BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Charisma Myth

The-_Charisma-_Myth-_Olivia-_Fox-_CabaneDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
by Olivia Fox Cabane


I’ve been wanting to read this book for three years now when I first heard a podcast with the author, Olivia Fox Carbane, at The Art of Manliness.

The premise of the book is that charisma is not necessarily something someone is born with. Its something that people can learn and use as a weapon in their leadership arsenal.

I’m often confounded on how one changes people’s minds and paradigms. I started thinking about how Deming emphasized the importance of psychology. He usually talked about it in reference to how people learn or are motivated, but shouldn’t we also use psychology to change people’s minds? Charisma would be an awesome thing to have in a change agent’s tool belt.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  • The book starts off with an example of how Marilyn Monroe could turn her charisma on and off at will. The story goes Munroe was riding in a train with a reporter in New York, but no one knew who she was. Then all of the sudden, Munroe just turned ‘on’ and she was suddenly mobbed.
  • The three sources of charisma is presence, power, and warmth.
  • Of these, Cabane said if you can just master presence, you will have a tremendous advantage.
  • Cabane says its important to focus on your internal charisma before focusing on the external. This will give you a solid foundation so you can always be ‘on’ when you need to be–don’t be caught flatfooted or unaware. You must be prepared mentally for tough situations to retain your charisma.
  • One of my big takeaways was her admonition to get used to being in uncomfortable situations. She said to learn to recognize when you are uncomfortable and then purposely invite it (like standing the wrong direction in a crowded elevator). You will soon get used to be in uncomfortable situations and won’t be so easily flapped. For someone who doesn’t like being in uncomfortable situations, this was a big lightbulb and one I’ve thought about a lot lately and have started to practice.
  • Some tips for becoming stronger mentally–rewrite reality (she said charismatic people are often living in their own weird world), visualization (she said create happy situations before hand–things that really get you jazzed–then being it to mind when you are feeling low), visualize a hug (it releases oxytocin and will calm you), or create an imaginary advisory council in your mind (Napoleon Hill did this).
  • She said its very important to have a lot of self compassion.
  • There are different types of charisma including visionary and focused charisma.
  • Body language is important. It can change your mood and behavior. The one thing she suggests is to be the big gorilla. Make yourself take up space and act powerful–like a gorilla. I’ve used this a lot. It seems to work. I at least feel more confident.
  • She said to treat everyone like they are the star of their own movie you are watching.
  • She says to dress like the people you are trying to influence–though dress on the upper edge of it (i.e.–dress like everyone, but be the one who is better dressed than most). She said its part of our tribal instincts. We want to be around people who look like us.
  • She had other advice in the book for negotiating and giving good presentations.
  • The author says that for those who master charisma, they often feel alone. They are always expected to do more and achieve great things. Those who are charismatic and don’t deliver will be destroyed by a disappointed society.
  • Cabane said once charisma is mastered, it can be extremely powerful. She pointed out that for some time, leadership gurus said it was a bad thing to use charisma. Peter Drucker said it was dangerous and pointed out the most charismatic people of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao. She warned charisma can be like a knife. It can be used to heal or used to harm and it must be used responsibly.

Does all this work? Yes, I believe so. After reading this book, I feel more charismatic and I’ve felt my confidence growing. I already feel like I may be better influencing people. I’m going to be studying this book and applying its principles more often.

I listened to the book on Audible, but plan to get a hard copy. The book can be bought here.

It Starts With Us

I don’t practice what I preach. This became a hard reality for me recently. I was reading Mark Graban’s book and he talks about how easy it is to find fault in others and not see what we may be doing wrong.

morpheus-red-blue-pill

WARNING: Studying Deming will haunt you for the rest of your life!

Deming talks about the transformation of the individual. Its really true. I equate it to taking the red pill. Afterwards, I was often angry with others—why didn’t they get it?? It was too easy to climb up on my soap box and start preaching. It wasn’t really getting me anywhere, though. This added to my own frustration. But wait, didn’t Deming talk about the need for understanding Psychology? Wouldn’t I need to understand it in order to change people’s minds? If so, why wasn’t I doing that? Worse, was getting angry and telling people what they should believe increasing their own knowledge and adding to their joy? I wasn’t practicing what I preached!

And what about my own life? I’m out of shape. I don’t eat the greatest. Was I chasing short term pay offs instead of focusing on the long term like I had been preaching? And then there’s my own family. Was I improving their life? Was I teaching my children the importance of collaboration and helping them find pride in their work and showing them how to continuously improve?

I read a book some time ago about how we influence others and I remember taking away from it that my strongest ability to influence was by modeling. People are watching me. Whether its my Kanban board at work or just watching how I interact and treat others. When one chooses to take the red pill, you’ve entered a new world and have a huge responsibility to help others.

Some things I could be doing better:

  1. How’s my constancy of purpose? Do I even have one? Once I identify it, do I even have the willpower to pursue it and achieve it?
  2. I need more energy and focus. In order to do this, I need to eat more healthy and exercise. In order to do it, I’ll need discipline. I need to go out and get some.
  3. If I want to help others improve, I need to learn how to influence them. I need to be studying psychology more.
  4. I need to be reducing variation in my own life. I can do this by building quality in. For example—just maintaining what I already have (oil changes, taking care of my clothes, keeping my house tidy and clean, finding ways to simplify).
  5. Identify when I’m being short-term minded. I’m stunned at how easy it is to fall into this trap.
  6. I need to be conducting my own experiments and PDSA. Currently I’m experimenting with meditation to boost my will power.
  7. Be more humble. I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. There are others out there who have knowledge.
Untitled

So easy to get into this mindset. I need to check it at the door.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IX

Team Kanban

Ultimately, Kanban is about people. Its not about me and my cool board. These are the good folks who helped me with the project and used the board. THANK YOU!

This is the last install for the Kanban board. The project has ended. Lessons learned have been gathered. A new project has begun with its own board.

Recent Comments

  • “Have you seen his board? You have GOT to see his board.” ~ One of our PMs to our visiting PMO managers.
  • “I love coming over here. It inspires me.”~ One of our PMs referring to our board.
  • “You must fear the cleaning crew.”~ One of our PMO managers after seeing the board.
  • “This is one of the most innovative things we are doing here.”~ One of our employees showing the board to visiting students.
  • “I was skeptical about using the board and the post-it notes, but it worked out pretty well.” ~ One of our team members during Lessons Learned.

Observations

  • I’ve gotten better at explaining the board to people. My go to explanations:
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.”
    • “It leverages the concept that the project is a system and this is a visual representation of it.”
    • “It allows me to easily identify bottlenecks and recognize areas of concern.”
    • “It leverages psychology in that human beings are visual creatures and we process visuals or patterns quicker than text.”
  • I suspect people know I’m busy because they can see the board. Another project manager made this same observation recently. People don’t have to ask if I’m busy. They can SEE I’m busy.
  • Board discipline can be difficult—especially when you are getting overwhelmed with so many demands. I have to be careful not to let it get behind.
  • We had a situation where the board and a spreadsheet were not in line. While neither were exactly correct, the board was more accurate. In some ways, this didn’t surprise me, I’ve noticed the board is often more accurate than any spreadsheet. I’ve often said, “the board knows all.”
  • Our process can be extremely complex. I would need an entire room to create “In Progress” and “Done” columns. I’ve had to consolidate some of these.
  • The board seems to have become a part of the IT department. It doesn’t get the skepticism it once did. People have come to accept it for what it is and understand that it works. Its not a fad.
  • All in all, I would guess 10% of the people think the board is cool, 10% don’t like it, and the remainder are somewhere in between.

Lessons Learned

  • Sometimes your work can take a different path than the one you have created on the board. This can be frustrating. This is usually due to variation and complexity built into the overall system. You have to learn to roll with these, get creative, and adjust.
  • ALWAYS include the team. When I finished the project, I took a picture of just me with the board. Wrong move. Maybe I worked on it the most. Maybe I championed it the most. Maybe most people didn’t quite get it. But we all used it. I took a picture of all involved later and posted it on our company Yammer page. I was told they appreciated it. I should have had them help me take down the post-its and the board. Opportunity lost.
  • You never know how your work can influence others. The team that assisted me is now using their own visual management board. I was more than happy to help them come up with something. I must keep doing this.
  • Share the wall. I want the team next to me to enjoy the “easier-to-sleep-at-night” feeling when using a visual management tool. That means I will gladly surrender some of the wall (they get half!). I’ve started using OneNote to track things where I don’t have enough wall space. I just put on the wall what management wants to see.
BAU Wall

The team that helped me has started their own visual management system. I love this picture. To see Patty taking so much joy in her work and knowing it helps her better understand her workload might be the project’s biggest accomplishment. I’ll ALWAYS be there for you guys!

Experiments

One experiment is posting on the company’s Yammer page. I’ve been inviting people to share in the experience of using Lean and Kanban concepts. I’m going to sneak Deming in there as well. I have one follower so far. Heh.

WIP Limits

Toward the end of the project I was getting more into experimenting with WIP limits.

My biggest experiment was limiting WIP. It got to the point late in the project where I was pretty much the only one working on the project, so I didn’t have to struggle convincing people to limit their WIP. I just did it. I also realized there was much I didn’t realize about why it was important limiting WIP. Things I learned:

  • Dependencies is a huge problem. In one instance, I have a WIP limit of two. Its full. However, I’m waiting on a dependency before I can move both of them forward. This is very common.
  • Because I am waiting, my instinct is to take on more. But what happens is I soon have so much in progress I can’t remember what all I was working on and the problems of context switching sets in. It takes discipline to limit WIP. Fortunately I didn’t have any outside pressure to increase it otherwise I would have.
  • When I find myself waiting, I go work on something else—for instance—that 30 minute side project someone asked me to complete two weeks ago—I can go work on that now.
  • WIP can mysteriously increase. For instance, I had a team member tell me something they were working on needed my help. Suddenly, my WIP increased by one. About an hour later, something we thought was fixed wasn’t fixed at all. It came back. My WIP increased again. This is a challenge and I’m still figuring out how to handle this.
  • I’ve been increasing and decreasing WIP limits. Because of the external dependencies, you have to try to find a balance. Because of variation, these can shrink and expand regularly. I don’t think one should ever set their WIP limits in stone (unless their system has little variation).
  • I now understand the importance of limiting WIP. Its really quite simple and what I was told in the first place—it reduces context switching. If you reduce context switching, you get more speed. This is a hard concept for folks to grasp. Even me.
  • The tendency to start something else without finishing another is very strong. Especially when you have a line of people wanting something from you now. The problem is, you are actually making them wait longer by starting them early. It might make them feel better that you have started them, but ultimately, you will frustrate them because they have to wait a long time and they will begin to wonder, “WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?” Best tell them to wait. They will be better off for it. This takes tremendous courage and discipline.
The Last Pic

The board just before I took it down. Post its to the right! All done! Pinks are external dependencies. Those still in progress go to the next project.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VIII

20170327_192100

Our new board! Actually its a wall!!

The board has moved. While it took longer than I thought it would, it still wasn’t too bad. A lot of people in the company were curious as to how I was going to do it. Some were openly skeptical.

This is what I did.

First I had to make sure the board would fit. I measured the length of the current board against how much wall space I would have at the new location. The old boards are actually longer (cumulatively), but the new wall has more height, so I was able to condense. Also, some of the old columns could be condensed. One was even removed. This gave me enough space.

20170322_104637

I measured the columns or rows with post it notes. (example, one column is 5 post its tall and 8  wide). I adjusted the sizes based upon what I thought would be needed for the new wall. I wrote these on the board to help me remember.

20170322_134149

I clipped the post its together with paperclips or binder clips depending on how many post its were in a column and put them in a bag with the name of the column and a number for the sequence of appearance working right to left. In hindsight, I didn’t need so many plastic bags. I could have made due with just a few gallon bags. A post it note on top of the individual piles indicated where they went.

I also took a few pictures of the old boards to help me remember where things were. This helped putting the board back up.

Total time for takedown- 45 minutes.

Starting right to left, I started drawing out the board. I used the post its to determine column width and row height.

I put up the post its. It was important to have poster putty handy. A lot of the post its have lost their sticky, particularly the older ones. This is actually the part that took the longest when putting them up—adding the poster putty.

Total time for putting up- 2 hours.

20170327_192100

All Done. With the height provided by the wall, I could divide the board up into sections (at the top–“TTU”, “Disconnect”, etc.). Charts showing progress are to the right. A quote from one of our satisfied sites is in the top right corner.

Comments once it was up:

“Its like a giant rainbow! . . . but its SO much!”

“I like how you are organized.”

“Dan, people are noticing all the post its on the left side of the board are disappearing.”

“Did Kris (our director) REALLY say you could have the whole wall?” Yes, he did.

One of the remote team members saw a picture of the new space. “What are all those notes doing on the far wall?”

“We’re putting you on another project, but you don’t get any more wall space.” (said in jest, but at the same time I think they were serious also).

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This is the view of the IT production department right outside the director’s office.

Observations once it was up

The board got a lot of stares. I used to be tucked away in a corner, but now the whole IT department is on one floor now and in a big open space. Some had never seen it before, others had seen it, but now it was in their face in a big way (see above). I was glad the board was getting the attention it needs, but at the same time, it also became a target. A couple of people thought I was taking up too much room and taking up white board space (the whole wall is a white board). One manager asked me if I could shrink it so her people would have room to write. I asked her team if they wanted more room, but they said no and thought the board was fine.

I saw people clustering together and looking at the board. I knew they were talking about it. Negative? Positive? I don’t know. I admit for a day or two I was a little paranoid that someone was going to make me remove it or condense it.

The team using the board is now in the same area. Its easier to get to and they can clearly see what needs to be done. There is more interaction with the board.

Challenges

I felt bad that it was taking up so much space. I felt like I was being selfish. What would people think? Why should I get a whole wall just for me?

Leadership still does not come to the board. I wish they would. We always have good conversations when they do.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

BOOK REVIEW: Joy, Inc.

joy-incDAN’S SCORE: Stars 5.2
Joy, Inc. How We Built a Workplace People Love
By Richard Sheridan


This book has been on my list for a year and a half since my Scrum Master teacher, Jim Smith, suggested it. Jim used to always say, “Wouldn’t you like to work in a place like this?”

I’m not sure how to describe this book. I believe it is a game changer. Many books appeal to the head. This one appeals to the heart and soul. It describes the journey of a man whose traditional workplace had destroyed his love for software development and how he was able to find it again and then build a company (Menlo) that others would love based upon the principle of having joy in ones’s work.

In a cynical world where people believe touchy-feely stuff is weird (and just doesn’t work), Rich and his company of Menlonites have proven everyone wrong. I feel this book’s concepts and testimony could be a foundation for creating much needed change in an organization. You don’t start with techniques and tools—you start with culture —the creation of something intentional. You change people’s hearts before you change their minds. You allow them to work with pride and find much needed joy to find organizational excellence and success. This book shows what is possible.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

  • Rich has been on a couple of podcasts I’ve listened to recently (here and here). Something he says that really strikes me, and he says this in the book, is that many people will question him on why joy is so important. He responds– suppose you have a project. Half of the people in the room find joy in their work and the others are not. Which half do you want on your project and why? That’s a powerful argument.
  • Culture comes first at Menlo. Always. If the client doesn’t like it and can’t adjust (sometimes they will insist Rich changes things at his company), Rich will respectfully sever ties. That is incredibly gutsy.
  • Menlo uses the agile development method Extreme Programming. Rich is a huge proponent of pair programming and advocates it throughout his book. His arguments are strong (he likes the pilot/co-pilot analogy). He even hints of pairing for other positions as well, such as project management. This has certainly made me think.
  • Rich explains how they on-board new hires. This was a fascinating chapter. They go through several interviews and its always team participatory—not the traditional interview which Rich describes as two people lying to one another.
  • Learning and experimenting are very important to Menlo. They have a ton of books (his employees are constantly reading and asking for more books) and are always trying new things (on a small scale first). This is PDSA/PDCA/Kaizen though he never calls it that.
  • Visual management is important. They have note cards all over the wall. He states that this turns off some clients who think this is an indicator of the company not understanding tech. I can certainly relate.
  • A lot of this stuff would seem to have Deming’s finger prints all over it, but in a podcast interview Rich said he didn’t realize Deming had said all he did until after the company was formed. Rich spends a chapter on why its important to drive out fear (very Deming-esque), why its important to fail, and to constantly experiment (he gives several examples).
  • One section I particularly enjoyed was Rich’s opinion on working remotely. Rich said he doesn’t think there is a replacement for a live, in-person company, with all members working in the same physical location. He compares those working remotely to a long distance relationship and wonders how long that relationship is sustainable. He believes we have fooled ourselves into thinking that remote working is just as productive and effective. I couldn’t agree with Rich more. However, Rich does say his team has done remote working with team members with some success.
  • The High Tech Anthropologist position was fascinating to me. These are employees who go out and literally study the customer and how they do their work and how they will interact with the product. This improves the overall quality of the product because its built for the people who are really going to use it based upon observation and evidence. Its just not a bunch of people in a far away building designing a product for what they think the customer will like. Incredible.
  • Another thing he talked about is accountability. Menlo’s definition is rooted in human nature and, at Menlo, accountability is giving your best honest answer on how long its going to take to do something, you then trust the estimate, and if one discovers the estimate is wrong– be open and candid about it and adjust. He said he presented this concept to a client and the VP of marketing jumped to his feet and snarled “Bullshit!” The VP then went off on how real accountability was holding people to what they said they were going to do. Rich countered with asking what would happen to Menlo if he took that same strategy. The VP thought for a moment and suddenly changed his demeanor. He said the team would start padding their estimates. He added the project managers would catch this and start trimming. The team would then start lying about actually being done. Quality would go down the drain. There would be support problems. Morale and trust would plummet. “You’d have at Menlo exactly what we have here at our company.” Damn good story.
  • Not all is rosy at Menlo. Rich is candid about the problems they have. They still haven’t quite figured out how to promote people, they struggle with how they want to grow. They also haven’t quite figure out how to work with clients who are very far away (because they value face to face interactions). There are other things. All-in-all though, Rich said their problems aren’t as big as other’s.
  • The company gives daily tours of their facilities. Thousands of people come to see what the heck they are doing including Toyota, Lean practitioners, school children, business leaders, and Deming disciples.
  • Rich noted that at Menlo, emergencies are nearly non-existent. As of the writing of the book, the company’s last emergency was six years prior. This is a testament to the company’s commitment to quality. Amazing.

 

Rich Sheridan

Thanks, Rich, for showing us all that, yes, it really is possible!

One thing I wish Rich would have done more is talk more about their struggles and challenges and how they overcame them. Still—this book is pretty incredible. I would absolutely love to tour this company and bring key leaders along with me!

 

This really is a powerful book. Its not about just theories, but about a real company and how their enlightened paradigms allows them to succeed. I plan on passing this book around our company in the hopes it will create a spark.

You can buy Joy, Inc. here.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VII

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The latest version of our board. Tip-use dry erase markers. Our board changes regularly as we evolve our processes or try to accommodate management demand.

Here is the latest observations, challenges, lessons learned, triumphs, etc. of the Kanban board experiment in my current project.

Recent Comments

“I love the post-it notes.” ~A visitor for one of the other teams.

“It’s so pretty!” An interviewee for another team.

“Hey, whatever works.” ~ Our newest project manager (this is a common comment and bothers me for some reason).

“Its actually pretty ingenious.” ~ Our IT director to our visiting global PMO (who were visibly skeptical of the board). This is the first positive comment to come from him about the boards. I love it!

“And here we are investing in tools.” Global PMO member.

“Are we trying to save money?” Global PMO member.

“I have to tell our leadership that the greatest risk to the project is wind.” ~ Our IT director referring to the post-it notes.

Observations

  • Bottlenecks become more apparent when the time frame is shortened and the work load increases. Ex. I’m the main one updating the board. If others could do it when they complete their work, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do it all the time. At the same time, if I don’t do it, we lose insight into what is happening on the project.
  • The boards take up a lot of space (and is actually growing). What if every project used a board like this? Would we have any wall space left? Would we be fighting for wall space?
  • As numbers/WIP increased and the pressure to hurry up and finish increased, it became more apparent how much time it takes creating post-it notes. The short-term thinking side of me wanted to stop doing it and just get on with the work, but I reminded myself how the initial time spent creating them paid off in the long term. I was surprised at what feels like my ‘instinct’ telling me not to use the board.
  • A pretty big negative for the board is stats gathering. It takes me up to 2 hours gathering the info from the post-it notes and putting it in a spreadsheet for reporting.

Lessons Learned

  • My supervisor didn’t like our process for shipping and scheduling equipment. He wanted us to change it because he thought it was creating bottlenecks. Our team didn’t like the idea. We thought it complicated matters and created a risk. In the end, everyone decided to try an experiment based on what he wanted. The board was updated and after a few hiccups and adjustments, the new way worked just fine. Lesson Learned—Don’t be too resistant to an outsider’s suggestion for changing your process. They might be on to something and you can always try an experiment to see if it works. If not—just go back to the old way. We are fortunate my supervisor simply did not force us to change our process and allowed the experiment.

Triumphs

  • For a couple of weeks, it appeared I wasn’t going to be able to bring the board to the new location. I had a team member come up and talk about possibilities of where we could put it. And here I was thinking no one cared. That really meant a lot. In the end, it boiled down to the IT director, who is determined to make the project a success. I told him the board was critical to the project’s success. He agreed there would be a spot for it in the new building.

Experiments

Limit WIP.png

The boards’ first attempts at limiting WIP.

  • I’m attempting to limit WIP (without the team members realizing it). It seems to be working. I’m sure if management knew I was doing it, though, they would get mad.
  • I put up a brief synopsis of what Kanban is near the board. My supervisor read it and it sparked some good conversation. I’m hoping others will read it as well. Perhaps I can alter it so its more readable.
  • I think I need to stop giving logical explanations for using the board. I’m trying to ‘testify’ instead. The idea is to appeal to a person’s heart, not their head. I’m trying to remember to say things like:
    • “Its the best tool I’ve ever used.”
    • “It didn’t make much sense to me when I first saw one.”
    • “It saves my bacon on a daily basis.”
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.” (my favorite)

Challenges

white-post-its

Post-it notes on top of post-it notes–sign of too much WIP!

  • Because there is so much WIP, we have tons of issues identified on the board (highlighted with blue post-its). There are so many, its now become noise and I need ANOTHER post-it (white) to identify higher priority items we need to discuss as a team. Having no WIP limits suck!
  • Limiting WIP is such a foreign/difficult concept here (though the seeds may have at least been planted). I tried to explain why limiting one of my team mate’s WIP would help her but I was told, “No—just send them all to me.”
  • Global PMO visited our office and saw my board. I was happy to see our IT director talk it up (see his comment above). I gave a brief explanation of how the board worked. There seemed to be some skepticism (their comments are above). Its kind of odd to me that a PMO group doesn’t recognize a Kanban board.

Opportunities

  • Another project manager asked me about the board. He said he’s struggling with the organization of his project and needs something. I let him borrow my Kanban book and Stop Starting, Start Finishing. He quickly discovered Kanban was being used elsewhere (one of his team members said they used one at Hyundai). I’ve seen him walking around with the Kanban book and he said he wants to sit down and talk with me about it. One of his teammates has been wanting to try Kanban for some time. He even took my class. This gives us a champion on the inside.

Wishes

  • I really wished our partner could see and use the board. I think it would help them tremendously (which would help us). They seem to be so overwhelmed. I know they are in spreadsheet hell. I’ve been thinking about looking into Lean Kit (though I am skeptical of electronic Kanban boards over physical ones).  It may be too late to use it for this project, but perhaps we could use it on the next one???

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

BOOK REVIEW: Deming’s Profound Changes

profound-changesDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
Deming’s Profound Changes: When Will the Sleeping Giant Awaken?
by Ken Delavigne and Dan Robertson


I first learned about this book while listening to one of the Deming podcasts interviewing Daniel Robertson.

Though it took me a little while to get into it,  this is one of the best books I have read in some time.

The book’s premise is about how our current traditional style of management came to be (i.e. Frederick Taylor’s management theories), why it is damaging business and how accepting Deming’s new management philosophy will help us improve. The authors emphasize Japan is doing so well because they have abandoned Taylorism and adopted Deming’s principles. The authors believe Japan is wondering when America will also make the switch—thus the tag line “When will the sleeping giant awaken?”

I think this quote taken from the book summarizes the intent:

We will win, and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too.” ~Konosuke Matsuhita, Founder, Matsuhita Electronics (Panasonic), 1988.

My favorite take aways (this was tough to sort out—I tried to shorten this list the best I can, but there is simply a ton of stuff in here):

  • Self-managed teams sound Deming-like, but unless they are managed as a system, they will suboptimize and will have a tendency to listen only to the voice of the customer (ex. focusing on specifications) instead of listening to the voice of the process. This sounds very much what scrum teams are trying to do with their focus on customer value. This has certainly made me think.
  • Many people don’t understand continuous improvement. Continuous improvement must be in a specific direction guided by purpose or an aim. In order to do this, people need to continuously gain new knowledge and we are not used to doing that.
  • There was a study done on what it was the Japanese were doing differently. It was found what they were doing was reducing complexity. I.e they were understanding and then simplifying the system. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly they were simplifying, but whenever they did this, it created positive ripple effects throughout the organization. (Terrifying. It seems every place I work with wants to achieve some objective and if making something complex achieves that aim, so be it. I’m not sure how we break out of this mindset). This whole chapter was fascinating to me.
  • The authors list out six dimensions of complexity: number (number of employees, departments, work batches, etc.), volume, density (ex. being geographically spread out), process time (lead or cycle time), variation, and context level (i.e. a manager will understand and see things at a different level than an employee and vice versa).
  • Western management focuses on ROI in the beginning, but the Japanese understand that reducing complexity eventually pays returns. (Wow. How do you convince a CFO of that strategy??).
  • Management is constantly under scrutiny and pressure from stock holders, creditors, and often the press. All of these folks want RESULTS. This creates a culture obsessed with outcomes and self interest (i.e. they don’t want to lose their power or career) and creates a short-term mindset. The authors note its no wonder managers are constantly making demands on their organizations that exceed their capacity. They force the system to shoulder increased complexity and thus make the system less capable.
  • The effects of increased complexity are often subtle and hard to detect in an organization and difficult to trace back to where the issue originated.
  • He gave a list of excuses commonly held for the decline in U.S. competitiveness and debunks each one. These include labor issues (such as with Unions), foreign competition and not buying American, lack of automation, trade barriers, government interference, lack of employee motivation, and employee education. The authors state the underlying message with all these issues is that we are managing wrong and we must change.
  • The authors suggest that those who are attempting to promote change need to understand the various elements of it. This will help them bring about change and improvement more swiftly. Change will take a great deal of time and effort and there will be many forces, directly and indirectly, opposing it. Fortitude, faith, and courage are essential.
  • The authors also discuss why people want to be managers and discuss how we need to be promoting the right people into these positions by looking for certain characteristics. They also discuss how to develop these types of managers.
  • They give a strategy on implementing change. They said to break issues into Cosmic (i.e. deep complex issues), low-hanging fruit, and no brainers. They said to go after the low-hanging fruit. I was surprised by this strategy as the Toyota Way goes after the root problem. They said when you solve enough low-hanging fruit and no brainer issues, the Cosmic issues have a tendency to go away.
  • They suggest a good way to figure out what to start working on first is to ask the question, “What bugging you?” I started asking this question when I solicit feedback from our customers.
  • They suggest we do the following: Be an exemplar, Keep Growing in Knowledge, and Widen Your Personal Orbit of Influence (this last one is what I struggle with).

 

1952533952-frederick-taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor. The authors premise is the West is stuck in a modern-day form of Tayloristic thinking, a style of management invented over a hundred years ago. Good for its time, but its way past time to evolve.

Though the book explains Taylor’s philosophies, I’m still not sure I understand them despite a whole chapter on it. Of course, I can be dense. I reckon I need to review.

 

I thought it interesting the authors emphasize Taylor as being the biggest impact on modern management, but they don’t mention the 1841 head-on train collision and the subsequent adoption of military-style organization. This event is cited in two books I’ve read (The Leaders Handbook and The Leaders Guide To Radical Management) and given as the main reason for modern style management.

I thought some of the examples were a little dated, for example the computer industry examples, though pertinent and correct, were stated as something new, but are now near 20 years old. During the podcast interview, Robertson stated he doesn’t think the book needs to be updated because the advice is still the same.

The book can be bought here.

Why No One Talks About Deming Anymore

There was an article posted last year in Harvard Business Review about how Deming had been forgotten. I think this is a conundrum in the Deming community. Deming often talked about how we were in a new age and how we needed to transform. Yet here we are, 15 years after his passing and the transformation seems to have stagnated.

This post comes out of my own struggles with trying to influence people in the Deming way of management. Here are my thoughts and observations on why we are hitting a brick wall.

  1. Authoritarianism Still Seems to Work. Proof of this are the likes of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others. Thank God for us Deming folks Agile is around and Toyota overtook the automotive industry a few years back. However, this year, Volkswagen became the #1 automotive producer. In the past they’ve been known for iron-fisted leadership. Despite having a new CEO, will people equate this management style to Volkswagen’s success?
  2. Disruptive Technology as the Strategy for Success. Silicon Valley has been an important business model for two decades. “Innovate!” my last company preached. “We must innovate to stay relevant!” Our management mandated that each of our product lines had to come up with at least one innovative solution per year (innovate or else!). I think too many modern businesses have become preoccupied with innovation and finding the next big thing instead of focusing on how to become more efficient. Now, Deming DID talk about the necessity of innovation, however, if folks do remember him they don’t remember him talking about it. Neither his 14 points nor the System of Profound knowledge mention innovation.
  3. Individualism over Systems. Alfie Kohn said Deming’s star died out in this country because he was a systems thinker and the West (particularity Americans) do not understand the importance of a system. We stress the individual’s contribution. We believe if there is progress and success, it can be attributed to some individual (or small group of individuals) and if there is a problem, then it must be someone’s fault. Kohn said it was inevitable that Deming’s ideas wouldn’t graft here.
  4. Short Term Results over Long Term Results. Deming’s way is long term. He even said it himself—it would take years or even decades to see results. No one wants to wait that long. I think people want the long term, but they also want the short term and that is where the emphasis continues to lie (because . . . well . . . its the short term).
  5. Tools/Techniques/Action over Theory. Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say, “Just use or do whatever works.” I think this is rooted in our belief that any problem can be resolved with the right tool (or technique). Deming stressed theory first and then use the right tools for the theory. However, theory is discounted in our society. I once had a manger tell me a theory didn’t matter if it didn’t work (he was quite derisive that I even mentioned the term ‘theory’). Action is valued in our society. I had our IT director tell me on my first week of my new job that I needed to understand that the Nike motto was important to him and to “Just do it.”
  6. We have no time. Our time is getting more and more squeezed. We have little time to think about new/different ideas (unless they are quick solutions promising immediate results). Its certainly true we are being asked to do more with less all the time. As a result, few are willing to invest time into reflecting, studying, and risking experimentation. I’d also add lack of time reinforces command and control. We need an answer NOW and we don’t have time to collaborate, so we rely on someone to direct us. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.
  7. Educated Idiots. Deming (and most other management scientists) never ran a business. Heck, Deming was never even a manager. I had a teammate look at the library on my desk and say, “I prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.” I’ve heard people say we need to stop listening to “educated idiots.” I hate to say it, but I’m sure they would put Deming into this camp. Experience is valued over knowledge or theory in our society. Deming’s belief that our experience is wrong would simply be scorned.
  8. The Passage of Time. Many don’t know who Deming is. They might recognize PDCA or perhaps remember him as a “Quality Guru.” I was saddened when I told our PMO manager that my blog had been featured on the Deming Institute and he didn’t know who Deming was.
  9. Its no longer relevant. If a book was written just 5 years ago, many think it may not be relevant anymore. The world changes too fast they would say. I’ve certainly fallen into this trap. The same problem can be said with Deming in general. He was big in the 80s and early 90s, but many would say that was decades ago and the world has changed since then.
  10. Deming is Difficult to Understand. Deming doesn’t make sense to many people. Its a huge paradigm shift. Few have the patience to listen or understand, especially when they need an answer NOW. Heck, even in his day, people thought he was wrong (including his own grandson!) or that he was senile. Some people would walk out of his seminars. God help the individual who is new to Deming and picks up a copy of Out of the Crisis without some type of primer! Even if his concepts do resonate with an individual, they are so deep they will take a lifetime to master and even then, you won’t be finished. Many folks just aren’t willing to invest in that.
  11. Deming Died. Deming’s biggest influence and power was the fact that he WAS W. Edwards Deming—the man who Japan revered and had their highest business prize named after. His followers simply don’t have his clout. However, I believe even if Deming were alive today, I doubt many people would be going to his seminars like they once did. That’s because . . .
  12. Japan’s Economy Declined. From the late 70s until the early 90s Japan was America’s bogey man. Japan seemed destined to overtake our markets and people were scared and fascinated at the same time. Of course folks wanted to know what the heck they were doing differently and so Deming became the pretty girl in the room. Then Japan hit an economic slump . Even though Japan is still the third largest economy in the world, it doesn’t seem to be the threat it once was.

So, what do I think will happen to Deming’s ideas?

I think the Agile movement carries the Deming torch in this day and age (even though they may not realize it). I wish the Agile community would take a closer look at his teachings. I think it will strengthen their position. However, I have this sinking feeling we may soon see an Agile implosion. A ton of companies have tried Scrum and while there are many who get something out of it, many aren’t. I think this is because they haven’t transformed their paradigms and have focused too much on the Agile tools and techniques. In my last company, this was certainly true and the writing was on the wall that the Agile experiment was about to end. Management was quickly losing patience and were already starting to look elsewhere (Six Sigma was next on the list of the fad du jour!).

However—I hold out a tremendous amount of hope. In the book Deming’s Profound Changes, the authors write that it often takes decades for a new philosophy to take root and develop in a culture. If so, we are nearing that point now. I know some people may think I’m crazy, but I can’t help but think the younger generation will embrace Deming’s teachings. For one, they seem to have less tolerance for the bullshit of traditional management (traditional managers often fault them for being lazy—I think the younger generation are just being rational and want to be creative and—gasp!– have joy in their work!). They are growing up with Agile concepts and having amazing startup companies like Menlo as models. I think this will make them think of management differently. Also, they seem to be looking to the past for their ideas (they seem to think old-school is cool). For instance, one of my favorite websites, The Art of Manliness, teaches old-school “man skills” and the site’s founder Brett McKay says his biggest audience is the under 30 crowd. Will they discover Deming when they look to their history to understand their future? Also, the younger generation is more willing to embrace diversity and different ideas. The world is getting smaller and Eastern countries like China and India continue to rise. As a result, Eastern thought and its holistic/systems ideas has a better chance of penetrating the next generation’s current paradigms. Lastly, Japanese culture is popular with today’s youth. This puts them in close proximity to Deming’s teachings.

My hope is as the next generation gets closer to becoming managers themselves, they will discover this incredible man and his insights and the transformation will continue. Those of us who have been studying Deming must be ready to share, teach, and mentor these young people what we know.

BOOK REVIEW: The Leader’s Handbook

leaders-handbookDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Leader’s Handbook
by Peter Scholtes


This book is at the top of John Hunter’s books-to-read and he recommended it to me. Thanks John!

Peter Scholtes was a student and colleague of Dr. Deming from 1987 until Dr. Deming’s death in 1993 and is considered a key player in promoting and teaching Deming’s philosophy. Alfie Kohn, who is well known in Deming circles and someone I admire, was close to Peter Scholtes and often speaks of him with fondness.

This is a great book. Scholtes is a great writer (often employing humor). Scholtes breaks down Deming’s teachings into digestible form and gives some great real world examples.

Lots of takeaways here. These are some of my favorites:

  • He has a section about the history of why people manage the way we do. This is cool for a history nerd like me and for someone who is always asking why people do the things the way they do.
  • He compares the competences needed for traditional management (Forcefulness, motivator, decisiveness, willfulness, assertiveness, results-oriented, task oriented, integrity and diplomacy) vs the new (Deming) management style (Systems thinker, understanding variation, understanding how we learn and improve, understanding people and why they behave the way they do, understanding how these four things interact with one another).
  • He talked about the mile-wide/inch-deep philosophy vs. an inch-wide/mile-deep philosophy. This is basically doing many things at once but not being good at any of them vs doing just a few things but doing them extremely well.
  • He believes a company’s success will be reliant upon their ability to do good for society vs. being primarily focused on profits and return on investment. That’s a tough pill for many to swallow (though I certainly believe it).
  • He talks about how when a customer complains its an opportunity to learn. Positive feedback makes us feel better and provides a boost to our spirits but offer little else.
  • He pointed out that a competitive edge is having speed for delivery. He had a newspaper snippet that suggested a company have 10-15% idle capacity to keep the backlog smaller and give the company quicker customer response times (this is similar to David Anderson’s belief that slack is a secret weapon). My own thoughts–This is a REALLY tough sell for management. They simply don’t get this concept.
  • He advocates the need for interdependence. One thing he suggests we start asking is “What do you need from me that you are not getting? What are you getting from me that you don’t need?” I’m trying to integrate this into my own work.
  • He pointed out that many of us don’t like using statistical methods because the way we were taught about it ruined us. He said he didn’t like it either and found “columns of numbers to be a sure cure for consciousness.”
  • He had some really good advice on listening skills (don’t give advice, don’t judge, don’t talk the speaker out of their feelings, don’t sympathize– be supportive instead).
  • He talks about heroes and our culture’s fascination with them. This has created the mentality that if something is broken, a hero must come along and fix it. The system is regarded as the source of the problem rather than the source of the solution. This notion is reinforced by Hollywood who often feature heroes overcoming a corrupt or helpless system.
  • He talks about how hard it is for a leader to change a world set in its ways. The culture is set in short term thinking and it makes it tough to think long term. He says because we are at a threshold of change, the leader must be good at both the short term and long term philosophies. This is tough (tell me about it!).
  • He says its difficult for a leader to change when everything they’ve known and done has gotten them to where they are currently.
  • Awesome quote found in the book- “In management, the first concern of the company is the happiness of the people connected with it. If the people do not feel happy and can not be made happy, that company does not deserve to exist.” ~Kaoro Ishikawa.
  • He said converting your boss is a long shot. You probably do not have influence with them and they are working from a different agenda than you are. This makes me sad. Further, he says you may do wonderful things, but until you win the hearts and minds of the people at the top, you will not have significant impact on your organization. This also makes me sad. He says the best thing that will probably happen is that you learn and benefit and bring it with you to your next job.
  • In order to get leadership’s buy in, you will have to meet their definition of success. This isn’t easy because what their definition of success may be different than the new philosophy. If you don’t get the credibility from leadership, though, your ability to influence is nil.
  • If you want to influence your boss, you need to know who he respects and who influences him. If you can influence them, this may be the way to influence your boss.
  • Opposing your boss is foolish, just as it is foolish for a smaller person to engage in a head-on collision with a smaller person (I need to be careful about this, but I absolutely refuse to be bullied and live my life in fear).
  • He advocates the onion patch strategy for change. I’ll be using this.
    1. Learn everything you can.
    2. Identify the area over which you have influence.
    3. Identify your priorities.
    4. Recruit allies.
    5. Have data (use it to indicate the validity of your approaches and describe the current situation and process).
    6. Communicate artfully.
    7. Don’t argue with those who disagree

Scholtes may be best known in the Deming community for his arguments against performance appraisals. Deming was often asked by his audiences what we should do instead. Deming once replied “Whatever Peter Scholtes says.” This is the book folks recommend for debunking the performance appraisal. I found this chapter one of the least interesting parts of the book. I wonder if its because I personally haven’t had much concerns about performance appraisals.

Negatives- I’m not a fan of the spiral bound, but its the only format I see for this book. I wonder why it was chosen. It made me think of a school workbook. Though there are activities at the end of each chapter, I didn’t perform any of them. Maybe I should have. I don’t know. These activities reminded me of the days where I had to do homework—which I hated. (NOTE: John Hunter explained the spiral bound binding. This is a direct result of continuous improvement. Scholtes first book, The Team Handbook, was often read by people doing work on the job, but with the traditional binding, the book kept closing on itself. The Leader’s Handbook has the spiral so the people using it can read the book without it closing on itself).

I’m glad this book is in my library and I’ll be referring back to it. You can buy it here.