All posts by pdonehue

Staying & Steering the Course

ship's wheel

Statistically, most Continuous Improvements (CI) initiatives fail. Many never truly get started, and many more are abandoned mid-term.

However, with proper guidance you can emerge as a true leader in your marketplace and reap the ongoing and significant benefits associated with a culture of continuous improvement.

To accomplish this, the most successful organizations establish an infrastructure to maintain focus once projects are launched; to monitor progress and maintain momentum until continuous improvement goes beyond “just projects” and becomes a way of life.

When organizations start anything which will affect almost everyone, strong leadership is key. It helps to have a Steering Committee of senior leaders to provide energy and leadership, keep focus and monitor progress. So it is with Continuous Improvement.

But infrastructure does not mean bureaucracy! The key is to provide the structure for focus and organizational visibility, but to be nimble and lean to respond quickly to organizational needs.

We help you decide on the right structure for your organization, including roles & responsibilities, resources needed and how best to operate.

We have found that these components are essential for long term success:

Corporate Level: 
  • C I Steering Committee (made up of senior leaders)
  • A corporate CI Champion
 Regional or Facility Level:
  • CI Steering Committee at each region or location
  • A CI Coordinator at each region or location
  • Facilitators available at each region or location
 

WYSIATI?

Continuing the theme of keeping improvement projects on track, CI leaders should be very careful to avoid falling prey to “theory blindness.”

Theory-blindness is an “expensive” pitfall that extracts a huge economic toll in organizations of all types and sizes. In some cases it leads companies to invest in expensive solutions that completely miss the real cause. In other instances, organizations will live with costly problems for years because of a shared but erroneous theory about the cause of the problem.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, (the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics) describes the phenomenon in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The human brain, he illustrates by describing decades of research, is wired to apply a number of biases, theory-blindness being one of them. Understanding the biases gives us the tools to overcome them.

The most powerful mental bias underlying a great deal of the flawed decision making is what he calls: WYSIATI (which is a acronym for “what-you-see-is-all-there-is”). It occurs because we are inordinately influenced by what we see, and greatly undervalue information we do not have. As a result, paradoxically, the less we know, the more sure we are of our conclusions.

Based on research and many years of experience, we’ve determined the best way to avoid theory blindness is to rigorously adhere to an improvement process; one that includes a comprehensive method of identifying and quantifying root causes and the real waste.

Remove Obstacles to Keep Improvement Projects on Track

obstcle

Continuing with the theme of our previous post, while leadership, communication, and alignment are essential they are not totally sufficient.

People also need the training and skill development to follow the organization’s improvement methodology. Lack of training will prevent people from progressing very far.

But personnel policies or practices can also easily obstruct productivity improvements. Sometimes jobs are defined so narrowly that managers cannot easily move people around to take advantage of productivity improvements. When managers are rewarded financially or in organizational prestige based on the number of people who report to them rather than how efficiently and effectively they operate, managers have powerful disincentives to increase productivity and move their people to where they would add more value.

Often organizations lack an effective mechanism to match up the skills and capability that one department has in excess resources with the needs of another department with a need for resources. To move resources effectively to their point of maximum value, you must develop a system of information about the skills and capabilities of your workforce.

Who possesses what skills?

Who’s good at math? Computers? Customer service? Selling? Equipment maintenance? Attention to detail?

Knowledge of the whole person will enable an organization to move freed-up resources to where they can contribute the most value rather than laying off the excess people and snuffing out motivation for further improvements.

Hiring practices can also hamper the ability to move people from position to position as improvements are made. If narrowly-skilled people are hired, when their jobs are streamlined, it may be difficult to find another place where they can truly add value. Continuously improving organizations seek out people who have flexible skills and abilities so they can continue to add value when needs change.

One of the most challenging barriers to remove is that of an important individual in the organization who is simply not on board. The individual may feel uncomfortable or threatened by the new way of working and leading; or may simply not agree with one or more key principles of a continuously improving organization, such as the import of what the customer values, or the way to treat employees, or the imperative of constantly improving the work, or using facts and data instead of just opinion.

When someone in a position of influence is not on board, he or she creates a misalignment between what people hear and what they see. Actions speak louder than words, so if the misalignment is not corrected, the situation has the potential to bring the CI journey to a close.

No one but the leadership of the organization can remove the barriers to effective continuous improvement. Careful monitoring of progress to identify and remove barriers is essential to achieving a culture of continuous improvement.

Keeping Your New Year Plan On Track

strategic plan

Continuing with our previous post’s them of implementing strategic or New Year plans, many people struggle to keep those plans on track.

If your organization has experienced this challenge, take heart, because it is much more common than one might think!

In fact, we have also noticed that regardless of the specific methods used for making improvements, strategic plans or longer-term initiatives aimed at gaining greater efficiency, quality, speed, and/or customer delight have two important things in common:

  • They generally produce some improvements
  • Then they peter out

Based on our research and experience, there are some common reasons why these improvement efforts lose steam.

The most common pitfall is unclear or delegated leadership.

improvement projects or plans must be fully embraced by every line manager. Delegating the effort to a Quality Manager, HR leader, strategic planning manager, or other staff person, is very likely to lead the effort to fizzle.

John Kotter, a recognized pioneer in the field of leading change, uses the term ‘guiding coalition’ to describe a powerful and strategic group that works together to bring about the desired changes within an organization. The team must be committed to the achievement of a continuously improving culture. It should include a majority of the most powerful people in the organization and may also include some people who may not be a part of senior management.

The next culprit is insufficient communication. Leadership must continue to communicate at every possible opportunity and every possible way why continuous improvement must become part of the organization’s DNA.

The vision must be clear and simple, and throughout the organization, people in leadership positions should constantly communicate the importance of the plan and the progress to date. Successes must be widely shared, learnings must be plowed back into the organization to accelerate results, and new opportunities to become better at improving should be identified and clearly communicated. New employees must hear the why, the how, the history, and the vision of what’s next.

Finally, neglecting alignment is a sure way to undermine a comprehensive improvement effort.

Every one of us has our own personal goals and objectives in addition to the goals and objectives of our organization as a whole and our job in particular. When these get out of alignment, progress will stop.

For example, a natural and intended outcome of most process improvement is the ability to do more with less — often with less people-time. Instantly, we have a conflict between the organization’s goals for cost saving and people’s need for income retention. And processes cannot be effectively improved or improvements effectively sustained without the support of the people doing the work. Not coincidentally, the company with the longest history of a continuously improving culture, Toyota Motors, promises employees a very high level of job security.

The leadership must think several moves ahead to both maintain alignment and to capture financial gains from productivity improvements. The choice of where to focus improvement efforts is probably the most critical.

Among the best areas on which to focus are:

  • Aim improvement methods to address the constraint to sales.
  • Improve productivity in the parts of the organization with too much work, in order to eliminate the need to hire.
  • Improve productivity in an area where people have the skills that, if freed up, could be transferred to departments with too much work or that have had attrition.
  • Improve non-people costs, such as energy, scrap, paper waste, and work with suppliers to identify ways to reduce costs.

Your New Year Strategic Plan?

As a new year begins, many organizations will formulate and launch a strategic plan, which is essentially a high level description of what you intend to do, what you do not intend to do, and how you will move from where you are to where you want to be. Naturally, the goals of these plans will vary; and while some of these plans may be designed for completion or goal achievement within the year, others may target longer periods of time.

But regardless of objective or time span, all too often, strategic plans do not deliver expected results and senior leaders wonder what happened — was it a flawed strategy or poor execution?

To be successful, strategic planning requires a mix of imagination and realism.

  • Imagination to describe an innovative product or service, or a way to market for which there is little or no competition
  • Realism to make sure that there is a practical way of executing the strategy

A few best practices that can help leaders formulate and execute strategic plans include:

  • Assess current reality and opportunities, both external and internal
  • Develop and communicate mission and vision
  • Define the gaps between “is” and “needs to be” and set the right goals
  • Develop, assess and select strategic alternatives
  • Compare best practices to ensure the strategy can be executed
  • Convert strategy into action, using strategy maps or similar tools
  • Launch and build high performance teams and work groups to execute the strategy
  • Maintain robust communication throughout the execution phase, including regular interactions with all stakeholders
  • Measure both progress and results

Tips for Managing Change

change

As the year winds down and the New Year approaches, many organizations will be formulating strategic plans.

Naturally, just like all improvement plans, these New Year plans will involve a necessary but most often unpopular component — change!

While change is not always perceived as being good, without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Examples include: Converse in sneakers or Kodak and Polaroid in photography, Blockbuster, Blackberry, and so many more… each experiencing significant declines in market share (or worse!) as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

The first step in any change effort is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success.

Here are a few tips that might help people develop a better attitude toward change or a heightened “readiness” to change:

  • Plan ahead. If you know change is on the horizon, do some prep work. …
  • Reframe your thinking. Figure out what’s going on in your mind when you’re feeling sad or anxious, and break negative patterns.
  • Recognize that improvement or change is not an indictment of the current way but rather a never-ending search for a better way.
  • Take time to reflect. Is my “resistance” putting my career in jeopardy? Am I being overly stubborn? Am I afraid to try?
  • Strive to maintain some normalcy/routine.
  • Take a long term view. Sure, a new process or procedure will feel foreign at the start, but how will it feel six months from now? Next year?
  • Test yourself! Look at upcoming change as a challenge; remember that we tend to learn the most when we step outside of our comfort zone!
  • Recognize that it is a lot easier to change when you “can” rather than when you “must”

Key Drivers of Customer Satisfaction?

satisfied customer

Satisfied and delighted customers are the lifeblood of any organization. Our business will operate more smoothly and our professional lives will be more rewarding when customers love what we do or provide for them.

Providing customers with the highest quality products and services at the best possible price starts with clearly understanding the customers’ needs and requirements and then designing and implementing processes that consistently deliver value.

But there are two types of customers:
• external customers
• internal customers

It’s important to recognize that both types of customers are important and have needs that must be met. External customers are the people who pay for our products and services. As Dr. Deming said: “No customers, no orders, no jobs!”

Paying attention to the external customers’ requirements is essential and helps us keep the entire organization focused on doing value added work (i.e., “work the external customer would pay for if they know what we were doing”).

However, to effectively meet the external customers’ needs, we must also work with our internal customers. Understanding and meeting our internal customers’ needs and requirements helps the process of producing our product or service to flow smoothly, be problem-free and deliver the highest quality at the lowest total cost. In other words, our satisfying the needs of our internal customers is a key driver of external customer satisfaction!

When we work with our internal customers we are, in fact, “internal suppliers.”

Of course, this customer-supplier relationship extends to our external suppliers as well. From our external customer’s point of view, we are responsible for what they buy from us; and our suppliers are part of the system – and are also a key driver of external customer satisfaction!

It is increasingly important to build strong customer/supplier partnerships that ensure that we get exactly what we need, in the right quantity, at the right price to be able to meet our external customers’ needs.

Is Year-end a Good Time for a Fresh Look?

question mark

As we approach the end of this year and look ahead to 2023, this might be an ideal time to gather the group together for a fresh and penetrating look at where the business has the biggest opportunities for getting more of the waste out.

Over the past year, you likely have studied the work in a number of areas and found and eliminated a substantial amount of waste.

Congratulations! And while bringing those results to the bottom line, you almost certainly got close enough to the work to identify even more waste and opportunities for the new year. As long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and really learn about the work, the opportunities for improving the business will continue to grow larger and larger. The more you gain, the more possibilities you can see.

Now is an excellent time to gather up these insights, step back, and make sure you are focusing your efforts on the right thing.

Inventory the Opportunities
Where do you go for your inventory of next best ideas?

Many organizations make sure that they document their findings about additional waste as a regular part of their improvement efforts, and it is a good idea to make a habit of capturing the improvement opportunities that become visible when a team goes after an area of waste.

By maintaining an easily accessible repository for these newly visible opportunities, not only does the organization gain the benefit of these insights and observations, but it helps teams to avoid scope creep as well because each new opportunity is documented, but not added to the initial scope.

But in addition to collecting these insights, step back and do some Imagineering: what would the business look like if everything were right? When people start to answer this question in detail, some major areas of waste are bound to surface.

Ask your group what problems and challenges are delaying the organization from achieving the vision and mission.

What strategic challenges does the organization face? What changes to the business are necessary to ward off strategic threats and capture strategic opportunities?

How do these translate into specific problems to solve?

Go through your list of improvement possibilities and areas of waste you have identified so far.

Which ones further your most important objectives?

Which ones should we focus on when the New Year arrives in January?

Leadership Don’ts!

leadership

Our previous post focused on the importance of strong leadership when developing and sustaining high-performing teams.

Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change and improvement, and people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe improvement will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.

Here are several behaviors from SmartBrief and Gallup that those in leadership roles should avoid if they hope to enjoy sustainable success:

“You can tell me anything, but…!” This statement is made (without the “but”) to solicit input or feedback on a particular idea or course of action. But, sometimes leaders will completely discount the idea or opinion offered, especially if it’s something with which they don’t immediately agree.

Giving feedback at the wrong time and in the wrong place. The proper place to give any kind of negative feedback is in private! Some leaders feel it is appropriate to give negative or critical feedback to a person on the spot and in front of others. Some of these managers have said that they like giving feedback in this way because it is motivating to others. But in reality, such behavior strikes fear into the heart of any conscious team member who learns to dread interactions with these managers or leaders. Sharing negative or critical feedback in front of others is highly disrespectful and does not inspire candor or openness. In fact, it will likely cause people to keep bad news to themselves and hide their mistakes.

Failing to provide any feedback. People crave feedback, In fact, in one Gallup poll, the most engaged team members say that they receive feedback from their immediate supervisor on a weekly (if not more frequent) basis!

Coercing support. Sometimes in an attempt to win approval for an idea or decision, leaders will say something like, “I need you to support my position today in the meeting. You have to back me up!” Often there’s an implied, “Or else.” Such behavior destroys candor, honesty and team morale.

Solicitation or decision making without action. Simply stated, solicitation implies action. When a leader asks for ideas or solutions, it is implied that the leader will do something with the ideas or solutions that are provided. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to implement or take action on every idea that is offered, but it does require that the leader share what they might do and why. This reinforces the importance of contribution and collaboration. To solicit ideas or input for decisions and then do nothing signals to individuals that their ideas are not important. Do this, and it won’t be long before people quit speaking up or offering ideas.

Manipulation. Sometimes a leader will ask people for ideas and then use them as evidence that the leader’s original idea was the best idea. This ends up feeling like manipulation. If leaders ask for ideas, then they should be open to exploring those ideas.

Team Leadership

leadership

Continuing with the theme of our previous post, one of the most prudent steps you can take to maximize the impact of a team or a team improvement initiative is to appoint a strong leader.

An effective project team leader moves the team forward and inspires team members to do their best work. They also manage many of the organizational systems needed to keep a project on track.

The roles of a team leader include the following:

  • Manage the team toward accomplishing tasks and maintaining focus
  • Take a vested interest in solving the problem
  • Build commitment to the team charter and objective
  • Develop, with the members, the project plan
  • Lead activities such as problem solving, progress monitoring and team building
  • Interaction between meetings, offering help with action items
  • Meet with the facilitator between meetings to review the previous meeting and to plan for the next meeting
  • Keep the necessary people (sponsors, functional management) informed of progress, barriers and roadblocks and provide guidance to the team based on management direction
  • Maintain documentation of the team’s efforts
  • Behave in a way that contributes to team effectiveness

An effective team leader must also possess a range of skills if they are to fill these roles, such as project management skills, communication skills, and the ability to understand problem solving as well as the differences between team members.