Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Annual Management Improvement Carnival: Gemba Panta Rei

It's time again for my contribution to John Hunter's Curious Cat Annual Management Improvement Carnival.  Each December, John asks fellow bloggers to participate in an annual review of management blogs to help highlight the authors and posts that made a difference in improvement management effectiveness throughout the year.
My first review covers Gemba Panta Rei, one of the mainstays in the world of lean blogging. The blog's main contributor is Jon Miller, CEO of the Kaizen Institute and someone who has obviously been immersed in lean thinking for many years. Besides being born and raised in Japan, Jon was fortunate enough to learn directly from students of Taiichi Ohno. I believe this important because the further away organizations get from the teachings of Ohno and W. Edwards Deming, for example, the more they fall prey to the influence of traditional management thinking. And when this happens, they lose sight of what made them successful and become like every other organization - focused on short-term profits and share price.
Being part of the Kaizen Institute, Gemba Panta Rei has the benefit of a close connection to Masaaki Imai, one of the pioneers of kaizen, and author of the book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success.
Because of these connections, Gemba Panta Rei provides some very interesting and different posts related to lean thinking. Where else, for example, can you hear a speech by Taiichi Ohno talking about kaizen (I think . . . since it's in Japanese)? I sometimes find the posts to be too general and overly simplified, but I have to remind myself that lean is simple . . . it's just not easy.
Some of the recent posts I found interesting include the following:
What Does 'Right First Time' Mean in an R & D Environment? This post addresses an issue that has been largely ignored in books and articles - how to apply a lean mindset to product development and project management.
Why the Only Way to Think it Long Term. A good discussion of the age-old debate of long-term vs short-term thinking in business, and that long-term focus as an absolute necessity to have any chance of sustaining a lean mindset.
How to Engage People. A review of a recent survey from Gallup showing that 70% of American workers are not actively engaged in their work. The post provides a lean focus to the results - including a criticism of the Gallup CEO for misinterpreting the results and suggesting fixes from a traditional management point of view. The post has a clear connection to Deming's Theory of Profound Knowledge and shows that western management still doesn't understand people or business.
I have to say that I'm not a fan of the Kaizen Songs section of the blog, but I can skip those and get some excellent thought-provoking material on lean thinking and transformation. There is a good variety of depth on the posts, which can appeal to lean practitioners at all levels. I plan to continue to access the blog every couple of weeks to see any new posts and continue to learn, have fun, and make a difference in the world of business.
More information on the 2013 Management Improvement Blog Carnival can be found on Curious Cat Management Improvement blog at

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Lean & Project Management

I regularly run into people from the project world who feel that lean does not apply to the work they do.  While some people are just not open to change, I find that a larger part of this belief stems from the misconception that lean is only applicable to manufacturing or operations environments.  This is unfortunate because project management is a field that can benefit greatly from lean thinking.  Like any successful application, however, benefiting from lean requires looking beyond the tools to gain a fundamental understanding of how lean leads to the benefits it does.  While the philosophy will be the same, the application will differ from traditional manufacturing because of differences in the pace of work and amount of repetition.  Attempting to copy the way lean is applied in a manufacturing operation will only serve to cement the idea that project management is different and cannot benefit from lean thinking.

Super Managers

Studies have shown that more than half of all large projects fail to deliver desired results.  Of those that are successful, I have found that they tend to be led by super managers.  In fact, the poorer the company's systems and processes are, the more talented and experienced its project team needs to be to make up for the gaps. And although hiring a highly experienced project manager does not guarantee success, it is the only chance a company with weak systems and variable processes has to succeed with its projects. Unfortunately, relying on super managers also leads to high salaries, high turnover, and increased burnout for the manager and project team members.

Through the application of lean, project success will depend less on a super manager and more on the strength of the company's processes, systems, and standards, and the ability to improve them when problems arise.

It's important to note, however, that with our without lean, the knowledge and skills of the project manager is critical to the project's success.  Lean thinking can make the job of the project manager easier, though, by enabling him or her to focus less on detailed work and more on high-level objectives and team member development.  Rather than continually relying on super managers, lean creates super teams through standardized processes, effective kaizen, and a focus on developing the abilities of team members.

Getting Started

Some of the basic steps to begin the process of applying lean thinking to large projects include:

Know the Objectives  I am continually amazed at how often project objectives aren't absolutely clear to everyone on the team.  Having a clear understanding of who the customers are and what they want can go a long way toward assuring the success of a project.  Translating the objectives into safety, quality, schedule, and cost targets will also enable people to connect individual work to project success.  Without continually highlighting all four of these dimensions, people can become so focused on the schedule that they ignore the others - and it is often the safety, quality, and cost issues that lead to schedule problems.

Measure Progress  Creating dashboards that are highly visible to the team helps everyone  know how the project is progressing and where the problems lie.  Emailing an electronic project schedule, reports with a large amount of text, or S-curves does not tend to be as effective as dashboards with leading and lagging indicators of the four dimensions listed above.  Besides the fact that people do not generally open email and read reports (especially when overloaded with work because of poor processes), a visual chart that is in front of people everyday - especially where meetings are held - enables everyone to see hotspots that can or may interfere with success.

Focused Meeting Rhythm  One of the most critical, but often ignored elements of lean is a meeting rhythm focused on quick identification and correction of problems.  A project team needs to meet regularly to identify hotspots that are - or have the potential of - interfering with progress.  The rhythm should be set at a pace where problems can be seen quickly enough to act before success is jeopardized.  Selecting the rhythm is one area where traditional thinking needs to be challenged.  Although the work associated with large projects tends to progress at a fairly slow pace, the team should look at whether breaking the reporting into smaller pieces will increase sensitivity and reduce response time to problems.

It also helps if the meetings are held in an obeya, or war room, where the dashboards are located, so the discussion can relate directly to the information on the dashboards.

Another important aspect of meetings is that they be focused only on hotspots needing the team's attention.  Too often, time is wasted in meetings communicating general information or things that have been completed on-time.  This information can be posted on dashboards and read by those who are interested.  The meeting discussion should be limited to problem-solving and discussion of critical elements.  This can be done by focusing the agenda on the gaps between the work that should have happened since the last meeting versus what actually happened.

Swarm Problems Although meeting rhythm should be focused on highlighting hotspots, nobody should wait until a meeting to identify or act on a problem.  The team needs to establish a way to pull the andon when a problem occurs so people can swarm the issue and develop countermeasures quickly that will get the project back on track.

The true benefits from lean will become evident when the mindset of the team changes and people begin to approach work differently.  And counter to what many would like to believe, appealing to common sense will not drive the change in behavior needed for success.  Change will not happen until without a significant amount of teaching, coaching, and close involvement with the team to demonstrate how lean will improve the project, and practice where team members apply the process.  As with any change initiative, consistency, determination, and a willingness to learn by everyone - including the person driving lean - are the keys to success.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making Problems Visible Is More Difficult Than It Sounds

One of the many elements of lean that is conceptually very simple but difficult to put into practice is the need to make problems visible.  Although highlighting problems so they can be addressed makes sense, there is often a reluctance resulting from fear that doing so can damage one's career.  In organizations with highly competitive cultures, for example, openly discussing problems can make a person appear incompetent and ineffective. Even without open competition, organizations that tend to promote those who hide problems by putting a positive spin on poor performance are unconsciously cementing a behavior that it is not okay to openly discuss problems.

It is perfectly normal for people to want to show that processes are running smoothly and things are under control.  Because of this, it is up to the company's leaders to instill the idea that highlighting problems is not only acceptable but expected within the organization.  This means that there should never be negative consequences for making a problem visible.  On the contrary, it should be made clear to everyone that hiding problems or failing to take action to address them is an unacceptable behavior.

Two areas where it is important to make problems visible are dashboards and meetings.


The objective of a dashboard for an area or process is to clearly and objectively show the gaps between expected performance and actual results.  Hiding the gaps or continually putting a positive spin on how things are going misses the opportunity to align team members on what's important so the problems can be addressed.

Posting charts that track what's critical for an area keep people focused on how a process is expected to perform and, the more sensitive the chart, the more quickly action can be taken when a gap occurs.

It is important to note that dashboards become ineffective when too much data is displayed. Think how difficult driving would be if your dashboard contained 10 or 12 gages.  The same applies to a dashboard for a work area.  Make it simple and clearly connected to company or system targets.

It is also critical to keep dashboards simple and easy to maintain. Fight the urge to multi-color, three-dimensional graphs that show too much data.  To purpose of a chart is to highlight performance, not prove how adept someone is at creating graphs.


Many companies waste a lot of time in meetings talking about what is going well.  Performance is reviewed and discussed - sometimes in excruciating depth - even when processes are on-target.  People learn to dread meetings and use the time to catch up on email or the latest headlines on their smart phones.

The more the daily and weekly meetings are focused on the gaps - existing and potential - the more engaged people will be.  The dashboards should drive the meetings and, the better the dashboards, the quicker people can zero in on the gaps and talk about the actions to address them.

When we do this well, we begin to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the team by focusing on improving performance.  If we dance around the real issues by ignoring the gaps and attempting to put a positive spin on how things are going, we miss an opportunity to build teamwork and fail to address the real problems.

The Problems Are There - Why Not Look At Them

Every organization has problems, and a key determinant of success is how well the problems are addressed.  Openly showing the problems is the first step at resolving them.  Getting to this point, however, often requires shifting behavior to make it okay - even expected - to look for the gaps.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What is Lean?

I run into people on a fairly regular basis who want to know the definition of lean and what makes it different from the "normal" way businesses operate.  Because lean can be fairly complex and easy to misunderstand, I generally avoid any attempts to simplify it by describing it in a sentence or two.  There is such a common misconception about what lean is, though, that I finally felt compelled to come up with something.

Wikipedia defines lean as, "a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination."  Although I generally agree with this definition, there is not much in it that differentiates it from a traditional approach to business.  I've worked with some very non-lean thinking people over the years who would argue that they focus on their customers and continually work to eliminate waste from the company.  The difference here is in how they define waste and the steps they take to eliminate it (e.g., reducing costs by cutting rather than improving).  The point is that these leaders could argue that lean is not much different than what they already do.

The Definition

After a lot of thought and discussions on the subject, I've come to the conclusion that lean can be defined as:

A continual experiment to eliminate uncertainty from a business and achieve absolute perfection by leaving nothing to chance.

I believe this definition of lean incorporates the PDSA element that is absolutely necessary for learning and improvement.  By performing a process in a specific way (standardized work), we are predicting that a desired outcome will occur.  When it doesn't, the process needs to be adjusted (through kaizen).  We don't stop kaizen until the process is perfect because every problem identifies a weakness somewhere in our system that needs to be addressed.

A key difference between this definition and traditional thinking is the idea that the only acceptable result  is perfection.  The traditional approach to business does not usually consider perfection the goal.  People generally consider it impossible to achieve perfection and lower the bar by striving to be the best, among the best, or simply to meet a target.  While an organization with a lean mindset does strive to meet targets that take into account a given level of errors, defects, and variation, the people do not consider these things acceptable and will continue to drive improvement until things are perfect.

Although related to the drive for perfection, this definition also differs from traditional thinking by looking at all work as an experiment.  If you truly believe in continual improvement, you are always looking for problems.  You will standardize your processes  with the best knowledge you have at the time, but as soon as a problem occurs, you analyze the cause(s) of the problem and work to eliminate or reduce it.  And the changed process becomes the new standard.

Help or More Confusion?

I'm not sure that defining lean does much more than provide a starting point to the conversation about how a business can improve.  Although people generally want quick, easy-to-understand descriptions that will help them understand new methods, a definition that can be read in under 30 seconds will never provide enough understanding to intelligently accept or reject the concept. Improving understanding requires thought, discussion, and application to real situations - but if a one sentence definition starts someone thinking, than developing it was worth the effort.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Lean Formula

As I've said many times, lean is simple but not easy.  The concepts are fairly easy to understand, but making it happen requires such a deep level of reprogramming of the way people think and act that few are able to carry it through.

There are many ways to begin a lean journey and one is not necessarily more correct than another.  I adjust my approach depending on a variety of organizational factors, but I generally like to start with a basic formula that keeps people focused on the results the organization is trying to achieve, the results they are actually getting, and how to close the gap between the two.

The basic formula to follow a targets-results-gap approach is:


This basis of this formula is that all elements must be present in order to achieve success.  For example, having a business plan that clearly identifies the organization's desired performance levels and a plan to get there won't do much without dashboards that provide a consistent and discernible picture of results.  Although more common than one might think, this type of situation makes managing the business extremely difficult by leaving too much to chance.

The components of the formula are as follows:

CLEAR BUSINESS PLAN:  There must be a plan that provides very clear direction and targets for the organization.  The plan should break the company's long-term strategy into specific results to be achieved in the coming 1-2 years.  Included in the plan is information or results that drive daily work (i.e., help people understand the level of performance that must be maintained to meet objectives) and breakthroughs, or the big steps that must be taken to move the organization forward (i.e., the areas where business as usual is not acceptable).

VISUAL DASHBOARDS:  The dashboards is the scoreboard to identify the gaps between current performance and the targets or objectives listed in the business plan.  At the highest level, this is the actual safety, quality, production, and cost targets.  As you move deeper into the organization, though, the measures on the dashboard will become more focused on the processes in a particular area.  Also, the information on dashboards must be clear, easy to understand, and include leading, as well as lagging indicators.

EFFECTIVE MEETING RHYTHM: The organization must implement a meeting cadence that is focused on actual performance versus targets.  The meetings should be short and focused on hotspots - i.e., the problems that are, or have the potential of, interfering with performance.  These meetings are not a forum for people to tell everyone how much work they did since the last meeting - the dashboards will do this.  The meetings should used to highlight the problems and ask for help.  The meeting schedule should be set at as closely as possible to the pace of work so the problems can be identified and addressed quickly.

CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT:  Knowing the gaps between targets and current performance is futile if people do not know how to address problems.  Having an effective kaizen or continual improvement process will enable the organization to close the gaps and react quickly to existing and potential problems.

Although the basic formula appears simple, there are a lot of elements necessary to make it effective.  Without effective leadership or a culture that supports, rather than hinders, teamwork and the ability to question the status quo, success will be elusive.  
Using the formula as a starting point for a lean transformation, though, will tend to make the organization's weaknesses visible, which is the first step in making the change.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Demotivating Employees One Performance Review At A Time

After all that's been written about the destructive effects of the traditional performance review, it's amazing how many business still do it. It's been proven in study after study that grading or assigning a number to a person's performance - especially when forced into a "normal" distribution - results in far greater demotivation than improvement. Companies that continue the practice, though, tend to feel that they're the exception rather than the rule.

Let's say, for example, that you have the best employees in your industry. After all, this is a goal of the hiring, leadership, and employee development processes, right? If we have a performance rating system that forces a normal distribution of ratings, we would have to find ways to separate the "top" performers from the "average" and "low" performers. By doing this, will we actually motivate the "lower" performers to improve by assigning them lower grades? Unfortunately, in most cases, the motivation this type system creates is to energize the worker to stop caring about the company or to find a job with another company.

Okay, in reality, you probably don't have the best employees in your industry. You probably have team members who do not perform as well as you would like. But is this the fault of the employee? Can we force the type of change we desire by rating and normally distributing people? Or should we study the situation to understand and correct the causes that interfere with everyone from performing well. These causes can usually be traced to one or more critical company systems, including:
  • The hiring process
  • The employee development process
  • The system and style of leadership
  • The rating system itself

It is interesting that some businesses feel that their systems for hiring and developing people are consistent and predictable enough to justify a normal distribution of ratings. Besides the fact that this is often driven more by gut feel than data, it assumes that the company has no effect on employee performance beyond assigning a rating to motivate the person to improve on his or her own.

A normal distribution doesn't just happen.  It results from consistency and tight control over a process and, in the case of performance reviews, normally distributing the ratings and tying to raises and bonuses is tampering, which is destructive and interferes with the system's ability to remain normal.

Understanding that there is no logical basis for normally distributing performance ratings will be a major step toward improving performance. Let's say, for example, that in your efforts to build the best workforce in the industry, you decide to rid the company of its below average performers. So you rank everyone, figure out through some means those who fall into the bottom half, and fire them. So you now only have above average workers, right? Not exactly.

You could actually continue this practice with the remaining workers because you will now have a new average and a new set of workers who are "below average." You could even keep ranking until you have two remaining workers and guess what? One of the two will perform below average. Even with only one worker, you would find that he or she will perform below average roughly half the time.


The fist step to improve employee morale and performance is to figure out whether or not the performance review system is actually achieving the results for which it's intended. Is performance actually improving or is there no discernible difference? If the system is not resulting in improvement (like most), stop doing it. It does not matter if you don't have a process with which to replace it. Like anything you do in a company, if it's causing harm or costing money and time with no return, you need to change it or stop doing it altogether.

Secondly, figure out what the real problem is and what's causing it to occur. If employees aren't performing, is it due to a poor hiring process, ineffective leadership, lack of attention to development, or some other cause? Is failure to consistently meet objectives due to poor planning, too many priorities, lack of teamwork? Whatever the cause (and its probably a combination of many), this is where efforts can result in real improvement. You can continue to spend time judging performance and ranking people, but without effective leadership, planning, and a host of other elements, frustration and employee turnover will occur, but improvement will not.


Effective leaders talk to those on their teams. They coach and develop on a continual basis, rather than wait for the once or twice per year performance review. Of course, leaders need to know how to coach and mentor, but those who resist the process and fail to make it happen are ignoring one of the most important responsibilities of leadership and should be in other jobs.

Everyone, regardless of position can benefit from coaching, and effective coaching requires continual feedback. It takes time and a lot of effort to be successful, but the process can lead to increased employee motivation, much better teamwork, and improved overall performance.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Improvement Requires More Reflection; Less Justification

Using an A3 for business planning is one of those practices that, like many aspects of lean thinking, is simple but not necessarily easy.  Although the basic process tends to make sense to people, success requires those involved to exhibit certain behaviors that are so different from the norm that most plans produced by the process result in nothing more than business as usual.

Making Problems Visible

There are few people who will argue with the concept of making an organization's problems visible.  Understanding the role that KPIs or the boards and lights associated with an Andon signal play in problem-solving efforts is not difficult.  What does tend to be difficult, though, is applying the same type of thinking to the company's higher-level planning processes.  An organization has little chance of improving performance if its leaders can't agree on the problems they need to address.

In The Birth of Lean, Taiichi Ohno is quoted as saying that kaizen continuously requires people to, "assume that things are a mess."  Since business planning is fundamentally kaizen at the organizational level, we've got to create the idea that things are always a mess.  To do this requires that targets are clearly visible and people feel free to openly and honestly reflect on performance against the targets.

During business reviews, it is not uncommon for teams to spend significant effort justifying the performance gaps rather then accepting them and reflecting to understand the reasons that drive the gaps.  This is not surprising given the way many organizations to recognize and reward people.  When rewards are based on meeting targets rather than addressing problems, people will fight to justify results.  The crazy thing about this type of behavior is that most people recognize it - we just don't tend to do anything about it.

Moving the culture away from justification and toward reflection requires recognizing that the company's systems and practices may be driving the wrong behaviors.  There is always a mess, and it's got to be okay to recognize and openly admit it in order to free  people up to drive improvement.

It's difficult to say that any single component of business planning is more important than another but without adequate reflection, the organization will fail to recognize its biggest problems and will never move beyond mediocrity.  Time and energy spent justifying results is waste, and the sooner we replace it with open and honest introspection the sooner we can bring the big gains into reach.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Maslow: Still Relevant 70 Years Later

Being an effective leader is not easy. With all of the external factors that can affect performance seemingly coming at an ever-increasing pace, keeping an organization operating at a high level can be a difficult job. With the continual changes in technology, markets, and regulations, however, the most difficult aspect of leadership continues to be the same as is has for the last 100 or more years: people.

Organizations have gotten thinner in recent years forcing managers to increasingly become doers. Because of this, the importance and complexities of helping team members be satisfied and productive in their jobs has unfortunately become more of an afterthought than a priority. Although we talk about the importance of developing and motivating people, our actions say otherwise.


In 1943, Psychological Review published A Theory of Human Motivation by Abraham Maslow. In the paper Maslow presented the results of a study of highly successful people, including Albert Einstein, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt focused on understanding what motivates people to become high performers. As a result of the study, Maslow proposed that the stages of growth of human beings tends to follow a pattern which he characterized as a hierarchy of needs, or stages of development that drive motivation.

As presented in the diagram, the stages generally go from lower-level basic survival needs to higher-level increasingly sophisticated needs focused on fulfilling one's potential.*

The hierarchy proposed by Maslow has been taught in business schools for years as a component of effective leadership. Leaders need to understand where team members are in the pyramid as a basis for motivation and development. Also, it's important to understand that a person can move up and down the hierarchy depending on his or her individual circumstances, including things like personal relationships, impending layoffs, health, or a variety of other factors.

Effective leaders appreciate the importance of building relationships with those on his or her team to understand how to best help them develop and grow and be successful. When the leader is too busy doing things other than coaching and developing team members, there will be a tendency to treat everyone the same and focus only on group motivation techniques, often resulting in dissatisfied team members, poor performance, and high turnover.

To improve the situation, leaders need to be taught how to apply the hierarchy in everyday situations.  They need to be given the ability to work closely with those they lead, and held accountable for the development, motivation, and retention of team members.

Leadership is a serious responsibility and there is no magic formula to assure success. Maslow gave us a model 70 years ago that, although not necessarily making the job any easier, can make it much more effective. The hierarchy presents a hypothesis that spending time with people and treating them as individuals can lead to increased success for the person, the leader, and the organization. And when you get down to it, anyone who doesn't think it's important to spend time with team members really has no business being in a leadership position.
* NOTE: Maslow never actually presented the hierarchy in terms of a pyramid.  The pyramid was developed much later as a simple way to graphically depict the theory.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Escaping Mediocrity

Wisdom is born from the ideas of novices. The veterans will spout off about what's possible and what's not possible on the basis of their experience and a tiny bit of knowledge . . . So kaizen can't even get started.” -- Taiichi Ohno (as told by Michikazu Tanaka)*

Why do so many companies seem to be happy with mediocre performance? People generally consider the idea of having it all – perfect safety, high quality, short cycle times, low costs – as an unattainable fantasy. As a result, the bar is set low and everyone feels good when mediocrity is achieved.

So often, it is our experience that interferes with moving to the next level of performance. We don't set aggressive targets because we know they are impossible to achieve and, in the end, we don't want to be disappointed or suffer the consequences of missing a target. As a result, we trudge along with average results and view problems as inevitable or out of our control. If we're lucky, our competitors operate in the same mode. If not, we remain in the middle of the pack and the gap between us and one or more key competitors widens.

Energy Can Be Created
A group wide vision of problems as inevitable is what causes people to lose their energy and inspiration. When one views significant improvement as impossible, intrinsic motivation wanes and extrinsic motivation – e.g., compensation – dominates. And the longer this type of “it happens” mentality continues within a company and the more deeply engrained it becomes in the culture, the more difficult it becomes to change course.

Leaders can stop or prevent operational by first realizing that their own behaviors and the systems they created may at the root of the problem. It's not necessarily easy to do, but letting go of some traditional beliefs and methods of management can begin to drive the type of change that can energize improvement efforts and give people the confidence that they can have it all.

To do this first requires that leaders believe that problems are not inevitable and that the company has the ultimate control over its own future. In short, they must deeply believe that they can “have it all.”

Stretching Without Breaking
Leaders have to trust that the people in the organization possess the ability to successfully tackle the difficult problems facing the company. Developing this ability, though, often requires stretching people by encouraging them to accept challenging projects and targets, and supporting their efforts to succeed. They won't always be successful in achieving the target (if they are, they're probably not being stretched enough), but they will grow and develop with each project.

A stretch target refers to a target that is difficult, but not impossible to achieve and, although you can't stretch people all the time, you've got to make sure there is enough tension within the organization to keep people developing and the company's performance improving.

Getting people to accept stretch objectives assumes that they will not be penalized for missing a target. Reward systems need to support development and participation in stretching the organization, rather than merely meeting a target. If you encourage people to stretch but continue with a reward system based on meeting targets, nothing will change. People will continue to pursue safe targets and push back on any attempt to stretch. In other words, mediocrity will reign.

Organizations tend to cause their own problems. The effects of problems caused outside of the organization tend to pale in comparison to those created on the inside. Understanding and accepting this, however, often requires a shift in thinking toward the idea that mediocrity is unacceptable and that the organization can, in fact, have it all.

*From The Birth of Lean (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2009)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Unilever: Transformation & The Environment

I love reading about organizations that exhibit lean behaviors without actually labeling them “lean.”  Although using a term like lean helps provide a common way to describe an organization’s approach and practices, and connects them to a wider community for learning and development, there is something to be said for companies that tailor the system to make it their own.  Such is the case with Unilever.

A recent issue of Fortune Magazine included an interesting article about Unilever CEO Paul Polman and the success he’s having in transforming the organization toward a more environmentally sustainable business model.  The company issued a Sustainable Living Plan, which outlines its principles and approach for its model, including aggressive targets to be achieved by 2020.

Making the Transformation

Through the Sustainable Living Plan and Polman’s drive for change, Unilever appears to have done the right things to begin a transformation that, by all indications, appears to be on track to achieving some pretty aggressive objectives.  Although the transformation process never ends, getting to the point where it truly begins to take hold requires some fundamental elements that, without which, make a vision nothing more than a hope or prayer in the future.

Not in any particular order, these elements, that fall within the responsibilities of the organization’s leaders, include:

Clarifying the Vision  Creating a clever term or buzzwords to describe the vision are not enough.  People need clarity in order to connect their activities and efforts to a transformation.  Clarity also provides a lens with which to understand whether current systems and processes support or conflict with the future direction.

Deeply Believing in the Direction  The leader must fundamentally believe in the direction and need for change, and be obsessed with making it happen.  Without this level of belief and engagement, the message will lack the energy and confidence that people need to accept and buy into the effort.

Establishing a Worthwhile Cause  In spite of what many leaders believe, the vision must go beyond profits and share price.  Getting people to buy into a vision requires connecting it to something deeper than financial gain.  This can be done through a clear connection to the fundamental need the company serves through its mission, or through an ancillary aim like Unilever’s sustainability plan.

Stretching Targets  Lean thinking requires the desire and confidence that you can have it all.  Shifting thinking toward the idea that absolute perfection is the only objective helps drive creativity in ideas for improvement.  Polman’s belief that Unilever can double its sales while cutting its carbon footprint in half is an example of stretching the organization to unleash innovation.

Removing Barriers  Talking about achieving the impossible while continuing to operate in the same way will lead to frustration and a loss of trust in leadership.  Successful transformation requires breaking down barriers and questioning the company’s systems, processes, policies, and culture to discover what is interfering with the future.  The responsibility for doing this lies entirely with the organization’s leadership team.

Having Patience . . . but Not Too Much  Transformation takes time and, the further the organization currently is from where it wants to be, the longer the process will take.  Leaders must have the patience to let people internalize the new direction, and the impatience to know when the effort has stalled and requires direct action.

Two years into the plan, Unilever has begin to show remarkable results.  In 2012, revenues increased by 10.5% and the company’s stock price, up 75% since 2009, has reached an all-time high.  On the sustainability front, the company has significantly reduced packaging in some of its largest selling products, and 10 of it U.S. factories have completely eliminated the waste to landfills.

I used to live in Rotterdam and drove by the Unilever building every day on my way to work.  Other than thinking that it was interesting how the building hangs out over the river, I never thought about the important role the company was to play in global environmental and economical sustainability.  I sincerely hope that Polman is able to keep the transformation going and prevent the natural forces from pulling the company back to traditional thinking.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Accidental Success Is No Reason To Celebrate

Lean Rule #18: If you can’t explain it, you can’t take credit for it.

It is not unusual to expect people to be able to explain the causes of a decline in performance.  Those leading an area experiencing a decline are expected to know their processes well enough to explain what happened, as well any countermeasures planned to get the process back on track.

For a variety of reasons, though, we don’t expect the same level of understanding for an unexplained improvement in performance.  The improvement is often gladly accepted with the hope it will continue, or it is credited to something subjective like increased focus.  In some cases, the improvement is celebrated even though there is no indication that result was anything other than random.

As with a decline, an improvement in performance results from one or more causes. The inability to explain the reasons for a sudden improvement shows a lack of understanding of the process.  And without an understanding of the causes of the an improvement, it will be impossible to standardize them and assure that the improvement can be sustained.

One of the objectives of standardized work is to control a process to the point where absolutely nothing is left to chance.  Although in reality, it’s not possible to ever get to this point, it is important to keep trying.  This means continually studying the process to understand why it performs as it does.

When work is approached as an ongoing experiment, results will continually drive learning which in turn, will feed improvements in standard work.  Changes in performance - good and bad - will be easier to analyze because people will always be looking for situations where their hypothesis has failed - i.e, standard work did not result in perfect quality.

Although more commonly used than people would like to admit, hope is not an effective way to run a business.  For many organizations, transformation in thinking will be needed to create the type of environment where people become obsessed with achieving perfection – and getting there requires never stopping even after a change in behavior becomes evident.  You will know the transformation is beginning to happen when the desire and energy to study the causes of accidental success is approached with the same urgency as a sudden decline in performance.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Growing Deadwood in the Organization

“Were they dead when you hired them? Or did you kill them?* -  W. Edwards Deming

Who is responsible for the poor performers in an organization? These are the people about whom leaders regularly complain and blame for many of the company’s problems. According to Jack Welch, they are the 10% of the workforce who need to improve or be fired.

In most organizations, there are processes for documenting poor performance and terminating employment of the nonproducers, but very little for developing and helping these people improve. It is fairly uncommon, though, for organizations to hold the leader accountable for hiring poorly or failing to help the poor performers on his or her team.

Leader as Teacher

In his book, Getting the Right Things Done: A Leader’s Guide to Planning and Execution (Lean Enterprise Institute), Pascal Dennis presents his list of Lean Mental Models to describe the methods and behaviors of lean leaders. One of the mental models is Leader as Teacher which describes a lean leader as one who continually develops the ability of team members to identify and solve problems to improve the organization’s performance.

Developing talent is one of those things that most people would agree is a part of effective leadership but how many organizations truly hold their leaders responsible for doing it? When managers complain about a team member, it should be viewed as a reflection on their leadership capabilities and used as a coaching opportunity to improve.

I have found that, in many organizations, the responsibility to coach and develop talent is much lower on the list of priorities than documenting and replacing the poor performers. This is surprising when one considers what it costs the organization to hire, train, and fire employees. In my experience, this type of situation generally results from a lack of knowledge of how to develop people and/or impatience (or short-term thinking).

Instituting Leadership

In Out of the Crisis, W. Edwards Deming wrote, “The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.” One of the areas Deming felt was in need of transformation was the poor track record and lack of personal accountability of leaders to coach and develop team members.

So what do we need to institute leadership within organizations? One step is to address the culture and systems related to team member development. Like much of organizational transformation, it is not easy, but there are five steps that can help jumpstart the process.
  1. Make it difficult to fire someone for performance issues.
    When it is easier to coach and develop “poor performers” than to fire them, leaders will begin to find the time to coach rather than just give up and remove the person from the organization. One of the roles of Human Resources should be to help the leader work with the person to develop his or her abilities or find another role in the organization that would be a better fit for the person’s talent and abilities.
  2. Recognize terminations as a failure of the system.
    A decision is made to hire someone because one or more people feel the candidate is a good fit for the organization and the specific job. When it doesn’t work out, we need to look at the hiring process to understand why it failed and what needs to be done to prevent if from happening next time. Defects within the hiring process are costly to the company and, as with any process, continual improvement is required.
  3. Establish systems and support for team member development.
    Transformation will not happen by merely telling leaders to start coaching and developing those on their team. Leaders must be taught how to coach, and the proper systems and structure must be available to support the process.
  4. Make it clear that developing team members is a responsibility of leadership.
    Leaders must be held accountable for developing the people on their team and understand that coaching and mentoring it is a condition of remaining in a leadership position within the organization.
  5. Promote based on leadership abilities.
    Promotion into a leadership position must be based on the person’s existing or potential leadership capabilities, including the ability to coach and develop the talents of others. Too often, promotions into leadership are based on personal preference or a person’s performance in a current position rather than the ability to lead others.
Besides showing respect for people, placing a high priority on coaching and development will help the organization improve performance by reducing turnover, improving morale, and engaging more people in improvement efforts. Like any element of transformation, though, success requires clarity, consistency, and the patience to stay with the effort.
*I remember hearing Dr. Deming say something like this during one of his 4-day seminars but couldn’t remember the exact quote Thanks to Garold L. Markle ( for the wording.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Kaizen At All Levels

One of the common misconceptions about kaizen is that it is limited only to shop floor workers.  When an organization’s leaders hold this belief, it can significantly obstruct the ability to improve and often leads to losing interest in, or abandoning the kaizen process altogether.

Although the scope of kaizen activities changes depending on organizational level, continual improvement is everybody’s job regardless of position.  In fact, the ability of lower levels to succeed with kaizen is highly dependent on how well the higher levels are handling their improvement responsibilities

Success with kaizen requires a systems perspective and an understanding of how the elements work together to support each other and achieve success.  Each level in the organization has specific responsibilities for kaizen.

Team members generally participate in traditional small-scope kaizen activities.  They are the closest to the processes and direct their activities at removing the barriers that interfere with perfect execution of their work.  Although there is interest in making sure changes do not negatively affect other parts of the value stream, the focus is on reducing waste and improving the standardized work within their own process.

Depending on the company’s processes, the cycle time of a typical kaizen can be as short as 1-2 weeks.

Lower and middle managers (including supervisors, managers, and engineering/technical positions) tend to focus their improvement activities on the value stream.  This includes managing WIP and buffer levels, decreasing cycle times, improving handoffs between steps/areas, and reducing variation within processes.  Middle management improvements tend to be mid-scope in nature and can take 3-6 months to fully implement and verify the effectiveness of countermeasures.  Although the improvement activity at this level does not generally occur in a traditional kaizen team setting like team member improvements, it still follows the PDSA process.

It should be noted that supervisors and managers need to participate in and, at times, lead small-scope kaizens to stay sharp and remain connected to the processes for which they are ultimately responsible.

Upper managers and executives apply kaizen through business planning processes.  This includes setting the direction for the organization and assuring priorities are clear.  A difficult part of this responsibility is assuring that 2-3 critical breakthroughs are identified that will stretch the organization without overloading people.  Like all improvement activity, the hoshin process enables learning and improvement to occur by applying the PDSA cycle.  Since the focus is at the organizational level, the timeframe for improvements can be as long as 1-5 years.

Executives should also participate in small-scope kaizens on occasion for the same reasons as those in middle management positions.

As with any other aspect of lean, the specifics of improvement activity at different levels should obviously be tailored to the organization.  The key is for everyone to understand their responsibilities in the improvement process and how they support its continued success.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Role of the Sensei in Learning

This kind of specification is not a case of perverse Taylorism or micromanagement, with smart people telling less-intelligent people what to do.  It is, in fact, an investment.” - Steven J. Spear

When kicking off a lean transformation, organizations often hire specialists or consultants to keep the initiative on-track.  Although this can greatly help with the transformation, it is critical that these people understand that their role is to be coaches rather than players in the process.

If the objective is to achieve sustained transformation, people throughout the organization must learn that lean is a very different way of looking at business.  They must understand how it applies to their jobs, as well as the company’s processes, systems, and culture.  This type of learning occurs when the individual actively participates in the changes by developing new ways to work, including the freedom to experiment with new ideas that may fail.

The role of a specialist, or sensei, is to guide people in the new way of thinking.  The more the experts do things – change systems, redesign processes, etc. – or tell people what they need to be doing, the more they interfere with learning and reduce the chances of sustaining the change.

Conversations, Dialogue, and Questioning to Drive Learning

One critical role of a specialist is to drive the adoption of a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) mindset throughout the organization.  This involves coaching people how to look at a situation, analyze what is going on, and develop ideas to improve performance in a simple and direct way.  When people identify countermeasures that do not appear to effectively address a problem, the specialist can either let them learn through a failed experiment or engage them in dialogue to help them see for themselves where their thinking went wrong and how to get back on track.

The process requires patience and a great deal of questioning: Why do you think that? Why did you approach the problem/change in that way?  What ideas or approaches did you discard along the way?  How do you know you what is happening in the process?

To be truly effective in the role, the specialist must possess a deep understanding of lean and be adept at Socratic or ORID (Objective-Reflective-Interpretive-Decisional) techniques.  These methods are proven to be effective at facilitating learning by helping people think through facts, feelings, and connections about a situation before making decisions.  Without these types of methods, the specialist will tend to tell people what to do and, although this may result in compliance and some level of improvement, it will not create the type of learning that will enable people to apply the information to other situations.

Slowing Down to Go Faster

Although coaching may appear to take longer than attempting to drive change by telling people what to do, it greatly increases the chances of sustaining the transformation.  The difficulty the organization's leaders often have with this approach is related to the lack of patience that characterizes western business.  The difficulty faced by the sensei in coaching versus doing comes from the excitement that people tend to have when they learn about lean and what it can do for an organization. It's not easy to hold back opinions when you know what should be done to move the process forward or address a problem.

The only chance of sustaining transformation - and I'm not completely convinced that sustained transformation is ever possible - will occur when people start thinking PDSA and acting lean when the sensei isn't around, which is something that will never happen without effective coaching.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

One More Time: Lean Is Not Just For High-Volume Producers

“If Toyota produced small quantities of specialty products and we produced cars, people would say that lean only applies to producing small quantities of specialty products.”

One of the most common arguments against the adoption of lean is that it applies only to high volume manufacturing operations.  Much of the literature available on the subject, as well as the close association with Toyota has created the misconception that lean is not applicable to organizations that deal with a small number of large projects or highly customized products or services.

There are three basic questions related to the application of lean that demonstrate that it is not dependent on the volume of product or services produced.

1.      How do your processes need to perform (i.e., what it the ideal condition)?
Answering this requires a clear understanding of the needs of the customer and the business.  It is not possible to define how processes must perform – or the ideal condition – without first understanding the value stream and how the individual processes and systems interact to produce the product or service that meets the needs of customers.

Knowing how a process needs to perform has no absolutely no relationship to the size of the organization, the volume produced, or the repetitiveness of the work.  Whether building an offshore platform, painting a house, or producing a pressure gage, every organization can benefit from knowing the ideal. 

2.      How do your processes perform?
Every organization needs to understand how its processes actually perform and the types of problems that interfere with meeting the ideal.  Are there delays?  Are costs higher than expected?  Do quality or safety problems occur?  Was the amount of work completed during the period less than expected?  This can be difficult for some organizations to understand because people become so accustomed to dealing with problems that they not longer recognized as problems.

The feedback regarding performance of a process also needs to be as close as possible to the time the work was actually performed.  Addressing a problem is much more effective when the facts about it are fresh in the minds of the people involved rather than months, weeks, or even days afterwards.  Because of this, the feedback should be provided at least daily so the information can be discussed on a rhythmic basis like a morning or end-of-shift meeting.

3.      How are you going to deal with the gaps between ideal and actual performance?
Whatever the volume of business or degree of customization, it is critical to continually work toward closing the gap between the way processes should operate and how they actually operate.  Doing this effectively requires effective problem-solving, the ability to learn, and standardized processes. 

As noted in question 2, closing the gap requires attacking problems as they happen while the facts are easier to remember.  Addressing problems as they happen can also help keep the number of process issues from building up and becoming overwhelming to the organization.

Improving performance or any type of organization requires continually moving the operation toward the ideal condition.  This can only be done when the ideal is clearly defined (question 1), the actual is understood (question 2), and problems are addressed rapidly and effectively (question 3).

Quantity Doesn’t Matter
Lean is just as applicable for a company constructing an office building, as it is to an automotive manufacturer.  The key is to compare how a process is expected to operate with how it actually operates.  If the plan was to install drywall in eight offices on the third floor today, for example, and the team was only able to complete five offices, understanding the reasons (e.g., missing tools, poor quality drywall, or poorly aligned studs) and taking appropriate actions should help tomorrow’s work flow more smoothly.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Who is the Customer for a Commodity?

Teaching lean in an organization generally involves discussing activities that do not add value to the company’s products or services - with value being defined as anything for which the customer is willing to pay.  However common this approach is, though, it can be much more meaningful to companies in some industries than others.  For industrial or consumer products industries - a car or medical instrument, for example - people are generally able to think like their customers and comprehend fairly accurately what they would and would not be willing to pay for.
But what if the company’s product is a commodity?  Commodity producers tend to be so far removed from the customer that it is difficult to think in terms of what consumers would consider value.  Also, commodities lack differentiation on the basis of quality and, since prices are directly set by markets, the idea of determining value based on what the customer will pay for does not necessarily make sense.
For products like oil and gas, precious metals, grains, and even some financial instruments, it doesn't theoretically matter how much waste is inherent in the company's processes; when prices rise,  revenues rise and when prices fall; revenues fall.  Products are delivered to a broker, terminal, or market where they are sold without regard to who supplied them.
Market prices have such a dramatic effect on the financial results of commodity producers that when prices are high, little attention is given to waste, and when prices are low, costs are often slashed without regard to improving the processes that produce the product.  Providing clarity around the definition of waste, however, can drive improvement and lower the commodity price point at which the company can remain profitable.  Also, reducing waste in processes, as compared to slashing costs, tends to result in improved safety  and higher levels of production.
ExxonMobil and Chevron are examples of highly successful commodity producers, each consistently reporting net income in the billions of dollars.  The quality of the oil and gas that each produces is much more related to the geographic area than their own processes and they have no control over the price they receive.  It’s a pretty safe bet, however, that like most organizations, both have a significant amount of waste within their operations
At the most basic level, the profitability of Exxon and Chevron are determined by the difference between the market price of oil and the costs to extract it from the ground.  And since they have virtually no control over the price of oil, they must focus on what they can control - the costs to find and produce the oil - and it is here where waste can be found.
So how does a commodity producer define waste?  Since the market is the customer and inherent waste cannot be passed on to the customer, the concept of what the customer will or will not pay for does not really apply.  To clarify the meaning of waste, commodity producers have to look to their purpose and product for a more usable definition.
For example, it is important for people working in a company that mines gold to understand that the operation exists to "mine gold safely, efficiently, and in a socially responsible manner."  When this is clearly understood, waste can then be defined as anything that does not contribute to mining gold in a safe, efficient, and socially responsible manner.  Improvement can begin when people realize that their jobs exist to either mine, transport, and sell gold or support someone else who does.
Basing waste on customer satisfaction can apply to internal customers, but only after there is clarity around why the company exists and what it is trying to do.  Identifying internal customer requirements and measures will be very difficult, if not impossible, without first establishing what constitutes waste for the company's end products.
Lean professionals must understand the company and its processes before attempting to teach or coach people about continual improvement.  Relying on canned approaches like defining waste in terms of what the customer will or won't pay for can confuse people or strengthen the perception that lean is another management fad that doesn't apply to the company's situation.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Significance of Catchball

“A goal without a method is nonsense!”W. Edwards Deming

A critically important element of business planning that often gets downplayed or completely ignored is the catchball process.  The books and articles I've read on the subject of hoshin kanri tend to oversimplify the role of catchball and rarely go into the level of depth the subject deserves.

Catchball is a process whereby leaders and team members discuss objectives and plans to make sure everybody understands and is in agreement with expectations.  The conversations go back and forth between levels to assure that the objectives, as well as the plans to achieve the objectives are clearly communicated.

Catchball is often limited to the discussions at the executive level to sort out high level goals.  By not carrying the process through all levels of the organization, however, leaders are missing an important opportunity to communicate expectations and concerns before problems occur.

The objectives of catchball include:

Clarification:  Clarifying expectations to team members upfront rather than waiting until the performance review to criticize them for not meeting objectives that may never have been understood in the first place.  We tend to spend more time evaluating performance than we do making sure expectations are clear, which makes it appear as if we want people to fail more than we want the organization to succeed.

Consistency: Gaining comfort that a person can meet objectives through methods and behaviors that are consistent with the way the organization operates.  When the only concern is whether or not an objective is met (i.e., the "how" is ignored), we can easily create an Enron-type environment that undermines values, breaks down teamwork, and where improvements are not sustainable.

Coaching:  Providing a vehicle for coaching team members on the methods and behaviors required to be successful.  A critical component of development is to provide team members with objectives that stretch thinking and take them out of their comfort zone. Doing this without adequate coaching and direction, however, can be destructive to the person's development.

Communication/Dialogue:  Allowing people to communicate concerns to leaders about meeting objectives and asking help that may be needed to be successful.

Alignment:  Assuring that there is clear alignment between lower level plans or A3s and higher level plans and targets.

When implemented correctly, catchball can make up for many of the problems that companies experienced during the MBO-era.   It forces communication between levels and improves a leader’s understanding of the implications that objectives have on the people to which they are assigned.  Like anything in business, however, catchball requires continual improvement to be successful.  It requires patience and a willingness to listen to concerns, as well as a sincere effort by leaders to coach and mentor team members.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Time For Heroes

One of the issues that can arise during a lean transformation is figuring out how to deal with the corporate heroes that exist in virtually every organization.  These are the “go to guys” whenever a major problem arises.  They are generally hard workers, know their processes well, and measure their worth by the number of highly visible problems they are involved in solving.

This can become a significant issue because a lean thinking organization values those who prevent problems and work well in teams more than those who wait until problems occur and swoop in to save the day.  The behavior often exhibited by the heroes is the opposite of what you are trying to establish in the transformation.

On the positive side, heroes tend to be hard working, smart, and highly experienced in the company’s operation – all things that are valuable to the organization’s success.  On the negative side, however, these people often have a hand in creating problems, or at least have the ability to address problems before they become critical or high profile issues.  They also tend to keep important process information close to the vest because they view it as a key to their success.

The Difficulty in Changing Hero Behavior

One of the biggest issues in dealing with the heroes is that, for years we have rewarded them for the behavior they exhibit.  Heroes tend to like a lot of attention and publicly delivered compliments for their actions.  As the organization becomes more lean-focused, though, it becomes clearer to people that addressing problems means understanding and addressing root causes so we can reduce the likelihood that they will occur in the future.  We cannot tolerate people who have the ability to prevent problems but wait until they occur before taking action.

Getting heroes to understand the consequences of their behavior will require a lot of coaching and one-on-one discussions to help them realize that they may have been rewarded and promoted in the past for the wrong reasons. And although changing behavior is a difficult and often futile undertaking, it is the responsibility of the leader to make the effort because the problem we are addressing is most likely one we created.

In many instances, it is critical to get the hero involved in the development of standard work because they understand their processes so well.  We must attempt to document and make available to everyone information that they have most likely held close in the past.  This is a process that will have to be tested and retested in order to assure that all necessary information has been extracted from the person and effectively documented.

Step 1: Recognize the Problem

Addressing the problem of hero worship will not be easy.  Correcting behaviors first requires admitting that heroes are, in fact, a problem. Chances are, you and others have come to rely on these people when high impact problems occurred. Recognizing that is is a crutch for ineffective processes, however, will help you see the situation more clearly.

Expect a lot of complaining, pushback, and even attrition as you embark on the process of bringing heroes back down to earth. Like any change process, though, succeeding will require clarity in the vision and consistency in the message.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 Annual Management Blog Roundup – Steven Spear: The High Velocity Edge

This is the third installment of my favorite management blogs as part of John Hunter’s 2012 Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival.

Back in 1999, Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen wrote the HBR article, Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System.  The article has become one of the most widely read accounts of why and how the Toyota Production System (TPS) works.  It’s one of those articles that needs to be read over and over as one learns more about lean and transformation.

Spear has continued to write about learning and improvement in his blog (The High Velocity Edge) and his latest books, Chasing the Rabbit and The High Velocity Edge.

I’ve enjoyed reading the books and articles written by Spears, as he digs into some fundamental elements of transformation and why companies like Toyota and Alcoa are different from traditionally-led organizations. 

Rather than review posts from a few blogs posts, I would rather approach this one with a series of excerpts that I thought were valuable to those involved in organizational transformation.

. . . there is the ideal as a consistent source of concern . . . Observed departures from ideal were triggers for the question: what is it we don’t understand that causes us to have defects, delays, waste, and risk?  Triggers and Objectives for Processes Change-Shortfalls, failures, and imperfections

“Lean never becomes self sustaining.  Never ever ever.  No way, no how.  It simply cannot.” Does ‘Lean’ Become Self Perpetuating?

“To focus on trade offs – that to get more of something means you have to give up something else – means you assume you are extracting as much cumulative value out of your work as possible.”  Asking What Quality Initiatives Get Sacrificed Under Budget Pressures Asks the Wrong Questions 

“Often confused are “continuous improvement” and “innovation, . . . The differences between the two may have more to do with time frame and scope and less to do with approach.  In either case, the key issue is deliberating converting ignorance into useful knowledge.”  Continuous Improvement versus Innovation

Spears posts tend to be fairly short and to the point, which is nice when you have a lot to read and little time to actually sit down and do it.

Additional information about the Curious Cat Annual Management Blog Carnival is available at