The Investment of Time

I’ve just come away from the first day of a two day conference. The theme of the conference is manufacturing efficiency and business excellence. Topics I am very familiar with so why would I invest time and money to attend? Aside from being one of the speakers.

For the learnings, yes it’s true, a lot of what was spoken about today I already “know”. But it’s the learnings of application and the experiences of others that really adds value. Every business has slightly different challenges and constraints to applying the tools and concepts. It is learning how they overcame those challenges that we can all learn from; and this is something we can never know enough about.

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars attending conferences to learn this though; every region that I have ever lived has had collaborative groups of both similar and diverse business types that meet to share experiences. Even if they are in your market, collaboration to some extent may be possible. I heard a quote today from a presenter on Disruption – “If you’re scared of your competitors, you’re doing something wrong.” This is a challenging belief as we are all generally brought up with the competitive approach to business of winners and losers.

So what next? Go out and find someone to learn from. If you can’t find someone, offer to share your experiences. By doing this you are likely to get reciprocation from those who visit you.

No Support? See Here

We’ve all been in the situation; your lean business journey is more of a challenge than you planned or expected. There can be many reasons why the challenge is this way; and the reasons don’t really matter for the purposes of this post. What matters is that we find a way to keep you going. Yes, it can be hard, it can be frustrating, some may even call it infuriating at times! So, the question is, is the result worth all of this frustration? Yes! But you may need some support.

One of the very best aspects of being involved in a lean community that I have found is the camaraderie and willingness to help others on their lean journey. Where ever you are both in location and in your lean journey there are others not too far away who can provide you with assistance on your journey. I’m involved with a couple of groups that get together regularly to help and learn from each other.

Site and plant tours are another way to learn from others and even get some support. The collaboration between lean businesses and their employees is something that I have found very rewarding and exciting to be a part of. And the best part is that this is all for free. Most businesses on their lean journey  encourage this collaboration as they know the involvement will only help them in the long term; whenever you share your learnings,  you are also learning. No matter what stage you are at on your journey there are others who can learn from what you are doing and there are things that you can learn from others.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start sharing.

When the Fear Keeps You Frozen

We’ve all been there; we know we should be doing that important task but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. I’ve long been a practising procrastinator and have had to force myself out of the habit, yet some days it creeps back in.

What makes procrastination even better is when we finally get around to starting whatever the task is, it turns out to be nowhere near as difficult or horrible as we thought it would be. The fear or reason’s for not starting were all a figment of our over active imagination! Who would have thought…

Here’s my almost foolproof method of getting over the fear of doing something and get off the procrastination treadmill:

1) Make a list of all of the IMPORTANT things you’ve been putting off

  • I stress important because if it isn’t important then making it wait doesn’t really matter. What we procrastinator’s often to is work on the less important tasks at the expense of the important ones.

2) Plan time in your diary to start working through the list. Be specific, setup time to work on specific tasks. Don’t block out time for “Catch-up”, or “To do list”.

3) If you have a task that really has you frozen with fear you need to get it into perspective.

  • Write down how finishing the task will benefit you, your business or others
  • Write down the reasons why you don’t want to do it
    • Do you need help?
    • Do you need other skills?
  • Break the task down into small daily actions that you can do. Every problem or task can be broken down; and once you have, it surprising how easy the smaller actions seem.
  • Start

Once you have started, the rest is pretty easy. So get to it!

Remember the Basics

As we mature in our lean journeys it is easy to forget the basics and become focussed on the technical and complex problem solving.

Today I have been reminded to look back at the basics, keep things as simple as possible and focus on getting the basics right. 

By the basics, I mean the fundamental tools. While it can be good that as our journey grows we implement more sophisticated tools, without sustaining our practices of the basic foundational tools we may find sustaining the more complex tools a challenge.

The basic tools of 5S, TPM and Standardised Work are not set and forget, they are an integral part of your processes and must be continually reviewed, measured and practiced to maintain their benefits. Some businesses talk about “doing 5S” or say “we’ve done standardised work”; this shows they don’t understand what lean is; lean is not something you have done, lean is the way we think. 

It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it

There are a myriad of tools available from different systems that one can use in their business to map and define the processes, analyse and determine root causes and develop the future state. They’re not all equal and some will inherently provide better results than others. But what matters the most is how they are used.

Let’s be honest, we all have our favourite tools in out lean tool kit. We work best with what we are familiar with. To get the best out of any tool we need to be able to apply the right tool to the right application. But saying that, all of the tools are flexible to a degree and can be applied to different applications with a little thinking and modification.

One of my favourite tools is the Value Stream Map which I have applied in business’s as diverse as automotive, to FMCG, to Government. Virtually any process can be mapped with the VSM. The same applies for standardised work, Kanban, SIPOC, virtually all of the tools available. Take some time to adapt the tools to help you in whatever business you are in and importantly, don’t get hung up on the purists thought that the tools must used as they were originally designed. This in itself goes against the thinking of lean and continual improvement.

Lead Indicators

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about working within areas you can have some influence; in this blog I also mentioned Lead Indicators. I’ve had some requests to expand on this a bit to not only explain what lead indicators are, but also to explain why they are critical to success.

So, to begin with, a quick overview of what a lead indicator is and how they differ from lag indicators. A lag indicator is a metric that is the result of the work undertaken. So, for example a measurement of the total products produced in a shift is a lag indicator because you do not know how many are produced until the shift is finished. By that time it is too late to change or even impact the result; this is why we call it a lag indicator. If you were a sporting coach and you only look at the end result before determining a change of plan that should have been enacted in the 2nd half of the game it is too late. Well it’s the same in business!

Now let’s look at a lead indicator. Following the same two examples as before; if we were to monitor and report hourly on the throughput from the factory this would still be a simple lag indicator. However, if we measure this and report against an hourly production target, we can immediately see if we are on track or off track throughout the day; and when we find ourselves off track we can make timely adjustments to correct the situation. In a sporting context, now we monitor our live score; but once again, if we don’t measure this against the target (which is in many cases the opposition score) we are no better off.

The quote “what gets measured gets managed” has been around for quite a while now and is an unfortunate source of delusion for many businesses. They setup a metric system (of mostly lag indicators) and expect the good results to come. It’s not hard, but it’s also not quite that easy! A better interpretation of the quote would be “what gets measured effectively gets managed”; a small but important addition to the original.

So how do we get better at this? The first step is to review what you are currently measuring in your business and determine if the indicators are lead or lag (lag indicators are always needed at some level to report on company performance); those that are not lead but should be, change them. For every lag indicator there are a number of lead indicators that can be used. Google is your friend here, whatever business you’re in, you’re probably not alone and others have already chartered the waters.

When Buy-In Doesn’t Come

We’ve all been in this situation when buy-in just doesn’t come. I’ve been lucky enough over my career to not have this issue too often. You don’t really understand how critical buy-in is until you try and facilitate change without it.

So firstly, what is buy-in and why is it needed? Most of the time, those facilitating the change are not in a position of high authority but are working under delegation. This can have some benefits in that ultimate responsibility lies elsewhere; however the cons are far greater than the benefit. Without real authority it can be a challenge to gain commitment from others to participate fully through the change process. This is what we mean when we say buy-in. 

So what do you do when the buy-in doesn’t come? You have three options here.

1) The preferred option is turn it around and create buy-in. Identify who it is that is not buying into the process and give them a reason to come along for the journey. You’ll find just about everybody has a reason for not joining, find out what this is and create a desire in then to come on the journey.

2) The second option is to identify those within the business who just will not come along for the journey; unfortunately, sometimes you find people that are not willing to improve. Once you have identified them you can either take on the challenge and convert them; often converting these key resistors will brings others who were sitting on the fence. Alternatively, if this isn’t possible, some tough decisions may be necessary.

3) If all of this fails, you may have to make a different tough decision by asking yourself the question “are you wasting your time?”. Not every business is destined to succeed on the improvement journey.

One important thing to highlight, don’t expect this to all just happen. Often, setting the scene for success takes just as long as the actual journey; the results though are worth the efforts.

What can YOU do?

Sometimes in business problems that start off small in both size and consequence quickly (or slowly) grow into something much, much bigger. When this happens the problem becomes owned by more than a single function within the business; this is when it often becomes more difficult to identify the root cause and develop corrective actions. This is also often when we first start to look at the problem. So how do we work through these issues?

Well, firstly we need to learn that it’s much easier and always better to fix a problem when it’s small and contained than when it is big and broad. The issue is, we often aren’t aware there is a problem when it’s in a manageable state. We need to start using lead indicators to give us a chance of identifying problems earlier; more about this next week.

One thing we can do now that the problem has grown is to break things down. Don’t look at a problem as a big picture. Look at the process as a flow from left to right. Below is a very simple inline process flow; yours is likely to be more complex, however the idea is to keep this diagram as simple and high level as possible and practical. Working backwards through the process identify the first step that the problem in question is noticed. As a team, work through the root cause analysis process at the point of cause.


Sometimes, even getting to the above point can be difficult if you haven’t got the buy-in from other departments or there is not a great deal of unity. You can still look at how you and your team impact the issue and what you can do that is within your control. Often this is a good place to start as you can lead by example in getting a result. By doing this, sometimes other teams will get on board either through embarrassment or genuine buy-in when they see one team working towards an outcome. And if it takes embarrassment, that’s fine; as long as it gets the right result.

Business Planning 2 – Values and Behaviours

So last week we looked at developing a business’s purpose and vision. This week we will look at the values and behaviours; just like anything we want to manage, we have to design them. If we don’t, they will develop on their own and more than likely not be what we are hoping for. Design is always better than hope!

Firstly, this is not something one person alone should develop (unless you are a business of 1). The values need to be representative of a number of individual’s personal values. This representation should be from quite a broad group to ensure a good mix of backgrounds and experiences. So determining this team is important and the first step.

Conduct a brainstorming or similar process to create a list of values from the team. This list should be longer than you need so you can reduce through some sort of voting system. I like to make the first cull as a group to weed out the most irrelevant and follow this with a voting system until you are left with around 5 or so.

Next we make a poster and place it on the wall. No!! The next step is to    consult with a larger audience to refine the values and ensure they are a good fit with the business. This step is only important if you want to achieve buy-in from the people in your business.

No we can start looking at behaviours. Behaviours are the building blocks of values. If we have a value of Respect (which is a very common value), what behaviours do we want to see in our teams to nurture and achieve our value of Respect? Think of values as an outcome and behaviours as the steps or plan to achieve the outcome. Once again, these should be developed by the group and not by an individual.

But we’re still not finished; none of this will do any good unless we measure ourselves, our teams and the greater business and hold each other accountable (within the guidelines of our own behaviours).

Business Planning 1 – The Purpose and Vision

Unlike some, I always start the process with the purpose. Unfortunately, many people start off with writing a Vision and Mission Statement, and whilst these are good and important documents for a business, I really believe the most important is the Purpose Statement. This one keeps is simple and can be used right across the business.

Every team across a business should have it’s own purpose statement that ties it all together and drives development toward a single tangible goal or objective. I ask the simple question “Why do we exist?”

The right answer to this question will give you your purpose. Many may now be asking, “isn’t the purpose just a vision with a different name?” Kind of, but… Over the years, the traditional Vision and Mission statements have become more outwardly focused and therefore very marketing driven. This is ok, but internally we still need the simple statement and this is where the Purpose Statement comes in; a simple, honest internally focused statement of why we exist.

Now I said the vision has become more marketing driven and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; for that reason the Vision Statement still has an important role. Creating your vision is the second step and should be an evolution of your purpose. The Vision Statement define your business’s core ideals that provide direction for decision making.

This may seem I’ve added a step, but I think you’ll find by defining your purpose first you will achieve a much more relevant and robust vision for your business.