Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve, 2004

Christmas Eve, 2004

While I normally try to stay on topic in this blog, I allow myself one day a year to reflect a bit, personally, here in public on Christmas Eve, as I did two years ago and last year. Not only is the day a useful point for self-examination generally, but it is also the day that my Dad died in 1993. So, since then, the day has taken on a new, more sober, meaning.

It is hard to believe that it has been 11 years since Dad lost his year-long battle with cancer. His influence on me is immense. He and I were blessed with a wonderful friendship that avoided many of the periodic estrangements typical between a father and son. His lived out before me and spoke explicitly with me about business, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, risk-avoidance, dealing with colleagues and competitors, handling finances and embracing change. His 78 years were a marvelous gift to me and I am deeply grateful and humbled by it. And his influence remains very real and current, which is why it is hard to fathom he's been gone 11 years. If you are interested, feel free to look at some web pages my sister Karen Eichstadt put together about Dad's early years and college days at Notre Dame where he played football and learned much. You might get a small sense of who he was.

Thoughts of my Dad naturally trigger reflection on my own role as a father to my sons. My oldest, David, is much on our minds. He's an Army Medic serving in Iraq, staffing an Army hospital in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad and 30 miles from Fallujah. (here he is and here he is with his unit). His wife Susan and twin sons are living nearby us while he's deployed. It has been quite a mental adventure to have a son in harm's way, daily, which isn't explainable in any short piece of text. Suffice it to say, we've come to grips with it and are quite proud of him. Our local newspaper ran a story this morning on him and a peer of his who are both in Iraq.

My middle son Nathan (on the right, with his cousin Andrew and the twins last summer) has landed well in Portland, Oregon, finding a solid job in Human Resources in the past year. My youngest, Matt, is a sophomore in High School and got his driver's license last week. They are both marvelous guys, deep thinkers and building significant strengths of skill and character.

Each one is different...each one is alike. I think of my Dad a lot, hoping to emulate his ability to teach and mentor each of them uniquely, just as he lived out a principled life for his wife and four kids.

Now, let's see...if my son has sons, would that make Gretchen and me (gasp) grandparents? Yeah, I guess so. And it leaves me laughing and in a sense of awe, all at the same time. Because, you see, now there are two more sons to teach and mentor. Dad's laughing with me. And his example continues to the next generation.

Thanks for listening. My best to all my readers for a most Blessed Christmas and a very Happy 2005.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Plan vs. Actual, part 2

Plan vs. Actual, part 2       


Continuing to think carefully about Plan vs. Actual (PvA).


I'm working on a request right now that stumps me.  Has for several weeks.  And I've wondered why. 


The request was a description of a problem.  Yeah, it seemed clear enough.  But I didn't know how to respond to the request. And so I was stumped. 


A few minutes ago, it hit me.  While I had a description of the problem, I had no idea what the requestor would consider a useful response.  Put another way, the requestor did not describe anything even close to a "condition of satisfaction."


An analogy:  The tenant calls the landlord, "The grass is long in the front yard."   An assertion, a statement for which the tenant is willing to provide evidence.  But there is no subsequent request.  Just what does the tenant want??  A clear description in the lease of who is responsible for grass cutting?  The landlord to cut the grass?  The landlord to supply a lawn mower?  Installation of Astroturf?  Reclassification of the front yard as a federal grassland area?


The requestor speeds a solution by stating a condition of satisfaction. "I'll be happy to cut the grass if you can supply a working power mower."  Now the landlord can accept that or offer a counterproposal.  But, without a request, he can only speculate what will satisfy the request. 


Alternatively, the landlord could ask the question herself.  "What are you asking me to do?"  Or frame a condition of satisfaction in the form of a question "Would you cut the grass if I supply the mower?" 


But, without a condition of satisfaction, or something even close to it, little action can happen.  And, in this situation, the Plan is never reached.  Actual is a non-action, vegetative state.


I now know how to handle this issue.  I just proposed a condition that seemed reasonable to me.  The customer accepted that as reasonable...we're off center and moving again. 


Try this today on something that stumps you.  See if it gets things moving.


I hope this is helpful.




Sunday, December 12, 2004

Plan vs. Actual--Part 1

Plan vs. Actual--Part 1

Have been thinking and observing a lot on the concept of "Plan vs. Actual." I'll probably be writinig a bit about this in the next few weeks and I'll try to make it interesting.

A mainstay of any solid Lean implementation, Plan vs. Actual (or, I'll abbreviate as PvA) is a rigorous application of Deming's famous "Plan-Do-Check-Act" cycle. In short, it says that we predict ahead of time what we think will happen. Then we do the task. We measure whether or not we actually saw what we thought would happen, usually in a binary, "yes/no" way. Then we say "What did we learn?" and do it again.

Most companies utilize the obvious ways PvA measures, such as:

  • Number of items manufactured vs plan
  • Expenses vs Budget
  • Deliveries on time

What has always impressed me in really good Lean companies is just how many, many more ways they use PvA than ordinary firms, how frequently they measure, how simple and visual the measurements are and how it drives learning throughout the company. Such as:

  • Measuring items manufactured, plan vs actual, by the hour, not by the day or the month.
  • Budget numbers delivered weekly, not monthly
  • Number of days they deliver on-time through a month, not just the monthly percentage.

What happens when we shorten this cycle time of PvA? How do keep track of it? How do we learn, in the busy-ness of work life?

I'll write more and I hope it is helpful.

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