Saturday, April 28, 2007

How to Make a Lot of Money as a Sales Representative

First, you listen.
Second, you write down and ask clarifying questions of the person who will make the buying decision.
Third, you don't let your last three sales calls influence how you handle this sales call.
Four, you ask about the end state the client wants to achieve.
Fifth, you listen more.
Sixth, you ask about the details of the installation.
Seventh, you actually take notes.  And, when the customer asks you to take notes, you don't say "Oh I have it all down in my head."  Especially when you have demonstrated you aren't listening anyway.
The first key in Lean is to understand what the customer values.  Then, you deliver what the customer values.  Anything else is muda. 
The sales rep who can do this will not have to negotiate price.  She'll be a partner and will be welcomed back. 
Unlike the guy who visited us on Friday.
Keep learning.  Especially if you are in sales.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Noticing--at arm's length

After writing Tuesday afternoon about going to the workplace (gemba), making direct observations, then noticing the good efforts of people, I was confronted on Tuesday evening with how NOT to do this.  Man, was it uncomfortable. 
At a committee meeting of a local volunteer organization, the chair had gone to some effort to express gratitude to several volunteers who had put in some considerable effort.  The kicker?  The chair had not seen the work, had only heard about it.  Yet, sincerely, he wanted to thank these people. 
Unfortunately, it got more distant.  He prepared beforehand a generic "thank you" letter for the seven people.  Each letter was identical, with no name on it.  The platitudes on the letter were nice but vague.  He then asked all of us on the committee to sign the letter so he could send it to the seven volunteers. 
I stopped the group and asked "So which letter is going to which person?" 
This seemed to stymie the group.  "What do you mean?"
"I mean, let's make this just a little bit personal.  I'd like to add something specific about what each person did.  But I can't do that unless I know which of these identical letters is going to which person."
My concern caused a bit of a stir.  It prompted quite a discussion about whether to put the name of the person on the front or on the back of the letter, in pencil or in ink.  I tried to be polite but it took some effort.  Eventually the group decided to put the names in pencil, on the top front corner of each letter, so the chair could later erase them when he mailed them out.  So goes the committee decision-making process.
The letters went around the table.  Most people dutifully signed their names, some added a hand-written generic greeting such as "Nice job!" or "Thanks so much!"  A couple of us put something personal that related to the specific task and/or the specific person. 
I suppose the recipients will appreciate the letter.  The letter did, after all, notice their efforts and we all crave notice.  Yet it would have been so much easier to make it so much better. 
Try thanking someone directly today.  See what you learn. 
And keep learning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Is there anything much more motivating than simply being noticed? 
"Hey, nice catch on that detail."
"Your area looks good...thanks for keeping it so neat."
"You took care of the details really well."
And where is the best place to notice? 
At the workplace.  In the midst.  While, quite literally, putting your hands on the work people do. 
I had the chance today to do this.  I was wading through a big pile of raw material purchase orders, part of my regular job.  I began to notice a pattern of attention to pricing discrepancies by one of our team.  Subtle stuff, simple corrections, a couple of improvements she just implemented.  I'd never have seen it by looking at the next level of reports.  It would all have been homogenized into a beige blob.  Instead, I saw the striking bold colors of her work.  So, I told her.  And her boss. 
Had I not been in direct contact with her work, though, any complement I might make would be more distant: 
"Hey, your boss told me you had a nice catch on that detail."
"I saw a 5S audit report that said your area looks good and is neat."
"I understand the details of your report rolled up well into the big spreadsheet." 
Doesn't ring as true. 
Do I need more reasons to spend time in the workplace? 
Keep learning.  It happens best where the work is done.

Monday, April 23, 2007

When a Laudable Intermediate Goal becomes a Cop-Out

As a reward for taking a week off in early March, I was greeted by over 240 emails on my return. I whittled and deleted and responded, with the objective to get the pile down to no more than 10 unread emails at any point in time.  That goal of 10 became a lure for me, beckoning my efforts, mocking me when I'd go to a meeting only to return to 25 more emails that arrived in the meantime.
It took a couple of weeks, but I succeeded.  I got the unread pile to 10 and have kept it there since. That's the good news.
I observed last week that the 10 unread email remained the same 10 as days earlier.  I was not dealing with emails and then seeing them replaced with a new crop.  No, I was consistently (and quite comfortably) ignoring the same 10 requests for action that I really didn't want to deal with.  The goal of 10 became a cop-out. 
A very human reaction.  But it illustrated to me the allure of goals that are almost, but not quite, an ultimate objective.  I failed to push the goal farther upon reaching it.
It can happen in any process.  It was simply painfully clear to me when it took place on my inbox. 
Interestingly, I cut the goal to 5 today.  As I left work, there were only 2.  And they just came in today...they will be dispatched in the morning.
Keep pushing your goal.  And keep learning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Eliminating Waste at the Desktop

For those of us who battle email/voice mail/interruption clutter and long for a "5S" of our work lives, here is a radical and thought provoking treatment:
Brian does a nice job here and it merits your attention.
My current technical roadblock:  I can't get my MS Outlook Email to turn on and off automatically.  I'd like it to only receive emails at certain times of the day (10, 2 and 4, as Brian suggests, is a good start).  Does anyone have a good hack to cause it to do that??
Keep learning.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Engine and The Gas, Part 2

I wrote a couple days ago on the difference between the engine of a lean operation (the observable tools) and the fuel or gas of a lean operation (how the people relate, how the culture performs).
This morning, I had a chance to use this illustration with some associates.  The learning was useful to me.
The context was an awkward personnel issue in a process-oriented work group.  I needed to listen carefully to some associates with concerns. 
As I listened, the folks were polite and respectful about the people issues.  They also had a fair degree of angst about the actual and potential degradation of process performance and accuracy.  Both sets of concerns were legitimate and sincere.  Yet, as I listened and asked questions, the two were also tightly intertwined.  In most efforts towards driving out waste, I typically turn to the process issues first.  "Whoa, if we mess up that particular standard work, we're all in trouble!"  And we'd go to work on the process. 
Yet it didn't seem right in this context. 
So I tried the distinction between the engine and the gas.  I asked the team to separate the human and the process issues.  I used hand motions as a visual tool to "set aside" the process issues for a moment (stating I'd come back to them) and explored the human issues.  Fascinatingly, the shoulders of the associates relaxed, tension on their faces eased and we spoke compassionately and openly about the human issues, our own foibles included.  I tried to reinforce the quality of character of each of them and the rest of our team and our common goal of a humane workplace doing excellent work.  I stated some organizational values in this regard, with which they agreed. 
Only after this did I touch on the process issues and then only lightly.  I affirmed to them that they knew the process details way better than I did and I encouraged them to simply use the process improvement tools they already had to deal with their concerns.  It seemed to connect. 
Using process tools to fix a human problem is like bringing a box-end wrench to a counseling session. 
Understand the Gas.  Understand the Engine. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why didn't I introduce myself?

Why Didn't I introduce myself?
This has bugged me all day.
I did a walk-through of our manufacturing space this morning.  Pretty much a standard path, looking at certain supermarket levels but, more importantly, greeting each associate, chatting and listening.  As usual, had a couple of very useful comments from several folks about opportunities for improvement.
At one work station, though, I saw a person I didn't recognize. I knew we had just hired a new associate and this, therefore, must be her.  She was in training with an associate I know well.  I talked with that familiar associate, as if the new person wasn't really there, then, as I walked away, I gave a lame "Glad you are here" to the new person. 
What a stinky job that was. 
And it has bugged me all day as to why I didn't just accept the fact that I spaced on her name, introduce myself, apologize and ask her name again and treat her with some respect. 
The unsettling answer to the question of "why" here is that I simply had too much pride.  Hey, I'm supposed to be responsible.  So, I'm supposed to know names and recognize people and chat amicably with them all.  So it would look really dumb for me not to just "know" this person's name.  And I was too proud to look dumb. 
And, if I'm too proud to simply ask a person her name, why on earth do I think I'll be humble enough to listen to her when she has a good idea for improvement?  Worse, why would I think she would bother to tell such an idea to a guy who treated her like a houseplant?
I have an apology to make in the morning. 
I also have to learn to introduce myself, all over again. 
Keep learning. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chop Chop

<h2>Chop Chop</h2>
Today's observation:  Sometimes you need to reflect.  Many times, however, it is more important to just go do something.
Now.  Just get something done.  It often clears the clutter more effectively than mulling more.
Gotta go.  Have some things to do.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What's the Engine? What's the Gas?

What's the Engine? What's the Gas?

I had an odd word picture clarify in my head over the weekend.

We so often in get interested in the tools of Lean. Kanban cards. Pull systems. Value Stream maps. I sitting here right now, for example, finally clicking on producing an X-chart, linking lower level goals to higher level activities. It is making sense. Produces a cool tool to communicate with.

And will this get waste-free manufacturing rolling?

Not by itself.

Enter my word picture.

The tools are the engine. The "stuff," the mechanics, the tangible things you can see and feel. The items that are fairly easy to observe, copy and talk about to others. The engine looks good sitting there. Especially when you can add chrome.

The gas, on the other hand, is the fuel that makes the engine turn. If the engine won't turn, it is of no more use than a boat anchor, chrome or no chrome. In a Lean system, the gas is the passion, the energy, the fuel that drives productive activity. It flows from a sense of purpose, a sense of rightness, a respectful use of people who use their strengths and support each other.

Driving down the street, I can easily view other people's cars. From it's make or from the sticker on the back, I can often tell just where they bought the car as well. If the car is moving, I can make the assumption it has fuel. But I never can see the gasoline. Much less can I even hazard a guess as to where the owner bought the gas. It is invisible to me, though I can see its effect.

The Lesson? I have to put a whole lot of energy into the fuel. The engine needs maintenance, even some polish. But it is the gas that makes the engine go.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The "Visual Walk By" test

The “Visual Walk By” Test


We just added two new engineers to our manufacturing team.  An ongoing project for us is to learn how to handle the myriad of project requests that are falling their way, even four days into their tenure.  

The three of us worked on developing a visual tool to help manage this.  They had several good ideas and they mocked them up, putting the tools on the wall.  Handwritten, rough, visual.  Taped up.

Another colleague of mine, familiar with our method of creating visual tools, saw this and walked up to the hand-written charts while the engineers were not around.  He knew, without having to ask me, that the test was if the charts explained themselves in two minutes or less, with no one around.  His report? 

“It told me about 75% of what I needed to know.”

The good news:  it drew him in and told him some of what he needed.

Today’s learning:  we need to fill in the other fourth of what wasn’t obvious.

The test itself is worthwhile.  You might try that on your charts and graphs.