Category Archives: Reflection

Relieving Workplace Mayhem

Does your workday frequently feel like mayhem?  I have talked with many people who feel like their job is filled with unnecessary chaos.  I believe a lot of organizations self-inflict themselves with craziness.  There is a way to stop the mayhem!

Overburdening people (and equipment) is a form of waste.  Your organization must first identify where people experience this waste.  Usually it is very easy to find just by asking who feels they are overwhelmed. 

Here are some examples of what you may find (also note that most below do not have a paying customer waiting for the outcome):

  • Leaders asking for non-standard reports with quick deadlines (usually to sit on their desks for weeks before they look at them)
  • Constant edits or change of direction to documents because planning is often done after the content was created
  • Support departments get projects dumped on them without ever problem solving around their ability to have capacity to do the work
  • Somebody’s procrastination or lack of planning becomes another person’s urgent priority

The next step is to acknowledge this kind of mayhem is a problem.  This step is difficult because firefighting heroics and the rush of adrenaline from last-minute deadlines becomes “how things are done around here”. 

As an outside observer, I usually see little need for subjecting employees to this kind of work condition and believe it lowers engagement.  Until teams align that overburdening staff is a problem, it will continue unabated.

The final step is to identify the root causes of the mayhem and eliminate them. 

What sort of unnecessary mayhem do you experience in the workplace?

(NOTE: The attached video is only related to this post because of the title and I thought it was a cool rockabilly song!)

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader| Twitter



Filed under Alignment, Change Management, Communication, Encouragement, Five Whys, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Muri, Plan-Do-Check-Act, Problem Solving, Productivity, Quality, Reflection, Respect For People, Root Cause, Waste

Book Review: Toyota Under Fire


“Toyota Under Fire” by Jeffrey Liker and Timothy Ogden is a highly recommended book for leaders, Lean-thinkers, and people interested in media criticism.

I initially thought it would solely be about the recall crisis which NASA has already vindicated the company.  The book also details the challenges faced by Toyota during the recession.  The authors provide candid information about how the company could have done better and show how they turned the crisis into an opportunity to become stronger.

The final chapter transforms Toyota’s story during the crisis into lessons other organizations can use to help them be prepared for a crisis.

The book helped understand the power of the Toyota Way and reaffirms why they are a company to be admired.  There are many great insights into the thinking of the people in the organization.  Some of my favorites were about how deeply respect for people is practiced, the examples of how important it is to be close to the problem to be able to improve it, the importance of culture, and how the five why’s were used to accept responsibility of the problem.

For those interested in media criticism, this book provides a lot of data that was distorted or omitted in the news during the recalls.  The examples of sensationalized reports with no follow-through once disproven will serve as a reminder to take what we consume from the news with a grain of salt.

One thing I found surprising in the book is that many cited sources were from bloggers and websites.  Since the traditional media seemed slanted against Toyota, these other sources appear more neutral.

Liker and Ogden’s book show how Toyota practices the Toyota Way.  It is not just about theory and philosophy but a demonstration of how it was recently done.  This was an excellent book.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.

If you liked this post, then try:

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader| Twitter

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Business, Change Management, Communication, customers, Five Whys, Gemba, Hansei, Improve With Lean, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Learning Organization, Problem Solving, Quality, Reflection, Respect For People, Root Cause

Don’t Call HR Yet!

“If someone isn’t following standard work then it becomes an individual performance issue.” 

Have you ever heard a leader say something like that? 

It is important to help leaders understand that there are many reasons why standardized work may not be followed and creating a human resource performance improvement plan should not be the first step.

A leader must go and see the actual condition that is causing the employee to not follow standardized work (SW).  Leaders need to ask why SW isn’t followed.  Here are some potential reasons:

  • They don’t know about the SW: How was the change communicated?  At a team-meeting where not everyone was present?  Via email buried under other announcements?
  • They aren’t trained or capable to do the SW: They may not have the tools or the environment does not allow then to follow it.  The training provided might not have been enough for them.
  • All situations not considered when creating the SW: In order to respond to customers, the SW may not be capable to meet their needs.  Do not jump to the conclusion that there isn’t a good reason why an employee did something different.  They are on your team because of their hearts and minds and not just a pair of hands right?
  • They already discovered a better way: Help them know how to spread improvements discovered by frontline workers.
  • No leadership involvement: If leadership does not show they care the process is being followed on a regular basis and helping solve problems uncovered after implementation, then how can you expect employees to care?
  • Outcome not achieved but SW still being requiredStandardization is not a Lean goal but a tool to help improve outcomes.  If your hypothesized outcome didn’t come true, why are you still requiring staff to follow the SW?
  • You aren’t improving the SW: Over time the SW will unconsciously change if the continuous improvement of it is not designed or part of your culture.  The SW may have had elements missing or wasn’t fully tested.
  • Leadership has placed the wrong person in the role: There are some people who willfully do not follow SW.  Leadership must take responsibility for this too since they either tolerated bad behavior because of their productivity or have been so uninvolved to know a person does not fit in their new culture.

As you can see, there are many reasons why people do not follow standard work before you need to punish with HR.

What are some other reasons you have seen why SW isn’t followed?

Photo Source:

If you liked this post, then try:

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS| Google Reader| Twitter


Filed under Change Management, Learn Leadership, Problem Solving, Reflection, Respect For People, Strategy Deployment

Growth Versus Development Warning

“We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that.” – Akio Toyoda (2/23/10)     Quote obtained from Jon Miller.

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS| Google Reader| Twitter

Leave a comment

Filed under Change Management, Consulting, customers, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Lean Hospital, Learn Leadership, Learning Organization, Problem Solving, Productivity, Reflection, Respect For People, Strategy Deployment

How Does Autonomy Fit Into Lean Management?

Dan Pink’s new book “DRIVE” made me wonder how Lean managementwill work with the book’s premise that knowledge workers seek autonomy.Do standardized work and job instruction sheets take away from the need to have autonomy over what tasks people do, when they do it, who they do it with, and how they do it?

The book’s premise is that old motivating ways of using the carrot as a reward or the stick as punishmentdoesnot work for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are motivated by autonomy over task, technique, time, and team. They are also motivated by the pursuit of mastery and fulfilling a purpose. I posted a video from the author explaining the concept a couple of months ago.

Pink breaks down processes into two categories:

  • Algorithmic: Tasks where you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion
  • Heuristic: Tasks which require experimenting with possibilities to devise a novel solution and no single pathway exists

Carrots and sticks work well for motivating people with algorithmic tasks (to some extent) butcause damage when applied to heuristic tasks.

One of the challenges at my hospital is that most providers think providing all elements of care is heuristic. They each have their own special skills and experiencesto create care for the patient. From a Lean perspective, we have variation and unpredictable results which cause waste. Provider teams in the hospital are working at transforming some of these tasks to be algorithmic. Weare able to meet our patients’ demands better, less people are idle, and supplies are getting closer to point-of-use.

Despite these wins, is Lean thinking taking away autonomy by transforming heuristic tasks? I do not think so but we have look at things a little differently.

Just because a task is algorithmic does not mean creativity is lost and robots are created. For patient care, maybe all of the steps leading up to diagnosis are algorithmic but the value added part is heuristic. This frees up the provider’s mental capacity to focus on the true customer problem and not on the problems getting up to the customer.

Another way of looking at this is that the problem solving part of everybody’s work is heurestic. If every task is somehow transformed into a single pathway, your staff should still have the autonomy to recognize problems and experiment to fix them. Helping people understand that their creativity will be focused on trying to improve experiences instead of trying to figure out what to do next or where something is.

Lean management should strive to motivate people as autonomous knowledge workers. Even if standardized work makes tasks look ripe for the carrot and stick treatment, recognize you are asking staff to be creative and solve problems.

What do you think?

Subscribe toImprove With Mevia: RSS| Google Reader| Twitter


Filed under Change Management, Communication, Consulting, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Learn Leadership, Learning Organization, Problem Solving, Productivity, Reflection, Respect For People, Standard Work

Lean Consulting Challenges

Being an internal lean consultant at a hospital has some challenges.   In my consulting practice, I find countermeasures vary greatly depending on relationship with client and what stage they are on in their Lean journey.

Below are a couple of challenges to which I am still trying to discover my best approach.  I love what I do and things like this make everyday exciting.

  • Pair of hands consultant versus collaborative consultant – A good portion of my clients initially expect the internal consultants to go and do for them.  They want their people involved in an improvement event but claim too busy or too understaffed when resources are needed for assessment, planning, and sustaining.  As a collaborative consultant I try to do as much WITH the client instead of FOR the client so they can be engaged and learn how to do this work themselves in the future.  I really see a lot of people struggling with this collaborative model. 
  • Physician culture can be a tough nut to crack – While we have some excellent physician Lean champions, there are still a fair number of doctors that are not fully committed to the journey yet.  Providers are incredibly smart and independent.  They have a lot of goals such as providing excellent patient care, doing research, writing/publishing  papers, and educating Residents/Fellows.  Sometimes the systems-thinking focus and overall patient flow is not a top priority for them.  Some incentive plans make them compete against each other for surgical time so they are less likely to share best practices with each other.  The “what is in it for me” part isn’t always an easy answer if a focus on the patient doesn’t seem to be enough.

Have you experienced either of these?  Do you have a best practice?  Is everything really a case-by-case issue (get to root cause for each individual)?

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter 


Filed under Change Management, Consulting, customers, Improve With Lean, Reflection

Learning Mindset

Learn something like you will be required to teach it someday.

That advice was given to me when I was in college and selling knives to pay my way through it.  We had sales conferences and some speaker, I cannot remember their name, gave this principle to me and I try to use it every day.  This blog is a reflection of this mindset.

When you read a book/article, hear a speaker, or get mentored, try to learn with the intensity that you might be called on to help someone else learn the same thing.  You take on an additional responsibility if you know you are not learning just for your own sake.  Not everything taught to you will be perfect or relevant but you will begin to look for the gold nuggets to pass on to others.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter 

1 Comment

Filed under Business, Change Management, Communication, Consulting, Encouragement, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Learn Leadership, Learning Organization, Personal Development, Productivity, Reflection, Respect For People

Lesson: Consulting Is A Different Beast

I am an internal consultant but just recently learned I do not fully grasp what consulting is.

I feel I am an effective communicator, I can train, I have a good understanding how to implement and sustain Lean improvements, and I can help people solve problems.  I was under the impression that all of these skills added together to equal consulting.  I was wrong.

I have been pressing in with my coworkers to get coaching on what consulting skills are and I am reading Peter Block’s “Flawless Consulting“.  I also have another book someone lent me as well.

You will see some of my reflections as I get a deeper understanding of consulting.  I welcome your comments about consulting or suggestions for blogs/articles/books to further help me understand.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter 


Filed under Business, Change Management, Consulting, Improve With Lean, Problem Solving, Project Management, Reflection

Gandhi Quote: Customer Focus

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” -Gandhi

Lean thinking is focused on the cusotmer.  This quote help reinforce this perspective.

If you liked this post, then try:

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter 


Filed under Business, customers, Improvements, Learn Leadership, Quotes, Reflection, Respect For People

Book Review: In Pursuit Of Elegance

In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing by Matthew E. May

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved “In Pursuit Of Elegance” by Matthew E. May. This book will provide a basis for a whole new kind of thinking. I can not think of an audience that would not benefit from reading this book because it can apply to business, art, home-life, and many other ventures.

One thing I found brilliant about the book is that it doesn’t offer specific steps to follow. This is not a “go and do” kind of book. What is NOT in the book is what makes this powerful (and elegant). May provides many case examples with different perspectives of elegant thinking without telling the reader what do make of them. After reading chapters, I found myself applying the thinking to my own situations. Powerful stuff started popping in my head based on the principles I learned about in the book. This is a highly interactive book if you plan to daydream a little bit after you read it.

I am a big fan of his last book “The Elegant Solution” and noticed a lot of similar ideas and concepts from that book. What the author did was shake loose the Lean/Toyota anchor and make this new book more open and accessible for a wider audience. There is a lot of freedom from that decision that will make this a better book for non-Lean practitioners while still providing relevant thoughts for those who are on the Lean journey.

This book is difficult to explain the highlights because most of them came from my personal application once I understood the concepts explained. What great ideas will come to you while you read the book?

If you liked this post, then try:

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Business, Communication, Improve With Lean, Learn Leadership, Personal Development, Reflection, Respect For People

Drawing: Treasure Map To Find Truth

Royce Willard said something via Twitter (@Rwilliard) a while ago that really stuck with me when I asked about executives at gemba.  He said “The truth is not in their office.

I created this drawing to show places people try to find the treasure of truth instead of seeing where “X” marks the spot in gemba.

  • Afar Land:  This is the office or conference room where people decide what the solution is without ever seeing the problem.  An Ivory Tower is too far removed from the reality.  Think of Hall ‘N Oats “You’re Out Of Touch”.
  • Report Mountains: Taiichi Ohno states “Data is of course important in manufacturing, but I place the greatest emphasis on facts.”  Many people associate using the scientific method because they are driven by reports and graphs but miss out on the empirical aspect.  Reports only suggest facts/truths but they still need to be validated.
  • Ear-ie Canal: When someone tells you about a problem, it is usually from a subjective perspective based on their interpretation of facts.  This method becomes increasingly unreliable the more it is passed around before it reaches you.  
  • Past-Ville: Using “how it it used to be” as your basis for truth is dangerous because things may have changed since you last visited.
  • Gemba Jungles: The truth is only found when you go and see the actual work being done.  Like a criminal investigator, gathering real-time evidence in the space of the crime will paint a more accurate picture of the situation.  The wild gemba jungles do not have the limitations of the other locations on the map.  The next time you need truth, take the direct route to the gemba jungles. 

If you liked this post, then try:

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter


Filed under Basic Drawing, Business, Charts, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Improvements, Learn Leadership, Reflection, Visual Communication, Visual Language

Connect Actions To Cost


Vodpod videos no longer available.



Costs are out of control because the use of time, resources, and supplies are not always directly linked to money.

I just worked on an improvement workshop where one of the targets was to reduce cost in after-clinic dictations.  Until we discovered the rate per line associated with dictations, providers did not consider there was a meter running.

I read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational last year and never connected his chapter on stealing and cheating to how organizations easily spend out of control.  The attached 19 minute video goes into deeper detail about his findings (RSS readers will need to open post to view).  He found people would steal a coke from a fridge but not a dollar bill.  He saw people cheat more if their reward was a token to be exchanged for money instead of the group who was given money directly.  He asks if it is easier to steal a pencil or a dime from somebody’s desk. 

His findings were people steal or cheat more the farther away from actual money it seems.

I honestly do not think staff is intentionally stealing but this concept can be applied to organizations.  If there is not a direct connection between the use of something and the cost associated with it, then spending becomes rampant.  Make costs visual, talk about them in meetings, show where you are saving money.  In this tough economy, most staff would rather help save money than risk seeing them or their co-workers lose their job.

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader | Twitter

more about “Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code | …“, posted with vodpod


Filed under Business, Reflection, Visual Communication, Visual Systems, Waste

Progress and Risk Quote

“Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”— Frederick Wilcox. 

This great quote was brought to my attention on Twitter by Royce Williard, Lean Enterprise consultant, author, and educator.  There has been a great boom of Lean practitioners on Twitter lately and I have been finding a ton of value in reading their Tweets!

If you liked this post, then try:

My 2009 Hansei: Scarcity inspires creativity and innovation.  How can I help harness that inspiration?


Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader

Follow me on Twitter 

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Encouragement, Improvements, Learn Leadership, PM Risks, Quotes, Reflection

An “A-HA Moment” In Project Management

I recently completed a project that solved a problem that no longer exists due to the current economic times.  Many times I look at risks around the project completing on time, schedule, and on budget.  Never have I looked at the risks to the organization if the project is a success.   

Barry Shore, PhD. wrote a few articles  which reinforce my developing belief we need to keep assessing the client need for the product of our project.  The articles are: NO ONE WANTS TO KILL A PROJECT, What We Learn from Case Studies, and Why It’s So Hard to Pull the Plug on a Failing Project.  This last article hit close to home since I am a continuous improvement project manager:

How many times have I heard the mantra of “continuous improvement” not only to keep hope alive for the Red Sox but to keep projects alive? How many times have project managers wanted more time to turn things around? How many times have they asked for more time to give their improvements a chance to show results!

I discovered Dr. Shore from his amazing article for the PMI Member Project Management Journal: Systematic biases and culture in project failures.

Subscribe to Improve With Me via: RSS | Google Reader

Follow me on Twitter 

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Communication, Improvements, Learn Leadership, PM Risks, Project Management, Reflection, Waste