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Faster decisions, less stale coffee

Want to make decisions faster? Want to avoid having your best people squandering their days drinking stale coffee and guiltily sneaking glances at their iPhones? You've heard it before, but here's the data: switch to stand-up meetings.

Bob Sutton recently wrote a piece on the virtues of stand-up meetings. The benefits are not just apocryphal or perceptual: a study found that groups that stood-up while making decisions took 34% less time to make the assigned decision, with no significant differences in decision quality between stand-up and sit-down groups.

Bob goes on to quote David Darragh, CEO of Reily, a New Orleans-based company that specializes in southern foods and drinks:

The importance of the stand-up meeting is that it can be accomplished efficiently and, therefore, with greater frequency. Like many areas of discipline, repetition begets improved results.  The same is true with meetings. The rhythm that frequency generates allows relationships to develop, personal ticks to be understood, stressors to be identified, personal strengths and weaknesses to be put out in the light of day, etc. . . .With frequent, crisp stand up meetings, there can never be the excuse that the opportunity to communicate was not there.

I know a lot of people who've been involved in a stand-up meeting that over time devolves into a leaning meeting, then a slouching meeting, and then finally a sit-down meeting. (Kind of like a reverse "evolution of man" cartoon.) The Wall Street Journal reported on some of the creative countermeasures that people have developed to avoid this problem:

  • at Hashrocket, a team passes around a 10-pound medicine ball during stand-ups.
  • at Steelcase, they play Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" as a reminder to keep meetings brief
  • at Facebook, one team holds 15-minute stand-ups at noon, sharp: the proximity to lunch serves "as motivation to keep updates short"
  • at Microsoft, one group convenes stand-ups in an unheated stairwell

Obviously, there's still a need for longer meetings to address critical strategic issues. But the stand-up is a powerful way to identify problems early, strengthen relationships, and maintain alignment within a team. It's easy to default to the standard way of working (weekly, one-hour sit-down meetings). It's even easier to claim that you don't have the time for daily stand-up meetings. But why would you? I'm willing to bet that most people in your company aren't particularly satisfied with the flaccid, bloated, soul-sucking meetings that devour their calendars each week.

Try something different. Follow Jason Yip's guidelines. See if you don't make decisions faster, and drink less crappy coffee.


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Blog Carnival Annual Roundup: 2010 – Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog

I'm tickled to have the opportunity to share some of my favorite posts of 2010 for John Hunter's Management Improvement Carnival Annual Roundup. For my selections, I've strayed a bit from the core lean blogs that many of you read in lieu of posts that often embody the lean spirit, even if they don't whack you over the head with Japanese terms.

Bob Sutton is best known for his books The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss, but his Work Matters blog covers a wide range of management issues that are valuable reading for anyone. Here are three posts that I really enjoyed.

  • In The Better By Design Summit: Cool Things I Heard in New Zealand, Bob lists some of his favorite quotes from leaders at a meeting he attended in New Zealand. The ideas aren't earth-shaking revelations, but they can give you a fresh way of explaining things to your team or your client. One of my favorites is "If you want to change things, make hard things easier. Or raise the cost the cost of the status quo. Or do both."

The folks at Behance not only developed the very interesting "Action Method" approach to project and workflow management, they write thought-provoking articles and tips (though, honestly, I'm not entirely sure how they distinguish between the two categories) for achieving greatness in what you do. Here's what I liked best this year:

  • RSS Creativity: Routines, Systems, Spontaneity: (Okay, technically this was from last year, but it came in December, and I loved it.) Mark McGuinness explains how routines -- mundane, boring, routines -- are an essential component of creativity. Can you say "standard work"?
  • What Should You Start/Stop/Continue Doing? Scott Belsky's easy approach to hansei once a project is done. You might want to tweak it, but it's as good a starting point as any, and it provides a valuable framework.

Peter Bregman writes weekly for the HBR blog on productivity, leadership, creativity, and -- for lack of a better word -- humanity. He has wide-ranging interests that make for a worthwhile read.

  • An 18-Minute Plan for Managing Your Day. You don't need to buy into Getting Things Done, the Action Method, the Pomodoro Technique, Inbox Zero, or Lifehacker's flavor of the week: just follow Peter's logical PDCA approach and you'll succeed.
  • Why The Best Solutions Are Always Temporary Ones: Lean teaches us that there are no permanent solutions, only temporary countermeasures. But don't dismiss them just because they're not silver bullets. As Peter says, "For something to be a great success, it doesn't have to last forever."

If you like these posts, I encourage you to see my selections for 2009 here. Also check out the regular Management Improvement Carnival page here.

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Leadership vs. Management

I've become quite a fan of Bob Sutton's blog recently. In addition to presenting interesting research that you probably haven't heard about, he's irreverent and funny. (No more so than in his post on the "asshole collar.") So I paid attention when he wrote that

one of the dangers of talking about leadership versus management is that the implication is that leadership is this important high status activity and management is the shit work done by the little people.  My view (and there is plenty of evidence to support it) is that effective management -- the work done by the collection of bosses and their followers in an organization, if you will -- is probably most crucial to success. After all, they are the people who turn dreams into reality.

This comment brought me back to the examples of lean leadership at Lantech and Group Health that I've learned about. In these companies, senior execs -- leaders -- have standard work that involves regular visits to the gemba and communication with the line workers. Even though they're responsible for the grand vision and strategy, they also know the nitty gritty of daily work. Sutton says that they realize they have a

deep understanding of the little details required to make [the grand vision] work -- or if they don't, they have the wisdom to surround themselves with people who can offset their weaknesses and who have the courage to argue with them when there is no clear path between their dreams and reality.

Sutton cites Medtronic's Bill George, Xerox's Anne Mulcahy, Pixar's Brad Bird, Steve Jobs, and Francis Ford Coppola as leaders who understand this. (Bill George spent about 75% of his time during his first 9 months on the job watching surgeons put Medtronic devices in patients and talking with doctors and nurses, patients, families, and hospital executives to learn about customers and users of his products.) I don't know if any of these folks are considered "lean" leaders, but by this definition of leadership, at least, there's not much difference between being good and being lean. (Something I touched on in this post for Mark Graban's Lean Blog as well.)

I think that one of the great benefits of the various lean tools is that they help leadership get deep into the weeds. Value stream maps, A3s, and the fundamental principle of "go and see" is all about understanding the details of daily life for front line workers and managers. These tools make management part of leadership.