We've All Been Told

We’ve all heard:” There’s a tool for that”, or asked “Do you have a template for that”?  It’s an interesting way to problem solve and I’m sure that many of us automatically reach into our toolkit and come up with something. Problem solving is and should be dynamic, not conceived from a recipe. In offering a tool does that become a product of your bias or is it a reflection of the person trying to solve the problem? Providing a recommendation in the absence of prior history could be dangerous. As a coach how do you answer, with a tool or with conversation?

Most of the people I have coached are eager to learn and apply new tools.  Their wanting to learn new techniques is natural. Really great problem-solving practitioners have a natural tendency as curious and questioning people. I don’t disregard their question on tools or templates. They make life easier. They enable the mathematical lift freeing your brain to think about and respond to the results. As a coach however, it pleases you when people stretch to learn more, when their appetite for knowledge matures. Your role is to stimulate this appetite, encourage questions, and form the connection between question and answer. Just as you encourage this behavior however you might want to direct questions on tools or templates back to the question at hand.

As a good coach I divert the question and ask: “What problem are you trying to solve” or “What is the question you are trying to answer”?  That invokes a better chain of thought, conversation, and critical thinking. The most valuable asset we have as a problem solver is our ability to think, reflect, and then synthesize.  Tools, templates, roadmaps, are good but can become the next thing in a series of prescribed actions and therefore unilateral. They direct us. They confine open thought. They may in fact kill creativity and innovation. They detract from involving all the people on a team and employing their given talents and natural tendencies. You must engage and continually keep the question at hand in the front of your mind.

The best tool you have is your ability to remain curious, to be open, and to be engaging. Stimulate that not by analytics alone but with a blend of science and feeling. Study the art of critical thinking, and add it to your toolkit. Blend your skills with those of others in your problem-solving efforts. Understand the need for change, how others see it, and the impact upon them.

Change happens with a well-defined question, some data, robust input, and the incorporation of people’s needs.

Continue to use Process, Talent and Change Management as a powerful combination of Analytics, People, and Adoption.

 

For more visit: Lean2businessconsulting.com

Change Management - The Unmeasured Science

Change is inevitable. Processes age.  Quality is elusive. Requirements evolve so quickly that we can’t keep up with them. We face concerns like this every day. Your training makes you ready to address this challenge. You have a plethora of tools and techniques. You have hard measures, quantitative measures, good measures, those which dive deeply into the process to characterize its performance. You are selective and your measures are un-biased and representative. You are clear about key indicators and you have a response plan to performance. This is a great approach but there’s more.

Change that is unplanned is never really adopted. It backslides. You’ve seen it happen. But why?  Is it because we didn’t manage the change, we didn’t prepare? Is change management to hard to measure? After all it’s soft.  It’s fuzzy. It’s not technical it’s socio.

Change Management is a transition methodology separate from Lean Six Sigma problem solving. It stimulates individuals, teams and organizations to seek a desired future state. The problem is that no one ever told you how to measure the change so that it comes to life. Therefore, to most people, it dies a sudden death and falls to the side of a theoretical conversation.  That logic excludes your most valuable asset: people.  The people who use the process every day, and your goal is to get their adoption.  Their participation in the evolutionary process of making things better is a key success enabler.

There are three components:

 

1.   By conquering fears and emotions: Fear leads to paralysis.  People recoil from the unknown. Simply, they like the current state.  It’s comfortable. It’s known. It’s safe. They don’t have to stretch to learn something new.

2.   By developing skills and coaching: “I can’t, I just don’t know how”? Do lack of skills hold you back from making a good change. Even more difficult is getting an adult to admit that they need training. It’s embarrassing. What will people think?

3.   By propagating the vital behaviors of role models: Vital behaviors are positive and influential actions that stimulate people to take action. They role model a better way. They surpass the challenge, are optimistic, and always ready to help. They recognize that without change there is stagnation. Positioning these as a stimulus for action initiates the change process.

 

What does this have to do with change management? Everything! 

Your goal is to address fear and enable role model behavior. You must understand what makes something scary and uncomfortable and turn that weakness into a strength. Involving people in the creation of their own future creates an atmosphere of adoption. It creates an atmosphere for self-discovery and the opportunity for experiences that turn fear into vicarious learning.

Developing skills that support not only the change but help individuals to grow personally and professionally begins to remove the barrier. You coach people to develop new skills, those that support the whole. Those that collectively build to the more complex. You embrace setbacks as a learning experience. No one does it right the first time.

Most importantly you build on vital behaviors by identifying those people with the right skills and behaviors as influencers for helping the team and individuals move forward. You ask for their help!

But none of that is measurable, right? Wrong!  The measures are just different. They are shown in a positive attitude, one that comes with the pride of having done something well. They are seen in a sense of urgency, synergy, collaboration, and when peoples work habits improve as a group. They come with tackling tougher problems. They come with doing things faster and stepping up to the challenge, not shying away from them.

Change management should be one of your most trusted tools. It incorporates the best tool in your tool bag. It comes from human ingenuity and the innovation that comes from one’s creativity and passion to excel.

 

Contact Lean2 Business Consulting for help in introducing change management into your workplace.

Key Process Indicators - Is Yours the Right One?

Ask someone what they think about KPI’s and you’ll get answers ranging from they’re unnecessary management overhead, while others believe without them they can’t run their business. Extremes are dangerous. The truth is that they’re as burdensome as you make them.

What if you’re doing everything according to the book? You have Key Process Indicators (KPI’s), a dashboard, and a data response plan. However your business is not running smoothly and your customer satisfaction is dropping. So what’s wrong?

KPI’s are just as the name suggests “Key”. They have a unique relationship to the fundamental parts of the process. They enable you to control the process in a way that satisfies the customer.  If we define control as a statistically important relationship between a response variable and an adjustment that we make in the process, you have a good start for identifying KPI’s.  Before you accept that and develop a long list of variables stop and think.  The important word in the definition is Key.  Now you have to discriminate. 

Key indicators are those that have a significant response and serve two purposes:

First, they enable you to control an important parameter within the process. These “control variables” have a direct impact on the business or customer. Management of these variables will allow for predictive control of your products and services. You can and should do an analysis to differentiate between control and response variables and select a critical few that support your goals. As an example you can very accurately control the speed that you drive but without understanding your route you may become lost.  The route is the key and the speed is secondary.

Second, the indicators themselves must be in control. A key indicator must have a high degree of accuracy, is repeatable, and reproducible.  It has to be reliable.  Your speedometer is of no use if you were to test it against a standard and it gives different answers every time. If your standard suggests you should read 20 mph and your speedometer varies between 5 and 50 mph, you’re out of control, you might get a ticket. If it varies between 18 and 22 mph you have a different comfort level. Use only those indicators that are useful.

A simple set of questions may help you pick the right indicators:

 

1.   Does the indicator measure something important to the customer or business?

2.   Is the indicator reliable?

3.   Do I know what to do in response to the data collected?

4.   Are the results displayed simply and understandably so progress can be monitored?

5.   Are people aware of the findings and have ownership of the process and its control?

6.   Does your control plan have a manageable list of KPI’s not hundreds?

 

Given some simple guidelines you can do an exceptional job responding to both your customer and the business.

For help please contact Lean2 Business Consulting.

We Don't Use Our Lean Six Sigma Skills Everyday

I ran into someone at breakfast today that looked familiar. I had to ask, “You look familiar, and do I know you”.  We introduced ourselves and found that we both worked for the same company. She was still working there so I asked, “How are things going”? As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt she shared some current events and then shared that she had seen a group of practitioners who were getting some refresher training.  “We’re not using our skills and they’re getting rusty”, was their response. It’s always good to stay current so refresher training does polish off the rust.  It made me think however.  If we used the tools every day would our skills stay sharp and relevant? Why do people stop asking for Lean Six Sigma support? What can you do?

Here are some ideas that have helped me.

1.   Don’t make everything a project. 

a.   This is cardinal rule number one. We were trained to use the entire process from beginning to end. Do we answer every question with a project? That may not add the value you think. In fact it may add complexity and cycle time when all someone wanted was a simple answer.

2.   Don’t practice at the expense of the customer.

a.   Similar tools and techniques are used but give the same answer. Select those that are appropriate, help you communicate with your audience, and use only one. I once had a coach who said that he asked practitioners to use as many tools as they can on every project. I never accepted that. It’s fair to practice tools off line so that you do stay sharp but don’t burden your customer with your experiential learning.

3.   Develop non-structured refresher training.

a.   Work in small teams.  This fosters an atmosphere of adult learning and is the best way to polish skills. Learn from each other in open and relevant dialog.

4.   Keep communications open at all times.

a.   Include your customers, those who are willing, in an analysis session or two. Allowing your customers to participate in the analysis enables their creativity, thought, and insights. It stimulates not only solutions to the process but to your improvement culture.

5.   Listen as much as you talk, maybe more.

a.   Learning and listening styles vary from person to person. The best style is called double loop learning, or two-way conversation. If people aren’t asking for help there’s a reason. The best tool is to ask why. What you hear may not be comfortable but left unspoken will become the reason your program diminishes.

 

Lean Six Sigma is as complicated or simple as we make it.  If it has the attributes of speed and accuracy, supported with fact, and embracing of the people within the organization it will become a healthy part of the organization.  Your practice will become a daily event and your skills will stay sharp. Keep it simple and flexible and the skills will follow naturally.

For help please contact Lean2 Business Consulting.


Are You Prepared to Communicate Findings?

Are you prepared to communicate your findings? You’ve proud of what has been accomplished. There are visuals and relevant data to comprehend the process. Your process flow is complete and has been verified. You’ve have measured performance. Operations has been interviewed and you have insight that compliments that measured performance. You have analysis that shows the way to a solution. You’re confident that you can deploy. You’re ready to share your findings.  How do you prepare? Is it a data dump? Are you ready for two way conversation: double loop learning? This is a critical junction in your project lifecycle. As they say, “the proof is in the pudding” and you’re about to reveal it.

How you communicate is as important as addressing those process improvements. Skilled practitioners can tell you that they may have fallen into a common trap. They treat every conversation with a common theme of diving deeply into data. That may satisfy some people but not everyone. Consider every conversation as an opportunity and by all means know your audience.

Here are some suggestions.

 

1.   Tailor the discussion to your audience. Be detailed for those people who like details and present summary information for those who prefer a discussion of your progress. While senior managers like the bottom line, engineers may like detail, i.e. “the math”.

2.   Keep your discussions focused on the goal and scope of your work. Be specific and clear on both your information as well as how it enables the business. Make the discussion in business terms.

3.   Communicate often. Sharing information can be formal or ad-hoc. Sometimes a quick hallway conversation is just as effective. Respect people time.

4.   Develop your team to share results. They own the progress. Have them seen as architects of change.

5.   Be available. Be ready when asked questions on the fly, factually. If you can’t answer the question make time to get back to them, and do so.

6.   Make part of every team meeting a discussion focused on communications. Agree on the message.  Don’t let disagreement become the reason you don’t communicate. Many times that disagreement may be a spark of creativity. Leverage it.

 

Developing a good communications plan builds confidence with your customers and your team. It gives a sense of pride in a job well done. It creates an atmosphere of continuous improvement. It creates community.

 

Please let me know how Lean2 Business Consulting may be of service to your organization.