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 http://management.curiouscatblog.net/category/carnival/.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Should We Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?

It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity. Peter Drucker

Most people would agree that developing people is an important component of building a successful company.  Although it is fairly common for organizations to have some sort of process aimed at developing people, however, very few seem to be effective at truly improving individual performance.
In many organizations, the development process consists of little more than an annual or semi-annual meeting between boss and worker where strengths are briefly mentioned and weaknesses are covered in detail.  After all, we feel good about a person’s strengths, so why should we waste time discussing them?  If we can improve or eliminate a person’s weaknesses, the individual and the organization will improve, right?

In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker wrote that, by focusing on our weaknesses, the best we can achieve is mediocrity.  If, on the other hand, we work on further developing our strengths, we can achieve greatness.

We excel in the areas that motivate us, while our weaknesses tend to consist of the things that do not interest us or, for whatever reason, we are unable to improve.  Focusing attention on developing the things we either can’t improve or aren’t interested in improving leads to frustration, stress, and de-motivation.

Motivation results when people when we are able to create a workplace where people can have fun.  One important aspect of this is assuring that people are able to effectively utilize and develop their strengths.

Addressing the Organization’s Weaknesses

While it is important to understand the skill gaps that exist within the organization, closing them requires an effective hiring process that enables the right mix of talent and ability to operate effectively.  In other words, successful leadership requires putting together a team where individual strengths complement one another and people are able to effectively cover each other’s weaknesses.

Besides the negative effects on motivation, attempting to close gaps by forcing people to work on their weaknesses takes attention away from further developing strengths which can be much more valuable to the organization and the individual in the long run.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Annual Management Blog Roundup - John Shook & the Lean Enterprise Institute

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

John Shook is one of the most recognized names in lean thinking.  John spent 11 years at Toyota, and has authored (or co-authored) several books on the Toyota Production System.  He is currently Chairman and CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute (www.lean.org) and maintains a blog on the site entitled John Schook’s eLetters, where he has been posting since 2008.

In Encouraging Signs of Leadership, John addresses the complexities of leading a lean journey.  An organization is a system and transformation needs to take place on many dimensions.  Change must be driven on the system, not the components of the system.

In the post, Shook writes that, “Leadership is integrated into the work and not overlaid onto it.  And yet many prevailing conceptions of leadership fail to grasp this simple but essential truth.
In another post (Learning Lean – Collaboratively), Shook writes on my favorite lean topic: learning.  Lean practitioners are obsessed with learning but, as Shook writes, learning does not happen just because one wants it to.  It results from the application of tools and methods that enable a PDCA mindset.  Through PDCA, mechanisms like standardized work, kata, kaizen, and hoshin kanri all enable learning to occur faster.

In So What Are You Going To Do About It? (I love the title) Shook addresses the changes taking place in the world and the resulting impact they are having on business.  By once again returning to the idea of appreciating the system, he talks about the importance of understanding and improving the value stream as the way to deal with these large-scale changes.  By addressing problems in isolation, we’re doing nothing more than pushing costs from one part of the value stream to another.

W. Edwards Deming used to say that the system is as large as we’re able to manage.  I think the complexities and interactions in today’s world require us to see the system as much larger than was required in years past.  Understanding the supply chain, company processes, distribution, and customer tiers, although complex, is necessary for the long-term success of any organization.
Although Shook tends to push products and services of the Lean Enterprise Institute in many of his blogs, one can gain a wealth of information by merely reading and reflecting on his posts.  Focused directly on the application of lean, the influence of Deming is very evident. 

Additional information about the Curious Cat Annual Management Blog Carnival is available at http://management.curiouscatblog.net/category/carnival/.