Real World Kaizen in Action

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Kaizen - Change Good

In October 2012 Superstorm Sandy hit New York City.  The results are still being felt today.  Relief agencies struggled to keep up with the demand for food.  Six months later, people in Rockaways are still hungry.  Toyota will donate up to 1 million meals, if you watch this video.  You’ll learn about things like Kaizen, Muda, and Toyota Production Systems.

Improvements

  1. Eliminate Muda (Waste)
  2. Create continuous flow

Result?  Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) and more people getting food with less waste.

Original distribution time: 3 hours
Current distribution time: 1.2 hours

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My Lesson in Process Improvement

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stable velocity sustainable pace

stable velocity sustainable pace

Regardless of your organization and goals, everyone is trying to do things better.  I commonly hear about management asking its people to do more faster, often with less.

One major mistake I see time and time again are organizations trying to do things faster before really understanding their own processes.  If you don’t stop and really ask yourself if you’ve optimized the whole of your processes, before trying to go faster, any successes will be short lived.  I can assure you that speed without optimization is not sustainable.

Recently, I got back into running.  I haven’t ran consistently for a few years and honestly, I always hated it.  The goal was never to run a half or full marathon.  The goal was always to stay under 28 minutes for 3 miles.  That was the minimum speed requirement on a Marine Corps PFT back in the late 80’s, when I was enlisted.  Without fail, my feet and knees always hurt.  So, I did what any novice runner would do. I bought really cushioned running shoes.  I was able to run a couple miles at a time, at the pace I wanted, but I had to stop due to sharp pain in my knee and lower back.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who is also a former Marine but he does a lot of distance running.  His goals include running half and full marathons.  I told him of my pains and he said I needed to read the book Born to Run and consider barefoot running.  Now, barefoot running includes both running barefoot or wearing minimal footwear.  Remember, the modern running shoe wasn’t invented until the 1970’s.  By getting rid of my cushy shoes and changing how my feet strike the ground, suddenly the pain is gone.  It was that simple.  A few days ago, I ran five miles and I could have kept going.  Suddenly, three miles in 28 minutes is no longer the goal.  Because I have a stable velocity with no pain, I now have a sustainable pace.  I know I can now go the distance.

Think about your organization again.  Do you meet your commitments, but it’s painful?  Do you sometimes not meet your commitments, because your pace is not predictable or it’s just too fast?  Stop and think about what you’re doing.  Really take a fresh look at how you’re doing things and consider making some changes.  Don’t use the excuse of “this is just how we’ve done it in the past”.  Once you find and address the root causes of your pains, you can refocus on what you’re trying to accomplish and reaching both those short and long term goals.

The picture above is of me in a LeadingAgile running shirt.  Thank you Mike Cottmeyer for the slogan (and the shirt).  This blog post was originally posted on the LeadingAgile blog

Retrospective Shades of Gray

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retrospective starfish

The Retrospective

I love retrospectives.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an informal process that occurs naturally as team members interact or it is a formal process that occurs at the end of a meeting, an iteration, or a release.  It’s an opportunity for the team and organization to make things better.  It most certainly is on the minds of others today.  I’ve read about the goals of a retrospective on George Dinwiddie’s blog and also retrospectives – wronger and righter on Bob Marshall’s blog.

I honestly believe we should be constantly looking for things to start doing, stop doing, do less of, do more of, or keep doing to improve the things we do.  I have been a part of projects where a Lessons Learned meeting was part of the Project Closeout activities.  What good is it then!?  We should constantly be learning and constantly trying to make things better.

Shades of Gray

Depending on the team, I may use the four-quadrant grid, starfish retrospective diagram (or both) to capture ideas. I love the format of the four-quadrant grid, in that the team can communicate what is working, what isn’t going so well, any ah-ha moments they’ve recently had, or appreciations they would like to note for their teammates. Unfortunately, just as some organizations or teams think of writing documentation as an afterthought, I see them doing the same with retrospectives.  Retrospectives are a critical component of any process.  Without them taking place, you are pretty much guaranteed to make the same mistakes twice, a third time, ad nauseam.

retrospective starfish

Retrospective Starfish

When to do it

Don’t wait until the end of your current iteration, release, or project to document and improve.  On a team board or flip chart, draw a circle.  Segment the circle into five quadrants: Stop Doing, Do Less, Keep Doing, Do More, Start Doing.  Please note that these are merely recommendations.  The content and order are not retrospective commandments.  Have a stack of Post-It notes and a Sharpie nearby. Encourage the team to add notes to the board when the mood or event strikes them.  Don’t wait!

If you struggle to get cards on a regular basis, perhaps a facilitated retrospective is in order.  The act of collecting ideas is not just to make people feel better.  Notes captured on this board are all candidates for conversion to action items.  If you have the fortunate problem of having too many ideas on the board, use a concensus strategy like fist of five or dot voting to identify the most valuable action items.

Keep Doing (=): Capture good things that are happening. As a facilitator, ask the team what they would miss if something was taken away from them.

Do Less (<): Anything that might need a bit more refining or that is simply waste.  Is there something that adds value but not as much as something else could?

Do More (>): Are there value-add activities the team may want to try more of but are not necessarily taking full advantage of?

Stop Doing (-): What are some things that are not very helpful or not adding much value?  My prime target is long formal meetings.

Start Doing (+): Suggest new things!  You read or heard about something that helped others like you.  What do you have to lose?

Measuring Team Emotion

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Team EmotionToo many times, companies focus too much attention on metrics like Team Performance and Team Efficiency, while ignoring metrics like Team Emotion or Happiness.  This last week,  I worked with a company and team which did not make this mistake. At the  conclusion of the iteration, they held a retrospective.

As noted on a previous blog post,

a retrospective meeting is held at the end of a scheduled event or time interval. With the aid of a facilitator, a team discusses what went well and what could be improved during the next interval or prior to the next scheduled event.  The meeting is time-boxed to help ensure it doesn’t just turn into an out-of-control complaining session.  When properly facilitated, you come out of the meeting with an actionable list for improvement candidates.

At the conclusion of the team retrospective, it was time for the final task of the (2-week) iteration.  It was time to know how the team felt.

As you can see from this Cacoo drawing, the team was happy during iteration planning and the first week of the two-week iteration.  Things didn’t go so well during the  second week or the Iteration Review. I was there during that meeting and not surprised they voted as they did.  What is telling from this diagram was their feelings of the actual Retrospective meeting.  They were very happy.

During the Retrospective,  the team discussed how they could make the next iteration (and Review) better.  It was a really healthy and productive conversation.  There was no blaming.  It was all about “how can we as a team do better?”

In closing, find out how your team feels.  You may be surprised how team performance and efficiency improve when the team is happier.  If you want true process or team improvement (Kaizen), track your feelings as well.

 

The Gemba Walk

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As part of a recent engagement I went to assess and coach a group of Agile teams out in Iowa.  Each morning, we would arrive before the daily stand-ups.  Each morning we walked around, listened in on conversations and got updates from the teams.  We quietly studied their large team boards and then how they interacted with the boards and one another. I would describe this daily stroll as our Gemba Walk.  Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” In business, it refers to the place where value is created; in our case the gemba was the west side of the building on the 5th floor where the teams were located.

Gemba Walk

In lean manufacturing, the idea of gemba is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. The gemba walk, much like Management By Walking Around (MBWA), is an activity that takes management to those doing the actual value delivery, to look for waste and opportunities to practice gemba kaizen, or practical shopfloor improvement.  If you are in management and you want to make a real difference, get out of your office and go on a gemba walk.

If you are on a project team, do your managers go on a daily gemba walk?

HT: Wikipedia

 

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PICK Charts and Kaizen

PICK Chart

I’ll admit, I’m no Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.  But as I was sitting in a management meeting the other day, I was impressed by a vendor’s Operations Manager, who was being touted as one.  The vendor has been running into some issues at the SOC (Systems Operations Center).  We asked the vendor to take a few weeks and do an analysis and then propose some improved processes.  I was apprehensive at first, being I’ve seen this vendor spend a lot of time and money to do an analysis, only to propose a solution similar to killing an ant with a sludge hammer.  That did not happen this time.  The Operations Manager offered a 15 minute presentation titled Kaizen. This caught my attention because Kaizen is Japanese for improvement or change for the better. I’ve heard the term used many times before, when referring to doing process improvement.

A key component of this Kaizen presentation was a PICK chart.  What is a PICK chart you ask?  When faced with multiple improvement ideas, a PICK chart may be used to determine which ideas are the most benifitial. There are four categories on a 2×2 matrix; horizontal is scale of payoff (or benefits), vertical is ease or difficulty of implementation.    More expensive actions can be said to be more difficult to implement. By deciding where an idea falls on the PICK chart, four proposed project actions are given: Possible, Implement, Challenge and Kill (PICK).

Small Payoff, easy to implement – Possible
Big Payoff, easy to implement – Implement
Big Payoff, hard to implement – Challenge
Small Payoff, hard to implement – Kill

You’ll notice by my graphic below that we have 3 ideas to implement, 2 that are possible, 2 that are a challenge, and 1 to kill.  This was by far the best presentation I’ve seen in a while.  The entire executive team could visualize the recommendations on one screen.  All data supporting potential areas of improvement were on the other slides,  included assessments of cost (money or time).

All I can say is bravo!  When in doubt, use a visual aid.

PICK Chart

HT: Wikipedia

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