A Business Technology Place

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!

Lean Visual Management Board – What I’ve learned so far

Last year we started using a visual management board to get a better understanding of the flow of work in our IT department. The board, now in version 2 and completely electronic, has become the staple of our weekly team leader meetings. With continued attention and more maturity in lean thinking, I expect to continue evolution of the board contents.  There is no destination; Journey we must.

Each week, we “walk the board” during the team leader meeting. The content of the board is the agenda of the meeting. As we “walk” we make updates, we discuss topics, and we review results. The board has posted metrics and results, upcoming production changes, a calendar of key events , training plans, action plans, and links to standard operating procedure documents. It’s like a big dashboard but yet different because we are actively working the flow of department in the department instead of just viewing it. The board provides a tool for enacting the countermeasures and actions necessary to bring visual management to life.

Here’s a rough layout of the board contents which now reside on our Intranet start page:


Here are a few of the things we’ve learned by working the board each week:

  • Making work visual allows others see how their inputs and outputs affect overall flow of work.
  • We can measure progress of continuous improvement efforts by seeing how they affect key metrics.
  • We have a consistent approach for root cause problem solving. Learn together. Win together.
  • The board promotes the development of leaders that follow the company’s philosophy for work.

The visual management board is a conversation starter. It’s a visual representation of work. It’s a mission enabler.

Onward and upward!

Lean Thinking – Virtual Circles

Stand inside a circle.

During skills training last month, I viewed a series of videos from the Gemba Academy on the seven wastes in business and processes.  The material introduced the chalk circle teaching method of Taiichi Ohno. Draw a circle near an area to observe and stand in the circle for a pre-assigned time period. Record observations of the flow of work through the department. A key emphasis is placed on finding areas of waste. (Optional step, listen to “Stand by R.E.M.”- jk)

My mind started working a puzzle to define what this looks like in an office environment for Information Technology workers. The challenge is much of the work performed by IT uses inputs to-and-from a computer. Information and flow isn’t always physically visible. Combine this with employees that are not co-located and the observation circle for IT looks impossible.

But maybe I could create a virtual circle.

What’s at stake? A  way to find inefficient processes that produce waste and processes that don’t meet customer demand. A way to identify areas to reduce the time between customer request and solution delivery. This is important stuff!

My homework.

Now I have an action item to go draw a few virtual circles and stand in them. The first two areas I want to target are the software development process and service ticket flow.

  • Virtual Circle #1 – Software features on a Kanban board. We use swimlanes to map the status of software features and bugs. The board can show information on the movement of features through the process which may reveal wastes in the areas of overproduction, defects, and waiting.
  • Virtual Circle #2 – Ticket status in the HelpDesk system – Group requests according to status, entry date, or type to look for patterns and weaknesses. As with software development, this could show wastes in the areas of  waiting, overproduction, or unnecessary movement.

I have no doubt that I’ll find areas of waste. The aim of using a virtual circle is to turn the observations into actionable tasks for removing wastes.

If you have ideas for methods for finding wastes in an office environment let me know. This is a puzzle worth working.

Onward and upward!

 

Learning from customer service experiences

I’m documenting some customer service experiences from the last two weeks. They had an impact on my actions and they serve as a good reminder of reflection for customer service actions that we provide to others. People do notice words, attitudes, and body language.

While on vacation at a location where the number one industry is tourism:

Trolley Driver

My wife and I rode a trolley as a means of public transportation. By chance, we were the only passengers. We used the time to talk to the trolley driver and he provided some valuable information to us. As we were leaving he mentioned that he would like to discuss more with us and to look for him on the return trip. We did find him for the return trip and we were able to ask a few more questions.

The result? We felt appreciated as tourists spending time and money in his area. We left very pleased with our experience and left him a nice tip.

Restaurant Hostess

We entered a restaurant at dinner time near a popular pier. It was the beginning of the dinner rush about 5:30 in the evening. As we entered, another two parties entered just behind us. The hostess on her way to pick up menus mumbled softly (but loud enough to hear), “Oh, here they come, it’s starting.” I can’t portray how it was said audibly, but it was unpleasant enough that my wife and I looked at each other with the same look of astonishment. We were a disruption and inconvenience to her quiet-time.

The result? We walked out. We didn’t want to be in a place that wasn’t happy to receive our business.

Restaurant Waitress

At a different restaurant, our assigned waitress approached our table with smile and friendly greeting. After taking our drink orders she proceeded to answer our questions about their menu including information about serving size and what other guests typically do with the meal. She refilled our drinks without us having to ask and even provided to-go cups for our drinks as we left.

The result? A nice experience. We felt like appreciated customers. A favorable review for the restaurant and a nice tip for the waitress.

Hair Stylist

It’s not normal for me to get haircut while on vacation, but I had other travel planned for the week after and didn’t have time to visit my normal hair cutter back home. I showed up as a walk-in at a local place. There were two stylists on duty. They had a queueing system there and it showed two people waiting as “online check-in”. About the time the two stylists finished with their existing customers, both parties in front of me arrived. The first was a single man. The second party was a mom with three children. So I was actually 5th in line.

That’s when it got weird. The two stylists disappeared for about 3-4 minutes without a word to the five of us in the waiting area. Maybe it was a bathroom break, but I wasn’t sure. Then one of them appeared and started with the gentleman who was first. The second stylist was not visible and the first stylist made no mention of his whereabouts. Realizing I had a lengthy wait in front of me, I left to get dinner. As I walked to my car, I spotted the second stylist smoking a cigarette behind the store. It just seemed odd he would take a smoke break with four customers waiting and not even mention that he was stepping out for a quick break.

The result? I left and didn’t return. Neither stylist cared enough to communicate with customers what was happening. The atmosphere was yucky.

While on business travel:

Hotel Cleaning Staff

While traveling on business I returned to my hotel room one evening to find a note from the cleaning staff. The note was cheerful and upbeat and made me smile. Here was someone who enjoyed their job. I realized their motive may have been to receive a tip for their services, but I didn’t take their actions for granted because all the other service providers in my example work from tips. From some research, I found there isn’t consensus with the public about tipping hotel cleaning staff members. I found passionate arguments for and against it. But regardless of the tip, it was nice to feel appreciated as a guest at the hotel. The manager had also written me a welcome letter thanking me for staying at her property.

The result? A great experience. I was told more than once my stay at the property was appreciated. I gave them a good review and would stay there again if I am in the area.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via creative commons: https://flic.kr/p/4qyEp4