Posted by: Knightbird | December 3, 2011

Wednesday’s Solution Recommendation

Although I don’t always follow this advice, I have been told that I shouldn’t complain unless I have a proposed solution. Unfortunately, when you have no control or influence over the subject of the complaint, you are sometimes left with just an option of complaining or doing nothing. My pattern in situations similar to yesterday’s blog about the meeting I attended Wednesday has been to try and work with the stakeholders to influence their method for improvement. I usually fail in this effort. Then I am left to just complaining. In the case of Wednesday’s meeting, this is an effort I have been working on since 2007 with no appreciable improvement in the processes.

I always expect pushback from management to my comments. Part of my approach is to be fact based and non-judgmental. The facts are that I have advocated for improvement for the past 5 years. There have been minimal, if any, improvements achieved. After my comments, I was thanked for “your (my) perspective.” Comments made during the discussion seemed to support the facts I stated. Other participants exhibited possessive behaviors over their functionally siloed departments. There was no executive leadership indicting support for the effort. I read the record of the prior meeting, which confirmed my assessment. There was no clearly defined problem statement. Facts were not available and were generated by management. There was no definition of a value stream being discussed. Participants were quick to leap to proposing solutions without understanding problems. The management proposed their solution, and that was the one that was advanced. Mind you, what I am sharing are considered facts. I am trying to keep my judgment out of this discussion.

So what is my proposed solution? First of all, any progress in this environment will be very difficult for a couple of reasons. This organization has a culture of blame and shame. This means that no one will acknowledge the existence of problems that are arguably within their sphere of work. They do not understand that they are a part of a process and their work needs to coordinate with all other work, even if the impact on their work is negative. This is OK so long as the overall solution eliminates waste. Leadership needs to evaluate the culture they sponsor and change it to one that, in the words of Dr. Deming, eliminates fear from the workplace. It needs to become one that inspires pride of workmanship in the employee. In listening to one employee, it became clear that Management would meet with employees, but they would not ask the employee what they thought. Building a culture where processes are acknowledged as the source of most defects (98% according to Dr. Deming); where employees are both given authority to make improvements and accountable for improvements; and where the solutions are based on analysis of facts and data. I would start with a map of the process involved. Interestingly enough, the value map will probably be quite short. My proposal would be to map the process using a swim lane to represent the many parties involved in their process. This would take 8 to 12 people for most likely the better part of one day. My staff could probably do this in 2 – 3 hours, but they are experienced with Lean Thinking. My guess is that there are 6 sub processes contained in the original mapping that would need to be refined with smaller teams of 4 to 7. The second step would be data collection. This falls into 2 categories: what is the lead (total) time and what is the process time (time spend on value added work). Data collection could take some time, but in my experience, employees in the data stream could come pretty darn close to actual time taken (on average) for each step in the process. And really, this is all we need. When we get to the improvement part, the PDCA experiment, there will be such huge improvement that specificity of this data isn’t really required. The team would be able to define what we refer to as an Ideal State or a Future State, and plan a Next Target Condition to try to achieve. The would do this by examining the waste in the process: inboxes (where waiting happens); rework (information not available, redoing faxes, emails, etc.); unnecessary approvals; and others. If our experiment works, then we define the new standard work and train every employee to adhere to that standard work.

I brought one of Chugachmiut’s lean champions in to help me work through how to approach the work of this meeting. He came up with the 2 – 3 hour estimate for our staff to map out the process we talked about in the meeting. After I asked him about the benefit of experienced lean practitioners, he agreed that it might take up to 4 days because of resistance, especially without Executive support and a supportive culture.

So there is my proposal. This is the same one I made 5 years ago. Although it may take more than a week to achieve improvement, it certainly wouldn’t take more than 5 years. My guess is that it could be achieved in 2 – 3 months easily.


  1. I admire your tenacity, Patrick. I would have walked away from this stubborn organization you are facing years ago.

    Why do you keep trying?

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