A Business Technology Place

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!

 

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

 

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!

Do more with what you have!

We need more people. We don’t have enough resources.

Every week I hear about the conflict between the number of employees in the organization and the amount of work to do.  The underlying presumption is the organization can accomplish more by adding more people. The problem with this rationale is it takes the focus of solution delivery off the processes used to deliver solutions. Adding more people to a team is complicated:

  • It adds more strain on inter-team communication. Whatever inefficiencies exist in the current team environment will become more apparent with more people.
  • It creates the need to train and develop new people in the culture, business, and process flows of your company.
  • It moves the process bottleneck to another departmental team. For example, if you add more developers then you need more business analysts for requirements documentation.
  • It values urgent things over important things.

The right process will give the right results.

There are times when staff should be expanded. But it can’t be arbitrary and because the existing staff feels stressed about the existing workload. A better approach is to first examine the current environment for ways to work smarter and more focused. Process focused leaders look for ways to work smarter knowing that in the long run it will deliver greater capacity and more value added results. I don’t consider this doing more with less. I like to think of these actions as doing more with what you already have. Consider these approaches:

  • Write less code – If our first solution to solving a problem is writing code, then we’ve missed the opportunity to solve the problem by simplifying the process. The ultimate solution may require less code. Keep it simple!
  • Align value streams to your mission. – The activities we do that should be more important to us are the ones that align to our mission. The mission is a guide-post when deciding between what’s urgent and what’s important.
  • Develop existing employees before adding more. – The existing staff can provide more capacity if they work on the right things with more efficient processes. To do more with less we have to believe that getting existing people to understand the power of process efficiency, focus, and alignment adds more capacity. Get employees to work harder, but not before you help them work smarter.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jim1102 via creative commons.

 

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!