Thursday, October 27, 2005

So how DO we coach??

So how DO we coach??


It's easy to criticize.  But it is more important to offer a way to improve. 


So, if we are to beware the coach who sneaks up from behind, what instead DO we do when a situation calls for coaching?


A difficult question and depends on one's strengths and the context of the situation.  Yet, in the Lean setting, one common denominator of effective coaches is consistent use of the Socratic Method.


The Socratic Method is simply an approach that does not tell the student what to think but rather leads the student by way of well-crafted questions towards discovering the answer for herself.  It is very much the opposite of our usual method of training and Western style education in general.  But, it works.


Steve Spears observed this in his key articles on the Lean.   Jim Collins found use of the Socratic Method a common practice in his study of Good to Great companies.  Womack and Jones cite this as normal.  I've seen it repeatedly myself. 


The best source of understanding of the Socratic Method I've found on the web is from Rick Garlikov.  In his paper The Socratic Method, Rick shows us how to use this method by example.  He includes a transcript of his questions to teach a group of third graders binary numbers by ONLY asking questions.  In his companion piece Using Questions to Teach Better he builds deeper on what questions work and which ones don't.


If you are interested in not being a "Coach Dan", read Rick's papers and then, within 24 hours, try it. This is a method that you truly learn by doing.  Email me with your results and let me know what you discovered; about yourself, about your subject matter, about the method of teaching. 


I'll post a recent Socratic experience of mine in my next blog. 


I hope this is helpful.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Beware the coach that sneaks from behind

Beware the coach that sneaks from behind


I ran the Indianapolis Half-Marathon last Saturday and, as is often the case in such events, found a group of similarly-glacial-paced participants by the 2 mile mark.  Our spontaneous group of 7 found a comfortable rhythm and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather as we galumphed along.


Around mile 7, we heard some odd talking coming up behind us.  I turned and observed two lumpy middle-aged guys accompanied by a young fellow who looked right out of Central Casting for the physical fitness industry.


"Hey, folks, meet Coach Dan!!" one of the Lumpy Guys exclaimed to our little pack of runners. 


Being a basically friendly group (hey, this is Indiana, after all) we greeted Dan from Central Casting and his associated Lumps.  What followed surprised us. Dan took our sociable greeting as an invitation to immediately shout instructions at us.  


"Get off your toes!!  You're asking for an injury."  


"Get some orthotics in those shoes, your knees will blow out!"


The tension started to pick up.


"Hey, Pink" he yelled at one of our fashionably-dressed pack members, "drop your hands!!  Get 'em down, even with your waist!!"   As if to mock him, she clenched her fists and raised her arms higher.


"Relax!!!  RELAX!! RELAX WHEN YOU RUN!"  Coach Dan yelled at all of us.  Woo boy. 


At which point, another member of the klatch had had enough.  "You can just keep on running, Dan.  You're faster...get on ahead...I'm not listening." 


One of the Pair o' Lumps muttered "Dan, let's back it off" and they drifted away.  But the interchange soured an otherwise wonderful run.




The Lump Brothers had obviously requested Dan to coach them.  It must have worked.  In their excitement, they introduced Dan to us, thinking that everyone would welcome his helpful input.  Problem was, we hadn't made that request.  And didn't welcome the intrusion.  He burst in the door, rather than knocking, waiting for the reply and responding to an invitation. 


I can be Dan at times.  In my excitement about some new plan to eliminate a waste or improve a pull system, I can bark at someone who isn't ready to listen.  And, surprise surprise, the response is the same as Dan got from our pack. 


The Japanese have a saying I really like: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."  Whether I'm a student or a teacher, I have to be aware of this.  As we Learn About Lean.


I hope this is helpful. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"The Gold Mine" by Balle and Balle

"The Gold Mine" by Balle and Balle


For the third and last element of my promise fulfillment, I report on The Gold Mine: A Novel of Lean Turnaround by Freddy Balle and Michael Balle.


The authors intend this to not be your typical business book.  And they succeed in this aspect.  Balle, a sensei himself, describes how Lean works to save a collapsing hypothetical manufacturing company.  He does a good job of describing lean, the tools and, more importantly, the people-aspect of Lean. 


Their model for the writing style was The Goal, the now-famous book by Eli Goldratt, in which the author uses the novel as a method of talking about Theory of Constraints.  A noble objective, but they fell short.


I found The Gold Mine a difficult read, hardly a page-turner.  While the author clearly knows his stuff as a Lean guru, he's not an writer.  I felt at many points he quit writing and started typing.  The book is at least a third longer than it needs to be, perhaps twice as long.  "Lowering the water level" of the inventory of words would have helped.  


I didn't finish the book...I just got bored.  In reading comments on Amazon's site, I see I'm out of step with others' views, so look at those as well.  But I found the book disappointing, simply because it was poorly written.  The first time I read The Goal, I sat up till 2:30am to finish it, I could not put it down. I've read it through twice since and still refer to it.  No problem laying The Gold Mine down, however.


I hope this is helpful.



Monday, October 17, 2005

"Lean Solutions" by Womack and Jones

"Lean Solutions" by Womack and Jones


Continuing my promise fulfillment, here is my take on Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together by Jim Womack and Dan Jones.


Womack and Jones speak from their vantage point to ask what a Lean mindset can do to a number of common problems in society: Healthcare, air travel, auto repair.  They observe, correctly, that even though we are manufacturing things with less and less waste, we don't find our lives becoming less and less complicated or wasteful.  Using these common experiences as examples, they examine what COULD happen if Lean thinking was applied to the entire chain from manufacture to consumption.


I ran into this over the past 10 days as I tried to get a high-speed Internet connection to my home and set up a Wi-Fi node.  Oh my.  There was no way to integrate this process and each provider was sure that it was the other provider's problem.  My time, my wife's time, my weekend was of no value to anyone. 


Long-time reader of this blog and lean thinker Karen Wilhelm commented recently on this same phenomenon as she grappled with an "improvement" in her IT system.  She wrote that the solution "...eliminated some duplicate data entry for the IT person, but the user now has duplicate data entry."  In other words, the total system now has more waste, not less. 


In both of these cases, we see pure waste surrounding "productivity increasing technology."  W&J discuss this phenomenon extensively.  But rather than just griping about it, they bring a systematic Lean perspective to analyze and propose solutions.  Their methodology is useful.


Overall, I found the book good for long-term thinking and probably useful for strategy.  However, it did not have the urgency or the punch that I distinctly recall the first time I read "Lean Thinking".  Nevertheless, W&J are just plain good writers.  They appeal to me with their clarity and ability to explain and tell a story.  So the book was an easy read...I finished it in two evenings. 


Useful to read and will get you thinking.  But probably won't change your life.


I hope this is helpful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Steve Spear on Continuous Improvement

Steve Spear on Continuous Improvement


I promised to report on my readings during my recent vacation.  Here's the first.


Steve Spear has, in my opinion, become one of most influential thinkers on Lean.  He cemented that position in my mind with the publishing of his third article in Harvard Business Review on Lean Fixing Health Care from the Inside, Today (abstract). 


His focus was on how we can fix healthcare delivery, a noble and far-reaching goal in itself.  But the topic masks the underlying message of the article: how Lean practices enable any enterprise to learn and improve, constantly and dynamically. 


Most importantly, he identifies and illustrates four underlying principles for operational excellence:


1.       Work is designed as a series of ongoing experiments that immediately reveal problems.

2.       Problems are addressed immediately through rapid experimentation

3.       Solutions are disseminated adaptively through collaborative experimentation

4.       People at all levels of the organization are taught to become experimentalists.


Spear's time observing Lean operations and now implementing in a healthcare initiative is right on the money.  Even in these four notes, you will see the links to his earlier work.


I see Spear's three articles (this one along with his first, Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System and his second Learning to Lead at Toyota ) becoming the basis for the  training in Lean I'm doing.  His clarity and ability to capture the central, bedrock elements of Lean are unsurpassed.


If you have access to HBR through your local library, copy these articles.  If not, it is well worth the $6.00 for the electronic download of the copy. 


I hope this is helpful.


Monday, October 10, 2005

When Options Vanish

When Options Vanish


Yesterday's epic National League Playoff Game between Atlanta and Houston illustrates an important management principle for each of us.

If you missed it, the game was very tight and will likely prove to be a classic.  The Astros came from 5 runs down to tie the game with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.  The two teams then put up zeros until the 17th inning when the Astros won on a home run and thus won the Divisional Playoffs.

The rules of baseball make this a useful management example.  In such a long game, each manager made numerous substitutions to try to win, both in the late innings of regulation and then in each extra inning.  Relief pitchers, pinch hitters, pinch runners.  Since baseball requires players to leave the game once they are substituted for, the choices got more complex as they used up available players.  The managers of both teams faced and made key decisions.


They ran out of options.   Players were in positions they didn't normally play.  Roger Clemens, the great 43-year old veteran pitcher, was a pinch-hitter.  The Braves had Julio Franco, the living fossil, playing first base.  At age 47 (we think), Franco is older than 8 current major league managers. The Astros had a rookie shortstop, Eric Bruntlett, in right field. 


They didn't whine.  At least not about the rules.  They played the game and made the best of the situation. 


They balanced the "now" with the "future".  Bobby Cox and Phil Garner had to weigh out each decision and balance its effect on the current situation (often one at-bat at a time) with the impact it would have on the lineup for the remainder of the game.  And, in choosing to use Clemens as a relief pitcher, with how even the next game might set up. 

What do we learn?  Managing a business is also about succeeding now, while not cutting off future possibilities.  As Eli Goldratt says, the purpose of a business is "To make money now and into the future."  Sometimes we don't have the options we'd like to have or the options we had in the past.  Whining never gets us anywhere.  Relentless pursuit of excellence does win out.  For, even though the Braves lost the game and are now out of the playoffs, Bobby Cox and crew have won 14 straight division championships.  They deserved to be there.


Be relentless, even when options start to vanish. 


I hope this is helpful. 


Oh, and if you enjoy baseball illustrations of management principles, check out Jeff Angus' excellent blog Management by Baseball. 

Friday, October 07, 2005

Making Better Decisions

Making Better Decisions


Yesterday's readings from Peter Drucker:


A decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler's throw, no matter how carefully thought through it might be.


Which triggered a memory of a Frank Patrick blog in July (click here and scroll down to July 5 for the full post):


One choice is not a choice, it is a trap;
two choices is not a choice, it is a dilemma;
three choices is a choice.


Good decisions, a necessary element of good leadership, requires an understanding of choices.  No choice is indeed a "gambler's throw", a "trap". 


If you are in process leadership, you are probably an action-oriented person.  Good.  And we still need to pause.  Find choices.  Write. Noodle.  Be open.  Wait.  Think. Mull.
I hope you can mull this and find it a bit helpful.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Every kaizen has a lesson--Handoffs

Every kaizen has a lesson--Handoffs

We recently learned a big lesson by by paying attention to the handoffs.

Frank Patrick wrote well about
managing handoffs in August, which got me thinking.  In a project setting, many problems happen not in the work itself, but rather in moving the work from performer to performer.


We did a 3-day kaizen event several weeks ago on a complex process where we did just that.  We told our team that we were operating on the assumption that their actual work content was just fine...don't change a thing.  Rather, we looked exclusively at the hand-offs of both material and information between multiple performers in the process. 


Oh my. 


When we took times of material and information just sitting, unacted upon, when we looked at assumptions of both sender and receiver, when we offered simple improvements and implemented them during the kaizen, the results were astounding. 


Why is this so?  I wonder if it isn't because our attention is usually so much on the work itself that we pay little attention to the movement of work and information to trigger further work.  And, thus, the inattention means that there is great opportunity. 


Think of what happens when you walk into an urgent care facility.  The receptionist may be efficient at taking your name and insurance background and the physician may be efficient at diagnosing your hacking cough.  However, the facility might not pay attention to how the receptionist communicates to the physician that she has a patient, right now, in exam room 12.  And, as a result, your total time increases.  Even though the performers are efficient, the collective performance is very inefficient with your time, due to inattention to handoffs. 

You find handoffs in the space between processes.  Particularly processes you are proud of.  The handoff gets lost in the shadows.  Go poke in those shadows. 

You can have gains, easy gains, by merely paying attention to handoffs.  Look at them anew.  I sure am.


I hope this is helpful. 


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sauce, for both goose and gander

Sauce, for both goose and gander


The foundation for all Lean efforts is standardized work.  And this is a huge turn-off for most people, me included.  Some of you will remember the Richie Havens song Freedom (or maybe you don't...I date myself here...).  And standardized work feels like a major crimping of said freedom.


So, it is crucial for us in leadership roles to model this.  Even with nobody looking.


One of my regular duties is to review and approve company invoices.  I set up standard work for this.   Including cycle times.  So, with a performance standard and a stopwatch, I can record plan vs. actual for this mundane but key task.


Geeky?  Yes (you are surprised??).  But the example is key.  When I talk with others about standardized work, I have to walk the talk too. 


I hope YOU can find some work to standardize and then improve.  It's a great example.  And it helps you learn more about lean and about yourself.