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Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog Carnival: Annual Roundup 2011

I'm very proud to say that John Hunter kindly gave me the reins (for one day, at least) for the 2011 Management Improvement Blog Carnival Annual Roundup. What I’ve tried to do this year is select posts that gave me a new perspective about the world around me, and how improvements could be made to the current state.

First up: Shmula, the blog of Pete Abila.

Zipcar Customer Experience: Variability, Utilization, and Queueing is about as dry a blog post title as you could imagine. But what a fantastic analysis of the Zipcar system! Pete lucidly explores some of the major challenges stemming from variability and utilization facing an operation like Zipcar, and addresses the three kinds of buffers that the company needs to make it work. I’m not a process engineer, but even for me, this was one of the coolest posts of the year.

Death by a Thousand Cuts highlights how organizations begin their journey toward failure through many small decisions made over a long period of time—which is, incidentally, also how culture is created.

Pete provides a nice report on a presentation by Mark Zuckerberg in Mark Zuckerberg: I’d Rather Them Believe the Company Was Broken. If you only know of Zuckerberg from the movie, The Social Network, this is a refreshingly different view. He comes across as a modest guy who’s fully aware that his team deserves the credit for making the company successful.

Finally, check out Leader Standard Work. This concept is garnering more visibility of late. Pete provides a concrete description and approach to implementing it yourself. You’ll inevitably customize it to your specific needs, but this is a great place to start.

Next up: Daily Kaizen, the blog of the improvement folks at Group Health Cooperative.

Consultant Space Kaizen: Practicing What We Teach is a beautiful—and detailed—example of eating one’s dog food. The team describes how they applied all the tools they teach to their own workspace in order to reduce their resource consumption and model the process for the future.

Connecting to the “Why” is an excellent reminder that improvement for its own sake is pointless, uninspiring, and doomed to failure. Successful, sustainable change must be linked to the “why.” If you don’t know the ultimate purpose, then your improvement is a house built on sand.

Learning to Offer Questions, Not Solutions reminds us that change management and improvement is best led by questions, not solutions—and that those questions need to engage both the head and the heart.

The “D” Word tackles the under-appreciated trait of discipline, and explores how it’s “the fuel that drives the lean engine.”

Finally, Peter Drucker’s Management Philosophy blog. Sadly, it’s not written by Drucker himself. But the author, Jorrian Gelink, does a wonderful job of channeling Drucker’s insights, connecting them to current events, and reminding us how relevant his ideas are to both lean and management excellence.

In a business world increasingly engorged with email, text messages, and IMs, Effective Communication—The Speed, Quality and Cost Triangle, higlights the very significant tradeoff between ease and quality in our communications. Read this before you send your next email.

Keeping the focus on communication, Effective Communication – Execution and Results in an Organization provides three key points to remember when communicating within an organization. Attending to these points is a good way to reduce waste and improve the quality of your communication.

How do you build trust as a leader? The Three Cores to Building Leadership Trust eloquently explains that trust relies upon execution, people development, and honesty. The are simple, but incredibly powerful truths that are too often forgotten in the drive to get through one’s email.

If you liked this curated list of links, check out the other 2011 Annual Review posts here, and the regular Management Improvement Carnival here.



The C-Suite Double Standard

When I was at the AME Conference in Dallas a couple of months ago, I started noticing what I call the C-suite double standard: leaders and executives who are ferocious about improving manufacturing processes and eliminating waste, but who passively accept waste in their office operations and individual work. Do any of these hit home?

On the shop floor: Looking for a tool is waste. In the C-suite: looking for information is part of work. We’d never accept a skilled machinist spending time looking for tools. That’s classic waste, and we’d embark on a 5S program to ensure that the worker has the tools he needs, when he needs them, in order to do his job. In the C-suite though? Who hasn’t spent 2, 3, 5 minutes—or more— looking for important information in piles of paper or long email strings? If we’re so passionate about making sure that the machinist can deploy his skills without wasting time, why aren’t we equally passionate about making sure that the VP of Marketing can do the same?

On the shop floor: Do everything possible to ensure that people can work without interruption. In the C-suite: Interruptions are so commonplace that they’re hardly even recognized. A friend of mine tells me that Toyota has andon cords hanging everywhere so that workers can get help when there’s a problem, but the company does everything possible to protect the workers from interruptions. He says it’s remarkable how hard the company works to shield them from anything that would break their focus. But between open door policies and a lack of forethought, people in the office suffer an interruption every 11 minutes, with serious consequences for the quality and efficiency of their work.

On the shop floor: Standard work is the foundation for improvement. In the C-suite: Standard what? Production workers continually create and refine their standard work processes to improve quality and safety, reduce variation, and lay the foundation for improvement. C-suite workers run from fire to fire, have no cadence or structure to their day/week, and allow themselves to be driven by external forces—often at the expense of getting to the gemba, helping people develop problem solving skills, and focusing on strategic issues.

On the shop floor: Everyone is on the lookout for the waste of waiting. In the C-suite: On-time meetings are a joke. If materials, parts, and supplies aren’t delivered on time and workers are forced to wait, the team is expected to do a 5 Why (or A3) analysis to understand and eliminate the problem. Everyone understands the waste of waiting, and uses that problem as an opportunity to improve. Now, consider meetings in the C-suite. People wait all the time for the whole group to arrive and meetings to start. This colossal waste of time and resources is viewed as natural and inevitable as a John Boehner crying, or the Cubs missing the playoffs. Even worse: executives actively create this condition by scheduling meetings back-to-back without a break to travel between rooms/floors/buildings—and unless they’ve unlocked the secret to teleportation, that’s a recipe for having people sitting around a conference table playing Angry Birds on their phones.

On the shop floor: Machines and production lines have a finite capacity. Avoid over-burdening. In the C-suite: "I need this tomorrow morning!" People accept that machines have finite production capacity. You can’t get 100 parts an hour out of a machine that can only make 70 parts per hour. Even trying to operate an assembly line at 100% capacity guarantees a longer cycle time, due to the problems that inevitably occur. But in the C-suite, there’s no hesitation to overload people: ridiculous deadlines (“I need this in an hour!”) due to lousy planning and scheduling are rife. Sometimes there are emergencies, of course, but asking people to operate this way is a recipe for slower response in the long run.

On the shop floor: Improving our processes is essential to our long-term success. In the C-suite: This is the way it's always been done. Annual performance reviews. Enough said.



One very easy way to work faster.

Personal Kanban Traffic JamIt's a little disappointing, really. I really thought I was being so smart and creative. I read Pete Abilla's recent post about Little's Law, software development, and queue management, and I thought -- "Hey! I bet you could apply this concept to argue against multitasking and overloading one's calendar! Little's Law proves that if you do that, it will actually take longer to get your work done!"

And then I realized that Pete had beaten me to this flash of insight by, oh, about three years. There it is, in semi-permanent electrons, back in April of 2007:

A common result for multi-taskers is that simultaneous projects or items are spawned.  Multi-threaded is sometimes the analogy here.  But, unlike machines, people have a difficult time completing multi-threaded processes.  The end result is that projects and efforts are not complete, time runs shorter and shorter, and demands continue to pile up.  Think of everything I’ve just described as Work-in-Process (WIP).  So, using Little’s Law above, as WIP grows, then Throughput decreases. Translation: As we multi-task, we start several projects, complete only a few, WIP grows, Cycle Time eventually lengthens, and we are less productive.

(By the way, although this is the money quote, the whole post is worth reading. He's far more eloquent on Little's Law than I ever could be. Plus, I can't figure out how to insert the Greek letter Lambda in a blog post.)

I think that Pete's point makes a good case for using a tool like a kanban or your calendar to manage the amount of work you take on. If you don't match your production capacity (which is to say, the limits on your time and attention) with the amount of work you take on, you've got a recipe for stress and slower work.

Jim Benson, over at Personal Kanban (where "It's hip to limit your WIP."), tells this story beautifully in his "Personal Kanban 101" Slideshare presentation. The picture above (from that presentation) makes Pete Abilla's point about Little's Law visual.

Jim's point is that the motorcyclist is the last, little, five minute task that you agreed to do. . . but of course, in a completely clogged day, it can't get done quickly at all. And a kanban (his solution), or rigorous use of the calendar (my solution, so far) is a way to ensure that you don't get yourself into this situation -- where five minute tasks can't get done, where the cycle time for your work lengthens, where frustration and unfulfilled promises mount.

Okay, so my idea about Little's Law and multitasking wasn't original. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and all that. But if it brings a bit more attention to Pete Abilla's orginal post, so much the better.