Yearly Archives: 2010

Management Improvement Carnival #116

The management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with select recent management blog posts. Also try Curious Cat Management Articles for online management improvement articles: you can subscribe to an RSS feed for management articles now.

  • Why Google can’t build Instagram – ” 4. Google forces its developers to use its infrastructure, which wasn’t developed for small social projects. At Google you can’t use MySQL and Ruby on Rails. You’ve gotta build everything to deploy on its internal database “Big Table,” they call it. That wasn’t designed for small little dinky social projects. Engineers tell me it’s hard to develop for and not as productive as other tools that external developers get to use.”
  • Don’t Let Benchmarking Replace Your Own Process Engineering by Mark Graban – “One thing I’ve seen in hospitals is that there’s a general lack of Industrial Engineering (aka Management Engineering, in healthcare) basics that would allow a department or manager to determine the right staffing levels based on inputs including patient demand, quality and safety requirements, and that hospital’s processes.”
  • Putting Performance Reviews On Probation – Samuel Culbert, author of Get Rid Of The Performance Review!, couldn’t agree more. “It’s the most ridiculous practice in the world,” he tells NPR’s Neal Conan. “It’s bogus, fraudulent, dishonest at its core, and reflects stupid, bad, cowardly management.”
  • How many different types of A3’s are there? by Tracey Richardson – “I will briefly describe the 4 different types of A3’s and when to use them based on my experience: Problem Solving A3, Proposal A3, Status Report A3, Strategic Planning A3”
  • Should story points be assigned to a bug fixing story by Mike Cohn – “My usual recommendation is to assign points to the bug fixing. This really achieves the best of both worlds. We are able to see how much work the team is really able to accomplish but also able to look at the historical data and see how much went into the bug-fixing story each sprint. Knowing this can be helpful to a team and its product owner”
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Airport Security with Lean Management Principles

The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother

We [Israel] said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela. Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

Lean thinking: customer focus, value stream (don’t take actions that destroy the value stream to supposedly meet some other goal), respect for people [this is a much deeper concept than treat employees with respect], evidence based decision making (do what works – “look into your eyes”), invest in your people (Israel’s solution requires people that are good at their job and committed to doing a good job – frankly it requires engaged managers which is another thing missing from our system).

The USA solution if something suspicious is found in bag screening? Evacuate the entire airport terminal. Very poor design (it is hard to over-emphasis how poor this is). It will take time to design fixes into physical space, as it always does in lean thinking. It has been nearly 10 years. Where is the progress?

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A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options. First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain ‘bomb boxes’. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports,” Sela said.

Lean thinking: design the workspace to the task at hand. Obviously done in one place and not the other. Also it shows the thought behind designing solutions that do not destroy the value stream unlike the approach taken in the USA. And the better solution puts a design in place that gives primacy to safety: the supposed reason for all the effort.
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Annual Performance Reviews Are Obsolete

Sam Goodner, the CEO of Catapult Systems, wrote about his decision to eliminate the annual performance appraisal.

the most critical flaw of our old process was that the feedback itself was too infrequent and too far removed from the actual behavior to have any measurable impact on employee performance.

I decided to completely eliminate of our annual performance review process and replace it with a real-time performance feedback dashboard.”

I think this is a good move in the right direction. I personally think it is a mistake to make the measures focused on the person. There should be performance dashboards (with in-process and outcome measures) that provide insight into the state of the processes in the company. Let those working in those processes see, in real time, the situation, weaknesses, strengths… and take action as appropriate (short term quick fixes, longer term focus on areas for significant improvement…). It could be the company is doing this, the quick blog post is hardly a comprehensive look at their strategies. It does provide some interesting ideas.

I also worry about making too much of the feedback without an understanding of variation (and the “performance” results attributed to people due merely to variation) and systems thinking. I applaud the leadership to make a change and the creative attempt, I just also worry a bit about how this would work in many organizations. But that is not really what matters. What matters is how it works for their organization, and I certainly believe this could work well in the right organization.

Related: Righter Performance AppraisalWhen Performance-related Pay BackfiresThe Defect Black Marketarticles, books, posts on performance appraisal

Worth Does Not Equal Wealth

Warren Buffet often says he happens to be very good at something that is very financially rewarding – effectively allocating capital. He says this while making the point that plenty of other people are exceptionally gifted in ways that are not as financially rewarding (teachers, grandparents, nurses, Peace Corps assignment…) but are important to society. He understands that his worth as a person is not tied to this bank account. It might be one reason he and Bill Gates have so generously used their wealth to help others. They understand those actions are related to the their worth.

People should not tie their feeling of their own worth to their income. We don’t talk about it much directly but I see it far too often in the way we discuss things. Most people agree we shouldn’t judge people by their bank account or their earning power but we still do it. Hey we have flaws. We also judge people based on how attractive they are and how tall they are and other far from sensible things. Study after study shows we do this even if we want to pretend we don’t.

At least in the USA far too often people mistake financial success for worthiness. Financial success is great (I am not one of those that sees wealth as a bad thing – even if the correlation to bad behavior can seem high, at times). Even in companies this is often done where those with higher salaries are seen as more worthy – not everywhere, not all the time, but still more than we should. And when the economy is bad more and more people face not only financial struggles but the added pressure of feeling less worthy as they struggle financially.

I think it is good that we feel a desire to contribute and play our part in making our communities successful. But we shouldn’t be overly critical when we are making real efforts to contribute but for example, the job market is very bad and we can’t be as financially successful as we were before. Or feel we have to judge our success versus our siblings, friends, childhood friends, co-workers, children… based on our material wealth.

Related: Narcissistic Cadre of Senior ExecutivesMillennium Development GoalsYou Can Help Reduce Extreme PovertyHigh School Inventor Teams @ MIT

Warren Buffett quotes:

“I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.” – quoted in The Audacity of Hope, page 191.

Management Improvement Carnival #115

Glyn Lumley is hosting the Management Improvement Carnival #115, adding some new blogs that haven’t been seen on the carnival before, which is always good. Highlights include:

  • Tales of redemption through improvement at work – Roger White concludes a series of posts about what other people have taught him regarding improvement at work. In this conclusion, he summarises the key learning points.
  • Connecting is not enough – Many of us like to think we’re effective networkers. Here, Andy Lopata looks at ten of the most commonly held beliefs about networking, and why he believes they are wrong.
  • How could we mistake-proof our thinking? by Benjamin Mitchell – “There are many sources of evidence that we experience ‘cognitive illusions’, such as the work of Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely.” [I agree – John, The Illusion of Knowledge]
  • The North Wind and the Sun by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “Too often, change agents focus on simple merit: my ideas are good, and you should engage. There are a lot of good things an organization can do. The problem is we have limited resources. You’ll have to create a reason more compelling than that.”

Related: Deming on ManagementCurious Cat management articlesReddit Management, find resources fellow users liked

Good Process Improvement Practices

Good process improvement practices include:

  • standardized improvement process (pdsa, or whatever)
  • Going to the gemba – improvement is done where the work is done. You must go to the where the action is. Sitting in meeting rooms, or offices, reading reports and making decisions is not the way to improve effectively.
  • evidence based decision making, data guides decision making rather than HiPPO
  • broad participation (those working on the process should be the ones working on improving it and everyone in the organization should be improving their processes)
  • measurable results that are used to measure effectiveness
  • pilot improvement on a small scale, after results are shown to be improvements deploy standardized solutions more broadly
  • visual management
  • Standardized work instructions are used for processes
  • one of the aims of the improvement process should be improving peoples ability to improve over the long term (one outcome of the process should be a better process another should be that people learned and can apply what they learned in future improvements)
  • quality tools should be used, people should be trained on such tools. The tools are essentially standardized methods that have been shown to be effective. And most organization just ignore them and struggle to reinvent methods to achieve results instead of just applying methods already shown to be very effective.
  • the improvements are sustained. Changes are made to the system and they are adopted: this seems obvious but far too often process improvements are really just band-aids that fall off a few weeks later and nothing is done to sustain it.
  • goals, bonuses and extrinsic motivation are not part of the process
  • The improvement process itself should be continually improved

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Work and Life

I believe in efficiency a great deal (it is a big part of the reason I took to Deming and lean manufacturing – I find waste annoying). Vacation sure can seem inefficient. All these people that could be working, not working. But people are not the same as machines. Time away from work can reinvigorate people. Time away from the day to day work can lead to better performance when people are actually at work. Time to enjoy life is valuable in itself.

The USA has enormous financial wealth. But vacation time in the USA is much less than most other rich countries. I think, by and large, this is a mistake in the USA. It is true part of the reason for the financial wealth in the USA is we chose to work longer hours so we can purchase more material goods. And as a principle I believe in limiting constraints on the market – so that the market can find solutions that people chose.

There are some difficulties with a free market approach to leave. First, in truth there is not much of a free market. Granted the government isn’t saying you have to offer only 2 or 3 or 4 weeks or leave. But try to negotiate with most employers in the USA for additional leave. You will find many have policies that they say won’t let them negotiate. So employees often have little choice about the amount of leave they can take with a job (even if they are willing to trade off salary).

There are several reasons for the lack of vacation time in the USA. One of the big reasons is the broken health care system. Health care costs are so huge, that the per hour costs of health care are very high. Companies don’t want fewer productive hours when the high health care costs are going to be the same for the year no matter if the work year is 1,600; 2,000; or 2,200 hours. Having 15% fewer employees for the same number of work hours that is a huge savings so companies have a big incentive to make hours worked per employee as high as possible.

Related: Vacation: Systems ThinkingMedieval Peasants had More Vacation TimeDream More, Work LessToo much stuffphotos from some of my time off
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Management Improvement Internal Experts

Having a group of internal experts in Deming, lean thinking, six sigma, etc. can be an good way to help the organization transform but they must 1) practice respect for people and 2) focus on building organizational capacity. Having, for example a few experts that are very focused on lean thinking and can be tapped by others in the organization I think can be very useful.

That group might well also serve as “change agents” which can make some people get mad at them. They can help push the organization to change. While it might be nice to think you can just show the wonderfulness that is lean thinking and everyone will immediately drop all their old habits and embrace lean thinking that often doesn’t happen. You might well have to push middle mangers (and others) outside their comfort zone. And you might well have to push people to really try this stuff and they have become so disheartened over the years by promises of new, better, ways to work. They just see this as one more lame pointy haired boss attempt and they may well not want to play.

A big focus should be on making improvement in the performance of the organization, obviously, but also on making it clear that this new way of doing things is helpful and will make it a better place to work. The role of internal management improvements efforts is to build the capacity of the rest of the organization to improve. Six sigma efforts often instead put the emphasis on six sigma experts doing the improvement instead of coaching and providing assistance to those who best know the processes to improve, which I see as a mistake.

Response to The “Lean Group” Syndrome
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Management Improvement Carnival #114

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, October 30th 2010, Washington DC. Photo by John Hunter.

The Curious Cat management blog carnival selects recent management blog posts 3 times each month. Since 2006 the carnival has focused on finding posts to help managers innovate and improve (Deming, lean manufacturing, agile software development, data based decision making, systems thinking…).

  • If Jon Stewart can do it, so can you by Dan Markovitz – “Get it? It’s a process. Even for something as creative as writing jokes, there’s a structure to follow. And by establishing that structure, they can unleash their comedy.” [Process Improvement and Innovation – John Hunter]
  • How I (try to) add value as an investor by Gabriel Weinberg – “I’ve been doing this startup stuff for a while now, pretty much all by myself or with one other person. So I’ve done most startup things, i.e. from incorporation papers all the way to an exit and everything in between. Moreover, I want to be closely involved. For most of the companies I’m involved with, we try to have frequent Skype chats (weekly to every few weeks) to discuss whatever is in front of them.”
  • Inspired by Shingo Again by Mike Wroblewski – “Mr Shingo suggested that every management person should go to gemba at least once everyday, and stay in one spot for at least 30 minutes to observe. This is every person in management, not just the plant production leaders.”
  • 5 Ways to Influence a Culture of Engagement by Trish McFarlane – “2. Provide challenging work assignments… 4. Connect employees to the organization’s mission 5. Be intentional, honest, and interact with integrity”
  • You might think with all the good books and blogs on management, pretty soon there really isn’t anything more managers need to help them. But what organizations keep doing, provides evidence there is going to be work to do for a long time. Beyond Crazy by James Kwak – “The ‘star’ example is Texas A&M, which created a report showing a profit-and-loss summary for each professor or lecturer, where revenues are defined as external grants plus a share of tuition professor P&L.” Taiichi Ohno knew about the failures of cost accounting.
  • Back to Basics with Kanban – “This list of 5 core practices used in organizations with successful Kanban implementations gives us a definition for how to implement the Kanban Method. These practices represent the seed conditions in any organization that may enable a successful Kanban-based change initiative.”
  • Failure to Plan is a Plan for Failure by Orrin Woodward – “Let’s go through each step of the PDCA process starting with the Plan step. What is the Plan and how do I use it to improve? The Plan is a way to test ones hypothesis or models of life.”
  • Deming’s long forgotten chain reaction by Gede Manggala – “Too much focus on cost saving will alienate your customers and make your employees unmotivated. This is why, companies which too much rely on cost saving will fall into the ‘doom loop'”
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Respect People: Trust Them to Use good Judgment

Nordstrom’s employee handbook used to be presented on a single 5 x 8 card:

Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. So our employee handbook is very simple.

We have only one rule: Use good judgment in all situations.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

That is no longer the case, however, as they have become more like everyone else. Simple ideas like this only work within the right context. Taking such ideas and applying them to an organization that isn’t ready will backfire. But if you build a culture where trust, respect, customer service and responsibility are encouraged lots of rules just get in the way of people doing their best. If you can’t trust employees to do their jobs, the problem is with the system you have that results in that, not the people you can’t trust.

Related: Trust Employees to Do What is RightHire People You Can Trust to Do Their JobWe are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemenFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes