A Business Technology Place

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!


Write your story

How much of your story is the result of past dreams and aspirations?

In a professional sense, the answer is a measurement of setting and achieving goals. But from a personal standpoint the answer includes influences from friends, parents, and social factors.

Jim Collins defined Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS) in his classic book Built to Last. The BHAGs are long horizon visionary goals for a business. They provide a guide for setting direction and determining what to do and what not to do. In the fall of 1989, I filled out a form in college declaring my major course of study. I was influenced by a number of things to do this, including a Christmas gift (Apple IIC) and a high school teacher. It was my first BHAG and the moment was the beginning of a dream and now part of my story. But there have been other long term goals in life I’ve not completed or abandoned. Whether success or failure, each aspiration has in its own way impacted my story.

Writing a life story is the journey.

There are four groupings for the goals we set:

  1. Goals committed to and achieved.
  2. Goals committed to and still working to achieve.
  3. Goals committed to and did not achieve because we weren’t really committed.
  4. Goals not committed to because we were scared of what might happen.

Most personal dreams and aspirations are in areas of finances, education, family, skills, hobbies, social impact, and faith practice. It is clear to me, personal goals and aspirations are achieved in much the same manner as those in business. They have to be a priority and we have to commit time to them. They become the basis for decision-making. They have to be consistently worked, molded, and attended-to. They require daily disciplines.

New Year resolutions are fleeting because we aren’t really committed to the journey. New Year resolutions tend to be more emotional and based on impulse. Passion is a difference maker when it comes to achieving long-term goals because passion is the driving-force behind commitment and action.

The story worth telling.

Have you noticed how an audience reacts to the journey of storyteller as much or more than the destination of the storyteller? Think about the athlete profiles during the olympics. We are inspired by the athletes’ commitment to the journey as much as their competition in the games. Many of the athletes’ stories involve their journey fighting through conflict, setbacks, and adversities. It makes a great story because it connects with other people and maybe even inspires them to keep going through their difficult times.

If you haven’t already, make a goal in your life (a BHAG!) in an area where you have passion, resolve, and commitment. Pick an area where you already have a few skills to help you through the tough times and setbacks. Don’t pick a goal because of social pressures, rather pick something you care deeply about in life.

Go write a piece of your story.

 

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: Dream by Greg Westfall – https://flic.kr/p/7Xse8c

 

Finding spaces with different views

This week my son ended his baseball career after 13 years of playing the game through spring, summer, and fall. Our high school does a nice job with the senior recognition ceremony. It includes a lap around the infield to shake hands and hug the freshman, JV, and returning Varsity players. Then the player meets his family and walks to shake hands with the coaches while a player bio is read over the PA system. Next, a recorded message from the senior is played over the PA system. It’s a message the player leaves for their teammates, coaches, and family. The ceremony ends with each player making one final baseball toss to a family member.

Our school has a volunteer photographer who no longer has a son that plays baseball (8 years removed). He goes to every game home and away. He arrives before the game to take warmup photos and stays until the end. Then he posts probably 900-1,000 photos of each game online for parents and family to download. All of this free of charge. He takes pictures of other high school sports as well.Baseball1

At the end of the year, I was talking to him about the love of the game. Obviously he wants to find ways to stay around game long after his son was a player. It’s personal to him. He told me that taking photographs at the games fills a need in his life. It’s an outlet for a hobby. But on top of that, he told me,

“Taking pictures during the game allows me to find new spaces with different views.”

He is energized by seeing a game from different angles than what a fan sees in the bleachers. He sees the facial expressions of the boys, their body language, the dugout conversations, and even the silly moments. He often captures angles of a play that reveal new insights. His photos capture technique that can be used for instruction and learning. He is constantly probing for new angles and thinking about how to position himself for a different look.

Having an inquisitive nature to find new spaces with different views at work is a trait we all need but few exhibit. In IT and Operations, most attention is given to creating repeatable and predictable processes. Employees are focused on improving efficiencies by incrementally reducing lead times and delivering work faster starting from the same processes. Thinking about different views if often left for the process engineers or visionaries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like my friend taking pictures of a game, we can all look for new spaces and different views. But it requires that we fully engage with the subject matter of our work.  It means getting out of our box and thinking about the customer, the equipment, the service, and the people from different angles. It means getting out of our offices and cubes to experience the business from another place. It means using the telephone to hear a customer or colleague instead of emailing them. My friend has to move around to take pictures of the game. He searches for places to stand and examines the view. He takes photos and then examines the results before adjusting to the next angle. That’s the rush of the experience and the involvement with the subject matter. If we aren’t excited about our jobs and careers to do this then it could be we are playing the wrong game.Baseball2

Go find your new space. Stretch out!

Onward and upward!

 

Dunking IT Developers in the river

My disclaimer this week is that I’m writing about an idea in my head. This is not something I’ve tried and have first-hand experience to report. But I’ve got feeling this idea will hold water if we can determine the logistics to make it happen. This I believe.

Setting context.

When I was a cooperative education student at Georgia Tech I was employed by a company in the northern Atlanta suburbs. The company setup a program that rotated two co-op students through different areas of IT so we could gain exposure and experience with different areas. My counterpart and I rotated different school/work quarters. While he worked one quarter I was in school. Then the next academic quarter we flipped. We had assignments in different groups including telephony, service desk, mainframe services, and networks. The program complemented our education at school and provided us with valuable experience to use when we graduated.

A larger version of this same principle is in corporations that have formal leadership development programs. High potential young employees are selected to go through a job rotation in different departments to prepare them for leading the business in the future. This is often coupled with exposure to international divisions in the business and includes rotations in departments like finance, sales, marketing, and operations.

Today, I was reading through some articles about job trends in Information Technology and I side-tracked onto an article from Fortune Magazine about skills employers want that are not found in a job description. Three of the five employee traits mentioned in the article can be strengthened by a job rotation program like leadership development or co-op rotation. They are 360-degree thinking, cultural competence, and empathy. I believe that these three employee traits are part of the challenge when people talk about the IT group not having alignment with other business departments.

The idea.

Put IT developers through a six week job rotation in the following departments: operations, sales, customer service, marketing, and finance.

 

The program would be setup put the IT developer on the front line of each department in entry level jobs so they can feel and touch the flow of business in the organization.

Black and White Concept Cartoon Illustration of Head Above Water Business Saying or Metaphor

Black and White Concept Cartoon Illustration of Head Above Water Business Saying or Metaphor

The objectives are different from a traditional leadership development program because this isn’t a program to develop managers or executives. But the objectives for developing more desired employee traits are the same:

  1. We want IT developers to be able to see business challenges holistically. This includes the viewpoint of the customer and the company.
  2. We want IT developers to create solutions that engage the customer and yet fit into the workflow of the business units behind their code. They’ll do this through cultural competence in their organization. Imagine how they might design a solution differently knowing how work is sold, configured, and produced.
  3. We want IT developers to be able to see business challenges through the eyes of other departments. A good way to break down barriers between departments is to walk a mile in their shoes.

Will the idea hold water?

Just like you, I can think of a hundred reasons why the idea would fail. Executing this idea would be difficult. The logistics of implementing the idea are complicated. Outside of the planning and job content, this idea requires cooperation from multiple groups of employees. For some it would mean slowing down to ‘train’ others. For the developers it would require they learn some skills outside of computer programming. Combine this with the trend that IT developers are becoming highly specialized in a specific area of the business or that IT developers tend to serve on one specific programming team because of technology-use and it would appear the idea has too many holes to work.

But I’m looking to build a more invested employee. I want to create a developer that can write code for solutions across a broader variety of disciplines.  This is about employee longevity, long term investment in talent, job rotation, and building patriots to the company’s mission.  

I see this like a baptism for IT developers by immersing them in the waters of the business river. When they come up from the dunking, they’ll have a new life with the ability to think more holistically, the ability to see business challenges through different lenses, and the ability to create solutions that are more connected to the business and customers they serve.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Igor_Zakowski

Long term thinking – right now

“If you don’t have a real stake in the new, then just surviving on the old – even if it is about efficiency – I don’t think is a long-term game.” – Satya Nadella

Is any business safe surviving on “the old”? Managing a product or service that is in decline requires skill. Companies that do it well can use the cash to fund investment in other areas and to support their long term vision. I’ve spent a large portion of my working life in the print industry with declining product sets. The business of print is, and has been, a good business to run. But all products run the full life-cycle. Continuing to focusing on getting more efficient at a specific product or service is like a race to zero when competition is factored in the equation. At some point the financial margins have been squeezed and re-squeezed to a point that it becomes difficult to sustain and support the business for future growth.

How is long term thinking connected to now?Vision

One of the principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is to base management decisions on a long term philosophy. That’s easy to agree with, but more difficult to focus on in a business environment that demands quarterly results to shareholders. I’ve had a hard time seeing this principle supported over the years. Just how do I connect long term thinking to the here-and-now?

Inspiration comes when you aren’t looking for it.

This week I had lunch with a few colleagues and the conversation drifted to automobiles. Everyone at the table had a story about a car that was impactful to their lives. Each of our stories shared a common theme; each of us placed the most value on the vehicle that was reliable, required the least maintenance, and lasted well beyond any loan payments. As I reflected on it later, I realized that no one spoke about add-on features, engine sizes, or even gas mileage. The most important thing was reliability, predictability, and service. These are all characteristics of transportation that transcend the offering of an individual vehicle.

So I asked myself, what are the characteristics of my business and workgroup that transcend an individual goal or project? What are those characteristics that define an ability to create new and adapt the old with the changing conditions of the business?

How can I think long term in the now?

Engage with people

Investing in people at work is a long term commitment for both the relationship and the value the employee brings to the organization. When I stress the importance of a weekly one-on-one meeting it is intended to coach, mature, and grow the individual in the values of the company. When I make an objective for employees to seek continuing education, it is an investment in the long term skills of the employee and their ability to contribute to the company in the future.

Stick with the plan

Make long term goals part of the annual goals and objectives process. Sometimes these goals are a continuation of key metrics for more efficient processing. Sometimes these goals are to expand into new markets, launch new products, or improve efficiencies. The point is to make sure the goals align with the long term vision of the organization. This links to my current day activities because the work that I’m doing to satisfy an individual goal should support the long term vision. The work is a building block in moving the organization toward a future goal.

Be persistent

Another principle of TPS is that the right process will produce the right results. I know personally, I don’t accomplish every goal and objective I set for myself or group. But if the goal is aligned to the long term vision, then it shouldn’t be abandoned. Long term thinking ‘in the now’ means I should stay persistent to win the day. I should work through setbacks by rethinking my approach.

Those are three characteristics for long term focus that I see in my day-to-day. How do you push long term thinking into your everyday routine?

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: C.P. Storm