crack extending downward to its foundation.

I was greeted by Madeline, Jargon’s chief of staff. Her eyes showed she was weary from restless nights. In a trance-like state she murmured, “We’ve been expecting you. We have not been able to herd the cats and Mr. Jargon has fallen ill.” As I entered the foyer, I was awestruck by the size of the house. It was small enough to hide the reasons for underperforming expectations but large enough to hide an elephant in the room. I knew immediately, my visit would test my senses and resolve. The air was stale and smelled of mold, rot, and decay.

Madeline escorted me to the studio, where Mr. Jargon sat listless and pale in his chair. “Your painting collection is impressive”, I said as I tried to lighten the mood. “Yes, I have searched the world and found pieces to promote increasing productivity and doing more with less”, he replied. The lights suddenly went out as the rain outside intensified. Madeline lit some candles so we could continue our conversation. Our shadows, now present on the walls and floors, intensified the feelings of doom and despair.

Mr. Jargon started singing a song. It told the tale of a business filled with low hanging fruit the workers couldn’t pick because they couldn’t find ways to collaborate and harmonize with each other. Ultimately, the business failed to live the mission because the workers forgot their purpose. “I wrote that song about my business”, he said. “I believe my fate and legacy is connected to this house. Can you help me?”

A few days later, Mr. Jargon informed me Madeline resigned her job and would leave the house. He insists I help him define an exit strategy for her because she was the nucleus of the team. During Madeline’s last two weeks the mood in the house grew more somber. Any glimmer of hope, excitement, and purpose were lost. Mr. Jargon’s condition continued to worsen and even I felt agitated over trivial things.  The mood of despair dampened my spirit.

During the fifth week, a large storm moved into the area. Once again, power was lost at the house and we moved about mostly in the dark. Mr. Jargon and I, retreated to his bedroom hoping to find rest and relief from fear of the storm. As we talked, I looked out his window and noticed a faint glow on the lake surrounding lake. But yet, there was no light from the house and the heavens provided no help to see. The house appeared to be alive, casting its own light to those who dwelled within it. Mr. Jargon soon became more delusional and started to recount stories of past successes. He was living in the past while grasping for tomorrow.

Hoping to calm Mr. Jargon I began to read a book about a knight who sought shelter during a ferocious storm. A small house caught the eye of the knight, but there is a dragon guarding the entrance. As the knight prepares for battle, he notices a shield hanging on the wall with the inscription:

“Whoever enters this house, accretive growth is before you;

Slay the dragon, and the shield is yours to help increase productivity against the forces of complacency.”

The knight, empowered by the words and vision, slays the dragon and reaches for the shield. But the shield falls to the ground with a resounding clang.

Suddenly a loud shriek breaks our concentration from the book. As if from within the DNA of the house, the shriek reverberates off the walls and furniture. Mr. Jargon becomes increasingly agitated murmuring words about organic growth and not enough resources to win the battle. He shouts “I should have listened to Madeline, when she told me to move the goalposts to higher objectives so we could leverage our core strengths!”

A huge gust of wind pushed the windows open and extinguished our candles. In a faint light from the moon above the house, Mr. Jargon and I noticed Madeline is standing in front of the open bedroom door. She runs to Mr. Jargon and releases a scolding monologue with accusations about missing alignment, collaboration, and buy-in from key stakeholders.

I knew my time had come to leave. Frightened by the distrust and accusations, I felt like I would soon be thrown under the bus like so many others in the House of Jargon. I ran for the door, leaving my belongings. Passing through the outer courtyard, I continued to run not wanting to look back.  As if on cue, the moon broke free from the clouds and cast a light upon the surrounding wilderness. I stopped to look back upon the house. The crack in the exterior I had noticed when I arrived widened, and soon split the house in two. The house began to sink as if under the heavy weight of non-value added activities. It vanished into the ground and my view was consumed by howling winds and blinding rain, as I lost sight to the House of Jargon.

 

photo credit: Greg Clarke via Creative Commons

concentration so intense…

One of my favorite things is reading a book and finding a statement that makes me pause and reflect. It’s the highlighter worthy statement. It’s the one I might write about or use to start a conversation with a colleague. It’s a statement the author uses to convey the point of their writing. For me, it’s a statement that feels right because it connects with my own experiences.

It happened today as I was reading Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones. Womack and Jones recapped the findings of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi by saying,

“The types of activities which people all over the world consistently report as most rewarding — that is, which makes them feel best — involve a clear objective, a need for concentration so intense that no attention is left over, a lack of interruptions and distractions, clear and immediate feedback on progress toward the objective, and a sense of a challenge.”

At work, I have an ongoing conversation with a few colleagues that the most rewarding department in the company is shipping. The product comes to them and leaves them, piece-by-piece. They check a box, mark it complete, mark it shipped. This is not the type of stimulating work Csikszentmihalyi mentions. But shipping personnel are gaining the sense of accomplishment by starting and completing work without interruptions.

Here’s a challenging situation. Today’s office of matrixed organizations working on multiple projects, makes replicating the experience described by Csikszentmihalyi extremely difficult. I’ve been wrestling with the puzzle of transitioning IT work from batch-and-queue into single piece workflows. Part of that puzzle is finding solutions for how best to keep technology workers satisfied and inspired by their work. Project requests come simultaneously from multiple stakeholders including customers, product managers, and compliance teams. Project requests also originate from events like mergers, acquisitions, facility closures, and company reorganizations. All this results in what I call organizational entropy. It’s very difficult for a professional worker to achieve “a concentration so intense that no attention is left over”.

One way to minimize the number of stops and starts is by level-loading assignments to workers by prioritizing work and regulating the in-take of new work from entering the flow of production. This takes discipline from the managers to see the entire system and to manage with an eye towards uninterrupted work. It requires discipline from the workers not be distracted by upcoming work or work not requested by the customer. If I think about my typical day, I start with a set of defined work tasks for what’s important and due. It takes concentration to complete a task from start-to-finish without pausing to look at emails, new requests, or other project assignments. But when I do stick to the plan and complete the work, I find the work more rewarding.

Picture this – “Concentration so intense that no attention is left over”. Office squirrels might go extinct.

Onward and upward!

Root Cause Analysis Playbook

One of the staples of our Lean journey is a monthly root cause analysis (RCA) effort. The results of the team standard have surpassed my expectations, and I anticipate more potential positive results as we mature our approach. Our playbook is simple to execute, but requires disciplined execution and adherence to standard to recognize benefit and produce long term benefits.

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Prerequisite Activities

  1. Train team members on the fundamentals and business reason to use RCA.
  2. Create team standards for documentation and frequency of RCA events.
  3. Establish place on visual management board to post active, completed, and future RCA documents.

Execution

  1. In the frequency designated by the team standard, determine the process,procedure, or result as the subject for the RCA.
  2. Decide who the point person is to manage the current RCA effort.
  3. Analyze and document
    1. Define the problem
    2. Determine why the problem happened.
    3. Determine a solution to prevent the problem from happening again.
  4. Post results to management board

Organizational Adhesive

  1. Review progress of active RCAs and results of completed RCAs during weekly team meetings.
  2. Use managers as both participants and assignment owners.
  3. Audit adherence to department standards and post results on team audit board.
  4. Use the management board to put placeholders for RCAs that will happen in the future.

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A monthly cadence works well for our environment. It is frequent enough to keep problem solving active, but not so frequent to disrupt operational activities. We have found that RCAs which require more than a month of work to resolve should be classified as a project so we can keep the monthly cadence of RCA events.

The best part is living with the results and preventing problems from repeating. So far, we’ve not had any of the problem repeat that we’ve solved for in a RCA. I guess that’s the whole point.

Onward and Upward!