Friday, 24 October 2014

A direction without a destination

Explorers set out with a direction and the intent to reach the horizon - they don't have any other destination in mind than tomorrow's stretch of the journey and the final prize, the Source of the Nile. They don't have road maps or plans. They explore.

The day after tomorrow is an undiscovered country - it changes all the time right before our eyes. Experts are really good at telling us what will happen tomorrow (after all, they understand what happens today) but equally poor at guessing what happens the day after (something hitherto unforeseen has become the defining factor).

When designing new products, we should not think in terms of existing product plus, but define large challenges - double one performance, cut the weigh in half. Find a place on the horizon. The led the team explore - the only step that matters is the next step, there is no plan, because we don't know what we're going to find. In development, we don't know before hand what will turn out to be easy and what will remain intractable.

Working without a plan requires a strong sense of direction and mastery of today. Through solving today's problems we discover tomorrow's opportunities. In the end, the explorers reach the horizon because with small, non-aggressive teams, they pass through the lands they encounter without raising war-like reactions: they are no threat, they're passing through. It's hard for managers to live without a destination. They want to build bridges and then force everyone across. But how well does that work? Tomorrow might shift with the fog, but the horizon is still there, and so is the improvement direction. ONe step at a time in a steady direction gets you farther quicker than following the wrong plan.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

There is no Out There

In this fast moving world we live in, we all seek transformation, reform, change: the solution is out there. We don't like the way we look, the knife is out there. We don't like being too fat? The diet is out there. We don't like how our career is going? The new job is out there. We don't like the way the business runs? The new organization is out there.

But every jump to out there is ever more painful and destructive. Every new reorganization turns out to be a game of musical chairs. Every new job means rebuilding an entire network of relationships. Every new diet... let's not go there.

What's so wrong with in here that we need to throw it all away? If we got this far, chances are we're MOSTLY fine. Buddhists ask you to make a pile of white stones, each stone representing a personality defect, and then a pile of black stones, each stone a personal quality. You know what? We all have far larger piles of black stones, qualities, than defects.

Back in the old days, when Toyota engineers arrived at a supplier, they first asked to see the supplier's own procedure. They would point out that the supplier did not follow his own procedure. That's the point, would argue the supplier. My procedure is faulty. I want a new Toyota-like procedure. The Toyota engineers would be puzzled. First follow your procedure, they would ask, and then we can help you solve problems as they arise. The conversation never went well. The supplier wanted the silver bullet from out there.

So how about building on our strengths and challenging the misplaced energy we put on misconceptions and useless activities. How about enriching in here rather than seeking out there? Transplanting yourself is the real danger. Growing from your roots will let you reach higher, as well as further develops the roots themselves. There is no out there that's real.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

What is "lean" about a lean enterprise?

People often ask me: What does a lean enterprise look like? Continuous improvement is hard to describe precisely because it... continuously improves. Here's another attempt:

Copyright 2014 by the Institute of Industrial Engineers. All rights reserved.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Pursuit Of Perfection

Can continuous improvement make sense without the intent to pursue perfection? Can kaizen (change for the better) make sense without an ideal? Ideal need not be a destination. Vision need not be the farther shore, the other place where, having been transformed, our current problems won't occur. How many times have we seen a new investment replace an old one - with exactly the same problems and misconceptions carried over?

Ideal can be a movement, a posture, an angle of view. Ideal can be an act that you repeat endlessly until perfect, almost perfect, one day perfect. Ideal doesn't need to arrive, it can also be a journey:

Would Toyota value and cultivate Takumis
 if it didn't recognize the need to pursue perfection? Would the finishing touch of every operation be as important if we didn't need to see how good we did, how far we went?

Continuous improvement's discipline only makes sense in the context of the pursuit of perfection, our inner drive to master an activity, to clean up our act, to seek the economy of movement that makes the juggling balls spin without apparent movement from the hands. The place of aaah!The gap between the ideal of our inner vision and the reality of what our hands can achieve is the creative tension that keeps us improving step by difficult step.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Let's stop being stupid

Management books and conferences are all about being smarter, faster, cleverer. We want to be better by doing something more. The monkey in our minds loves this: new tool, new idea, new distraction... new way to avoid self-reflexion. Any shiny new thing keeps the ego safe from looking at mishaps, miscalculations, misunderstandings, misconceptions.

Few management conferences are about being wiser, thinking deeper, feeling kinder. Yet, there are far much greater gains to find by stopping being stupid than by seeking to be smarter. Systems behavior clearly show than reinforcing positive feedback quickly leads to burnout - removing limits to growth is sustainable.

Why? Because every time we're being clever, we make a bet on what's going to happen next and, well, if we had a crystal ball we'd be better off with betting at the races. On the other hand, in reflecting on what we do wrong, we have a wealth of history, data, cases to guide us. Stopping to do stupid things is a far safer way to get ahead.

But it's scary. It means self-examination, and confronting the fact that we do goof off and balls up. It means having enough self-confidences to admit slip-ups and outright being wrong. It means beating the brain hard-wired design of cognitive dissonance (mistakes were made... but not by me) and identity consistency. In other words, it means practice. Practice with problem finding, problem facing, problem framing and problem solving. Practice in solving problems with others, to boost self-confidence and confidence in our colleagues, and progressively grow confident in the fact that we will know how to face our challenges together.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Respect For People: a driving value to build a better society

When you read the new novel from Freddy Ballé and Michael Ballé, Lead With Respect, you realize that, regardless that we consider governments, institutions, communities or companies, we still have a huge Leadership gap in our society. This gap is largely explained by the lack of a driving value: Respect For People.

However, to close this gap is possible. Respect For People is the strongest commonality that Lean organizations have. They all have learned from Toyota.  There, their leaders believe that to waste anyone’s time is to waste their LIFE, and they deeply believe no one has that right. 

In this sense, how we understand RESPECT makes a huge difference.  This isn’t like just being a servant: taking orders, trying to make people comfortable, etc. but more like being a doctor: asking questions, diagnosing and proscribing for each person what they need to grow and be successful in life.  

From the benchmark of Procter&Gamble with Toyota, I remember a quick story from one of Toyota’s former leaders. He had lots of stories of how he learned the philosophy of Toyota leadership, but I was illustrated by one instance. He explained how early at his journey there, after a discussion about the follow-up of a problem at Gemba, his immediate manager held him back, and said: 

“You are mistaken.  People are not working for you. People work for your customers and YOU work for your people.  Don’t ever forget that.”

Respect for People, by working for them, means to fulfill individual’s self-actualization needs:  unleashing people's potential by continuously enabling their self-development, creativity, autonomy in the broadest sense: goodness, aliveness, self-sufficiency!

Can you imagine a society where leaders lead with respect? I can. Lean will help us.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Listening Means Doing (by the Transitive Property of Respect)

Listening to the podcast interview with Michael Ballé there were many things to like. The interviewer asked the question of what respect, in the context of lean and the notion of respect for people, meant to Mike personally. He answered that it meant really listening to people. Listening in order to understand. No necessarily to agree, but to understand their position at the least.

I think this is an important point. Leaders are tasked with making decisions and taking the organization in a direction. Successful leaders would likely agree that listening to customers, reviewing the data and weighing options are all necessary steps to developing a sound strategy. We may call it grasping the situation. But how well do we listen to understand?

In regards to leading with respect, specifically demonstrating respect in human interactions, leaders need to listen to their followers. This is far more than a morale-boosting exercise, or developing soft skills of leaders. It is as muchabout harvesting hard facts. The facts on the gemba. By definition there are far more followers than leaders within an organization. These followers are on the gemba face to face with facts that make up the performance of the organization, daily. Enlightened leaders listen to understand.

The not-very-smart leader may need to spend more time listening and being educated about the daily operations. This requires humility. I have heard too many executives say, "I can't get into the day-to-day," proudly delegating the go see and listen. In this definition listening is necessary but not sufficient. To show respect, not only for people but for the operation, one must listen to understand. This is good practice both for the growth of the leader as an individual, good practice for collecting useful management information, and respectful of people who do the work.

The important females in my life have taught me that I don't really understand. I have become better at listening, but probably still am bad at it. I am too quick to say, "I understand" when in fact I really don't. Or so they tell me. If I really understood, I would keep listening, or do something else. Other than claiming to understand. It is a mystery, and I suspect, a lifelong challenge.

Taiichi Ohno said "Understanding means doing." By this he meant that the only way he knew his students really understood what he was teaching them was through their actions and behaviors. If he taught them about kaizen, or a key element of the Toyota Production but heard them saying, "I understand" but not urgently doing something to improve the situation, they didn't really understand.

Ohno was not teaching theory, but practice. Likewise when respecting people, if we listen and truly understand, we should be moved to somehow act, to do something, even if we do not fully agree with the other person. That shows a deeper level of caring and respect for the other person. That is the more Ohno-esque and lean definition of "understanding".

In another time, in another universe, in another podcast...

Ohno: What does respect mean to you?

Ballé: Respect means listening.

Ohno: Why do you listen?

Ballé: In order to understand.

Ohno: Why do you wish to understand?

I wonder where the conversation would have gone from there.