A Business Technology Place

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!

 

Battling Urgent

Picking my battles

Every day I am tempted to work more on what’s urgent than what’s important. Somedays I do better at working on important tasks, but it’s a constant wrestling match. Important tasks help to achieve my overall goals. Urgent tasks usually involve fixing something that is broken for someone else. Urgent tasks may not always be beneficial to everyone and tend to be subject to interpretation of the one asking for something to be completed. In other words, if I ask someone how urgent something really is, I will usually receive varying answers.

For me, it all starts with a service desk ticket, a system-outage, equipment failure, unexpected email, etc. Something happens that seems to always turn my time management routine upside down. Even if I’m working on important tasks related to larger goals, there are interruptions for urgent things by way of phone, in-person office visit, text, email, etc.

7am quiet time

At one time, the 7am hour was my stress-free plan-the-day time. It was quiet and I could plan the day or work on important tasks. Nice.

But I’ve noticed lately, the battle-of-urgent is starting more often during the 7am hour. More colleagues and customers are working flex-hours and home office hours these days. That means more workers are online at 7am trying to use computing equipment or starting to go through their daily tasks and reaching out for help.

Different Perspectives

I realize my purpose at work is to help others and to connect them to solutions. So while I may have lost my 7am hour as a planning time, I need to adjust and think smarter about how to approach the battle of urgent versus important.

I also realized the reverse is true; my important tasks could be someone else’s urgent tasks. If our goals are not aligned then it’s easy to create this type of mismatch.

Battling Urgent

A great approach to time management is defining leader standard work (LSW).  When I documented my leader standard work, I defined the important activities I perform daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. If I plan my day around leader standard work activities I should see the following benefits:

  • Working on what’s important – LSW defines activities that are important to the execution and management of my team and work.
  • Addressing what’s urgent through assignment and delegation. Whenever possible, I should delegate urgent work.  My LSW is structured in such a way as to review work queues for the entire team and make assignment shifts or inquiries as necessary.
  • Leading by teaching – LSW should be setup to make me more visible to my team and customers not less visible because I’m hidden behind a computer screen. LSW creates opportunities for engagement with other team members and customers.
  • Reflecting and 5S – I fail most often on this task because I work until I reach that stopping point at the end of the day.  If I can take 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and jot down any important tasks for tomorrow then it should help towards a great start against battling urgent.

Battling urgent never ends and some days I do better than others. But I try to prepare for the battle everyday by defining what’s important first and then executing that plan.

Onward and upward.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/21aTYi5 – Marco Verch via Creative Commons.

Root cause analysis for team building

Early in my career we used a process that loosely resembled a root cause analysis after a severity 1 production outage. The intent of the process was to determine why the severity outage occurred and then fix the problem so it didn’t happen again. No one liked process and the documents we produced were rarely used to influence process improvement. It was a checkbox and an exercise to fill-in-the-blanks to say we completed it. I always thought the name post-mortem was bit odd as well and we were certainly dead to the process. Looking back, I see post-mortem efforts can be valuable if championed and executed correctly. But there is a better way.

Twenty years later, we are learning to implement root cause analysis (RCA) into our recurring operational procedures. Like a post-mortem exercise, a RCA is typically done after an event has occurred with the intended benefit to prevent problems from recurring. If done correctly, this can reduce waste and downtime.

But a RCA is distinct with its own set of advantages. Our team is using lean A3 problem solving techniques as the backbone for RCAs.  It is apparent to me the RCA process, if supported and executed routinely, can shape a culture of continuous improvement. Here are a few practical ways:

  • The outputs can be used as a proactive measure to predict and prevent future failures. Problem solving focuses on examining why events occur coupled with action items and sustainment activities. This is a great way to identify potential future problems.

In one recent 5-why exercise about a database failure we identified a few weaknesses in a process in addition to the root-cause of a failure. Our corrective action plan addressed multiple weaknesses and has undoubtedly prevented some of the weaknesses from becoming service outages.

  • A systematic approach to RCA involves setting a recurring cadence for problem solving. RCAs require a wide range of knowledge to identify problems, compile documentation, and create sustainment activities. Individuals will struggle, but teams can thrive solving problems like this.

We post our RCAs on our department flow-and-performance board to make them visible, promote discussion, and to keep the process top of mind. Our standard is to perform one RCA per month. This reinforces that RCAs are part of the culture of the team.

  • Done correctly, RCA focuses on resolving process deficiencies instead of blaming people. It’s not always easy but we remind ourselves to focus on behaviors and results over individuals.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/88Kdgw

Forced change vs Needed change

A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.

I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”

His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.

Forced change

  • Reporting structure reorganization
  • Technology platform adoption
  • Technology platform migration
  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing

Needed change

  • Removing waste from processes
  • Adding value to a customer relationship
  • Cross-department collaboration improvements

When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:

  1. The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
  2. The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business.  The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
  3. The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.

So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons – https://flic.kr/p/pGWebT