Friday, August 29, 2003

"The Knowing-Doing Gap"

Just finished up the book "The Knowing-Doing Gap" by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. Published in 1999, I missed it when it first came out but picked it up recently on a recommendation. A good tip it turned out to be.

The authors point out numerous factors which cause people and companies to not take action on what they already know. Their finest chapter, IMHO, is the one entitled "When Talk Substitutes for Action". Wow. The title alone is a rifle-shot at ineffectiveness. Decisions, Presentations, Mission Statements, Planning; all will substitue for and tranquilize against effective action. Not that any of them are bad; they just can slow action.

This is a huge issue in a Lean effort. All too often, we see and talk about the tools of Lean (kanban, visual management, 5S, lower inventory) and don't actually learn from trying to actually do any of these things. They are far harder to do than to talk about.

This is, by the way, a huge risk in me producing this blog and in you reading it!!! I can substitute writing for doing; you can substitute reading for doing. Ouch.

How do the authors suggest we fight this tendency? They offer 8 prescriptions, which I paraphrase below.

  1. Build a philosophy of action.
  2. Knowing comes from Doing, especially teaching about Doing
  3. Action counts more than Elegant Plans and Concepts
  4. Doing will lead to Mistakes; will we tolerate them?
  5. Fear fosters inaction; Drive out Fear
  6. Fight the competition, not each other
  7. Measure the few key parameters; take quick action on those metrics
  8. How leaders spend their time matters

Please try something today and learn from it. I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Thursday, August 21, 2003

More on the "One Trip"

On Monday, I wrote about a trip to two construction sites. One worked well..the other did not. Here's more of the story, which is very instructive.

Late yesterday, I ran into a friend who is a manager at the general contractor running this site. After some pleasantries, I eased carefully into what I saw at his site on Monday afternoon; activity but no progress.

He sighed. "Yes, that's what you saw. And you know why? The concrete subcontractor only owns enough forms to set 45 lineal feet of concrete wall at a time."

Indeed. That was exactly what I saw. One end wall of the basement was about 70-80 feet long and only half of it was formed up.

This is a classic illustration of constraints. The crew I saw working aimlessly had a physical constraint limiting their ability to create value for the customer; they had a fixed amount of concrete forms. What do you do when encountering a constraint? You expoit it (have I wrung all possible out of it?), subordinate to it (do all other decisions take a back seat to maximizing the constraint?) and then elevate it (how can I get more of the constraining resource?)

In this case, my friend and I quickly got to the "elevate" question. Can we rent more forms somewhere? Can we borrow them? Can we use alternate ways to make forms? Concrete forms are not brain surgery. Can we get more, since we seem to have enough labor available to set them if we had them?

For those going deep, we might ask if there is a policy constraint sitting underneath this physical constraint. For instance, did the subcontractor have a stated or unstated rule that said "We never rent forms."? Is there some accounting policy that makes rented forms appear much more expensive than company-owned forms?

I don't know the answers to these issues. But, standing on the dusty job site on a hot August day, watching good people walk around in a deep, newly-dug basement, making no progress at all made me want to scream. This is why understanding constraints is so crucial to any Lean implementation. The constraint is where you apply the tools of lean to make the system improve. We have limited human and financial resources...let's put these limited resources to work where they matter.

Long-time readers of this blog may remember a series on Theory of Constraints that my friends Frank Patrick and Hal Macomber and I did last spring. If you find this topic interesting, start here and follow the links to learn more.

I hope this is helpful. And pay attention to the constraint. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Not the news...just the index of the news

A few quick thoughts during a blisteringly hot stretch of weather in the Midwest.
  • Toyota Along with three colleagues from the Wabash Valley Lean Network, I had the privilege of taking my third tour of Toyota's fork truck manufacturing facility in Columbus, Indiana last Wednesday. Not only is it fascinating to see a factory that hums with precision, it is also fascinating to see how it is such an organic, growing, changing enterprise. I'll write more on this.
  • Focus Spent two days last week and all day today in kaizen events here at FBi Buildings. I've seen it many times before, but it never ceases to amaze me what can happen in a short period of time with a clear goal and other clutter out of the way. So why do I continue to accept other clutter?
  • Gratefulness Seeing colleagues with relatives facing major, life-threatening surgeries, seeing businesses collapse nearby, seeing the fragility of an economy dependent on electrical power; every day is a gift.
I hope this day is a gift for you. And that this has been a little bit helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Monday, August 18, 2003

One Trip, Two Sites, Three Thoughts

Mondays bring surprises and this one is no different. My colleage Jim asked me to make a run to a job site this morning to see a material problem. While in the area, I stopped in at another nearby construction site.

There is nothing like getting into the action to see things more clearly. I elaborate.

The first site was a simple building. One of our four-man crews were working on it, under the leadership of one of our experienced foremen. Nothing fact the building was back in a woods and will hardly be visible except to the owners, who obviously want some privacy. Yet, during the 20 minutes I was on the site, the four guys were working as a team. Nothing frantic, yet each guy had a role, plugged at it and as I backed out, I was amazed at just how much they had done in a third of an hour. I could sense a simultaneous pace and calm...a job site clearly under control.

The second site was a more complex building, but the task for the day was simple; setting forms in preparation for pouring a concrete basement wall. Six men were at work for a concrete subcontractor. Turned out I was there for about 20 minutes as well. The guys were moving about but it struck me that they moved without purpose. In the 20 minutes, I saw no rebar tied off, no forms set, no visible progress made. There was not a sense of pace.

This very unscientific observation is not meant to extrapolate either crew's performace from my mere 20 minute sample to a general trend. However, three things did strike me.

  • Being there tells you more than reading a report. Anyone wanting to offer leadership in process improvement has to be at the place of work.
  • Knowing what needs to be done is central. Jim Womack's first point of the Lean process is "Value". That breaks down to being able to answer the question "Just what do we need to get done today?"
  • One need not be frantic to get a lot done. Calm resolove and measured movement clearly wins the day in the real world.
I hope this bit of reality is helpful. And that your Monday is a good one. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Saturday, August 09, 2003

(no subject)

Hectic Days

Blogging has been sparse on this site the past couple of weeks. It is a very, very busy time for me and my writings have been slim. The usual seasonal busyness for a construction company, coupled with some neat opportunities make for a very full schedule.

Here are some random learnings in a hectic time as I sit in the cool of my basement at home on a Saturday morning.

  • Look for obvious constraints. The paradigm of finding the limiting factor in an operation remains valid. Time is at a premium. Helping others (and myself) apply their limited attention to the constraint is very useful.
  • Make simple calculations. When I find these constraints, a few simple numbers help clarify it. For example, my colleague Randy and I found a limiting factor related to some of our equipment. He was faced with the task of "fitting ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag." When we identified the constraint, we did some quick calculations about short-term rentals of additional equipment. The solution jumped out at us. Quickly.
  • Pay attention to people. When I get in a bind, I can forget those around me. Wrong. I'm trying to force myself to spend more, not less, of the precious time with the folks who make it happen. Listening. Noticing. Simply being there. It seems to help. I hope they think so too.
  • Openly acknowledge pain. Say "thanks". What to say, with people in a hectic time. Obvious, yeah. But often we forget.
  • It's OK to say "No". Not everything is important. This morning I pitched a reminder to order two new books recently recommended me by a friend. I love books and especially ordering new books. There was no way I was going to get to these. So, I threw away the reminders. Not a big thing. But, symbolically, very freeing in such a hectic time.
  • Find space for reflection. Constant activity is draining. Find some space. Somewhere. My basement is such a space. I hope you have some equivalent

Blogs will still continue to be sparse for the next couple of weeks, as the pace will still be severe. Yet I hope this is helpful.
This is a test.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

test 5. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me