Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Science of Dashboards

One of the elements of lean that seems simple but is often misunderstood is the development and use of dashboards.  People are often surprised to learn that there is a science to creating an effective dashboard and that it consists of much more than posting metrics related to the area.
A dashboard should drive development of people and improvement in performance.  If these two things are not happening, then it needs to be changed.  Too often, I find that the metrics on dashboards are oriented toward providing information to management rather than providing the team with the type of feedback that helps drive improvements.  If the team does not find value in the dashboards, then it is waste.
I approach the development of dashboards by initially questioning the team about the value it provides and the problems it encounters.  Clarifying the team’s purpose will help it zero in on the value it provides to the process and what it should measure to assure it is helping the organization achieve its objectives.  It also prevents the team from becoming too narrowly focused on one target while ignoring others that are just as important (e.g., a supply chain team focusing on the price of incoming materials rather than the total cost of the material, which includes the effects the material has on production).
One thing to keep in mind with the process is that it requires time to reflect and truly understand what is happening with the process.  Once the team purpose is clear, people can start to develop the metrics that will help drive the type of improvements needed to contribute to the organization’s success through the following steps:
  • Define lagging metric targets: Lagging metrics measure of the result of a process.  Defining the targets in terms of key areas like safety, quality, production, cost, etc. help measure what is ultimately important for the team.  The lagging metric connects the team’s work to the larger system and provides feedback regarding the success of improvement efforts;
  • Develop leading metrics: The leading metrics are the predictors of the lagging metrics in that they help to identify what is happening now that will eventually affect the lagging metrics. 
  • Identify activity-based leading metrics: Since some leading metrics are really lagging metrics, it is critical to work toward activity-based leading metrics, which measure what the team is actually doing to close the gaps in lagging metrics.  The activity metrics are, in effect, the team’s efforts to solve the problems that show up in higher-level lagging metrics.
The figure below presents a very simple example of a safety dashboard for a rotor assembly area of a factory.  The top of the dashboard provides information about the longer-term direction of the company.  Although this may seem obvious to some, it is important to always maintain the connection between the team’s efforts and the company’s vision.
Safety Dashboard Example 2
The next level of the dashboard provides what the company determined to be its ultimate measure of safety, followed by the rotor assembly team’s performance and focus for improvement.  In the example, the team determined that it needed to reduce hand injuries in order to improve its safety performance and further decided that it will conduct regular audits and provide ongoing training to team members on a variety of hand safety issues.
The benefit of this dashboard is that the team can use it to identify the gaps in safety performance and actually measure what it is doing to improve.  If safety is not improving, the team can look to the activity measure and figure out why, for example, audits are not being conducted according to plan.  Team members can take action to assure audits are conducted as planned to ultimately determine whether or not they are driving improvement as expected.
The development objective of the dashboard comes from the conversations around the dashboard.  How is the team performing?  What are you doing about the gaps? Why are you focusing on hand injuries? Etc.
The effort takes quite a bit of coaching and reflection by the team to truly understand the process and how to improve to achieve targets.  Once everyone understands that the customer of the team’s dashboard is the team, it becomes much easier to develop one that actually helps drive improvement. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Many Benefits of Standardized Work

Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” – Taiichi Ohno

The above quote by Taiichi Ohno is used frequently to emphasize the importance of standardized work.  It’s one of those statements, though, that is so simple that I believe many people miss the true depth and significance of standardized work to an organization’s success.

Without a clear understanding of why standardized work is so important and how it drives improvement, it can be easy to miss out on many of the benefits that an effective system.

Among the benefits of integrating standardized work into the operation include:

Consistency/Stabilization  The chances of achieving stability in a process are very small without standardized work.  Clear and simple instructions help people do the work in a consistent way.  Without a standard, people are free to do the work as they see fit.

Identification of Problems  A standard defines how a process should operate every time.  Therefore, whenever the process does not follow the standard (e.g., defect, too much time, cost overrun, etc.), a problem has occurred that needs to be addressed.  Identifying a problem as a departure from standard – or expectations – makes it much more objective and easy for people to do.

Investigation of Problems When a problem occurs, the first place to look is the standard.  Did the people involved follow the standard?  If not, why not?  If so, then where did the standardized work breakdown?  How are we going to improve the standard to assure this problem will not recur?

Sustaining Improvements This is what most people think about when they read the Ohno quote.  There is no way to assure that team members will follow the improvements because there is no standard that people are expected to follow to perform the work.

Free Up Brainpower  Many people fear that standardized work attempts to turn them into robots but, in reality, the exact opposite is true.  One of the objectives of standardized work and associated training is to develop the ability to perform repetitive tasks subconsciously so brainpower can be free to focus on problem-solving.

Team Learning Incorporating improvements into standardized work assures that learning and associated improvements remain with the team rather than with individuals.  As people move in and out of the team, the improvements made over the years stays with the team.

I can only guess what Taiichi Ohno meant when he made the above statement.  The more I learn about lean, however, the more I understand the significance and depth of such a simple statement. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Lean Coaching Script

No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” – Peter Drucker
There is little argument that effective coaching is critical to drive lean thinking within an organization or a team.  Believing this and actually doing it, however, are two different things.  The ability to coach does not come naturally to most people, and without a standardized method for coaching, the variation in application can doom the effort to failure.
The Script - 4 Key Questions
Fortunately, there are four basic questions that leaders can apply in a variety of situations that, when done consistently, can drive the type of thinking that leads to improved performance throughout the organization.  The questions are based on teaching and reinforcing a standard way of looking at results to identify problems and make improvements.  The questions can be applied in a variety of situations to develop a lean mindset throughout the organization.  A further benefit of the questions is that they develop the ability of leaders to coach.  And this is all done real-time, using actual data from real processes.
The questions are as follows:
  1. What is your objective? This question helps clarify thinking about what exactly the process is expected to achieve.  It helps people understand the value they provide and how their process fits into the bigger picture.  Too often, teams go about their business without a clear or consistent idea of why they are doing what they do.  This question can help the coach guide the person being coached toward a systems thinking approach by assuring the team does not become too narrowly focused on one specific target at the expense of larger organizational objectives.  The discussion around objectives basically becomes a realtime catchball session as it helps clarify expectations and understanding.
  2. What is the data telling you? This helps the person develop an ability to use data to guide action.  Asking questions about data can lead to learning about lagging and leading indicators and how each fits into the improvement process. The discussion will naturally lead to questions about which metrics are being reported and why.
  3. What are you doing about the gaps? It is important to drive thinking around actions to understand and close gaps between targeted and actual performance.  Regularly questioning a person about gaps helps the person develop a natural inclination to look for problems on a continual basis.  The result is an almost obsessive desire to attack problems and close gaps.  Remember, though, that this is a conversation about improvement.  You are trying to develop the ability to show and address - not hide - problems, so the tone of the conversation, as well as a good deal of patience, is critical to success.
  4. What help do you need? Implied in coaching and development is the idea that it is a team effort.  Handing a problem to someone and walking off is not coaching – it is also not leadership.  You’ve got to be involved enough to guide the person through the process with the objective of helping him or her develop the ability to quickly and effectively address problems.  Especially early in the development, you need to understand what the person is thinking and why they are approaching an issue in a certain way.  The problem-solving A3 is perfect for this purpose because it helps the coach see into the mind of the person as they attempt to address a problem.  Remember that you are the coach, rather than the person working the problem, and that your objective is to help him or her develop the ability to address future problems without your help.
Developing successful coaches and leaders throughout the organization requires, at least initially, that everyone follows the script.  If people stray from the questions before they truly understand the process, the result will be variation in the way people identify and address problems, and unfortunately, very little development.
Another reason for sticking to the script is to develop the ability of leaders to question rather than tell.  If development was as easy as telling people what to do, organizations would run much better and transformation would be an easy process.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Can Learning Happen in the Classroom?

Nobody argues with the value of learning.  Most companies establish training budgets and hold classes on a variety of topics from leadership to lean.  When the organization faces a drop in revenues, however, the training budget is one of the first areas facing cuts.  Does this mean that leaders don’t believe in training, or is it that they don’t feel that the returns to the organization from training are worth the investment?  I believe that it’s the latter.  I also believe that they may be correct . . .
An Incorrect View of Learning
Since the start of my career, I’ve attended a number of internal and external training courses intended to improve my performance in one or more aspects of my job.  Although some of what was taught in these classes was interesting, I’ve generally found that they rarely, if ever, drove permanent changes in my behavior or the quality of my work.  Although it was nice to travel to places like New York City or San Francisco to attend classes, it was actually more of a perk than a true learning experience.  What was interesting, though, is that when I became a leader, I sent people on my team to the same courses because that’s how training was done.
Only after I learned about the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle did I start to question the traditional approach to training and development.  Rather than taking place in a classroom, I came to realize that true and sustainable team learning happens by doing, and that it is driven by regular cycles of doing, reviewing, and renewing.  Furthermore, since it happens real-time as part of the work people and teams are doing, it doesn’t necessarily need to be budgeted or scheduled.  It does, however, need to be consciously applied as part of the PDSA cycle in order to assure that the learning and resulting improvement are sustained.
Team Learning
One big miss in the traditional approach to training and development is that it focuses on the individual more than the team.  After all, teams produce results; not individuals.  It really doesn’t matter how much an individual knows if he or she is unable to use the knowledge to drive improvement.  Alternatively, the more a team learns and develops, the more sustainable the learning becomes.  When one or more people leave, it becomes less of an issue because the knowledge gained stays with the team.
An example of the PDSA cycle driving team learning is listed in the table below.  An important point about this concept is that learning implies action – and the cycle naturally leads to both.  Without action, there is no learning because the team will never know the extent to which an idea actually makes things better.
Team Learning
Another aspect of team learning is the importance of a coach to guide the team’s efforts to understand and address problems.  As a result, the team develops problem-solving skills as well as increased understanding of the processes in which they work.
Much like team learning, leadership development requires a clear understanding of results to clarify the gaps between actual and targeted performance.  Since the focus of leadership performance is much more individualized than team performance, one-on-one coaching is critical to help the person understand the gaps and ideas for improvement more clearly.
The difference between coaching and the classroom for leadership development is that coaching occurs real-time in meetings and at gemba.  A great place to coach a production supervisor, for example, is on the shop floor in front of her team’s dashboard.  Reviewing the board to understand why certain metrics are being reported, how they are being used to drive improvement, how processes are actually operating, what the metrics are telling the team, and what they’re doing about the problems are all part of the conversation that can help develop the supervisor’s abilities to drive improvement.  When done regularly, this type of conversation is far more effective than sending the supervisor to a one-week course on becoming a better leader.
Leadership Learning and Development
One thing that is rarely considered with an organization’s training strategy is the expectations.  What do you want from the system?  How will you know whether or not your training and development processes are delivering on expectations?  Doing classroom training because that’s the way it’s always been done (like I did earlier in my career) is irresponsible leadership.
Assuming that sending someone to a training course will make him a better leader also shirks the responsibility of developing those on your team by delegating it to someone else.  If you’re not able to do the coaching yourself, you have a gap that needs to be addressed to make you a better leader.
I believe that the major difference between traditional and lean methods of development is the idea that, under a lean mindset, learning implies action.  A PDSA approach drives learning through doing . . . followed by reviewing and renewing.  When applied in this way, learning becomes analogous to real improvement.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Driving Learning & Improvement

“Experience by itself teaches nothing... Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.” – W. Edwards Deming
Is there a place for theory in everyday business?  It is not uncommon to hear complaints about people who are too theoretical and not practical enough to get things done.  For whatever reason, we have come to believe that “doing real work” is what matters and that theory has no place in real work.
Very few people would argue with the idea that learning is critical to the success of a business.  But what is not widely understood is that learning requires theory.  If there is no theory behind an action, there is nothing with which to compare results and drive improvement.  People will either keep doing the same thing or randomly change regardless of the type of results achieve.
The Learning Organization & Standardized Work
In organizations where learning is truly a competitive advantage, people understand that all actions are based on theories that require continual adjustment.  They realize that improvement results from a conscious connection between theory and practice, and that one without the other is meaningless.  They coach people to understand the connections and use even the smallest problems as impetuses to change.
Connecting action to theory is the basis of standardized work.  Inherent in standardized work is the theory is that performing work in the manner described will produce desirable results.  When a problem occurs in practice, the standard – or the theory – needs to be changed.
We’ve all dealt with people who continue to do something the same way even though it doesn’t seem to work.  One has to wonder whether this results from a lack of willingness to change or a lack of understanding of the theory behind actions.  This is much more understandable if the organization’s leaders don’t value theory.  And the situation won’t change until the leaders realize that, without consciously understanding the theory behind their actions, they will have little success in driving continual improvement across the organization.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kaizen for Leaders

One of the most common roadblocks to the successful adoption of lean thinking is the mistaken idea that kaizen applies only to the shop floor.  Some leaders unfortunately consider kaizen as something to be delegated rather than used at all levels to drive improvement.  Unless leaders become actively involved in learning and doing kaizen, however, the level of transformation required to achieve the big gains with lean will never happen.
Kaizen at the Leadership Level
One reason leaders need to use kaizen is to improve the company’s high-level systems, including business planning, hiring, and leadership development.  W. Edwards Deming estimated that more than 90% of an organization’s problems are the result of the system; and improving the system is not something that can be delegated.  Applying a kaizen mindset, based on the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, is the key to unlocking the 90% and achieving the type of improvement expected from the transformation.
A far less understood – but just as important – benefit of leadership involvement in kaizen is to coach and develop the problem-solving skills of team members.  Success cannot be sustained without developing an army of problem solvers throughout the organization, and limiting problem-solving to a select few experts, as is often the case with initiatives like 6-sigma, prevents creating a culture where everybody improves the work they do every day.
Developing problem-solving skills across the organization starts at the top and cascades downward through coaching and developing the abilities of leaders and team members at all levels.  Leaders need to take responsibility for creating a continual improvement culture by modeling a kaizen mindset and coaching the ability of others – including future leaders – to do the same.
Strategic Initiatives and Kaizen
One thing that is not often understood is that a strategic initiative is really a large-scale kaizen.  The objective of a high-level initiative should identify a business gap that needs to be closed, and that the plan is a hypothesis that (1) it can be implemented as defined, and (2) it will result in achieving the objective.  Regular reviews to measure progress and adjust as needed constitute the STUDY and ACT phases of the PDSA cycle.  For these reasons, approaching an initiative as kaizen greatly increases the probability of success.
Rather than an executive driving the initiative, however, it is best to assign it to someone targeted for development as a future leader.  Facing a tough high-level business problem, along with coaching from a current leader, is an excellent way to develop long-term abilities in problem-solving, coaching, and leadership.
When a leader starts to develop a deep understanding of kaizen, it becomes clear that the process applies to all aspects of work.  Until the transformation occurs however, kaizen – like virtually all aspects of lean thinking – will be seen as something that can be delegated.  As a result, frustration and disappointment with lean grows until the effort is abandoned altogether.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Does Anyone Really Care About Developing Leaders?

"What is at the heart of transformation? It is the release of the power of intrinsic motivation. How? By creating joy, pride, happiness in work; joy and pride in learning . . . Create leaders with attributes that work to help their people, who know how the work of the group fits in to the aims of the company.- W. Edwards Deming
How serious are you about developing leaders? Virtually all companies talk about the importance of leadership development, and a Google search of the term will return almost 17 million hits. So businesses obviously take it seriously, right? Well, not really . . .
I’ve dealt with a number of organizations over the years and found that, although most talk about the importance of leadership development, very few actually take it seriously. The usual process is to identify those with potential and send them to a seminar to train them how to be a good leader. From that point, these future leaders may enter a sink or swim program where stretch projects may thrown at them to see if they can survive. And for those who are able to make it into leadership positions, the higher they go, the less time they have for further development. In the end, many organizations let other companies develop their leaders and hire them away when they're ready.
Among the problems caused by an ineffective leadership development system include variation in leadership styles, excessive costs and time associated with recruiting new leaders from outside the organization, demotivated team members who see that leaders are regularly hired from the outside, and sub-optimal business performance.
Those organizations that do a good job of developing leaders are deliberate about developing talent and have a clearly defined process for making people succeed. These companies tend to view leadership as a system rather than a group of individuals focused on managing people and achieving targets however in their own way. This is a critical distinction because approaching leadership as a system naturally drives the organization toward a standardized approach that requires continual improvement in order to assure that the business continually improves.
Some of the elements that are generally a part of an effective leadership development system include:
  • Clearly Defined Competencies: Understanding the DNA of the organization’s leaders is critical to assuring that you are selecting the right candidates and developing in the right areas. Besides selecting the wrong people to develop, failing to clearly understand the expected competencies of the organization’s leaders can result in a wide variety of leadership approaches across the company that confuses the organization and demoralizes people.
  • Standardized Approach: Creating a standardized approach for identifying and developing leaders assures consistency in results and provides a basis with which to improve. As with any process, knowing what you expect and comparing to results identifies the gaps that need to be addressed to move closer to the desired state. A problem with a particular leader should be looked at as a problem of the system for development. The individual may need action to deal with the immediate issue but the system needs to be looked at to determine why the problem occurred and how it can be prevented in the future. Standardizing the development process also clarifies expectations of existing and future leaders.
  • Everyone has a Coach: Although assigning challenging projects focused on development is an important part of the process, the results can backfire when they aren’t combined with effective and ongoing coaching. The objective of assigning a challenging project is development - not to weed out those who can’t cut it; and without coaching, there is little chance that any real development will occur. Also, since everyone develops bad habits now and then, senior leaders need coaching to assure problems are identified and corrected quickly.
  • Leaders Continually Develop: Leadership development does not end when a person moves into a leadership position. If the organization is to continually improve, its leaders need to continually develop their own abilities. There is no such thing as the perfect leader and, although it is something everyone in a leadership position should strive to become, it won’t happen without continual development. In fact, one of the biggest problems with western leaders is, the higher one moves up the ladder, the less personal development that tends to occur.
  • Pipeline of Future Leaders: One of the biggest complaints people have about investing heavily in developing leaders is that, the better the system, the greater the chance they will be recruited by other companies. Although this will undoubtedly happen, the better the system, the more likely you will have a pipeline of potential leaders to fill the gaps. In fact, anytime a leader is hired from the outside, it should be seen as a failure of the system because someone from the inside was not ready to move into the position.
No system is as important to the company’s success as leadership development. Because there is no easy way to measure the system’s performance, though, it is often given little attention and done poorly. All too often, it is assigned to a small team within the HR department and, although supported, lacks the commitment and involvement of the most senior leaders needed to succeed.