Posted by: knightbird | August 28, 2015

Embarrassing, But Consultants Should Know More Than You

Although the title expresses my feelings about an interaction I had with a colleague I respect, it is my intent to analyze more of the Alaska Division of Public Assistance RFP for Lean Consulting Services. But first, my apology.

After 11 years of engaging in the deep practice and study of Lean Thinking, I believe I have achieved a level of understanding that is significant. I have conducted many improvement events, and reviewed many, many more. I had to jump from actual engagement with Kaizen to strategic Kaizen because I felt very early how much power the CEO appears to have with employees involved in Kaizen. So I stopped conducting them, and became a cheerleader. I had 7 “Lean Champions” working for me at one time, and when I allowed them to do their job, they achieved amazing results. I continued to review their work, and coach/mentor when the opportunity arose. But when our staff was trained and allowed to analyze and improve their processes, with the right strategic philosophy in place, we always got better. But as a Lean Strategic Thinker, I also know that I can always improve. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson writes about improvement as a process where 10,000 hours of “purposeful effort” can lead you to world class achievements. Think of it as a Ph.D. The effort makes you world class in one area. The purposeful effort is defined as increasing the effort and intensity of your learning to another level after achieving mastery at the level you currently are. It means we are going to struggle with the new effort, but we will learn as a result.

I have a friend and colleague I have been working with for a while. He is close enough to tell me that I make him feel stupid at times. I am embarrassed by his revelation. I struggle with how to teach Lean. Oh, I can teach the tools and how to use them Gather data, map the value stream, analyze cause and effect, search for the root cause, 5 why’s and so many others that are helpful and beneficial in certain circumstances. But making the tools available is easy. That’s why I had 7 Lean Champions training in my Lean Promotion Team. What’s tough is the change in mindset that is required at the executive and managerial level. I cannot make a CEO feel stupid. I need to probe a CEO’s mind to discover what they are trying to accomplish, and help guide their training and thinking to that result in a gentle way. I have written about the process of Humble Inquiry written about by Dr. Edgar Schein. Our purpose as a Lean Strategic Consultant is to find what is in a CEO’s mind and guide them to Lean Thinking. Coaching and mentoring is what we should be doing.

Yet I also read about the opportunities for application of Kaikaku. Some circumstances call for rapid improvement, as when your business is hemorrhaging cash. When Porsche hired Shingijitsu in the early 1990’s. Sensei Chihiro Nakao took charge the first week and started making the changes necessary to turn Porsche around. A good sensei can do that, but generally refuses to in favor of guiding the cultural change necessary for a sustainable Lean transformation. Japanese Sensei’s can be very blunt to their clients because they achieve results, and when you are losing fistfuls of cash, improvement should be your focus every single minute.

Division of Public Assistance: When I write, I try to be objective and fact based. Yesterday, I wrote about the latest RFP from the State of Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance. I wrote things that could be irritating to a manager, but they weren’t intended to be. I don’t think that way any longer. With a mindset of continuous improvement, we always think about getting better. This means we have to accept the existence of problems and criticism as the identification of opportunities to improve. If I were engaged as a consultant in a workplace, my first act is to take the client to the Gemba and see what is happening. In most circumstances, I can do Kaikaku. But instead, I want the Executives to learn, and that means allowing them to struggle with what is to Lean consultants, a very easy fix. We want to teach them a process for improvement that endures as we solve the very large problems. The culture we want to teach the organization is simple: continuous improvement. Every problem needs to be fixed and no defect should ever reach a customer. Is it always cost effective to fix every problem? Maybe not. But addressing every problem should be the culture. If we cannot fix the problem because of cost, we fix as much of it as we can and continue with trying until we find a cost effective solution.

My point yesterday was supposed to be about the difficulties of selecting a software solution for a process problem. As a part of Lean Thinking, we focus on people solving problems, and automating only if the solution is implementing defect free processes. If DPA has achieved a Lean Cultural state where every problem is addressed, it would show itself in the RFP. I didn’t see it, but I admitted I have read very little about their Lean Culture. I admire their effort. However, as I try to learn, I analyze for what could be done better.

So I maintain my opinions from yesterday and expand on it in one way. When you look for a consultant, the strategic goal of the RFP should be very clear. There isn’t enough data in the RFP to determine what is necessary, but the language indicates that they are seeking a transformation from a tools based Lean Implementation to a Strategic focus. If they need Kaikaku, they don’t have an understanding of the concept yet. The improvements they seek seem to be focused on their software implementation. From a Lean Strategic Thinking focus, this would be a quick fix, but might not achieve a Strategic Transformation.

A Strategic Focus would search for the Root Cause of the flawed implementation of the software solution. This approach requires going back to Kaizen and updating the Value Stream Map VSM) that I read about years ago. The VSM helps with asking the 5 Why’s and determination of the deepest Root Cause we can find. When we solve the problems associated with that Root Cause, we end up with a Future State Map (FSM) that we work to implement. We standardize to the FSM and train employees in that value stream. We measure for improvements and monitor for defects that need correcting, and we solve them—continuously. If we see an opportunity for technology to improve our performance, we experiment with the proposed improvements and see if they work. If they do, we implement. If they don’t, we don’t implement.

And we always seek the Value driven improvement, which almost always leads to cost savings.

Now what would I do with the $800,000 top end of the RFP contract?

First, I would hire a Sensei experienced in Lean Strategic Thinking. At that point, they know the tools and are able to deploy them wisely. Second, I would hire 3 to 4 Lean Champions. If the situation is urgent, I would advise the Executive responsible for the organization to consider Kaikaku. The Sensei would guide the improvements with urgency, but as much teaching as is feasible. The hires would be temporary hires for one year, with an expectation that the savings that accrue from Lean would allow creating permanent improvement positions. My estimate yesterday was that about 100 FTE position effort would be eliminated within a few years. My strategy for accommodating this reduction in force comes in 5 stages. (1) Freed up positions are first assigned to reduce the backlog. And we know that at one time there was a backlog of 10,000 (of what is not clear); (2) assign freed up positions to the improvement office for service as Lean Champions with a goal of eventual redeployment to staff positions and spread of Lean knowledge throughout the organization; (3) reassumption of duties that have been contracted out—because we now have employees to can do the work internal to the organization; (4) reclassify and reassign employees through transfer to other agencies within the state government; and (5) allow turnover and vacant positions to absorb the savings. This strategy stays true to Toyota’s Respect of People philosophy. You don’t ask employees to improve their way out of a job. You guarantee as much employment as is feasible. In the private sector, as you achieve a competitive advantage over your peers through Lean, you gain more business and will need the personnel.

Will this work? I believe so. My experience is telling me that we can achieve significant improvement, but I don’t have all of the data I need to be sure. Through Lean, we achieve huge gains in productivity and cost. I don’t see any reason for a strategic implementation of Lean to fail with any state agency. Huge improvements are possible, but have to be guided properly.

Posted by: knightbird | August 26, 2015

Alaska Division of Public Assistance

I have admired and written about the Alaska Division of Public Assistance before. The are pioneers in Lean Government, having started in 2009-2010 with a project I wrote about earlier. Since then, they have continued, but I heard very little about their progress. Today, I read an RFP for lean process consulting. It’s an admirable step. But it’s also a sign that perhaps they have not found true Lean. Because I do not have the capacity to bid on the project, let me speculate about the genesis for the need.

Because DPS is a large division underneath an even larger department that I have been interacting with for over 3 decades, I do know that DPA’s initiation of Lean is not a Department wide initiative. This tells me that there is no “strategic” leadership. The benefits of Lean at DPA were probably tools based. A kaizen is conducted through which amazing improvements emerge, but are not necessarily sustained. With 500 employees, they should have a cadre of Lean Specialists trained and conducting improvement events regularly.  I don’t have enough data to propose a right sized work force, but I would not be surprised if they have 20% more than a truly lean organization would need.

A second clue to the lack of strategic lean focus is the flawed implementation of their benefits management system. Referred to as “Alaska’s Resource for Integrated Eligibility Services” (ARIES), it appears that in their haste to implement an automated system, they violated one of the central tenet’s of Lean. Don’t automate unless there is a compelling reason to do so. I haven’t read of a compelling reason, other than certain requirements imposed by the federal government. It’s a fact of life that IT projects are expensive and considerably flawed in almost all implementation. The Municipality of Anchorage has a severely flawed implementation of its ERP software package. At an initial cost of $10 million, it has ballooned to over $50 million.  The new mayor has apparently put the project on hold, but in the meantime, a huge resource has been bled from public coffers, with a substantial price. $50 million invested at a 7% annual rate of return could generate $3.5 million in annual revenue. In order to do a fair comparison for evaluating the benefits of automation, we would need to have a highly efficient process costed out. At this stage in DPA’s Lean evolution, they acknowledge they had a backlog of 10,000 applications.

At this point, I want to make an obvious observation for a Lean Strategic System. Because there is not a strategic Lean vision, there are ineffective “Pull” systems in place that extend beyond DPA. I envision a lot of batching in supportive systems throughout DPA’s area of expertise. I am sure there are federal pull systems that hinder their operations substantially as well, since they manage federally funded programs.

From the information provided by DPA, we see that they serve 150,000 Alaskans monthly with a staff of 500 located in 11 offices. This isn’t enough data to speculate on where more efficiencies can be gained. Using some rough analytics, 150,000 total clients average out to 300 clients per staff per month. Because there are various processes, all I can speculate about is that they have a daily Takt time of 15.1 Clients per minute (150,000/22 days=6,800 per day; 6/800/450 minutes=15.11). Cycle time isn’t obvious because no data is given. We can assume given the wide range of programs administered that the tasks involved are of varying degrees of complexity I can speculate that we need to load level (heijunka).

So what would my recommendations be? First, I would try to understand the current system by mapping it out. I do know that they have a minimum of 8 programs they administer. Each applicant must meet eligibility requirements, I would guess for multiple programs. I would try to identify the wait time within each process, but basically, there is one entry portal with multiple paths to travel. We need to identify a cycle time for each pathway. We would need to identify the documents used and the pull systems required for the full cycle. Usually the waiting time generated by inefficient pull systems greatly adds to the lead time for a cycle. Any good measure of a process also includes the defect rate and any feedback loops generated. Feedback loops area huge time waste that can be eliminated through standardized responses.

The actual improvements can be generated in one week with a series of kaizen participants working on different parts of the processes. We have to just mitigate the pull systems the best we can, but for our processes, we want to do the following.

First, the intake/application form can be standardized for each program with a single Personal Identification Section. (PI). Questions answered lead to additional sections. For some programs, we need to know if there are dependents and their status. Regulations define the extent to which we need to collect and verify this data. So our questions are linked to the regulation and form the basis for audit, if needed. We did this exact same process when we did a Kaizen for our Head Start program at a prior employer. Our file pattern was linked to the regulations and allowed us to verify required information within the file. Any gaps in the file pattern meant we were out of compliance. What we want to do is gather the appropriate information, and no more. Further requirements depend on answers to previous questions and if the data is not required, it is not collected. The application process is mistake proofed to our best ability. We want a complete application when it arrives. The application should then flow as best it can through a process that leads to eligibility determinations and action. We reduce or eliminate as many waiting periods as we can. We reduce or eliminate feedback loops and defects. At the end of our Kaizen, we have implemented as many improvements as we can and at the end of the week, we are ready to train staff on the process. We roll it out and measure the new process for improvements. At the same time, we empower staff to resolve defects at the time they occur.

Ultimately, I would expect about a 20% reduction in staff time required to complete the work necessary to clear 15.1 clients actions per minute. With 500 employees, there is 33 minutes available every day of total possible value adding time per client.

DPA is to be commended for their continuous quest for lean knowledge. The should be supported by their Governor, Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Director, working as a team. When the state figures it out, I expect DPA will become the shining Lean Start in our state portfolio of services.

Posted by: knightbird | August 24, 2015

Where to Start With Lean?

11 years ago, this past May, I heard the message of Lean from a practitioner, the President of a large plastics manufacturing company. 2 of my colleagues were present as he told us, during a 30 minute lunch, about the significant gains made by his company using Lean. I asked him if they were using, planning to use, Lean in their administrative processes. He said yes. I was so excited when I got back to my job that I immediately spoke about it to my management team. Then I searched for the next available Lean Conference and went. Within a year, we had a strategic dream that focused on Lean Management as our plan for becoming the best run rural non-profit organization in the state of Alaska. We weren’t able to focus our board on adopting a Strategic Plan until 2007, but we began by budgeting a substantial sum for Lean consulting and training. We never looked back.

Why did we succeed while others did not. I believe the first reason was that we were in severe crisis. We had about $9.5 million in recurring revenue, and previous investments that were draining substantial amounts of cash from that revenue. I have written about the incredible waste we eliminated in many other blogs, and won’t repeat them here.

Because the Lean Strategy came from me, the organization’s CEO, and I had the support of 2 of my Executive Team, we were ahead of most organizations. We had focus on Lean. What we didn’t have was knowledge about how to do it. And the learning curve was steep. With my support, staff was motivated to learn and try.

I did have resistance and even sabotage. Everyone in the organization was Old School, not trained in management, but in service delivery. Not one employee had come through a basic nuts and bolts training in operations. We had no performance measurement capability. In the words of Nelson and Winter, our organizational routines were entrenched. We did the work the way we did because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” With some managers, we were able to overcome the resistance. It took 3 years for our most educated manager to come around. There’s not much you can do about sabotage other than eliminate the saboteur, once you discover who they are. I had to do that twice.

Saboteurs are difficult to ferret out. Both of our worked under cover for, in one case, 3 years. Because of insubordination, I released one because of the difficult circumstances created by the sabotage. The lesson I learned is to remove them quickly, before substantial damage can be done. During my Lean travels, I heard stories of senior level executives asking their CEO what would happen if they didn’t buy in to the Lean Strategy. Every last effective response was the same. Hand me your resignation or be removed. It’s best to ferret out saboteurs and resisters early and encourage them to move on. Most of them will anyway.

The place to start is with Leadership. I know of no successful Lean transformations that did not have top leadership on board. Communicate very clearly that Lean is THE strategic management initiative and start certifying every leader at a minimum level of knowledge. Understand what Leader Standard Work is in building a Lean organization and practice it every day.

Posted by: knightbird | August 5, 2015

“Lean, the philosophy of gaining efficiencies”

In March of this year, Chamber board member Dr. Jim Johnsen was kind enough to introduce me to the President of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Rachael Petro. I suggested the State Chamber consider having one of their Lean practicing members speak at their conference in October. I was ecstatic to learn that not only one member will be speaking, but 4 will. The Presidents of Alaska Airlines and Alaska Communication Systems will speak together with representatives from Boeing and Premera Blue Cross. The title of this post is the title of their conference and here is a link to the announcement.

My advocacy for Lean management began with the Alaska Tribal Health System and Southcentral Foundation in 2005. That same year, I began to recommend that Sealaska seriously consider looking at Lean. In 2007, I put together the first and only Lean focused conference in Alaska, on healthcare. I wrote a paper titled “A proposed path to wellness for the Indian Health Service” and distributed it widely, including to the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Tribal Health System, the National Indian Health Board, the Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the White House. Nothing has happened. In 2011, Dr. Tom Jackson and I presented a break out session on Lean management for tribal organizations. I have since heard of a couple of Native organizations exploring Lean management. Not a very loud exploration, but at least it’s being considered.

Sealaska had a brief flurry of Lean activity in 2009 and 2010, but it was apparently only to secure executive bonuses. It did not become a sustainable practice. In 2013, Sealaska had a huge operating loss of $35 million. Outside of our joint venture with former partner Nypro Precision Plastics, Sealaska had no Lean practice in our subsidiaries, where the losses accrued.

Alaska Communication Systems adopted lean in 2011 and has realized substantial benefit in a very tight, competitive market. Jim Johnsen was charged with changing ACS into a Lean company. He did a great job and is not  moving on to the University of Alaska where he has said he plans to introduce Lean Education as their management system and begin to provide education and training to meet the new Lean practitioner requirements for Alaska.

When I started my advocacy, I thought it would be easy.. The benefits of Lean are so obvious after just a couple of Kaizen. I was shocked to see how blind our managers really are to true improvement cultures. Perhaps we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell has referred to as “The Tipping Point” for Lean in Alaska. I sure hope so. If we have, it’s been a long time incubating.

Posted by: knightbird | July 24, 2015

Alaska State Chamber October Forum

When the State of Washington initiated it’s Results Washington Lean Government Program, they had the assistance of local industry with Lean Cultures. They included Boeing, Virginia Mason Medical System, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Premera Blue Cross, Starbucks and many others. Here is a link to the 2nd Annual Results Washington Conference held in 2013 presenter bios. ( It’s an impressive list of helpers.

In August, I will be talking to Governor Walker of Alaska about exploring Lean Government for Alaska. I will be accompanied by an executive with ACS and a former candidate for Mayor of Anchorage. Both are sold on the Lean Management model. Alaska’s Commissioner of Administration is a former ACS executive, and has already initiated a review of the benefits that might be available through Lean Government.

An initial problem we have is that we have only one business I am aware of with meaningful experience in Lean. That business is Alaska Communication Systems. In Government, the military has a Department of Defense wide policy for utilization of Lean. So does the Veterans Administration (VA). However, as a recent audit of the VA Clinic in the MatSu Valley demonstrates, the VA has not implemented Lean Healthcare as a part of its operating culture. We can’t expect much help, but there are military retirees, for example, who have Lean experience that might be trained in Lean and provide a transformation work force for the State.

A secondary problem is the lack of a Lean workforce, and training programs for developing a Lean workforce. The putative appointee to the University of Alaska (UA) president position is an ACS executive responsible for their Lean adoption. His intention is to bring Lean to UA statewide and encourage the development of a Lean curriculum at one of the 3 campuses. The Center for Corporate and Professional Development at the University of Alaska Anchorage has been scheduling training on Lean Management. The efforts are small, but meaningful.

Alaska is very far behind the rest of the world with developing it’s capacity for management innovation. Tentative plans for the Alaska State Chamber Conference in October includes speakers on Lean Business, but but one is from outside the state of Alaska.

Lean has been difficult for me to convince leaders to undertake. I introduced my own Alaska Native Regional Corporation to Lean in 2005. I had it included as a part of the executive incentive compensation plan in 2009. Yet we are not included among the speakers because we have not used Lean management. The few Kaizen events reported to my by employees indicated significant operational improvements and cost savings. That wasn’t enough to convince our executive team about the merits of Lean Management. Since 2005, we have experienced significant losses among our operating companies, losses I believe that could have been avoided had we seriously implemented Lean.

In Alaska, we may have a chance for our state government to lead the business community into the most effective management system the world knows. As I wrote before, the Anchorage candidate for mayor I supported was prepared to implement Lean Government had he been elected. That didn’t happen. My efforts to contact the leadership for the new Mayor have not been successful.

I believe we are at a crossroads in Alaska. Budget pressures, the possibility for troop reductions in the military and federal budget restrictions have make it imperative to rethink our strategies. At this point, Governor Walker can be bold and help move Alaska to a more competitive position within the United States.

Posted by: knightbird | July 14, 2015

Resistance to Change Revisited

I watched a stage of the Tour De France today. Team Sky, the British cycling team, placed 3 riders in the top ten, and their lead rider literally demolished the rest of the field. I have written before about Team Sky and the theory used by Sir David Brailsford to transform British cycling. Her refers to it as the “Aggregation of Marginal Gains.” The theory is that you pay attention to the system of cycling and seek small improvements everywhere. I learn a lot from smart people, and wonder why very few others do. I have written many times about resistance to change and why we cannot seem to innovate.

In 1536, the first published edition of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” was released. In Chapter 6, we read the following:

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.”

I have encountered resistance to change in every area I have chosen to increase my expertise. As a pitching coach, I learned about how to scientifically improve a pitcher. When I tried to introduce new techniques to Alaska baseball, I met heavy resistance. It’s still that way today. Yet the first all state pitcher I coached had a low 70 MPH fastball, but was able to stay in games because of the knowledge I shared with him. When I began researching health and weight loss, the science was fairly well established, but heavily resisted because of political interventions that were based on emotion. Yet 3 people I advised had weight losses of 60, 50 and 105 pounds respectively. I lost 40 pounds myself. As I began learning about suicide and how to prevent it, I ran into those who were, as a colleague of mine is fond of saying, heavily invested in failure. Think of it this way, if we were actually able to reduce the incidence of suicide, a cadre of political and research leadership would find their area of expertise heavily reduced in importance.

Resistance is heavy whenever you choose to battle for a new order. Yet the rewards can be great. The British cycling team is outstanding today because of their change. The change came because one man was able to convince a team that it was in their interests. They meet naysayers every step of the say. That single man has been knighted by the Queen of England for his achievement. He is not quite a Prince, but darn close now.

Lean Thinking has been around for a long time now. And it has transformed organizations from true mediocrity (and some who were at deaths door) to world class. When I share their stories, along with a history of how the changes occurred, I get blank stares. The politicians are in charge of all of our Native organizations, from the IHS down to tribally managed health care systems. They protect their privilege, and the gains they receive, from being heavily invested in failure. If we had good healthcare, and people actually healed, or didn’t get ill, we wouldn’t earn as much from their bad fortune. It is in the interests of the entrenched to remain in the system that continues to reward them. Until it doesn’t any more.

Posted by: knightbird | June 25, 2015

“Lean Honors Bottom Line Over Top Line”

I have to share this quote from Karen Martin, a Lean Sensei who shared it through Twitter. I have the same beliefs but express it in a different way. I like her way. But we both seek the same results. If we dedicate our organization to a Lean Culture, we provide greater value for our customers by improving the quality of what we do and decrease the cost. We decrease the cost by Respecting our People and teaching them how to Continuously Improve what they do. This is a hard lesson for many Executives to learn.

In my Executive life, I have taken over 2 extremely dysfunctional organizations. Within a short period of time, both improved. In the first organization, I took a number of actions that intuitively improved the organization. When I learned about Lean Thinking, I backed off imposing my decisions on staff and began teaching and delegating improvement. The best results came from teaching and delegating.

In the second organization, the change was meteoric. I didn’t make decisions. Instead, I formed Executive Leadership Teams to tackle problems and issues, then started teaching them a Lean approach to problem solving. With their advice, we eliminated a $5 million budget deficit within a 4 month time frame. We saved over $100,000 on energy costs with a target of a million in savings. We filled 20 hard to fill positions in our rural health department. By the end of 4 months, we had a plan in place to generate huge additional revenues and realization of bottom line savings in the range of $20 to $30 million. We realized that the bottom line revenue gains fueled our ability to generate additional revenue.

Posted by: knightbird | June 24, 2015

Doing the Right Thing

Self interest is a powerful force. Because the human being is programmed to survive, we often do what it takes to survive. I believe it’s driven in large part by the development of our fear response starting with gestation. Let me explain this concept a little further.

Our fear response protects us from physical harm. If we are confronted by a threat, some very basic response occurs. First, the threat registers in our Limbic System-what behavioral practitioners call the fear response. Reaction is lightening fast for a reason. The Limbic System essentially acts, then tries to understand. Our prefrontal cortex is rendered impotent, for the most part. When a threat is detected, the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis) fires and floods our body with Cortisol. At that time, both energy (glucose) and oxygen flow are substantial reduced for the brain. In other words, the brain sacrifices function for protection. We literally stop thinking because all of our resources are being shifted towards saving our life. The reaction is rapid and thinking will not change reaction. We will perform as nature intended, by fighting, fleeing or freezing. Restoring function to our thinking brain will require effort on our part.

We have many other protective mechanisms formed in response to the existence of what I refer to as “non-physical” threats. If you boss threatens you, it’s not a physical threat. But your threat response doesn’t know that and may escalate in reaction. What do you do? In most cases you freeze and do nothing. But you might argue back (fight) or leave (flee). The list of non physical threats is huge and you encounter them every day.

To protect yourself against nonphysical threats, you learn responses that mitigate the threat. Or, should I say, your brain learns. Lying is one response that might deflect the threat. How often do you hear “I didn’t do it” or “It’s not my fault.” Blame is another common response. It’s John or Mary’s fault.”

Another protective factor is to elevate our competencies. The Dunning-Kruger effect has us believing we are among the most competent a what we do. Any criticism is deflected by devaluing the critic. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about” or “I am the one who does his job.” He’s worthless. We also form trust in certain people, whether they deserve that trust or not. When trust evolves into a political (mutual supportive) relationship, a lot of bad can be done.

Doing the right thing requires overcoming a lot of defenses. We justify the defense to ourselves and anyone else who will listen. How do we overcome this resistance to doing the right thing?

Dr. Deming counseled us on a method. Treat the entity you are involved in as a system. Work, play, social gatherings and other pursuits lend well to systems thinking. First, the system produces most of the errors and defects. So we need to eliminate the blame and shame that permeates most of our engagements. It really isn’t our fault most of the time. We just need to find the real explanation. And that takes a systems approach. What are the facts, ones that can be observed. We can’t rely on hearsay because hearsay is terribly unreliable in many cases. We need to eliminate penalties and evaluations, unless they are seriously a part of factual inquiry.

And we need to cultivate a scientific ability to inquire. Not by cross examination, but through collaboration and discussion. We need to understand Root Cause and the depth of inquiry achieved through asking the 5 Why’s. But we also need to know when to inquire, and when to let things go.

And finally, we need to do the right thing for the right reasons. To make things better is a right reason. If we accept responsibility for something we did that was not right, we can make it right and learn how not to do that thing again. We learn, and incorporate it into our life to make that life better If we do it the right way, we can also make a lot of other lives better. Think about it.

Posted by: knightbird | June 23, 2015

Little Victories Add Up

Many strategic planning trainers tell you to set what they refer to as “BHAG’s” or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Dream big they say. And work hard to achieve that goal. You motivate people by these big dreams, and if they are motivated, they will work harder. I am not sure I agree with this advice any longer. I have read about the tremendous achievement of the British Cycling Team. They are winning 80% of the track races they participate in, and have become a regular on the Road Racing circuit winner’s circles. How did they get there? According to the coach that brought them there, they arrived through an “Aggregation of Marginal Gains.” By focusing on small improvements every day, they achieved the bigger goals they aspired to. And they achieved the goals they aspired to 40% faster than their big dream said they would.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains is essentially Lean Thinking in a different context. Let’s look at the concept.

Bicycle racing requires merging multiple systems into one. The human that pedals the bicycle must be trained, fed, healed, motivated and supported through the intense effort required to be world class. As Anders Ericsson postulated, it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful effort to become world class in anything. His theory was developed in the context of human development, but the same is likely true for systems development. Most businesses put effort into getting better. But they have no theory based on science to help them. Lean is based on science, more specifically, the PDCA Cycle. Through the tools used in Lean, mistakes, defects and errors are analyzed and replaced with change that improves the results being sought. A theory of continuous improvement requires every defect to be recognized and eliminated, if possible. As you achieve great results, the opportunities for improvement become smaller. In the early days of Kaizen, especially in a truly dysfunctional organization, improvements are huge. Reducing human effort is particularly easy. Systems that require 10 people can often be run with 3. Output can increase my multiples of thousands of percent. In a highly improved system, the gains are much smaller, but just as important. Think of it this way. Once you become complacent, it’s just as easy to slip by small increments as it is to improve the same way. A culture of continuous improvements make defects the ever present enemy. You need a theory to hold on to the gains achieved. That theory is called standard work.

The British cycling team uses a bun warmer. It’s a garment that keep the butt and thigh muscles at an optimum 38 degrees celsius for optimum performance. They wash their hands to reduce illness. They have standard work for warming up before races. The choreography applied to all of their improvements requires a significant team of professionals to keep all of their cyclists on task.

Lean Leaders need the same attitude. Focus employees on improving all the time. No defect is too small to fix. Teams should work together to make sure standard work is done correctly. Science should guide you. After all, how did the British cycling team determine that 38 degrees centigrade was the proper temperature to use for great performance. And if it’s 37.6 degrees, then that becomes the standard. After all, a small gain might be the difference between a successful outcome, or not.

Give it a try.

Posted by: knightbird | June 8, 2015

Spam and Junk Mail Waste

I was reading a Metric’s Discussion from the University of Washington’s (UW) lean education reports. I know in email and healthcare, we get a lot of spam and unsolicited mailers. One job that Virginia Mason Medical Assistants (MA) take on is weeding out the waste mail so their physician does’t have to. When I arrived at Chugachmiut in 2003, we did not have an email spam filter. It doesn’t take long to pay off an email spam filter given the huge volumes of spam that are out there. If you get 100 pieces of spam a day, and it takes you 5 seconds to delete each one, you will spend almost 35 hours a year deleting spam. If you have 100 employees, that’s 3,500 hours, or almost 1 1/2 FTE’s. Mind boggling, isn’t it.

The same is true of mail. While I have a lot of lean management operational and strategic knowledge, I learn a lot from others. From this study, I now know that there are efforts to reduce waste in mail, and I have already looked them up. If a medical assistant sorts through 100 pieces of non relevant mail, you know that mail has already been handled and transported by the organization’s mail system. As a lean practitioner, if you want to understand root cause and eliminate expense, you have to figure out a method of stopping the mail from being delivered to you. Then you incur no expense in transporting or sorting it out. The MA would have that additional time to do value adding work.

In the meantime, the UW has a recycling program to deal with the thousands of pounds of waste mail it receives annually.

Curiosity is good. If we can find solutions to problems that cost us time and value, we all benefit.

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