Saturday, January 29, 2005

Eliminating Old Die-Hard Behaviors

Eliminating Old Die-Hard Behaviors


One of the fun things about blogging is the occasional synergy with other bloggers on a given topic.  Hal Macomber, Frank Patrick and I did such a collaborative blog a couple years ago on Theory of Constraints.  It was fun and we hoped interesting for our readers. 


Here I go again.  I've quoted Jeff Angus' fine blog, Management by Baseball, on a number of occasions in this space.  Regular readers will not be surprised I like Jeff's blog, as it combines two of my absolute favorite subjects.  Jeff invited me to comment on a theme he blogged about earlier today; finding and eliminating "survivals".  Jeff defines "survivals" as those practices and behaviors that are so omnipresent that we don't even question their presences.  Just why do blazers have buttons on the sleeves?  Just why do we print that report every week?


Jeff describes baseball and personal examples of these practices.  In subsequent entries, he will describe his views on how to eliminate such silliness.  He invited me to contribute from my perspective as well.  He didn't have to ask twice.


Why?  Central to any Lean endeavor is the elimination of non-value adding activity, which such "survivals" are prime examples.  But how to we see these?  How do we make them jump up and wave to us?  There are some ways.  They are surprisingly simple.  I'll illustrate by example, it is a passion of mine.  Jeff will do the same from his software, project management and baseball worlds.  We'll link to each other's posts. 


Jeff and I both hope you find this helpful.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Daily Discussions with Drucker

Daily Discussions with Drucker


In a cool confluence of ideas, Michelle Miller blogged about her new choice of the Book of the Year a few weeks back.  It is a compilation of nuggets from Peter Drucker, titled The Daily Drucker, designed to be read on a daily basis throughout the year.   


Well, it didn't take a lot of prodding to get me to order the book.  I was first introduced to Drucker in 1979 in my first role ever as a supervisor.  My boss at the time gave me Drucker's classic The Effective Executive, saying "read this, it might help you."   The boss was wise...Drucker has proven even wiser.


No other individual has had as much an impact on my view of work and management than Peter Drucker.  I've read almost everything he's published since.  The man's laser sharp vision and tight prose are an inspiration.  I recommend him to anyone who asks (and some who don't). 


So, I've had this new Drucker treasure for a couple weeks now.  What relish I dive into each day's selection.  It is very much like a "blog in a book"...from the greatest management thinker of our day. 


I commend the book to you.  And don't be surprised to see comments on it on this blog.  Many thanks to Michelle for her tip...worth a lot!


I hope this is helpful. 



Friday, January 21, 2005

Culture and Perceptions Make Reality

Culture and Perceptions Make Reality

This morning I read Seth Godin's account of him serving on jury duty this week. Which reminded me of my jury duty experience about 18 months ago, which I wrote about here.

The two experiences were quite different. I found folks took the task seriously. Seth found people acting with distaste for the system. Seth and I both found it a fascinating opportunity for duty...but apparently our peers had different views.

I suspect culture is central to this difference, perhaps primary. North-central Indiana and Westchester County, New York are, culturally speaking, a very long ways apart. Thus, running a trial will encounter very different responses.

Which reminds me again just how important culture is in influencing any change or growth effort in a company. People are not automatons, they are not cookie-cut-outs that behave the same in response to the same stimuli. People are a product of their region, their backgrounds, their experiences, the norms of the area. We hire out of a certain region and background set. To ignore this is to be incredibly naive.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Plan vs Actual, part 4

Plan vs Actual, part 4

So what is a benefit of doing plan vs actual?

My job includes reviewing our Accounts Payable each week. It's always there. And I wondered for quite a while how I could make a "plan" for it.

Some invoices are obvious...we pay the electric bill, we pay for postage. Some are more complex...did we get the quote right for the new machine? Did the person signing off the invoice have the right authority for that level of expenditure? Where's the PO for this one? Is someone slipping burying some added charges in the midst of a complex invoice?

But I stumbled onto an idea for this last November and have been refining it since. While the time taken to review each bill is quite variable, I noted that groups of them tend to average out. Specifically, our accounting system spits out a report for each A/P run and I discovered that one page of A/P on this report tends to be about the same time as the next.

So I started collecting data on how long it takes me to do each page of A/P. The data started out at about 7:30 per page. Since we usually have 4-9 pages each week, I could then do the multiplication and begin to predict how long it would take me.

Then, I further standardized the work and found that I could reliably get the time shorter, while still meeting my responsibilities. Put more simply, standard work helped focus my mind. Fewer drifts off into space while I was doing a standard. Now the time is down to 6:30 per page.

This is remarkably freeing. A/P lands on my desk. A quick look at how many pages, a quick multiplication, a quick look at my schedule and I know where I fit it in. Even in something as quirky as paying bills. The principles of Lean still apply.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Not quite getting it

Not quite getting it    


A friend just emailed me a mind bending but belivable quote from a flyer publicizing an upcoming trade show in his industry:


Roundtable discussion groups

*            "Topics for discussion tricks and shortcuts to quality.


Oh my. 


People swapping stories about how to get shortcuts to quality.  Implication being "do this and people with think you might have a quality product." 


This type of thinking gets you in trouble.  I hope you can see it when it happens and reject it. 


And I sure hope you never think of this blog as a shortcut to quality....


Thanks for listening.  And I hope it is helpful. 


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Policy Waste

Policy Waste

Ran into a friend of mine this weekend and I asked him how his company was doing. "Business is good," he said with a sheepish smile on his face, "in fact, better than it really should be."

An odd response.

My friend owns a company in the repair business. As such, they are often paid not by the individual consumer but by an insurance adjustor from the individual's carrier. It seems that these adjustors are not concerned with the best price for the repair. My friend discovered that the adjustors are really concerned that the invoice proposal for the repair work line up with their expected format.

So how does make your profits better than they should be? I asked.

"It is absolutely nuts," my friend continued. It seems that in order to make the format of the proposal line up typically adds about 20-30% to what the customer actually requires. "And when I propose a good deal to the adjustor, they give me all sorts of hassles. When I give them the proposal that fits their format, I have no hassle and they pay promptly."

Adding cost. Adding expense. Adding to the ultimate premium consumers pay. And this from nationally known insurance companies.

My friend is right. It is absolutely nuts. And it is very believable.

This is an example of policy waste. Rules, either written or implied, that reinforce waste. Rules that increase the cost of delivering service, cost that adds no value whatsoever.

And here's the point...when we see these policy wastes, we can very often remove them at NO capital cost. Unlike eliminating some physical wastes (which can require machine work or new equipment), eliminating policy wastes are often just a matter of changing rules. No cost. Very rapid gains.

Made me want to see what policy wastes I deal with. I hope it does the same for you.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Pull Systems.even in sales

Pull Systems...even in sales


In Lean systems, we always want to Pull material through, not Push it. 


This works in marketing as well, if you pay attention to it.  Seth Godin writes today about making something others WANT to buy as the key to marketing.


Yeah, pull, not push. 


I hope you find this helpful.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Plan vs Actual, part 3

Times on Palm for 10km Race, originally uploaded by joeelylean.

Plan vs. Actual, part 3

A distinctive of Lean is a deeply held conviction that we can understand both the steps in a process and the time it should take to do each process. Steve Spear of Harvard Business School articulated this most clearly in his two seminal articles on Lean (email me if you don't have these). And it is this understanding of time that many people miss.

Understanding the steps in a process is commonly understood. But articulating, then measuring, is less well know. Even less understood than that is involving the associates who do the work in the understanding of the time involved and giving them the tools to measure, real time, how they are doing with this time standard. All too often time standards are buried in hard-to-understood time studies that are neither current, visual nor relevant.

Which brings me to the rather unusual image above, which illustrates my entire point. This is my very own left hand and I took the photo before the start of a recent 10km road race I ran. The numbers are simply the cumulative times I wanted to hit at each of the six mile markers along the course and the bottom number was my proposed finishing time over the full 6.2 miles. (Those of you who are runners are welcome to chuckle at the glacial pace these splits represent...not to worry, I'm a pretty friendly glacier) I also added the work "UNINJURED" to the top, to remind myself not to strain a pulled left calf muscle I had tweaked a week earlier. Operatively, this meant I thought through my conditioning and my goals and broke them down to specific measures, which I could assess not at the END of the race, but six distinct times during the race. At a time when I could (at least theoretically :-) ) effect the final outcome.

And, thus, with only the technology of a ball point pen on skin and a $5 digital wristwatch, I had a full understanding of the Plan vs Actual. It does not have to be expensive or difficult.

We can give our people a way to know, by themselves, multiple times each work day, just how they are doing. They can make their own assessments of whether they are ahead or behind. It need not be complicated or fact it is usually best to be simple and cheap. But we MUST share the information openly and visually and involve our people in its development, measurement and improvement.

I hope this is helpful.

(If you want to know how my "actual" compared to my "plan", click here and scroll down to #141)