Month: January 2017

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VI

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Our board. Note the graphs to the left indicating trends. I’ll post about those soon.

Here are some recent goings-ons with the Kanban board.

I’ve told this to others in my organization and I’ll continue to say it, this board is central to the project’s organization and understanding. It saves my bacon daily–simply because I know what the heck is going on. I highly recommend one.

Just to remind my readers—my organization does not embrace Kanban, Agile, or any type of improvement methodology or philosophy. This series documents the challenges, failures, and triumphs of trying something different.

  • There are many who still just don’t get it. I still get teased:
    • “Watch out! Don’t knock off any post-it notes!” as a group of people walk by.
    • “What if someone just comes along and . . .”  Person moves post-it note to elsewhere on the board (actually, I can figure out where its supposed to go just by looking at it).
    • “What if there is a fire?” often said with a smirk. (“Everyone grab a post-it note!”
    • Of these comments, I know some of its just good ribbing and some its genuine disbelief. Regardless, this is something I’ve learned just comes with the territory. For the most part, I feel people have come to respect what I do even if they don’t quite get it.
  • The series was featured on the Deming Institute! One of my team members, who had lived in Japan, immediately understood the significance of this. “Everyone has GOT to know about this!” he said. This is about as far as the excitement went, though. I told my supervisor, and he seemed to think it was cool, but didn’t say much about it. When I told our PMO lead, he asked, “Whose Deming?” After I explained, another colleague laughed and said, “It sounds like a cult.” This sucked some of the wind out of my sails.
  • Team members are starting to interact with the board after some encouragement. I’ll be at my desk and here the pop and soft rattle of a post-it note moving on the board from behind me. Its a good sound—the board removes me as a bottle neck. The board is showing the team what needs to be worked on without me telling them!
  • One of our team members, a former navy man, compared the board to boards they use in the navy to monitor ships that are all over the world. He said he likes the board.
  • I’ve said this before and will say it again—it would be better if all those who use the board were right next to it. Those who are at my location work in another room. They have to get up, walk out of their room, down a hall, and in to my area to see what is going on. Up to a hundred feet. I can understand why they might think the board is a pain. I also think this causes the board not to always get updated like it should.
  • Related– it would be better if all our remote partners could see it. I believe one of our partners suffer from cumbersome internal processes and systems and I think our board could give them some clarity. There are things I regularly see that I have to keep bringing to their attention, but if they could see it themselves, they wouldn’t need me to point it out. Ideally, the board would be electronic so all remote team members can see it, but also retain its current size so those in its presence can read it and discuss it.
  • We’ve had new people come on board to help me with the project. I asked them to use the board. There was some resistance to it, including from their manager, at first. This company is used to working in spreadsheets (which I’m seeing more and more of the problems of). One member openly said, “I’m not going to use this.” I think she was intimidated by it, but once I told her why it was important to the project and I showed how it worked and told her not to worry about all the nuances, she chilled.
  • One of the new team members seems to really like the idea. I think he may become a champion of convincing others of the board’s merits. I think a board like this would help them with their own work. I’m wondering if he is starting to see this.
  • The new people have been taking the post-it notes back to their desks. I allowed this because they needed the information on the notes to complete their work. The negative– sometimes I’m looking for a site and can’t find it. I’ve started wondering if this was a good idea. I’m worried the post its will get lost. This again drives home the point that it would be better if we were all in the same location.
  • While everyone knows I’m very aware of what is going on with the project, they are not happy with the results they are seeing (the project has been behind schedule since the first week). This make me concerned that people will conclude that a board like this does not help get a better result. My argument—what type of predicament would we be in without it?
  • Its official. We are moving to a new location and there seems to be some disagreement on if there is room for the board. My supervisor and teammate think so, but others have told me there won’t be any room. I wonder sometimes if I am going to be made to conform. I wonder if anyone has any idea how important this board is to understanding a very complex project and how its central to the project’s organization. Of course, if it can be accommodated–all who currently use the board will be in the same location and that would be very, very good. We’ll see what happens!
  • Someone told me that one of the manager’s admired the fact that I did what I believed to be right despite strong pressure not to. He said we needed more people to do that. I believe they were referring to the board.
  • As I study Lean, I’ve come to the conclusion that the board actually duplicates effort which is wasteful. I have to write information from an e-mail or spreadsheet onto the post-it note. This is the downside. The upside, it puts the information in a form where I am able to synthesize it. I am unable to do this when its in its original form. I wonder if there is a way to get both worlds?
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See the column on the far right? That’s how many we have actually completed! Conclusion- we have plenty of starting and not enough finishing. See those blue notes? Those are things we have to revisit. That’s a lot of rework and only adds to the WIP. I’m not certain how to convince others that this is an issue.

  • This company does not believe in (or understand the importance of) limiting work limits and finishing before you start something else. As a result, the board is getting cluttered with tons of post-its and its getting harder to find specific posts its. There has also been times where I have duplicated a note.
  • During my last post on this series, I wished our partner would start sending over smaller batches at more frequent intervals so we could create flow. I was able to convince them to do that. However, we are still not getting the results we want from them. Because I don’t have a clear insight into our partner’s processes, I’m unable to understand where the bottlenecks are and where to help fix them. Management is getting frustrated. We asked the partner to double their batch size, but because still don’t see good results, leadership has insisted they do them all at once. So much for the concept of flow. . .
  • Because management has asked for everything to be released at once, I predict our board is going to get very crowded and our WIP is going to explode. I wonder sometimes if the board will be any of any use at that point. I might be spending all my time just updating it and that’s not going to help us get any work done. That could just be the fear talking, though. Who knows?

What I wish for

  • I wish management would visit our area more often to understand what is going on and help us solve our issues. The board (and all the charts I display) is just as much for them as it is for our people. They don’t come by, though, and we usually only talk during reporting meetings (which often results in their frustration). Without management being able to ‘see’ what is happening they have to revert to my interpretations. They aren’t getting the results, though, and as discussed, they are very much getting more and more frustrated.
  • I wish there was some way (technologically) for everyone involved in the project to see this board without us losing its size and “physicallness” it currently has. Even if I were to create this board in OneNote (which would be a large undertaking) so everyone could see it, I’m not certain everyone would use it and I would lose the benefits its currently giving the project. This is a risk I’m not willing to take.
  • I wished people at my company would read my blog. Maybe I’ll get ballsy and send my blog to our IT director. Hmmm . . .

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

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Making Promises We Can’t Keep

promisesAt my last company, our team was  behind in our work (we had been since I first arrived there). What was left was overwhelming and would require an enormous effort, sacrifice, and possibly working ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it completed (people were already getting sick or leaving the team).

I told one of the managers we needed to reduce our scope. The reply was the scope had always been what it was and would not change. When I protested, I was told quite flatly– “We promised our customer this and we honor our commitments here.”

This stung. It made me feel like if we didn’t follow through, we would be dishonored by breaking a promise and lose the trust of our customer.

But wait one damn moment.

“Hold on,” I said. “I didn’t promise this and neither did the team, our executives did. Our team was not consulted on if they would be able to do deliver all of this in the time allocated.”

I was told if I didn’t like it I could talk to the execs about it.

For the rest of my time at the company, I’d hear off and on about execs making promises or commitments to our customer and then hear about those expected to deliver being unable to make good on the promise. The execs couldn’t understand why we were always behind or why the quality was poor. “We’re going to lose our contract!” they would say.

So they came down on us. We were told to work harder and were often made to feel like pussies if we couldn’t keep up. I remember one exec prowling the room, looking intimidating, and criticizing us for having the audacity to laugh during a critical time. Fingers were quick to point. Overtime became common (though we remained behind). Burnout, frustration, and people quitting often followed.

One project manager told me this was just our lot in life. The execs promise and we have to figure out how to produce. Really? Does this really have to be the way it works?

This happens not just with our own companies but also our partners and suppliers. I recently had our director tell me that because one of our suppliers is unable to keep up with our demand like they had promised, we would go with a different supplier. I asked how we would know if this new supplier would keep up with the demand? He said they would if we gave them the proper incentive. I replied, didn’t we offer the same incentive to the current supplier? How do we know we won’t just get the same result or perhaps something worse?

 

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American mythos on accepting a challenge. Is something wrong with you if you don’t accept? Many would say yes. Are they right? Is this mentality one reason we continue to fail and destroy trust?

So why are we making promises we can’t keep? I can think of a variety of reasons. Some will make all kinds of promises if offered enough money or incentives (is this a form of prostitution?). Also, its part of our mythos–Americans simply don’t back down from a challenge. We just roll up our sleeves and get to work no matter how big the obstacle. Perhaps the decision makers are just ignorant or overconfident in what their organization is possible of producing. Its also possible the folks making the promise have the skill, knowledge, and wherewithal to do it themselves, but forget they are surrounded by mere mortals or forget they haven’t given their people the resources or skills or knowledge to complete the task. Much of it could be fear related–we don’t want to look like pussies in front of our superiors or peers or we are afraid of losing business or losing our jobs by saying no. Perhaps its a combination of all or any of the above. Regardless, this greed, arrogance, bravado, ignorance, fear, and lack of candor is destroying our trust with both our employees and our customers. Something must be done.

But what?

Two things–data and character.

We must be keenly aware of our capabilities. What does the data say? Have we done something like this before? How did we do? What does our current quality look like? What are our lead times? What rate of quantity can we produce? What is our defect total? Is it reducing? Are we making every effort to reduce variation? Are we committed to improvement and do we make good on that promise? What does the team who will be performing the work think? Have they been given the opportunity to speak candidly on their ability to produce? We have to ask this of ourselves but also of our partners and suppliers as well.

 

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Be like Nancy!

Once we know this, we can better evaluate our customer’s needs and rely on our character to give a solid yes or no. Only the wise and honest will know when to say yes. It will also require courage when its time to say no.

If we currently don’t have any influence at the management level for these types of decisions, we can at least practice our own ability to say no within our sphere of influence. If you haven’t the capability to make good on a promise, have the courage to say, “NO.” Perhaps you will start a new trend in your organization and begin a much needed revolution.

Following in the Footsteps of Assholes

I’ve been wondering lately if one of our biggest hurdles for improvement are the heroes of American industry. When people become successful, we want to know how they did it, and then we copy.

Here are four men I think most of the world admires and a summary of their management style.

13678_bill_gates_surprised-pngBill Gates— Founder of Microsoft. Wealthiest man in the world. Enough said. Well known for his dictatorial style. The articles I’ve read about him describe him as sarcastic, aggressive, and having a fixation on winning no matter what. He was known to bring his staff to tears. Many would say this is what made Microsoft. Do the ends justify the means and should we emulate his management style to become successful ourselves?

thp83ralslSteve Jobs –No one can deny his vision. He had an uncanny ability to predict the future. At the same time, he was described as arrogant, controlling, and mean-spirited. People who didn’t impress him were called “bozos.” Mark Graban, who I greatly admire, also questioned Steve Job’s leadership style. I work with a lot of tech heads and to them, Jobs is like a god. Should we emulate him?

muskElon Musk– It seems this guy is always in the headlines. He possesses tremendous self confidence and is absolutely unrelenting in pursuit of his vision. One employee said she would follow “him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil.” At the same time, Musk is infamous for breaking an employee. One of his staff said Musk is “best compared to a master who berates and smacks his dog for not being able to read his mind.” The articles I read suggest he bleeds some really good employees who just can’t keep up with him. Of course, there are some who say this is what makes working with Musk so great. They say he brings out the best in them. Is Musk doing something right and should we look to him as a model?

jeff-bezosJeff Benzos– He’s know for his straight talk: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” We hear of his infamous e-mails with the subject line “?” and how it elicits waves of panic and instant action. It seems instilling fear gets him the results he wants. At the same time, Benzos is on another level in the intelligence department. A former vice president, said that Bezos’ criticisms tend to be right – even when he has no real knowledge of the field. Should all our leaders be like Benzos?

When you look at it collectively, there seems a strong argument that these management styles are the way to go in order to achieve success. The proof is in the pudding, right?

I’ve worked with some brilliant, super-driven people (though perhaps not at the level of the above four). Management put the company in, what they believed, was their capable hands.

Is this the recipe for success?

Here are my observations from working with these managers:

  • No one could keep up with them. They could outsmart and outwork anyone under the table.
  • They always believed they were right. Always.
  • These managers were resentful that everyone wasn’t as smart or as committed as they were and as a result were abrasive to work with. They were often insulting or degrading and had little tolerance for people who couldn’t do the same thing they could.
  • Their personalities created high turn over. People got physically sick and were often demoralized. People quit or asked to be put on another team. This only annoyed these managers even more. Why couldn’t they get good people or why couldn’t people just “get over themselves and just work?” They just couldn’t deal with people and their weaknesses.
  • The product? It suffered. The customer? They suffered. We were always behind schedule and quality was poor. The managers blamed the team members. Some people on the team just stopped caring—i.e. ‘Just tell me what you want and give me my paycheck.’
  • There was so much turnover that new people had to constantly be trained. It put more pressure on these brilliant people to produce and as a result they became more combative and resentful. They were often in charge of training and were irritated when people couldn’t remember everything they had taught them (the method was insert funnel/pour in knowledge approach)
  • I tried to reason with them, trying to get them to understand that they were dealing with mere “mortals.” They didn’t care. To them, the people just had to get better. They didn’t seem to have a strategy on how to accomplish this, though.
  • The Darwinism of the project seemed to be fine with them. If people left—good, they didn’t need to be there anyway. At the same time they were irritated they couldn’t get good people.
BUD/S Hellweek Surf Drills

Should we have a much more rigid selection process in recruiting our employees? The special forces do it.

Before I left one of these teams, I spoke with one of these managers about the regular turnover (I was about to leave as well). She blamed it on the hiring processes. “This is a tough product and you have to get people who can deal with it.” I suggested the people they hired needed to have the tough-mindness of a special forces operator. She agreed with me. Perhaps we were on to something. A rigid selection process such as what they use in the special forces ensures only a certain type of person becomes one. Perhaps we should copy? At the same time, though, these projects in themselves weren’t really that difficult. It had become difficult based upon the decisions in leadership. Besides, it seems everyone thinks their company or project is special and requires special people. Not every company in the world can expect to get special-forces quality people.

Jobs or a Gates or a Musk or a Benzos probably represent .001% of our population. The majority of us are simply unable to do what they can. I know many would fault me for saying this, after all we live in a country where we are all taught and expected to be exceptional. Here’s the fact– most people are just average. I know we all think of ourselves and the people we hire as above average, but if everyone is above average, then no one is.

All this reminds me of how Deming pointed out how managers seem to be able to manage just about anything except people. I think this definitely applies here. We simply must learn to better manage and lead ordinary, fallible, and imperfect people and get the best out of them. What if these brilliant men were able to do that? How much more successful would they be? Many would argue they ARE getting the best out of these ordinary people. And they are doing it with their type of style of leadership. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

Are they right?