A Business Technology Place

More or Less?

Truth.

There will always be more work to do than is possible to accomplish by my team.

Think more. Whine less.

Earlier this year I penned some thoughts about thinking through resource contention, Do more with what you have!, because I was looking for better ways to address resource contention than to simply say more people are needed. Getting stuff done is as much a mindset as it is a collection of work output. I’ve learned that when I am overwhelmed with size of the backlog of tasks then the frequency of my output decreases.

In the book, ReWork,  Fried and Hansson address the value of staying lean with less,

“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative. “

Do I believe that? The words do inspire me to look at my backlog through a different set of lenses. One thing I know is this. If I’m able to produce consistent output that adds value to the customer and mission of my team then conversations about the priority of the backlog are easier.

In the book Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne say it this way,

“instead of getting more resources, tipping point leaders concentrate on multiplying the value of the resources they have.”

The Theory of Constraints management paradigm teaches us to first find the constraint within a process and then to exploit the constraint by shifting resources, managing work queues, and possibly adding capacity. With this lense, value is unlocked by first examining the underlying process instead of trying to add more people.

More or less?

As I sit writing this, I’m led to these conclusions:

More is contentment with less because having less allows me to get more done.

Less is obsession about more, because having more often leads to getting less done.

Onward and upward!

JIT Action Items for the Office Worker

Just in time.

Picture this. You are reviewing a list of tasks that was assigned to colleagues in your business. You remind one of the task owners their action item is due tomorrow and they respond, “I have it on my list, but I’m operating just-in-time.”

This happened to me recently. The word choice “just in time” (JIT) is from a Lean concept in which production output is managed by when the customer requests delivery rather than when the producer can complete the task. Most office workers today don’t match-up their behavior with Lean Principles. But even if you aren’t a Lean practitioner, there is tangible value to considering the JIT approach.   One of the primary goals of JIT is to eliminate waste by not working or storing excess inventory. For this blog post, I’m writing about assignments, tasks, and action items for office personnel. Think of excess inventory as assignments that are completed but never used or maybe action items that are started but never finished. That is considered waste and our time is too valuable to spend it producing work that doesn’t add value for the customer.

Three ways to structure a task list for JIT delivery in the office:

1. Purge non-value added activities.

 

 

So often we spend our time prioritizing tasks to stack rank them for the order they should be worked. With ‘Lean’ thinking the first question should be “do the results of this activity add value for the customer or is it a necessary non-value added activity?” (i.e. compliance task). My experience with tasks prioritized low is over time they eventually fall off the list because they are no longer needed. This most often means it was never a value added activity and just clutter on the backlog (unnecessary inventory). It’s a good idea to review the backlog of tasks on some recurring interval to purge non-value added activities.

2. Group items into buckets already covered by standard work activities.

 

 

Some action items may fit into already established recurring work activities where standards and time allotments exist. If that is the case, then it’s not necessary to create additional time for one-off production of work output. An example of this recently happened to me. A compliance control required the review of at-risk vendors and documentation of the results. I already had time assigned on my calendar for a quarterly review of security and risk related items as part of a security committee agenda. Rather than add a new task for myself, this compliance control was added a responsibility of the Security and Risk Committee. The concept for this idea is to examine recurring activities already part of standard routines. Some assigned tasks may naturally fall into those routines and intervals.

3. Use a calendar of due dates to help with priority sequencing.

 

 

Putting due dates for action items on a calendar provides several nice features for structuring work. It enables the ability to preview the calendar for upcoming work (Daily or Weekly) which triggers work execution. The concept of JIT relies on keeping inventory of unused work at a minimum. With this thought in mind, try to avoid having active progress on work that isn’t due because it may take away time from working on tasks that are due.  The challenge with this method is estimating how long a task will take to complete and being able to work through unplanned interruptions.


So being a JIT employee isn’t quite like being a Jedi employee. But then again, if you can consistently deliver action items in the expected time frame, it won’t take long to reach Jedi status in your office.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Philip West via Creative Commons.

Employee Growth Chart

Childhood memories.

Did your mom mark your height on the door frame as a child? Let’s admit it. Those pen marks on the door-frame each year were exciting. It was even more fun if siblings, or other relatives, were marked on the door as well. What was it about the marks that made it so fun? Was it that we could see how much we were growing each year? Was it that we could see how close we were to a height goal? Or was it that mom would see our progress? Whatever the reason, one aspect that jumps out to me is the childhood growth chart was a visual control. We didn’t think about that at the time, but using visual controls play an important part of business life.

 

Employee growth.

A few years ago I wrote about a key concept for employee development, “employee development is better executed as an ongoing part of a business rather than an event.” As I map and transform many of my business activities to TPS and Lean principles, I think about how this relates to Principles 9 and 10.

 

Principle #9 – “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.”

Principle #10 – “Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.”

 

The verbs ‘grow’ and ‘develop’ describe an ongoing process. To measure progress of the growth journey, we’ll need visual tools and controls.

 

Make a chart.

One tool I started using a few months ago is a flow and performance board for visual management. This is a good spot to track employee growth metrics. I’m doing this with an eye towards professional skills enhancement and team cross-training.

 

Step 1: Create a skills matrix of the staff to document the current state

Step 2: Create an individual training plan for employees that addresses their personal growth as well as overall coverage the team provides to the business.

Step 3: Make it visible just like mom did. J

 

Here’s a very simple chart framework.

(Ratings 1-5)

Skill A Skill B Skill C
Employee A 2 4
Employee B 3
Employee C 2 3

Here’s a simple action plan (employee development plan).

Task Due Date Notes
Employee A increase skill A to level 3. December 31
Employee B learn skill A to a level 2. October 31 Currently employee A has no backup for skill A
Employee C increase skill C to a level 4. November 15

Onward and upward!

 

Photo Credit: Rochelle Hartman via Flickr Creative Commons

 

Work with a rhythm

So many things provide rhythm to life.

  • Music
  • Dance
  • The seasons
  • Waking strides
  • Heartbeats
  • Speech
  • Faith

What rhythm means to me.

Before I ever thought about my daily routines mapping to a rhythm, I was following patterns. Looking back, I remember specific practices I used during high school to complete assignments and study for tests. I used time blocks in college to stay organized with activities and school. Today, I have routines for work, exercise, money management, and a host of other life spaces. These elements provide rhythm to my life.

I don’t see standard disciplines as some robotic repetition. To me, life rhythm is a recurring set of actions that are completed for a purpose. Exercising at set intervals is meant to keep the body healthy. Arriving at work before the official start of business is meant to allow time for uninterrupted planning and thought. Avoiding or minimizing personal debt is done to allow more freedom in spending choices later.

A few of my favorite examples.

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, says it this way, “There is a way, however, to ensure that you’re always poised to experience creative insights when you need them. You must establish practices that support your creative process and give you the focus, energy and time you need when an opportunity arises“. Establishing rhythmic practices in your routines is a how he supports creative processes in his life.

The Apostle Paul found rhythm in God and his faith. In a speech in Athens his words are recorded in Acts 17 as, “For in him we live and move and have our being.

One of the Principles of Lean and the Toyota Production System is, “Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.” The point of standardized tasks is not to become inflexible, but to find and expose pieces of work that can be improved.

Find a rhythm but understand the why.

Creating and setting a rhythm in life is important for achieving success on our daily ‘to-do’ lists. But the benefits of setting a rhythm are way better than accomplishing a few to-dos. If we use our mission statement, personal or business, as a basis for our rhythms then we are building a foundation s for working on what is most important while at the same time creating opportunity for continuous improvement.  Now that’s a song worth dancing to.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Ineke Hulzing via Flickr Creative Commons

Take this job and love it

Johnny Paycheck didn’t talk to me

I’m blessed to say I’ve never been in a job I hated.  I’ve been challenged and grown professionally in each position I’ve held because I positioned myself in a career field I enjoy. But I’ve also developed a few routines over the years to enhance my work experience.

  1.    Engage with people

I’ve learned cube hermits rarely enjoy their job or surroundings. I believe collaboration is more successful when I can see and/or hear my customers and team partners. So I increase my engagement with work by getting away from email and visiting others in-person or calling them on the phone.

  1. Go to the Gemba

The phrase gemba is a Japanese term meaning the place where value is created. Before I was introduced to the word in Lean teachings, I discovered the power of the concept. When I was a product manager, I noticed I was spending as much or more time with the business unit owners as my peer group. I moved my desk inside their business unit and not within the IT area. This move increased my understanding of the business and made collaboration with my customers easier.

  1. Take pride in your work

A wise man told me in college that every piece of work I turn in has my signature and approval. It left a mark on me. My work output reflects how much I care about the customer, my company, and my work. My work is my signature, so do it right and take pride in it.

  1. Seek to align with other departments

Aligning with other departments means actively listening to understand their needs and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. It means aligning to common goals in the business and not thinking my goals trump others. Isolationism within the company will ultimately leads to frustration, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies.  

That’s my recipe for loving your job. What’s yours?

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via creative commons