A Business Technology Place

Conquer the antagonist

Yardwork reflections.

I often use yard work as a time for self-reflection because what else is there to do while drawing shapes with a lawn mower? Sometimes I reflect on personal interactions and plans, but I also use the time to consider business activities. As I edged the lawn this week, I wondered how was it possible that some business leaders are able to leave behind a successful blueprint for the philosophy and culture that drive and define an organization. This isn’t a new question, but it’s a thought many business leaders go through on their professional journeys. Jim Collins spent an entire book on the subject in Built to Last. He discusses how companies find enduring success. More on that in a minute.

The antagonist.

As if by fate, I read a story tonight on NPR.com about implicit egotism that links to a study published by the Harvard Business School (HBS) called the Ikea Effect. The Ikea Effect suggests we have a preference for and place greater value on things we personally create. The HBS paper adds, “labor leads to increased valuation only when labor results in successful completion of tasks.” Meaning, when we are successful in a task, we tend to place a greater value on our creation than something someone else created.

I quickly realized the Ikea Effect told me something I’ve already observed and participated in during my professional career. Typically, new leaders and managers bring their way of doing things to a company. They want to establish a change in the company by doing what worked for them in the past. Maybe they were hired for the purpose of bringing change to the organization. On the flip-side, I bet you could think of some successful companies that started failing after a change in executive management. Considering the Ikea Effect and the thought of enduring greatness and consistency, the antagonist may very well be me!

Grow leaders from within.

One of the principles of the Toyota Production System is to “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.” We read this same finding in Jim Collins’ books Built to Last and Good to Great. A key observation from Collins, is companies that found success spanning multiple leaders most often promoted insiders to the CEO position. Constancy of purpose, culture, and philosophy is a key ingredient to enduring success.

Know thyself.

My take-away from tonight’s mental exercise is to look and reflect on the Ikea Effect in my own decision making. Am I prone to shut-out other ideas because I didn’t create them? Am I over-valuing methods, procedures, and systems I created? Can I create sustainable systems that will be maintained by those who succeed my position in the company? The Toyota Production Systems uses the phrase “the right process produces the right results.” So success is not about what I create or what you create. But it’s more about results that are right for the company or organization.

 

Onward and upward!

Photo credit : http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/photo-1207142

 

 

Visual Management Board for Lean IT

A note from my Lean journey

A few years ago I was introduced to Lean concepts and principles at work. After several months of studying the topic I realized that many of my professional activities for both managing processes and people already mapped to some of the core components of Lean. That makes sense as many of the leading management philosophies and programs of our time share foundational elements.

One of the important principles of a Lean is visual management.  Visual controls are used to communicate information to people that indicate if the current condition of a system is acceptable. The Toyota Production System says to use visual controls so that no problems are hidden. It’s like the old phrase, “you can’t fix what you can’t see.”

On my personal Lean journey, my next task is to develop a Flow and Performance Board.  This will be a form of visual management that displays information to use at recurring team meetings. The contents on the board support the Lean principles of continuous flow and reducing waste. Effectively, the board becomes a visual control to see how flow of product is progressing for customer value-added activities and where waste exists in the system.

Flow and Performance for IT – My 1.0 version

I used the following guiding principles when designing the 1.0 version of a Flow and Performance Board for my IT shop:

  1. Show elements of product flow – At what stage work is in the system.
  2. Show key metrics – If possible show actual vs expected. The focus of the board, and Lean, is process flow and eliminating waste (as opposed to traditional boards that focus only on results).
  3. Show flow influencers – These are items that may influence the production system such as holidays and customer audits. The intent is to make the influencers visible ahead of time so it’s possible to manage through them instead of reacting to them.
  4. Show audit results – Part of the Lean journey is having leaders that inspect our work to see if we are following standard process. IT also has a rapidly growing set of requirements for compliance, which customers require, that fits in this space.

My 1.0 version of a board looks like this:

Since IT team members are geographically dispersed and most of our tools report data electronically then this will be an electronic board. Content will vary for different groups within IT. My first board is targeted towards and enterprise level view.

The board is intended to be referenced during recurring team meetings so that team members have a visual control as they inspect pieces of the product flow. As such, it should be easy to read and process information. The contents of the board must be current to be relevant. Ideally the board will updated dynamically to reduce the amount of non value-add work of administrative processes.

I anticipate I will wrestle with screen real-estate, content, and compactness with each future iteration.

Onward and Upward!

Corralling your task list and action items

The Chaotic Symphony.

Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:

  • Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
  • Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
  • Emails
  • Ticketing system / Service desk
  • Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
  • Personal notebooks
  • Hallway conversations
  • CRM
  • Customer requests for information

It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!

Make a Corral.

I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.

I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.

Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.

Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.

Two important attributes for tasks.

To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:

  1. Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
  2. Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.

Making it routine.

Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.

Let’s do this.

Onward and upward!

Solve it!

I carry a paper notebook with me through the work week to records notes, thoughts, and action items. I prefer not to take my laptops into meetings because it helps me stay focused on participating injustsolveit the meeting. The content of a meeting, or other interaction, is often the source of ideas or even blog posts! Typically I transform my notes into an electronic system or put them in a to-do list. As I was reviewing my notes from this past week I found this thought:

“We want a formula to solve our problems.”

___________________

What would our business be like if every problem had a formula to follow for a guaranteed answer of success? That would be great. Sign me-up. Books are released every week with answers to common or recurring questions and problems. They give us checklists, rules, and procedures to find success. The ideas, the process, and the results make us feel good inside. It’s a prescription for success. Let’s get started!

But problems in life and the business are rarely that easy. A formula will give an answer and quite possibly a very good answer. But then I think if all the problems had a formula to follow to solve it, and everyone could do it, then there wouldn’t be winners and losers. Everyone should solve the problem every time. But you and I know that’s not reality.

The next thought in my notebook reads:

“Formulas and methodologies position teams for success but don’t ensure it.”

___________________

I enjoy the experience of a good game of baseball. Recently I read the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. The book discusses the journey of Billy Beane as a professional baseball general manager who sought a formula to predict the baseball players most likely to succeed at their sport. With the help of some smart data analysts Bean did come up with a formula and it was used as the basis to build some successful baseball teams.  

But even with that formula there was more required. Even with the latest and greatest software development methodology more is required. Even with the dieting rules defined in that book more is required.

What the formulas don’t provide is the ability for someone to read current conditions before making decisions about the inputs and timing. In a business environment I’m thinking about conditions such as when people will be available for a project, when cash is available to fund an investment, or the opportunity cost for two competing projects.

I want to formula to neatly solve all the problems. But I can’t miss the requirement to read the context of the situation to augment the benefits of following the formula. I feel the skill to read the context of a situation and then execute the play is often times what separates a successful outcome from one that doesn’t meet the goals. Easy to say. Not easy to execute. There’s no formula for that.

Onward and upward!