During summer I turn into a recreational gardener hoping to grow a few vegetables for some delightful dinners. The first couple of summers I learned plants need plenty of sunlight and soil that drains well. This year I witnessed firsthand the effect of overcrowding in a garden plot. In my exuberance to increase my vegetable harvest, I overcrowded my plot at the community garden. A bell pepper plant was quickly overshadowed by squash, zucchini, and tomato plants. It stayed green, but did produce a single pepper from May through July. After an insect infestation killed the squash and zucchini I removed all the surrounding plants to leave the bell pepper plant alone with nothing else to compete for sunlight. The result from this single plant was over 35 peppers during August and September. Like a gardener, I want to know how to get more fruit from my labor at work.
To follow, or not to follow the rules. Have you noticed following established rules is a paradox of behavior? In some situations, we admonish employees when they don’t follow procedures and rules. We create manuals of standard procedures for consistent experiences and output. But when someone doesn’t follow the standard procedure and the outcome is wrong, they are reminded of the procedure and possibly disciplined for it. Yet in other settings, we applaud and recognize those who think beyond the rules to discover and create new things. Apple’s Think Different campaign, Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard, and Michael Dell dropping out the University of Texas are examples of people who didn’t follow the prescribed rules of society, but were later recognized a genius path makers. In the modern office, there are entire departments for compliance to enforce rules, regulations, and requirements. This translates into mounds of extra paperwork and
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
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.
Making sense of employee survey results. This week I reviewed the 2018 employee survey results with my department. I’ll be honest; deciphering survey results is a challenge for a variety of reasons. Questions are interpreted differently. Similar questions with slight nuances yield measurably different answers. Survey results are influenced highly by what is happening at that moment in time (mergers, hiring freezes, large customer wins, new managers, etc.) I first reviewed the results with the managers in the department. We discussed questions with the highest and lowest favorable scores. When we did this within a small group, we found different interpretations of the survey question. The process was useful because we had a healthy dialogue about the findings. But there was enough diversity of opinion that I wondered how employees would feel about our resulting actions. Traditions. The guidance from human resources and my history with employee surveys fit a