Viewing entries tagged

1 Comment

"We are problem solvers"

NPR's story on how three American brush manufacturers are successfully competing with Chinese competition was a dose of reality for those who complain that they can't win against low-cost, low-wage countries. These three companies adopted the following strategies to thrive:

  1. Compete on quality, not price. Professional painters don't want brushes whose bristles come off in the paint, which is what you get with low-cost Chinese brushes.
  2. Adapt to customer's needs and serve niche markets. One company makes a $40,000 brush used to keep pigeons out of the top of the Freedom Tower in NY, and a tiny brush for NASA's Mars Rover.
  3. Nurture strong, personal, relationships with customers. The owners of these companies have been in business for over 40 years, and they're always available by phone to their long-time customers.

But here's my favorite part of the story: the plant manager at one of the companies, Adam Czarnowski, who has been with the company for 63 years (sixty-three years!), says:

We are not ordinary brush makers. We are problem solvers.

Think about the pride, sense of ownership, and engagement for that kind of attitude to exist. Do your employees see themselves as cogs in the corporate machine, or as problem solvers?

(You can read a longer version of this story in the NYTimes magazine.)




1 Comment


You Call That Leadership? (Part II)

In last week's blog post, I took Strategy+Business to task for suggesting that a leader ought to make three major decisions within the first ten days. I think that's a lousy way to lead and is fundamentally disrespectful to the people who work in the organization. So I was gratified to read this week's NYTimes Corner Office column with Bill McDermott of  SAP. Apparently, Bill also believes that asking questions and showing respect for employees is much more important than acting quickly to impress people:

I moved up to become the sales operations manager for the New York region [of Xerox], then became the district manager for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Our region was ranked 86th in the company out of 86....

So now the challenge was, how are you going to make these guys winners? I spent two weeks interviewing everybody and listening. I’d sit there and just say, “What do you think we need to do?”

This attitude is exactly what's meant by the lean precept of "go and see." And the result?

After doing that for two weeks, I found out the three things that were unanimous in terms of what people thought we should do. No. 1, they wanted to be motivated. A previous boss, they told me, had been very financial in his orientation, and focused on cutting expenses. The second thing was that they wanted to have a holiday party, because they had lost the holiday party. The third thing is that they needed clear direction on what they were supposed to do. “Just tell us what to do,” they said.

So we basically gave them three things that we were going to focus on in the business. Then we gave them inspiration and pageantry at every turn to celebrate the victories as we made progress against those three goals. And then we had the holiday party, which was the most important of all. By the end of the year, we ranked No. 1 in terms of beating our plan.

Now, some of these things might seem trivial. I have a Stanford MBA, and I'm pretty sure that we never had a class that taught the significance of a holiday party. I can almost guarantee that if Bill hadn't talked with everyone face-to-face right up front, he wouldn't have understood its importance, and he would have missed the opportunity to make a real improvement in morale and employee engagement.

Go and see. Ask questions. Show respect. You might be surprised at what you learn.



Barack Obama and knowledge work kaizen

The October issue of Vanity Fair features a long article by Michael Lewis on Barack Obama -- what it's like to be him and how he deals with the burden of the presidency. One tidbit that struck me was the way that Obama has tried to improve his ability to make decisions. In keeping with recent research that shows that people have finite mental resources for decision-making, Obama has tried to eliminate the trivial decisions that most of us face on a daily basis. In an NPR interview, Lewis explains that

The president started talking about research that showed the mere act of making a decision, however trivial it was, degraded your ability to make a subsequent decision. A lot of ... the trivial decisions in life — what he wears, what he eats — [are] essentially made for him. He's actually aware of research that shows that the more decisions you have to make, the worse you get at making decisions. he analogizes to going shopping at Costco. If you go to Costco and you don't know what you want, you come out exhausted, because you're making all these decisions, and he wants to take those decisions out of his life. So he chucked out all his suits except his blue and grey suits so he doesn't have to think about what he's going to put on in the morning. Food is just arranged for him and he's not making any decisions about what he's eating. What most people spend most of their life deciding about, he's had those decisions are removed from his life. He does this so he creates an environment, a mental environment, where he's got full energy for the decisions that are really important decisions.

As I've described before, Bob Pozen (chairman emeritus of MFS Investment Management, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, and board member of Medtronics and Nielsen) does much the same thing as Obama. When you have to make many decisions -- and what's the presidency but an unending series of very, very difficult decisions? -- you inevitably become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your mental energy. That hoarding typically leads to one-dimensional analysis, illogical shortcuts, and decisions that tend to favor short-term gains and delayed costs.

Toyota -- the high temple of lean -- gets it, too. Over at LeanBlog, our friend Mark Graban once wrote,

I’ve heard Toyota people say you want to eliminate the hundreds of LITTLE repetitive decisions so that the person involved can focus on the FEW major decisions with a fresh mind that’s not fatigued from constant decision making.

The premium that Obama, Pozen, and others -- not to mention Toyota -- place on simplification is really is another aspect of lean thinking (and probably brings a smile to Matt May's face). I'm not arguing that you have to toss out most of the clothes in your closet, or give up your cereal bar (after all, it works for Pixar). But I am suggesting that you take a hard look at the decisions you make in your daily work and eliminate as many as possible. Spreadsheet, memo, or presentation design; sales call frequency; meeting format -- all these things can be standardized so that you don't have to make decisions. And that will result in better work and better thinking for the stuff that's really important.




The absurdity of the 40 hour workweek

Hopefully you read Jason Fried's (co-founder and CEO of 37signals) OpEd in Sunday's NYTimes. If you haven't, read it now. Go ahead. I'll wait. Jason advocates (compellingly) for the value of taking time off from work -- not simply to promote the squishy concept of "work-life balance" or to improve employee morale, but to improve productivity:

From May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less....The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five. When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.

This result is no surprise if you're familiar with Parkinson's Law. As I've pointed out before, this approach is similar to Toyota's policy of continually reducing the resources available in order to drive improvements in their production processes.

Jason's experience at 37signals also reminds me of what Leslie Perlow discovered at Boston Consulting Group -- that eliminating the "always on" ethic drives the creation of more efficient work habits:

When people are “always on,” responsiveness becomes ingrained in the way they work, expected by clients and partners, and even institutionalized in performance metrics. There is no impetus to explore whether the work actually requires 24/7 responsiveness; to the contrary, people just work harder and longer, without considering how they could work better.

Ultimately, this ties into the frequent disconnect between "deliverables" and "value," something I've been thinking about a lot recently. Even if you're not a plumber or a lawyer, there's a tendency to focus on the amount of time you spend on a project and what the output is. But the first step in adopting a lean mindset is to identify the value of your work -- and that value is determined by what the customer wants. The customer doesn't care how many hours you work; the customer only cares whether or not you deliver the product or service that she wants.

Jason Fried has asked his programmers to deliver products that the company's customers want, irrespective of the time they spend in the office. If they can do it in 32 hours per week, great. He's overthrown the tyranny of the 40 hour workweek by decoupling the link between office time (deliverable) and meeting the customers' needs (value).

There's a huge difference between deliverables and value. Between effort and results. That's a lesson that we can all learn from.



Emails & meetings, signifying nothing.

I've been wondering recently why people are so busy at work. Is work really that much more demanding than it was 20, 60, or 100 years ago? Are customer demands that much more onerous? Lean thinkers spend a lot of time trying to reduce the amount of waste in a process -- an admirable goal, to be sure. But sometimes the root cause of waste lies less in the process, and more in the mindset of the people working within the process.

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Tim Kreider writes about the self-imposed "busyness" that afflicts so many people. They’re busy, he argues, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. (To his credit, he points out that people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs don't complain about being busy. Those people are tired.)

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

In my own consulting, I see an awful lot of activity that really doesn't need to be done. One client spends his time -- everyday -- creating elaborate 50-100 slide PowerPoint decks for his boss. Wouldn't a single page document, or even a meeting, be a more efficient way of communicating the ideas? I've seen HR professionals crafting policies and procedure manuals that are so verbose, turgid, and unnecessarily complex that it's a wonder they have time for any real, value-added work. I've seen engineers attending meetings from 9am-5pm, but are only relevant to them for the 30 minutes from 1-1:30pm. And I haven't even mentioned the often pointless trolling through the email inbox that consumes so much of modern work life. How much of this activity is really necessary or value-added?

Tim writes,

I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Me, too.



Three key principles at Novartis

I love this interview with Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis. He hits on several points near and dear to my heart. 1. Simplify: Jimenez knows that elaborate strategic initiatives have zero chance of success if they're not translated to a small number of concrete actions that people can take on a daily basis:

At Novartis, our business is very complicated. But you have to distill the strategy down to its essence for how we’re going to win, and what we’re really going to go after, so that people can hold it in their heads — so that the guy on the plant floor, who’s actually making the medicine, understands the three priorities that we have as a company.

2. Identify the value: Jimenez understands that the value of one's work is ultimately decided by the customer, and that far too many corporate activities are simply empty exercises by that measure:

We needed to shift the company to become more externally focused, versus internally focused. People were proud of producing 75-page PowerPoint documents, and that was seen as a success.  If the C.E.O. or the head of the division complimented you on your PowerPoint presentation, that was a good thing.  And I said, forget that. We have to put the patient at the center of everything we do.

3. First, look in the mirror: Jimenez describes how at an earlier job, his division kept missing their sales forecasts. A consultant pointed out that the root cause wasn't a lack of skills or a poor planning process; it was fear: people were afraid to tell the truth. And he realized that he bore some responsibility:

We had to change the behavior in the organization so that people felt safe to bring bad news. And I looked in the mirror, and I realized I was part of the problem. I didn’t want to hear the bad news, either. So I had to change how I behaved, and start to thank people for bringing me bad news. It’s a chance to say: “Hey, thank you for bringing me that news. Because you know what?  There are nine months left in the year. Now we have time to do something about it.  Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s figure out how we’re going to make it.”

Jimenez doesn't talk about lean in this interview. But the lessons and values he discusses certainly fit in with core lean principles.



First, think about the purpose.

If you haven't yet done so, read the NYTimes interview with Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote. Phil's focus on value, rather than form, eliminates waste, shows respect for people, and leads to better results. For example, there are no offices or trappings of seniority at the company. In Phil's view, they're not only wasteful, they have a negative effect on people's work:

Nobody has an office. In fact, there are no perks that are signs of seniority. Obviously, there are differences in compensation, but there are no status symbols. You certainly don’t get a better seat or any of that kind of stuff, because they’re just unnecessary. They create artificial barriers to communication. They create artificial things that people focus on rather than just getting their job accomplished. We try to have an organization that just helps you get your work done, and then it’s my job to eliminate all of the risks and all the distractions so you can just focus on achieving. That attracts people who are primarily motivated by how much they achieve.

Phil's effort to improve communication extends to the uprooting any sort of email culture:

We strongly discourage lengthy e-mail threads with everyone weighing in. It’s just not good for that. Plus, it’s dangerous, because it’s way too easy to misread the tone of something. If you want to talk to somebody and you’re a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.

I'm most impressed by Phil's approach to vacations. If you think about the real value of a vacation, it's to enable people to refresh and recharge. The typical fixed two week vacation policy is more about the form than the real value. After all, if your job requires insanely hard bursts of work, or if you're having health problems, you might need more time off. Here's how Evernote handles it:

We recently changed our vacation policy to give people unlimited vacation, so they can take as much time as they want, as long as they get their job done. If you want to take time off, talk to your team, but we’re still measuring you on the same thing, which is, did you accomplish something great? Frankly, we want to treat employees like adults, and we don’t want being in the office to seem like a punishment. We always try to ask whether a particular policy exists because it’s a default piece of corporate stupidity that everyone expects you to have, or does it actually help you accomplish something? And very often you realize that you don’t really know why you’re doing it this way, so we just stop doing it.

(N.B. This vacation policy warms the cockles of my heart, because it's the way I managed my team years ago. It told them to take time off when they needed it, and not to bother reporting it to the HR department. Like Phil, I wanted to treat them like adults.)

It's the "default piece of corporate stupidity" that infects most organizations -- things that exist because that's just the way it's always been done: report and presentation formats, agendas and participants at those giant standing meetings, certain expectations, etc. And it's often the "default piece of corporate stupidity" that saps motivation, leeches passion, and inspires cynicism.

Focus on the purpose and the value. Then figure out how to deliver it. You might be surprised at how much easier it is.



Go See. Ask Why. Show Respect.

In 2009 Google launched "Project Oxygen." You probably haven't heard of it, because it's not a product. It's Google's quest to build a better boss. In typical Google fashion, the company gathered enough data on managerial performance to float a battleship. They followed up with interviews, coded feedback, and ranked results in order of importance. What they found is music to any lean manager's ears. Here's how the NYTimes describes it:

Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight [drivers of managerial excellence]. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

John Shook over at the Lean Enterprise Institute has been talking about this for awhile now (most recently here). It seems so simple, doesn't it? Go see. Ask why. Show respect.

And yet.

Even assuming that your managerial team is staffed by well-meaning people and not those who think that Mein Kampf is the sine qua non for leadership lessons, this simple activity is surprisingly difficult, for two reasons.

First, finding time to "go see" is absurdly hard. Managers and executives spend so much time cooped up in conference rooms that you'd think they were mapping the human genome, not setting the sales price for a new candy bar. Spending six hours a day stifling hypnagogic jerks in a Powerpoint-induced stupor isn't exactly a solid foundation for a "go see" culture.

Second, we want to help. We want to solve problems. And, frankly, we like demonstrating our smarts. But in providing answers, we undermine people's intellectual development and corrode their self-esteem, just as surely as salt air rusts the supports on a bridge. People need to stretch themselves and solve their own problems -- with guidance and instruction, yes, but largely on their own. Otherwise they neither develop the capacity for learning nor the pride of accomplishment.

Your company may not be like Google (or even aspire to be like it), but good management transcends industries and idiosyncratic corporate culture. In lean terms, go see. Ask why. Show respect. In generic terms, make yourself available. Ask questions. Take an interest.

It's really not that hard. And hey, Google has quantitative proof that it works.


1 Comment

It's not a Maginot Line. It's happiness.

As a strategy, building walls is frowned upon. The Great Wall of China. Hadrian's Wall. The Maginot Line. AOL's "walled garden." Defensive moves -- all failed. But maybe in certain circumstances walls can be beneficial?

A New York Times article describes how researchers used an iPhone app to contact some 2,200 individuals and get a total of roughly 250,000 replies as to how each person was feeling and what they were doing at the time they were contacted. Forty-seven percent of them reported that their minds were wandering when contacted -- in other words, half of them were not focused on whatever it was they were doing. Most interestingly, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

This finding jibes perfectly with the focused attention inherent in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow," in which a person so completely immersed in a task that feelings of time, effort, and energy disappear.

The problem today, of course, is that the state of flow is increasingly difficult to achieve. Psychologist Edward Hallowell says that

30% to 40% of people's time in the workplace is spent tending to unplanned interruptions, and then reconstituting the mental focus the interruption caused. I'm sure that was not the case 20 years ago simply because the tools of interruption were not so plentiful. And all the distraction has created blocks in thinking and feeling deeply. We're being superficialized and sound-bit.

In fact, when he asks people where they do their best thinking, the most common response is, "In the shower." Apparently, the shower is one of the last places left where we're not often interrupted.

That's where the Maginot Line comes in. While it's not possible (or advisable) to completely wall off the outside world all the time (who wants to end up like France in 1940?), it's essential to recreate some boundaries around your work time so that you can think without interruption. Close the door. Go to a conference room or a coffee shop. Spend a weekend at a meditation center. Whatever works for you. But for god's sake, put away the iPhone and turn off the internet connection.

Thinking and creating is hard work. It requires energy. Often it isn't very much fun. The prevalence and ease of distraction -- particularly electronic -- is a seriously enticing alternative to hunkering down with your thoughts and a blank piece of paper. But if you can maintain your focus on that blank piece of paper instead of mindlessly and reflexively following another distraction, you'll be much happier.

What's your Maginot Line going to be? What kind of defensive walls will you build?

1 Comment


24/7 availability does not create peak performance.

Mark Graban's latest post on Chrysler's CEO, Sergio Marchionne, reminded me of a recent visit to a client's R&D facility. Two of the managers bemoaned the incessant demands on their teams. Even as recently as a few years ago they would have downtime after the completion of a project when staff could go on vacation, work shorter hours, and generally refresh themselves. But no more. Layoffs and increasing pressures from the executive team means no more breathers. It’s constant pressure year-round now. Unfortunately, as psychiatrist Edward Hallowell says,

Making yourself available 24/7 does not create peak performance. Recreating the boundaries that technology has eroded does.

In an interview with CNET earlier this year, Hallowell explainted that “attention deficit trait” is

sort of like the normal version of attention deficit disorder. But it’s a condition induced by modern life, in which you’ve become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving. In other words, it costs you efficiency because you’re doing so much or trying to do so much, it’s as if you’re juggling one more ball than you possibly can.

Organizations are sacrificing their most valuable asset, namely the imagination and creativity of the brains they employ, by allowing ADT to infest the organization.

Pick up any business journal this year and at least once a week you’ll read about the need for innovation. Companies hire consultants, conduct off-site retreats, install “chief innovation officers” (whatever that means — probably a sign of a non-innovative company), and give employees toys from the Fisher Price catalog in an effort to spur innovative thinking.

But maybe they’re missing the mark. (In the case of the “chief innovation officer,” there’s no maybe about it.) Maybe what the staff needs is some time away from the office, away from the Blackberries, away from meetings. Maybe they need to go hiking and rafting away from their electronic tethers.

Of course, you don’t have to go that far. As Hallowell says,

It’s not that hard to deal with, once you identify it. You need to set limits and preserve time to think. Warren Buffett sits in a little office in the middle of nowhere and spends a lot of his time just thinking.

Back to Sergio Marchionne: you could make a powerful argument that his job above all requires innovation, creativity, and imagination. Does answering his six Blackberries within minutes or seconds, 24/7, have a negative effect on his own performance? (And for that matter, the fact that so many decisions are funneled through him surely has negative consequences. The always-available executive subtly undermines the people around him by telegraphing that his team is incapable of running things on their own. A good question might be why Marchionne has to make all of these decisions at all times.)

Think about it: getting more with less — less energy, less time, less effort. If we can apply lean thinking (creating more value with fewer resources) at the macro-level to manufacturing and services, why can’t we apply it at the micro-level to individual output?



Can you start a lean contagion?

Efforts to drive a lean transformation across an organization are difficult. Improvements in one area of the business often don't spread to other areas. Deep-seated resistance to change slows progress to a crawl or stops it entirely. Backsliding erases hard-won gains. But what if you could get lean to spread like a contagion? What if acceptance of lean, or even an outright embrace of lean (not the tools, but the mindset), could become like a virtuous epidemic?

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, in their book Connected, posit that all kinds of behaviors and characteristics that we consider independently defined actually spread like a contagion. Take obesity, for example. After analyzing the Framingham Heart Study, they found that obese people tend to hang with other obese people, and thin people hang with thin people. (Birds of a feather, and all that business.)

More intriguingly, they found that there's a causal relationship: obesity spreads by contagion. So if your friend’s friend’s friend — whom you’ve never met, and lives a thousand miles away — gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, too. And if your friend’s friend’s friend loses weight, you’re likely to lose weight, too.

How does it work? Scott Stossel explains in the NYTimes that

Partly, it’s a kind of peer pressure, or norming, effect, in which certain behaviors, or the social acceptance of certain behaviors, get transmitted across a network of acquaintances. In one example the authors give, Heather stops exercising and gains weight, which influences her friend Maria’s thinking about what normal weight is, so that when Maria’s other friend Amy (who has never met Heather) also stops her exercise regime, Maria is less likely to urge Amy to resume it. So Heather’s weight gain influences Amy’s, even though the two women never meet.

And it's not just obesity that can be contagious:

Christakis and Fowler explore network contagion in everything from back pain (higher incidence spread from West Germany to East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall) to suicide (well known to spread throughout communities on occasion) to sex practices (such as the growing prevalence of oral sex among teenagers) to politics (where the denser your network of connections, the more ideologically intense and intractable your beliefs are likely to be).

So this got me thinking: is it possible to spread lean throughout an organization like a contagion? Is it possible to have it take on a life of its own? After all, when you're looking at a value stream horizontally across an organization, you've got a great opportunity to have lean spread widely and quickly. In some respects, you even need lean to spread this way, because you're cutting across so many functional silos.

When I think about my work -- applying lean to individual behaviors -- I realize that this idea presents a huge opportunity. One person running a lean meeting, for example, has a chance to, um, infect up to a dozen other people in a company. A simple change in email processing policy (say, only four times a day) can touch hundreds of others. In fact, at Intel, Nathan Zeldes created blocks of time during each day that engineers could work without interruptions, and when word of the experiment spread, other regions demanded to be included in the program.

There's more research to be done in this area, though: some companies mandate email-free Fridays, but usually can't sustain it. And even Intel hasn't been entirely successful in maintaining the new behaviors. It's possible that those initiatives didn't start at a "hub" -- one of the “influenceable” nodes that are likely to spread a behavior most quickly. Or perhaps you need a critical mass to prevent recidivism.

What do you think? Could you take advantage of this idea of behavioral contagion to spread lean more quickly through your company?



Why not become CEO of your problems?

I had a chance a few weeks ago to take a class on A3 thinking with John Shook. He mentioned that one of the greatest benefits of an A3 is that it forces people to take ownership of a problem, rather than having it fall into a no-man's-land between functional silos. And we've all run into those, right? You know how it goes: "That's marketing's responsibility." "No, it isn't. Its definitely part of the sales function." "Yes, but sales gets that information from IT." And on and on it goes, with no hope of ever getting resolved. So I was struck by last week's NYTimes interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga. Pincus tells the interviewer that one of his key methods of leadership is to make everyone into a CEO in the company:

Mark Pincus: I'd turn people into C.E.O.’s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows who’s C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.

NYTimes: So who were some of your new C.E.O.’s?

MP: We had this really motivated, smart receptionist. She was young. We kept outgrowing our phone systems, and she kept coming back and saying, “Mark, we’ve got to buy a whole new phone system.” And I said: “I don’t want to hear about it. Just buy it. Go figure it out.” She spent a week or two meeting every vendor and figuring it out. She was so motivated by that. I think that was a big lesson for me because what I realized was that if you give people really big jobs to the point that they’re scared, they have way more fun and they improve their game much faster. She ended up running our whole office.

Now, you can argue with Pincus's approach. It probably doesn't conform with all the tenets of "respect for people." And telling an employee, "I don't want to hear about it. Go figure it out." probably isn't the best way of training staff in how to think (which is one of the key functions of the A3). But making a person the CEO of a problem is, I think, very much in keeping with Shook's idea of granting ownership via A3, because it ensures that something will get done.

Have you ever whined about ineffective, time-wasting, soul-sucking meetings? Do you bemoan the plague of useless, irritating, and time-consuming "reply all" emails? Are you frustrated at the lack of an intelligent electronic file storage system? Do nearly constant interruptions by colleagues keep you from getting any of your important work done?

In Pincus's terms, are you willing to become the CEO of any of these problems? Or using lean methods, are you willing to take ownership of these problems with an A3 so that you can devise some countermeasures and make the office a better place to work?