Leaning for Success

Lean is a management philosophy aimed at reducing waste—a philosophy that, to be effective, must become “second nature” to the way we work. Lean’s roots can be traced to the early 1900’s, although the term was coined in the early 1990s. The following illustrates Lean’s evolution:

There are several elements to Lean, but four fundamental principles will help to kick-start a Lean initiative. They are:

  1. Takt time
  2. Standard work
  3. One-piece flow
  4. Pull systems

Here’s how each principle contributes to your organization’s Lean initiative.

Takt time (takt: German for “beat” or “measure,” refers to music) tells organizations how many products or services must be produced/delivered based on customer demand. The formula to calculate takt time is:

Takt time = time available / customer demand

This equation can be used for any frequency of time and customer demand; however, typically, daily amounts are used.

When you know how much time is available to meet customer demand, you know exactly how much time is required for each product or service. Knowing takt time allows you to not only see the waste, but it allows you to see the strategic opportunities as well.

For example, assume that one department employs three staff to process orders. You calculate that the department has 1,080 minutes of available time (i.e., three employees each available for 480 minutes per day). You also calculate that it takes 30 minutes to process each order and there are 25 orders each day.

Therefore, 30 minutes multiplied by 25 orders equals 750 minutes—but your staff is available for 1,080 minutes. The strategic opportunity is to determine what to do with the remaining 330 minutes. Do you reduce staff working hours, reallocate staff to another area, determine how to increase customer demand, etc.?

The next principle, standard work is about ensuring that all work done is based on written standards and procedures. This is necessary to ensure that anyone doing the job does it in exactly the same way (i.e., standard work). Having procedures in place to ensure standard work is the basis for all improvement in any organization.

The third principle, one-piece flow is a difficult concept for organizations. This is because most organizations “think” along traditional functional hierarchies. In a one-piece flow system, all services relating to the value stream are co-located in one department based on the logical sequence of work.

As an example, consider parking tickets. In the traditional organization, parking tickets are issued by one department (e.g., Streets and Transportation), payment is collected by another (e.g., Finance) and challenges or complaints about parking tickets are handled by yet another department (e.g., Bylaw Disputes).

In a one-piece flow system, all the work relating to parking tickets is handled in one place by people who work side-by-side, e.g., Parking Department. Therefore, instead of the parking ticket process taking months to complete, it can be completed within days.

The final key fundamental principle, pull systems are simple; however, they can be difficult to implement. In a pull system, products and services are provided to the customer when the customer calls for them. Therefore, the organization only starts to fill customer orders at the time they are ordered and not before—drawing on inventory as required.

In a traditional organization with a push system, products and services are completed based on anticipated customer demands. In this instance, inventory becomes a real problem, not only in terms of space utilization for inventory storage, but also the associated costs of carrying (and, perhaps, destroying) inventory.

As you implement Lean in your organization, keep in mind these fundamental principles and return to them when things go off-track. No matter the nature of your organization—private or public—treat all the work you do as a business and the principles of Lean will be much easier to apply.

Controlling Time

A search on amazon.ca returned 68,588 books relating to time management and a similar search on amazon.com returned 108,557 titles. The prevalence of these resources seems to indicate that we have a problem in understanding how to manage our time.

Psychology Today defines time management as the “ability to plan and control how you spend the hours in your day to effectively accomplish your goals.” In short, if you don’t set goals, you are more likely to have time management problems. But research also shows that even those who set goals can struggle with time.

Perhaps the question that needs to be addressed is not how to manage time, but how individuals need to manage themselves to achieve their goals. If achieving goals is the (pardon the pun) goal.

How are you managing yourself? Does your typical day start with checking e-mail and then tweeting about last night’s party? Do you browse Facebook to catch up on what your hundreds of friends did over the weekend? Or do you review the list you created last night outlining your priorities for today?

In the first instance, you are allowing technology and others to manage your time. In the latter instance, you are in control.

Controlling yourself and your time means that you:

  1. Plan your day(s) in advance.
  2. Identify the important and urgent tasks and do them first.
  3. Build in “free time” in your plan to allow yourself to relax.
  4. Stick to your plan, only sidetracking for emergencies.
  5. Update your plan after emergencies to get back on-track.
  6. Say no to work or non-work activities that add no value to you or your organization’s strategic direction.
  7. Build relationships that will enable you to accomplish your tasks/goals.

Let’s face it: No amount of instruction on time management is going to help you manage your time if you allow events or people to control your time. Only you can control you. And that includes making and following through on decisions that will propel you to achieve your goals.

How you control yourself dictates how you manage your time. We all have the same amount of time in any given day—1,440 minutes exactly. Control how you use each minute, every day, by building good habits. If you do, you’ll never again need instructions on time management.

Triage—Best Served Regularly

Triage helps us decipher between the important and unimportant and is essential to ensuring we do the right work at the right time and to/for the right person/thing. But be aware: Avoid the trap of triaging work just for the sake of keeping workflow moving.

Blindly triaging work can cost more than stopping the flow to challenge whether the work is necessary in the first place. This is particularly relevant to such things as writing reports that no one will ever read, creating programs that no one will ever use, or creating new departments that have limited (or no) usefulness to stakeholders or to the organization. You have an obligation to your organization to challenge when the work you are doing has no value.

But if you are doing the right work and for the right reasons, then managing work through triage can be very effective.

Triage is about prioritizing work based on its importance and urgency. It is particularly useful when applied to managing information. By triaging information such as correspondence and e-mail, you can save a lot of time if the most important gets done first. In fact, many people might say that triage is like applying the 80:20 rule to everything you do—you create 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts by focusing your efforts primarily on the important and urgent.

How do you determine what is important and urgent? Here are five suggestions for dispatching your important and urgent work to create superb results for you and your organization:

  1. Keep an updated “to-do” list and focus on completing medium-importance, high urgency goals most of the time. This will give you 80% of your results. Constantly scan your list and drop items that are of low importance or have no urgency.
  2. Standardize work whenever you can. For instance, have procedures in place on how to write reports, how to format documents, how to handle email, etc. The more standards in your organization, the more time you will have for high-productivity and high-creativity items instead of thinking about how to write a report, how to format a document or how to handle email.
  3. When making decisions, don’t focus on the decision. Instead, focus on options that may result in the right decision. It’s much easier to make a decision based on a few options instead of making a decision based on the entire case.
  4. Close your email and browser when working on important work. You will get the important work done much sooner.
  5. Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is counterproductive. In fact, everyone’s brain slows down considerably when trying to juggle multiple tasks.

And if the above still falls short of helping you and your organization achieve exceptional workflow, outsourcing of work is another option. It costs much less to hire experts than it does to fumble through work that is not within your or your organization’s area of expertise.

The fact is that none of us are good at everything, but all of us are good at something. Determine the areas where you and your organization create the most value—and outsource everything else.

What happened to achievement?

Several years ago, my son came home from school with a report card that included mostly B’s and A’s. When asked about the B’s, his response was that his teacher said that B’s were good. In fact, he said that his teacher told him that it’s okay to strive for B’s or even C’s (“as long as you pass”)—and not work so hard to get A’s.

We have become a society of underachievers.

Consider these facts: workaholics have higher social status, exceptional achievers live longer, and the ten most workaholic nations in the world produce most of the world’s GDP.

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints about how much e-mail and smartphones have taken over our lives. But let’s get serious for a minute. Has technology really taken over our lives? Or are we saying we’re overworked because technology runs our lives?

When we let technology run our lives, we end up wasting time on e-mail, cell phones, playing games on smartphones or computers … so much so that we become underachievers. Underachievers don’t complain about working hard on the trivial, but when it comes to working hard on the important, a proclamation of “overwork” is made.

The world’s most influential people such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and others rise to the top because they worked (and continue to work) hard to accomplish the important. Their passions drive them to succeed. These people are not overworked. It is not possible to be overworked if you love what you are doing.

For those that underachieve and proclaim to be overworked, perhaps the blame rests with personal coaches, bosses, teachers, and other authority figures—those who say, “There, there, you will do better next time.” Failure does not guarantee success next time. And giving an “’atta boy” for each failure only reinforces the failure.

With continued underachievement, our society’s general level of ambition is also threatened. Chamorro-Premuzic observes this about the younger generation: “If you go to China and East Asia, Gen Y is totally different, consumed with ambition, very similar to post-Second World War Americans and Canadians, who took advantage of a booming economy to set out to run the world.”

Now ambition is withering. He says: “We’re behaving like people who say that we don’t like chocolate ice cream because we can’t get chocolate ice cream. In the rest of the world, they want chocolate ice cream.”

The way to become an achiever and never be overworked again is to stop working in a job, get a career, and embrace hard work. These are the only ways to succeed—both personally and for your organization.

The leader’s role in productivity

An organization’s performance is directly linked to its leader’s effectiveness. In fact, extraordinary leaders can make extraordinary employees out of average employees while poor leaders can turn extraordinary employees into poor performers. And it has nothing to do with the organization’s systems, processes, policies, or procedures.

Employees are impacted by their leader’s behavior. In a McKinsey Global Survey published in October 2009, nine critical leadership skills were identified. Inspiring employees ranked number one (Leadership through the crisis and after: McKinsey Global Survey Results, October 2009).

Inspiring employees is crucial if they are to serve customers in the best possible way, all the time. Since they are the organization’s front line to customer service, employees are the organization’s key to success. Empowered employees will perform their best to achieve their organization’s goals. The leader’s role in positively influencing this behavior cannot be overstated.

To sustain inspiration and empowerment, employees need recognition and reward. Both monetary and non-monetary reward can be used. Some employees may need a bonus to settle personal debts, while others may appreciate a more flexible working schedule. Ask your employees how they want to be rewarded and act accordingly.

While difficult to measure, strong leaders can impact the work environment by contributing to improved employee morale through a “snowball effect” of positive outcomes. It takes just one employee to hinder change, but it also takes just one employee to create positive effects. It starts with leaders.

There are five areas that every leader should consider to better influence productivity in their organizations. These areas are:

  1. Defining goals and objectives. Clarity around organizational goals and objectives and how projects fit within them needs to be provided. When employees understand the projects on which they are working, they are better able to identify and close gaps between the projects and the organizational goals.
  2. Assigning ownership. For any work undertaken in the organization, there should only be one owner of the work. When one owner-employee takes responsibility for the project, there is a greater chance of project success. If there are multiple owners or if ownership is not clear, efficiency and productivity suffers.
  3. Managing employee expectations. This includes ensuring employee job satisfaction and providing incentives and rewards. If employees are empowered and receive appropriate support (e.g., training, resources, etc.) to complete their work, their job satisfaction increases. In addition, recognizing and rewarding employees helps increase their self-esteem and further strengthens their resolve to continue working hard on behalf of the organization.
  4. Communicating. This is a two-way experience. Leaders need to be clear in their communications with employees, but they also need to listen to their employees and act on what their employees are telling them. By engaging in open communication, leaders build trust with their teams, further empowering productivity.
  5. Innovating. Without innovation, organizations will not grow. Leaders need to embrace innovation and encourage innovation and creativity in the workplace. Same old, same old has no place in organizations that want to be successful. Creating or inventing/re-inventing new markets, products and services—this is how successful organizations thrive.

Leadership competency models provide boundless traits and behaviors that differentiate between good and great leaders; they are all useful. But when higher levels of productivity are desired, straightforward behaviors—defining goals and objectives, assigning ownership, managing employee expectations, communicating, and innovating—can be achieved by every leader.

A core business goal, productivity is under the direction of leaders. Leaders who are able to motivate and inspire their employees will be the leaders of successful organizations. Those who do not may soon find themselves out of work.


Clutter: If it’s organized, is it still clutter?

Understanding what constitutes clutter from an organizational perspective helps staff eliminate clutter—both electronic and physical. While experts agree that there is more to clutter than just physical and electronic space, the organization’s primary concern needs to be in these two areas and include the following categories:

  1. Unused items. This is a collection of “things” (hardcopy papers, knickknacks, electronic files, e-mail, etc.) that are kept for “just in case” reasons. Solution: If the item does not contribute to the organization’s vision, mission, or values, discard it.
  2. Disorganized items. This is a collection of things that are kept in piles on desks, on floors, randomly placed on surfaces, or randomly organized in electronic file folders. Solution: Conduct a purge party to organize items of value and develop a classification system for the management of records and files.
  3. Unfinished work. This is typically seen in various “piles” of to-do’s in individual offices. If several projects are on the go, there is a good chance that at least one will not be completed on time if the individual is accustomed to gathering unfinished work. Solution: Delegate unfinished work to those who have the skills and time to complete it or outsource the project.
  4. Congested space. When too many things accumulate in too small a space, the typical response is that more space is needed. The fact is that there is always more space than is required. Solution: Conduct a purge party to eliminate clutter from offices and computers.

To successfully rid clutter from your organization, convene a meeting to not only address the problem, but to also relay the organization’s vision, mission and values. Using these elements as a foundation, explain how clutter opposes these elements. The key is to “eliminate” clutter so that the organization achieves improved workflow and efficiency.

Moving clutter around by “organizing” it differently does nothing to solve the problem. And it is a problem—the monetary cost of clutter to organizational efficiency and productivity can be substantial.

In a 2012 survey by Forbes, 35% of workers said that they would “be ashamed if anyone caught a glimpse of their cluttered workspace” and 40% criticized co-workers for their clutter.

In addition, the average worker spends 30 minutes per day and 150 hours per year looking for information, the cost to the organization for this alone is about $4,500 per year per worker. A study by Brother International found that clutter costs U.S. corporations $177 billion annually.

While some costs of clutter may seem large (or small), other costs are not easily quantifiable. For example, what about missed meetings because of “lost” meeting notices in e-mail inboxes? Do organizations know how much business is lost each year because their employees miss (or are late) for meetings with prospective customers?

Another impact of clutter seldom considered by organizations is the amount of late fees or penalties for late bill payments. What effect do regular late payments have on your organization’s credit rating?

Privacy of information and identity theft is another consideration for organizations with clutter. When too much paper accumulates, sometimes the easy way out is to throw it out, but that creates risk for the organization. Diligently and regularly shredding unneeded documents gives customers assurance that the organization is serious about protecting their identity and confidentiality.

In addition to the monetary cost of clutter, the non-monetary cost of clutter can include stress, overwhelm, procrastination, and a myriad of other personal impacts that affect organizational wellbeing.

When environments are clutter-free, the mind is also free to be inspired with new ideas and new opportunities that will help move the organization to more profitability.