How to succeed in any business situation

Wow, that’s a big title! This blog is to answer a question I received yesterday. What can you do different tomorrow to ensure a better outcome than today; in any business situation?

There are quite a few things one can do really. One way to achieve better outcomes is to become smarter. Study your area of expertise more than you already have. No matter who you are or what you do, you can always learn more. Even the worlds leader in an area can learn more. This does take time though so depending on how much you know now, you may achieve fast improvements or it may take some time.

You can work harder. While you are performing the task you can increase the effort or work rate. As humans we have an enormous capacity for work. Very few people, if anybody  is truly working at their absolute capacity. Depending on your current level of effort and work rate you will achieve different levels of improvement. It’s also important to remember that doing more of the wrong thing will not bring more success, it may bring faster failure.

Finally, you can just be better prepared. Just like painting your house, the better the preparation the better the outcome. The best paint applied by the best painter on a poor, unprepared surface will always give less than great results. Similarly, if you put the efforts into preparation, your results will quickly and significantly improve.

If you are better prepared, smarter and apply more (better) effort, you’ll be amazed!

No Zero Days

Sometimes, you just do what you can…


We all have those days or periods when just getting out of bed is a chore. Whatever the cause, whether it be medical, physical or emotional; these are the days when we show what we’re really made of.


As a long term Ulcerative Colitis patient (I hate the word sufferer) I know what it’s like to wake up feeling flat and having no energy. Today is one of those days for me…


On most days I am quite energetic and get into whatever I am working on with vigour, but on days like today I just feel like staying in bed and sleeping. Sometimes you need that but you also know your own body and know when it’s just lethargy and sleep won’t really help. Today is one of those days; I’ve had a pretty relaxing weekend and should be full of energy, but my body just doesn’t want to do anything.


So I forced myself up, got myself into work early. I got a couple of things done and now writing this. I know I won’t be as effective as I am on other days, but I won’t put up with a zero day. A zero day is a day when you don’t achieve anything; I read this on a Reddit blog earlier this year and it has become a mantra of mine. A zero day is a day that you let slip by; you know when you let a day slip by, you can never get it back. When you reach the end and are on your last day you will rue the days you let slip by.


A zero day is a not a day when something has gone wrong, it is not a day when your plans haven’t come to fruition. The opposite is correct! A zero day is a day when you just didn’t try; didn’t put in the effort to succeed. If today you just do 1 single thing that may bring you closer to your goals it has not been a zero day. This can be in any area of your life, it doesn’t have to be career or work related.


So, I got up this morning feeling tired and wanting nothing more than to stay in bed. I got up, did some push-ups and came to work earlier than usual. This is how you keep the zero day at bay.

Hero or Process

Is your business process centric or hero centric? What do these terms mean?


Well, let’s start with hero centric. An organisation that is hero centric will make an example of an individual who has achieved an outstanding outcome. This often occurs regardless of how the results were achieved and if the correct processes were followed. While I am all for celebrating successes in a business, we need to maintain a level of control and repeatability. By turning the owner of a good outcome into a hero we run the risk of building a culture where people are encouraged to do “whatever it takes” to be acknowledged and become a hero themselves. The result of this will be everyone doing things their own way and nobody following the “approved” process; I’ve added the quotation marks there as too many businesses don’t have the processes to follow. This almost forces everyone to make up their own process, some of them will become heroes other will end up costing the business big.


Now let’s talk about a process centric organisation. Firstly, this isn’t an organisation that has a documented process to control every step of everything everyone does. What is important is that you understand the risks involved in your business and have documented processes to manage the important ones. A documented process provides a few benefits:

– Repeatable outcomes

– Something to audit or check against

– A starting point when things go wrong

– Something to train new employees with


What a process centric business does is celebrate successes as a team and not elevate individuals to hero status. What’s most important is that you encourage the consistent following of process; but still remain open to new ideas and improvements.


To get here, there are a couple of things to consider:

– The process must be owned (that may also mean created) by the user. It’s no good bringing in a consultant to write a procedure. A good consultant wouldn’t do that anyway.

– Review of processes must be an ongoing and planned exercise.

– A good time to review a process is before something goes wrong. The next best time is when something has just gone wrong.

– A process is only as good as the results it gets.

– Lastly, a process not being followed is not a process. Don’t confuse process and procedure…

Player or Spectator

Player or Spectator?


Which one are you? If I were to ask your peers, would they agree with your answer? The answer to these two simple questions can tell a whole lot about your success. There is no sitting on the fence here, it has to be one or the other and you can choose which direction you take.


A spectator does sit on the fence, the sit in the grandstand and watch as things unfold; no matter what are of their life, they let it be as it will. A spectator will go along with the decisions of others, they will not “rock the boat” and float through life at the mercy of the currents. Where they end up is determined by others and their actions. Spectators don’t like making decisions for themselves or for others, they are the followers who love a democracy or even better a dictatorship (as long as they are being dictated). Spectators are quite often also the complainers; complaining when things don’t go their way or they didn’t get that pay rise even though  they aren’t willing to go after what they want.
On the other hand, a player takes their destiny into their own hands and makes things happen. Players are decision makers who thrive on the opportunity to make a difference to a project, a business, a life. They see a vision, work out a plan (or follow a plan) and work towards getting the results; when something gets in their way they work out a new plan. They don’t just go to their boss or their friends and complain about the outcome, they make the outcome.


Not only do you NOW have to go and assess whether you are a player or a spectator; you have to decide which you want to be? Because not everyone wants to be a player. It is also a good idea to understand those you work with regularly to understand if they are players or spectators; this is especially important if you are a leader of others – you should know the make-up of your team.


Anyone who knows me knows I am a lean junkie! I live and breathe lean, in both my professional and person lives. I use lean principles everyday in my work, both for my own activities and more obviously when I’m training and facilitating as a lean business coach. But I also use lean principles in my everyday life at home. Whether it is making breakfast, shaving, cooking or washing the car, i am always looking for ways to be more efficient.

Today I washed my car and mowed my lawn; while doing the latter I came to think to myself “what if people at work could see how I’m mowing my lawn, how would I be able to explain my process?”. You see, there are two things that I am anal about, one is washing my car, the second and most anal is how I maintain my lawn. I have a three mow cycle that  follow; mow 1 I mow the lawn clockwise in a circular motion; mow 2 I mow the lawn counter-clockwise in a circular motion; mow 3 I mow the lawn logitudinally, followed by laterally. Yes that’s right, on mow 3 I mow the lawn twice in two differections!

How can this lean junkie, apparently waste time by mowing the lawn in this inefficient manner? Well, efficiency is only one part of being lean. Before you can even measure efficiency, you have to determine what the standard is. Effectiveness is the ability to achieve the standard (or purpose). I have a high standard for my lawn mowing, the process outlined above is the most efficient way of achieving and maintaining that standard. It would probably be more efficient for me to outsource the process, however another part of the purpose is enjoyment (yes I am strange, I enjoy cutting my lawn!).

In your business, when deploying lean don’t forget about setting the standards. Efficiency without effectiveness is a failed deployment.

The Importance of Contingencies

As I write this I am sitting in the Qantas Lounge at Perth Domestic Airport. Ordinarily I try to get to the airport a good hour before necessary as I don’t like to rush around. Today I completed my work early and decided to sit at the airport and wait for my flight home rather than wait at work. I’m not sure why, it just seemed a good idea.

Well when I arrived at the airport I entered the Qantas Terminal and noticed something I hadn’t seen for quite a while. Not since they commissioned the automatic Baggage Drop-off systems so prevalent at airports around the world. Well today they were all broken; we had unplanned downtime! And because the failure was in the system side, every station went down. Now I have to commend Qantas here for how they handled it. There were long queues around the terminal, however they do have a couple of pods that are usually closed but today were open. The queues did move reasonably fast. I’m sure everyone made their flights and a bad situation was recovered through good planning and the presence of contingency methods.

This unplanned downtime incident reminded how important it is for businesses to have planned contingency methods for when the downtime occurrs. No matter how effective your TPM is, there will be circumstances that result in unplanned downtime at some point in your business journey.

Have a look at your business, how much do you depend on certain plant? Or even worse, how much does the business rely on certain individuals? For every piece of critical plant and every significant role in the business you should have a contingency plan. This can be as simple as temporarily outsourcing or job sharing. For very significant or costly processes it may be a backup piece of plant. What the solution is isn’t the most important thing. What is important is business continuity.

Does The Name Really Matter

What is a kaizen event? I’ve just sat through 3 hours of a “kaizen event” and it got me thinking about the term and how every business uses it differently. I know this will strike a nerve with some hard core TPS folks out there, but does it really matter how the term is used?


Surely all that matters is the results achieved and realized through the process of reviewing and analyzing your processes. I see a lot of forums and posts on the internet where experts are complaining about the incorrect use of lean / TPS / Six Sigma terminology and it’s my belief that this stubborn focus (hang up) on the terminology and process is not only holding back lean but is in fact suffocating the take up of effective improvement.


This may seem strange that a process guy is challenging the stubborn “must follow the process of kaizen” mentality but as with any process, it must work. You cannot take a manufacturing process from one company and expect it to work exactly the same in a company in a different segment, in a different country. There are so many reasons why the process needs to be ‘personalized’ to fit the business needs and culture. Culture plays a big part in improvement. It is almost disrespectful to the people to expect them to take on a process without having input into it and quite contradictory to the TPS methods. Kaizen itself means to make change with the involvement of everyone, by imposing a process to this goes against the whole philosophy…

Now what is important is the results you and your business achieve through the use of whatever tools you find help you. We all have our favorite set of tools that we rely heavily on but it is important as facilitators, mentors etc. that we are flexible enough in our approach to ensure our customers (process owners) buy-in and improve – that’s how we measure our success, not in the use of words or tools.


Just some food for thought…

What Went Wrong

Often I hear people saying they have tried lean before and it didn’t work, so why try it again. The simple answer is, if all of the circumstances are the same as last time then you probably shouldn’t bother.

Why is this? To answer this let’s take a look at some common reasons for a lean program not bringing the desired results.

1. Lack of leadership support

2. Lack of understanding within the leadership group

3. Unclear organisational goals

4. Goals contrasting to lean manufacturing outcomes

When any of these factors are present it will be very difficult to implement a sustainable lean business system.

The most common reason for a lean program to fail in my experience is due to misaligned business goals; particularly expected outcomes from the program. Too often the outcomes desired from a lean program are a reduction in costs. i.e. cost cutting.

When a cost cutting project is portrayed as a lean program the results will not be “lean” at all. This is because cost cutting is a very short term view for any organisation, whereas a lean business system is a long term sustainable business plan.

The irony is that in every instance, a well developed and implemented lean business system will provide a reduction in costs and an increase in profits. By focussing on the outcomes for the customer; eliminating waste, built in quality, safety and respecting employees; the cost reductions will become almost automatic.

The 7 Wastes

I’m sure you have heard of the 7 wastes of manufacturing.

These are:








An easy way to remember these is to use the acronym “WORMPIT”. There are a couple of different terminologies in use by different practioners, however they all cover the same wastes.

Of all of these wastes, overproduction is the greatest waste. Overproduction contributes to all other wastes. With overproduction, you will also find Inventory, Transportation, Walking, Rework, Motion, and often overprocessing.

Remember, a waste is any action that the customer is not willing to pay for.

What Is A Lean Business

It is probably best to first explain what a lean business is not. Most businesses (even some that are seemingly fairly successful) are not operated in a lean way. The term lean can be quite confusing and can give business owners and managers the wrong idea.

Many businesses that attempt to operate in a lean way tend to take the title “Lean” and try to operate their business with lean resources. If this occurs during or after running some lean manufacturing programs or kaizen events then the results will invariably a halt or even reversal of progress made through the lean initiatives – this is due to the overburden of labour resources. This can be equally detrimental in a manufacturing or office environment.

What does a lean business really look like?

A lean business is one that has or is in the process of identifying the following traits:

Has a well defined strategic / business plan

Has a very clear understanding of its current processes throughout the business

Has a strong understanding of what its customers define “value adding”

Understands how all of its internal processes add value to its customers

Has defined a future state for all internal processes to remove any non-value adding processes

Has identified gaps between the current and future states

Has a clear action plan for all gaps

Has communicated all of the above to internal and external stakeholders

Has resourced the program and resulting action plan

Every one of the above are important for the successful implementation of a sustainable lean program. Obviously not all will be in place fro the beginning, however without the last one it will be very difficult to attain most of the others.

So to sum up; obviously to even set the program in motion you will need management with some foresight, understanding and desire to achieve success through the implementation of a lean program. However if asked what is the single most important factor in achieving a successful & sustainable lean business, my answer would be “sufficient resources”.

This answer is the opposite of the reality seen in so many businesses. So rather than reducing resources each time an efficiency gain is made (to make sure everyone is working 100 – 110% on their core role) change that mindset so your employees are working 80% on their core role and 20% on further lean initiatives.