May 29, 2013

My guest today is Beau Keyte, consultant, trainer, and coach helping organizations in a range of industries to use lean tools and techniques, and to develop self-sufficient thinking that challenges work and management processes, improves organizational performance and alignment, and sustains culture change. Beau coauthored the Shingo-prize winning book The Complete Lean Enterprise and more recently, Perfecting Patient Journeys. His website is at Keyte Group.

I was having a conversation last week with my nephew. He has been trying to get a permanent teaching position in the Chicago school system for some time.  He’s completed the minimum amount of education to allow him to teach.  And, while he is successfully substituting at several schools, he is consistently running into barriers in getting permanent positions in these same schools. The ”entry bar” is constantly being raised.  My observation: he is always trying to catch up in order to succeed as opposed to getting ahead of the “entry bar” and not having to worry about it.  It’s like he is just one of the greyhounds in the race, and the rabbit (in this case, a permanent teaching position) is always out of reach.

Are you in the same position?  Do you see your organization as the greyhound or the rabbit?  It’s been my observation that the greyhounds have good people attempting to wade through broken processes to support their markets and missions.  As such, our significant investment in human resources is spent “doing the same dumb things we’ve always done” (as opined by a client of mine).  We have a limited amount of human capacity in our organizations: how are you engaging your organization in such a way as to free up 10%, 20%, 30% of your collective time to focus on becoming the rabbit?

We all have complex problems with many causes and barriers in our work and management processes.  It’s possible to borrow some deliberate thinking from our scientific community to change to the fast, adaptive behaviors that rabbits exhibit and our organizations need to have.  A chemist, for example, attempts to find a new chemical compound that has never existed before.  He/she doesn’t assume that the first experiment will be successful (in fact, most experiments fail to achieve the goal), but DOES assume that a properly designed experiment will have something to learn embedded in the result.  The chemist then builds the next experiment on the learning of the previous experiment.  This cycle of learning continues until the goal is achieved.  There is a subtle difference in the world of experimentation: an experiment that fails is useful if there is something to learn from it.  Failure leads to learning; learning leads to achievement.

What’s a good way for your organization to experiment and “learn your way” to grow into becoming an organization with better outcomes?  While it’s obvious to most that it’s possible to experiment on work processes, it’s also possible (and critical) to experiment on management processes: I had a recent conversation with a CEO who was frustrated with his organization’s reliance on “managing by committee.”  Our conversation quickly turned to what experiments he was willing to create to see if another management style has better outcomes.  He is now engaged in scientific thinking to achieve his purpose.

There’s a little bit of scientist in all of us.  What experiments are you willing to try to become the rabbit?

May 15, 2013

Should we centralize or decentralize our function?

Matt Wrye is my guest blogger for today. Matt has his own acclaimed blog, Beyond Lean, and I'm honored to share his insights on Lean Reflections. Matt takes up a perennial issue -- one that's not easily decided -- whether to get some process or service under one big umbrella, or get it closer to users by giving them their own resources to do it themselves. Here are Matt's thoughts...

Centralized vs. Decentralized

Should we centralize or decentralize our function?

Have you ever heard this question come up?  I bet so.  It is a very common question.  The discussion could be around any area of service like procurement, IT, HR or many other functions that I haven't mentioned.

I always seem to get the follow up question of "So what does lean say we should do?"
My simple answer is "Whatever makes the best sense for your company and your situation today."

Most hate hearing this, but it is the truth.  There is no lean perspective on this question. Both sides have good points and bad points to them.

Centralizing a function can help to reduce the number of people doing a the function. This can create fewer points of contact and less confusion in the organization as to who to contact.  A centralized team allows for tighter control on policies and procedures and their adherence to them.  The people in the centralized role will perform the function more often and that can help to really make the process efficient.

Decentralizing a function creates less handoffs in a process.  People in one area aren't asking for people in another area to do the work.  This can cause more errors and add lead time to a process.  People doing the function can be located closer to the customer and be able to understand the needs of the customer better.

As you can see, both options have some great benefits.

What you have to do is understand which one of these options best fits the need of what you will be doing.  If you want tight control over data entry then maybe a centralized group.  If you want everyone to be able to purchase what they need in a timely fashion then maybe decentralizing purchasing is the answer.

Lean doesn't tell you what to do.  If just gives you the lens to look at situation and evaluate what is best to do.

May 7, 2013

What is culture, and why is it so hard to change?

We talk about culture all the time. Somehow we decide that one company’s culture is bad, that lean can never succeed there, or that a bad culture in another company became a lean one.

I’ve always struggled to understand the basis for how the lean community defines culture. It seems to include a lot of opinion, anecdotal evidence, and judging.
In his writings about culture, Dr. Joseph Juran often cited a book that anthropologist
Margaret Mead edited in 1953. Mead was one of the founders of modern anthropology, and as did her colleagues, studied distinct and relatively isolated cultures in Africa, Pacific Islands, and the Americas. They observed in detail how technological changes affected cultures and the people within them.

From its post-World War II beginnings, the United Nations saw one of its missions as bettering the lives of people suffering because they lacked Western technologies that. Many cultures seemed to resist positive change, however. Efforts to introduce vaccines, plows made of iron rather than wood, pest control, or outboard motors often failed. People who sincerely wanted to help solve problems felt frustrated by having their improvements rejected. That led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Federation for Mental Health to ask Margaret Mead to oversee a study of what caused technological change to succeed or fail. They were to find out what the psychological and sociological barriers to improvement were. How did technology affect the mental health of individuals? What would open people to the benefits of change?

As advocates of lean transformations, we are in the same situation. Lean is a technology, a science of how to do things. Company cultures seem to resist changing for the positive.

Do we have the right definition of culture? The anthropologists’ used this working definition:

“Culture is an abstraction from the body of learned behavior which a group of people, who share the same tradition, transmit entire to their children, and, in part, to adult immigrants who become members of the society. This definition includes the system of technology accepted and used in that group.”

I think these are some of the lessons for us of that definition:

1. It is an abstraction. Abstractions are concepts, ideas, invisible, hard to put into words, and not always easy to recognize. To make change, it is necessary to first observe and try to understand the culture from the perspective of the people. To change ideas, it is necessary to know what the existing ideas are, and how they function to make the society work. In addition, labeling an abstraction “good” or “bad” and oversimplifying what happens in an organization doesn’t tell us what to do differently to introduce lean where we think it will do good.

2. Behavior is the source of a culture. Changing what people do every day and how they do it will change culture -- reasons for the importance of standard work and continuous process improvement in lean. But an individual can’t change the pattern of daily life when it supports a sense of personal and community well-being. If the new behavior would violate a taboo, however unreasonable the taboo may seem to an outsider, the old one must remain unchanged.

3. Behavior is learned. It can be unlearned. A new way of doing things can be taught, practiced, and adopted. If individuals see it benefits themselves, their families, and their communities, they may decide to change.

4. Culture is transmitted to individuals as a whole, a system. Changing a part of it can cause unexpected and unintended results, some of them unpleasant or even disastrous.

The reason for the UNESCO study is to assess the effect of change on the mental health of individuals in the group being changed. In introducing lean, could we be traumatizing some people, making them depressed or angry? We are pulling the rug out from under their feet. In our culture, people won’t tell us when we cause psychological harm. Or we won’t listen when their complaints or silence are clues to take more seriously. Perhaps they are not just being unreasonable.

Nobody comes into an organization with the purpose of causing pain and suffering. If we could change our own behavior and approach, would starting a lean transformation be more successful?

In upcoming posts, I’ll be looking at what principles, explanations, and recommendations emerged from the study.

If you want to read along, look in the used book websites for Margaret Mead (editor), Cultural Patterns and Technical Change, UNESCO, Holland, 1953. A 1956 paper by Dr. Juran based on the lessons from the book, “Improving the Relationship between Staff and Line: An Assist from the Anthropologists,” can be downloaded from the Juran Institute.  Registration may be required. A Juran paper published in 1957, Cultural Patterns and Quality Control, is also available.

Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm