A Business Technology Place

Creating culture with remote teams

“What are ways you are building a ‘lean culture’ with remote team members?”

I posted this question on Twitter and a LinkedIn group because during the 25 years of my professional career, I’ve seen working from home (telecommuting as we used to call it) go from a special once-per-week privilege to a common status of working from home multiple times a week.  A growing number of workers are also now considered full-time remote. Some factors contributing to this change:

1)The technology for connecting employees to the company network is ubiquitous.

2) Companies realized they can recruit workers regardless of location and expand their talent pool.

3) Commute time is a factor affecting employment decisions.

Weaving together disparate blocks is like building culture with remote workers

In our knowledge economy and bit-driven world, location is irrelevant for completing work and contributing to mission of the team for many of us. But how do we create and maintain a group/company culture when workers are not co-located? How do we build a new culture when we see each other through conference calls?  My group is in the early stages of a ‘lean’ culture transformation and geographically dispersed. So I’ve been wrestling with this question and concept.

I read some online posts about others’ experience with building a culture and it’s quickly apparent the answer depends on the environment, value, and people in the company. There is no magic elixir or secret equation. Each company has a set of beliefs they strive to follow and a set of tools they use to connect their daily operations fit their desired company culture. It’s apparent, culture isn’t based on tools, ping pong tables, free lunches, etc. Culture is built from a shared set of beliefs and practices for how to deliver products and services to a customer.

In my own journey to answer this question, I’m focusing on a few fundamental building blocks to promote and build ‘lean’ into our team culture:

Explain the why.

When people understand the root of ‘lean’ is to add value for the customer, it’s easier to gain momentum as compared with getting momentum from cost reduction and cycle improvement tasks. Reducing costs is important, but will come as the result of adding value to products and services the customer wants. Lean doesn’t come by osmosis. There should be training involved to reinforce the daily operations of the team.

Build leaders that focus on creating flow and reducing waste.

It’s unusual for anything to survive in a company setting if there is no support from executive management. For ‘lean’ to survive, the team needs to see more than verbal affirmations from executives. They should see a leader who engages with local and remote workers in the tasks they are assigned (Go to the gemba). They should see a leader that actively promotes and discusses the benefits of completing recurring root-cause-analysis events for problem solving. They should see a leader that examines metrics and assigns actions to improve performance through counter measures.

Attribute action and results to the mission of the organization/group.

The mission of the organization states why it exists. The mission is a connecting statement between organizational actions and providing value to the customer. To develop culture with remote employees, they should understand how their daily activities map to the mission. Strong leaders frequently remind employees of the mission so it becomes a source of motivation and a common bond.

Promote team over individual efforts.

This last building block requires additional focus from remote employees or it can become a stumbling block to results. Include the voice of remote team members by making sure there is adequate participation and polling for their input. It’s through actions like these, the bond between remote workers will develop as strong as two co-located workers. It promotes helping co-workers when they have a question or need some extra man-power. It promotes the cultural feeling that we succeed together and we fail together. It promotes clearer understanding of team roles and boundaries.

Lastly, I realize I must have patience because this isn’t a sprint. Culture is built over time and through actions. Culture isn’t built on hanging platitudes, rah-rah speeches, and lofty goals. Rather it’s built-on working together, investing in each other, coaching, gemba walks, and shared experiences.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/oFffVN – Porch Weave by Kay Hayden on Creative Commons

Overcoming audit excuses

I don’t have enough time to perform audits.

It was 9am Tuesday morning. I assigned the weekly visual management board audit to a staff manager and I could hear the unsaid words looking in their eyes.

It was 10am on a Thursday morning. I asked the process improvement manager, “Why do we need to audit ourselves weekly?” I was questioning both the value and frequency of self-audits.

Then my view changed….

I’ve found peace with internal audits.

Let’s be honest. Audit is kin to four-letter words in our current work culture. I’ve observed rolling eyes, sighs, and bad behavior when the word is spoken. You probably have too. But here’s a game changer; audits done the right way are beneficial. They can be more than checking a box. They can help make us better.

To get the most out of audits, I had to first understand the primary purpose of the audit is not find errors, but to identify waste and improve flow and processes. That mindset is part of lean thinking. It is a mindset that wants to know when processes are not running according to standards or when established metrics don’t meet expected values. I only came to understand this when I slowed down and thought through the content of the audit standards as I conducted the review. I had to look beyond a score and a check-off. I had to examine if the team was completing work according to standards, if we were adding value, and if we were removing wastes from our processes.

Our journey started by first defining department standards to check during the audit and the rating scale for scoring. We chose an audit frequency of weekly. It seems like alot (and feels like it), but starting out we want to establish standards and enforce expected behavior changes. Ideally, each week a different manager is assigned the task of auditing.

The audit sheet is a grid showing the standard, the rated score, and a box for written observations. If any standard is rated below the acceptable minimum score then a countermeasure is assigned to an owner to correct.

I don’t have enough time to perform audits.

Back to this common answer or excuse not to perform team audits. Here’s a few ways to overcome it:

(1) Keep it simple – Try to maintain less than 12 audit standards so the audit can be conducted quickly. My preference is the audit should take no more than 30 minutes.

(2) Make the results irresistible – Make the audit results focus on process improvement not process deficiency. Sure this is a spin-on-words, but it’s perspective of ‘why’ the audit is important. When the team sees the results can make them better, then time to do the audits will no longer be a factor. In fact, they’ll think we don’t have time not to perform the audit.

Onward and upward!
Photo Credit – https://flic.kr/p/TcaZyN – by GotCredit

Creating a metric – value add or mission?

Question:

Should metrics on a visual management board or report be something that measures progress on only value-add activities? Or is it OK to track metrics on items that may be essential non-value added, but directly support the mission of the organization?

What do our metrics measure?

I started wrestling with this question while trying to frame a new metric that at its core supports the mission of our department.  I started second guessing my metric thinking it was good for the group but not necessarily something a customer would call value-add. Is the question even valid? For Lean practitioners, can the mission of an organization/department be separate from value-add activities?

A quick analysis:

  • Value is the starting point of Lean thinking and is defined by the customer. An activity is value-added if a customer is willing to pay for it.
  • The mission of the organization states why it exists, what it does and for whom. The mission is about the here and now (whereas the vision is about the desired future).

If this is true, the mission of an organization or group should map to value-added activities because it describes an output that is done for someone. Missions statements may not describe a specific product or service, as they use more general language. But the mission statement should connect what the organization/group is producing to what a customer desires.

In our example the mission of our IT group is “to connect people through systems and solutions.” The metric we are discussing tracks the responsiveness (in time) for updates to service tickets. The metric supports our mission because ticket closures or status updates keep the customer better informed so they can go about their jobs more efficiently. We are connecting our customers to their work and their own customers and the information is used by them to make decisions.

The answer to my original question is “yes”. Metrics on the visual management board should support the mission of the organization as well as value-added activities. What better way to see the purpose of an organization matched with the value the customer expects.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit – Tape measure by bradhoc via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/cbWGD7

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!