Jul 23, 2010

Social media - can we make it add value to lean?

The social media craze is just that, unless it produces real value, and I doubt value is measured in easy metrics like “followers,” “hits,” or “clicks.”

From the lean perspective, I’ve been struggling with the marketing orientation of much of the discussion of social media. There’s nothing wrong with marketing, but our purposes in the lean community are different. Social media tools ought to further those aims -- of adding value through connections with people, sharing ideas, teaching, learning, and supporting. Otherwise, they are just tools. And if lean tells us anything, it’s not the tools, it’s the thinking.

Yesterday, social media tools worked for me. Let me count the ways...

(1) Google Alerts -- settings in Google search that send you a daily e-mail with links to anything new that has turned up with keywords you have selected. I use them to find new stories and new people that I might share through Twitter, Lean Reflections, writing for Target, or LinkedIn. My alert included a blog post on All things Chromatography about a Delaware company, Analtech, on its lean journey.

(2) Blogging is a great way to tell a story. Ken Grant's post conveyed to me the spirit of lean we like to see. He gave a lot of credit to DEMEP, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership group in Delaware, and included pictures and a (3) YouTube video of a class in session. It happens that I have ties to Delaware. Ken included his (4) e-mail address, so I shot him a message and suggested we talk by (5) phone.

Ken answered the e-mail right away, saying he’d be in the office and giving me his phone number. So we talked. Turns out we had more in common than lean. He's a social media evangelist. He had posted the blog story to show someone the power of social media and had a pretty good argument in its favor when he heard from me just hours later.

Ken is a different sort of lean guy. He’s the sales manager at Analtech, who doesn’t see social media as marketing, but as a way to develop relationships. In fact, he’s so excited about social media that he’s helping the State of Delaware use social media to get better connected to residents. After we talked, he sent me a whole bouquet of links that exploded into a couple of hours of exploration and engagement at my end.

The State’s (6) home page and the rest of the website are becoming more and more integrated with (7) Twitter and (8) Facebook feeds and blogs. And not in a gimmicky way. Everything a resident would want to do with the state government is easy to find.

Ken’s pretty good at the personal networking. He arranges (9) Tweetups, and persuaded the governor, Jack Markell, to appear at one where Jack was shown sending his first Tweet. All this was recorded on video by TV and by any number of (10) phones I saw in the frame of the video Ken sent me. Now Governor Markell tweets several times a day (well, he gets a fair amount of help from his staff). The feed appears on the State of Delaware website. but I skipped over to (8b) HootSuite so I could follow his feed personally. While I was there, I became one of Ken’s followers, and found another feed from DEDOgov, the Delaware Economic Development department’s Twitter name.

Ken had also helped arrange for social media guru Chris Brogan (read the book Trust Agents) to (11) meet with the governor, and I found an arty video of Jack and Chris talking. What I learned about video: if the conversation is fairly ordinary, cover it with cool music and just show the faces of the folks talking. My guess is that the conversation was valuable in helping the governor see that Twitter and such is about relationships, not marketing.

It wasn’t long after I followed Ken that he got the alert and he followed my Leanreflect Twitter feed. Then we connected to each other in (12) LinkedIn. I invited Ken to join the AME (13) LinkedIn Group, which he did.

Back to our phone conversation: You have to understand that in Delaware, everyone knows everyone else. I’ve (11a) met the governor and bent his ear about lean manufacturing and lean in government. The folks from DEMEP have done the same, and taken him to a number of (14) gembas in companies using lean. (I’m going to call going to a gemba a highly productive form of social networking.)

I had to talk to Ken about AME, of course, both our real work in lean and the (15) Social Media Council’s experimentation with social media channels. I suggested he come to AME's (16) conference in Baltimore, less than two hours from Ken’s company in Newark (trivia: it’s pronounced New Ark, not Newerk, as in NJ). Ken said he’d already heard from the DEMEP team that they will be there, and I told him that he should get a team from his company to go too, or at least get a transferable registration he could share with others at Analtech’s 17-person company.

With our common interest in social media, and Ken’s hugely greater experience compared to ours, I asked for Ken’s help on our Council’s plan to assess our lessons learned after our first year in existence and to use lean to become more strategic and connected with AME’s other initiatives in the coming year. Ken said he would, because he believes that the more things your are involved with, the more relationships you develop, and the more good will come out of it. It’s going to be awesome to put Tim McMahon’s and Jason Semovoski’s lean teaching together with Ken’s expertise, and Scott Schiave’s marketing leadership at AME HQ. (Want to be a part of it? E-mail me at Karen.m.wilhelm@gmail.com.) An e-mail went out from me (17) introducing Ken to Tim and Jason.

Continuing with the small-world theme. Ken realized that DEMEP’s Lisa Weis, whose picture is shown in that first blog post teaching a class at Analtech, is on (18) AME’s Mid-Atlantic Regional board of directors. I found Lisa’s email address on the AME website and shot her an email introducing myself.

I count 18 social media points escalating from reading an alert from Google in my e-mail, to reading Ken’s blog post, to exchanging e-mails with Ken, to talking on the phone, to connecting in Twitter and LinkedIn, to inviting Ken to a LinkedIn group for discussion, to getting his gracious response in request for his help in our Social Media council, to getting links from him that connected me with a whole world of stuff happening in Delaware, was fun.

Is there any more than fun and a flurry of jumping from link to link and exchanging gossip about my old home state? You never know. It’s the same with meeting someone at a conference. Sometimes it’s a great conversation and an exchange of business cards.

Real networking is the hoped-for result. Real networking is how we can learn and tap the experience of other lean leaders. It’s how we can pass on help to other lean learners. It happens, and when it does, it’s satisfying to have a human relationship with someone else slogging in the battle to bring lean to all the organizations that surround us.

Ken and I set up the next logical extension of the relationship that started with is blog post. I’ll be visiting family in September and now have a plant visit to Analtech on my calendar. Ken will be inviting someone from DEMEP to join us. Maybe I’ll get really lucky and Governor Markell will show up too.

What will you do today to escalate a serendipitous encounter in social media? If you’re reading this, you’ve put your toe in the water. How about sending an e-mail to introduce yourself to me, or to someone else you run across in today’s web travels? How about raising a social media relationship to a phone call, or raising a phone relationship to an in-person meeting? How about committing to going to a conference?

Let’s work together to bring the value to social media and wrest it away from those who want to make it just another advertising channel. I'll be part of a conversation on that topic at the IQPC Process Excellence Leaders Meeting in Chicago September 13-16.

Speaking of advertising: Here’s what Analtech did in YouTube -- definitely not the same old marketing stuff:

Thanks Ken, for making yesterday fun and for opening so many doors.

Jul 9, 2010

Lean healthcare ideas taking root in Ireland

The flow of lean to healthcare has increased rapidly in the last few years, and Andy Brophy is one of those folks who arrived there from manufacturing. Andy is based in County Offaly, Ireland, and shared some updates with me the other day.

In healthcare organizations large and small, releasing employees, mainly through attrition, will save some money, but someone will have to do the work these people have been doing. Either the remaining staff will be overburdened or someone must eliminate the waste that keeps them from doing the work in the time available to do it.

Removing waste from work doesn't always start with an efficiency study. Andy emphasizes that a focus on cost cutting doesn't usually create a lot of commitment, but that hospital workers want to improve care. And improving care reduces costs in many instances.

Andy worked with one hospital to reduce injuries due to falls. Employees focused attention on the position of patients, making sure they were seated or in bed at a height they could stand up from, for example. Data showed that many falls occurred during shift changes, when patients tried to do on their own what they needed help with: going to the bathroom or getting water. Ensuring that shift change didn't cause gaps in patient assistance made a difference. Visual controls were used to flag patients who were fragile or otherwise had a greater risk of falls, so closer attention would be paid to their safety.

Other initiatives focused on what nurses were spending their time doing. It's typical to find that they spend large chunks of time walking or searching for things. When 1,000 small improvements can be made in a week of effort, labeling and changing storage locations can begin to melt away the waste and put nurses at the bedside, where they really want to be. When nurses are with the patients, there are fewer falls, mistakes, and other adverse outcomes. The important thing is that the nurses themselves, along with other patient care and support staff, identify changes and implement them. Management supports and sustains the process, but it's owned by the people who do the work.

Andy subscribes to the school of thought that people are full of creative and innovative ideas. The title of his book, "Innovative Lean: A guide to releasing the untapped gold in your organisation, to engage employees, drive out waste and create prosperity," co-authored with John Bicheno of the Lean Enterprise Research Center at Cardiff University, tells it all.

He says, "Ideas are not treated as ad hoc actions or suggestions. There is a system where ideas are visually displayed on boards, implemented fast, and recognised. People are coached to recognize 'hidden' waste and the idea system is integrated into daily problem solving. The employee’s manager mentors and supports him or her during implementation. Employees are coached as to what constitutes a good idea. A 'bad idea' is a training opportunity -- the intent behind it is teased out and put forward again. The key is to tap into people’s intrinsic motivation, the natural desire that they have to make a positive difference. The greatest reward for employees is to see their ideas used."

The type of idea process flow that Andy introduces is:
1. Employees write down ideas every time they see an opportunity for improvement and post them on the local idea board with a picture if possible.
2. The idea generator evaluates and filters their idea with their peers, and their supervisor responds within 24 hours.
4. The person who comes up with the original idea implements it themselves or with their work team. If additional help is needed from a support function like maintenance, it is provided and the idea originator oversees the completion of their task.
5. Record implemented ideas in an idea log electronically.
6. Monthly metrics include: number of ideas per employee/team, volume of implemented ideas, participation rate and implementation time.

"If the cycle above flows smoothly the improvement activity will also flow slickly," Andy says, "One idea will lead to another and continuous improvement will translate into improved performance and higher employee engagement."

My talk with Andy helped me see that lean is making the leap from manufacturing into healthcare because principles are becoming explicit and teachable. A critical mass of experience in healthcare improvement is being collected by groups like Andy's, at Lean Enterprise Institute's healthcare education efforts led by Mark Graban, at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

Now lean and quality leaders in hospitals can draw on examples and benchmarks that make sense to people there. Using examples from automobile assembly is no longer necessary.

What's next? Extracting principles from experience makes lean possible in a whole array of industries: Auto repair shops, trucking companies, government agencies, public utilities, and more. It's a trend to watch.

Jul 6, 2010

Tighten the links in your supply chain

In his weekly newsletter, "Lean Thoughts," my friend Richard Kunst talked about linking your supply chain more effectively. Total cost of procurement also figures into his way of thinking. Richard has applied lean at Toyota, La-Z-Boy, and a number of other organizations, so he speaks from experience. Here's his take on the subject:

... In a typical automotive assembly plant, supporting every employee working on the line, there are at least 10 additional employees working somewhere within the supply chain. Suppliers … the hidden factory. So imagine if you struggle with communication internally how can you bridge the link to your external suppliers? We will outline some proven tools and tricks that may help you improve supplier communication and trust.

The market will establish the price so when working with suppliers it should not become part of the discussions towards improvement … it will evolve naturally.

Inventory is time … but it is also a reflection of the amount of trust that exists between you and your supplier. If you have been stocked out or shorted on occasion it is natural to bolster the inventory levels … primarily since no one ever wants to be scolded for shutting down a line due to lack of inventory.

Commodity Management
The most extreme engagement of a supplier with your organization. I learned of this concept many years ago when visiting BOSE speakers and then promptly followed suit. We provided our major suppliers with a desk, telephone and full system access. In essence they were responsible to conduct the planning requirements for their commodity and ultimately placing orders to themselves. Of course this created tons of alarms within accounting … but like most accounting systems we had the inherent controls in place. If the supplier wanted to change the price our standard cost system would immediately alert us to a purchase price variance.

We loved this supply chain technique. It allowed us to manage our 600+ suppliers with just a few buyers. We watched our inventory begin to melt away because no computer system could match the speed of human communication. Also our computer systems never tracked promotional projects that were being or the anticipation of new significant contracts.

A great by-product of commodity management was as our suppliers became more familiar with the use of their products and services within our operation they were able to make suggestions that enhanced quality while reducing costs … add this to the ability to reduce our procurement lead-time we quickly had a significant competitive advantage within our industry sector.

Supplier Technical Exchange Program (STEP)
You are busy within your organization investigating and researching new technologies that will continue to provide your product or service the leadership position it deserves. But are you alone in this endeavour? Of course not, with this in mind we decided to host a formal event annually where our R&D scientists and sales folks discussed emerging desires of the consumer and how we were going to address those needs. We then opened the venue to see what emerging technologies our suppliers were developing … by beginning early integration of the emerging technologies we were first to market with the new technology and a distinct advantage.

Supplier Self Certification Program (SSCP)
You inspect and then count and double count items before shipping only to have your customer do the same thing upon receipt … What does this symbolize about trust?

We know that inspection is a non-value added activity so it makes sense to find a way to reduce and eliminate this activity. With SSCP both sides (supplier and customer) begin/continue extensive inspection and collaboration related to inspection requirements. As the trust grows, inspection requirements begin to diminish to the point where the goods received are delivered directly to the Point of Use. Typically incoming inspection will only identify the most blatant deviations and the real problems are identified when the operator attempts to use the item and then you become victim of missing a delivery promise. Of course, if an incident occurs then the Certification process begins over.

Total Cost Of Procurement (TCOP) –Supplier Report Card and Improvement Agenda
Typically a particular supplier will get tagged as being a horrible supplier to deal with, quality and delivery issues. Often the supplier is unfairly judged, typically as a result of the volume of product they supply. Here is where TCOP is a great tool. It contains both a subjective and quantitative evaluation of your supplier. The TCOP Report captures subjective results related to Quality, Delivery, Service and Cost and then quantifies them for every $1,000 of annual spend conducted with that supplier. The TCOP report also works as an excellent working agenda with your suppliers on the path of improvement. I recall using the report to eliminate the confusion of on-time delivery … supplier thought our request date meant their ship date when it was our required dock date … the result as an overall 3 day reduction of our on hand inventory.
Doing the inverse of TCOP to measure your relationship with your customer works equally as well to reduce disturbances to flow and a cooperative attitude to reducing relationship overhead costs providing for a more competitive strategy.

Of course nothing can replace the importance of relationships with your suppliers, so encourage your senior leaders to spend time with them … but make sure you have good relationship measurement tool in place.

For a sample of a Supplier Performance Report you can contact Richard at rkunst@kunstartofsolutions.com.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm