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.