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Planting organizational seeds for a sustainable future

I’m in the process of repositioning to a new role within the same company. I’ve done this in the past, but never viewed the transition through a lean lens.  When this happened early in my career, I looked forward to the new job without giving thoughtful consideration to the previous job. Sure, I had documentation and notes I could leave for the next person. But I didn’t think about leaving a sustainable system.

That all changed when I was introduced to lean philosophy and thinking. The fifth lean principle is to pursue perfection. This is the principle that creates the basis for making continuous improvement and respect part of the culture and not just another management fad. Lean thinking identifies value and remove waste in such a way that practitioners view their work as more than a job. The work becomes part of a sustainable system that adapts to changing environments.


Ready to Spring Mike Lewinski via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/e9Fj5B

Today, as I transition to a new role, I’m leaving a team of managers with a set of documented standard work that creates the foundation for continuous improvement. I’m leaving them with departmental metrics that support the mission of the group. I’m leaving them with a defined system for problem solving and root cause analysis that systematically snuffs-out recurring problems that prevent excellent service delivery. I’m leaving them with the foundation for growing leaders who understand the work by going to the gemba. This time, the role change is different. This time I see and care about leaving a sustainable system for the next leader to enhance and make better.

4 of the 14 principles of the Toyota Way promote long term thinking and people development. Read these four principles and imagine how following them can promote sustaining a company culture by respecting people.

Principle 1) Base management decisions on long-term philosophy even at the expense of short-term goals.

Principle 6) Standardized tasks are the foundation of continuous improvement and employee empowerment.

Principle 9) Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy and teach it to others.

Principle 14) Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.

Pursuing perfection and continuous improvement is bigger than any individual. The big idea is to grow leaders so the system can survive management changes. If the system truly becomes part of the culture then the system will sustain itself and continue to grow over time. Of course I realize if new leaders are not versed in lean thinking then all of this may seem like foolishness to them. Therein lies the challenge for organizations in the midst of adopting lean. Grow leaders into elevated positions that understand the work and the system. Weave the system of lean into the culture so that it’s part of the core makeup of thinking.

The lesson in all this is to start planting seeds today for a sustainable system tomorrow. The seeds of long term thinking, standardized tasks, growing leaders, and continuous improvement are not only great ways to respect employees, but key to providing value to customers as well.

Onward and upward!


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