Category Archives: Creativity

Visual Management with Brown M&Ms

When you hear about rock musicians having a clause in their contract that they must have a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room with all the brown M&Ms removed you could be excused for thinking: what will these crazy celebrities do next. Well it might just be those crazy celebrities are using visual management (granted I think there could be better methods [a bit more mistake proofing where the real problems would be manifest] but it is an interesting idea). Basically if they didn’t have the bowl of M&Ms, or if the brown M&Ms were not removed, they could distrust the thoroughness of the contractors. And they would check to see what other, actually important, contractual requirements were not followed.

Righting The Wrongs: Van Halen and M&Ms

The staff at venues in large cities were used to technically-complex shows like Van Halen’s. The band played in venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden or Atlanta’s The Omni without incident. But the band kept noticing errors (sometimes significant errors) in the stage setup in smaller cities. The band needed a way to know that their contract had been read fully. And this is where the “no brown M&Ms” came in. The band put a clause smack dab in the middle of the technical jargon of other riders: “Article 126: There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation”. That way, the band could simply enter the arena and look for a bowl of M&Ms in the backstage area. No brown M&Ms? Someone read the contract fully, so there were probably no major mistakes with the equipment. A bowl of M&Ms with the brown candies? No bowl of M&Ms at all? Stop everyone and check every single thing, because someone didn’t bother to read the contract. Roth himself said:

“So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.”

Related: The Importance of Making Problems VisibleVisual Work InstructionsGood Process Improvement PracticesGreat Visual Instruction Example

Sometimes Micro-managing Works

Sometimes micro-managing works. That doesn’t mean it is a good strategy to replicate. If you benchmark Apple you might decide that you should have a tyrannical obsessive involved CEO who is directly involved in every detail of products and services. After all Apple is now the second most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization of $324 billion (Exxon Mobil is the top at $433 billion) and a huge part of that is Steve Jobs.

Nice quote from How to beat Apple

Apple products & services that Apple does well are the ones that Steve Jobs uses

An interesting point, and really it doesn’t matter if it is completely true it illustrates a point that Steve Jobs is the rare leader that helps by being completely involved in nearly every detail. And at the same time he provides strategic leadership rivaled by very few others. But if you try to benchmark this (simplistically – as most benchmarking is done) you will fail. This works with Steve Jobs and maybe a handful of other people alive today. But with most leaders and organizations it would fail completely.

On another point Jason Kottke makes, I would normally suggest the opposite approach:

Openness and secrecy. Competitors should take a page from Apple’s playbook here and be open about stuff that will give you a competitive advantage and shut the hell up about everything else. Open is not always better.

I think you may well be better off doing the opposite and countering Apple’s secrecy with openness. It would depend on your organization, but, I think you might be better off trying to exploit Apple’s weakness instead of trying to do what they do well. Now things are never this simple but on a cursory level I think that is where I would look.

Google now has a market cap of $171 billion, Apple is almost double that – just 3 years ago Apple first exceeded Google’s value.

Related: Leadership is the act of making others effective in achieving an aimThe CEO is Only One PersonJeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterRespect for PeopleDee Hock on Hiring

Toyota Kata Song – The Times They Are Changing

Very well done song, Toyota Kata – Managing by Means, by Doug Hendren – to the music of “The Times They are A-changing” by Bob Dylan. Doug sounds impressively similar to Dylan and the words are actually wonderful.

Managing by results, it don’t work anymore. Don’t stand in your office, go to the shop floor

to really improve you must iterate, see our problems as treasures before its too late, and eliminate waste, whether little or great. Take baby steps up to your dreams. And gradually reach a more flexible state if we want to manage by means.

Via: Lean Blog

Related: Toyota Kata (book)Learn Lean by Doing LeanThey Will Know We are Christians By Our LoveIf Your Staff Doesn’t Bring You Problems That is a Bad Sign

Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

The internet should make finding airline flight information easy. Instead it is a huge pain. Hipmunk has taken on the challenge of doing this well, and I think they have done a great job. This video provides an excellent view of both web usability and customer focus. This is a great example of focusing on providing customer value and using technology to make things easy – which is done far to little at most companies.

Related: Innovation Example (Farecast – which seems to have been bought by Microsoft and broken)Making Life Difficult for CustomersConfusing Customer FocusJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesCEO Flight Attendant

Learn by Seeking Knowledge – Not Just from Mistakes

Being open to new ideas and new knowledge is what is needed to learn. Experimenting, seeking out new knowledge is even better.

You can be successful and see an even better way to do things and learn from it. This seems the best way to learn to me – not to just learn from mistakes. Of course this means your goal has to be improvement not just avoiding more mistakes than before.

Your actions are based on theories (often unconsciously): and learning involves improving those theories. Learning requires updating faulty ideas (or learning new ideas – in which case ignorance rather than a faulty theory may have lead to the mistake). Encouraging people to learn from mistakes is useful when it is about freeing them to make errors and learn from them. But you should be learning all the time – not just when you make mistakes.

You can be also be wrong and not learn (lots of people seem to do this). This is by far the biggest state I see. It isn’t an absence of people making mistakes (including carrying out processes based on faulty theories) that is slowing learning. People are very reluctant to make errors of commission (and errors of commission due to a change is avoided even more). This reluctance obviously makes learning (and improvement) more difficult. And the reluctance is often enhanced by fear created by the management system.

It is best to be open and seek out new knowledge and learn that way as much as possible. Now, you should also not be scared to be wrong. Taking the right risks is important to improving – encouraging creativity and innovation and risk taking is wise.

Experiment and be open to learn from what could be better and improve (PDSA is a great way to try things and evaluate how they work). And the idea is not to be so conservative that every turn of the PDSA cycle has no failures. In order to get significant successes it is likely you will try things that don’t always work.

The desire to improve understanding (and the desire to improve results provides focus to the learning) is what is valuable in learning – not being wrong. Creating a culture where being wrong needs to be avoided harms learning because people avoid risk and seek to distance themselves from failure instead of experimenting and digging into the details when something goes wrong. Instead of learning from mistakes people try to stay as far away from them and hide them from others. That is not helpful. But what is needed is more desire to continually learn – learning from mistakes is wise but hardly the only way to learn.

Related: The Illusion of Knowledgeconfirmation biasManagement is Prediction

Jason Fried: Why work doesn’t happen at work

In this TED talk, Jason Fried, founder of 37 signals, discusses how people get work done. When asked where do you go when you really need to get something done, almost no-one says: the office (unless it is early in the morning or late at night)? This is especially for creative people and knowledge workers. They need long stretches of uninterrupted time to concentrate. “The real problems in the office are the managers and the meetings.”

The main theme is that interruptions can severely damage performance, especially for what Peter Drucker called knowledge workers.

He offers 3 suggestions to make the office a place people can get work done. No talk Thursdays. And if that is too much how starting with 1/2 a day Thursday once a month. Second, replace active distraction (meeting, going and talking to a person) with passive distraction (email and IM) that a person can turn off when they need to focus. I have found this very useful myself. And third, cancel meetings. He closes with: I hope I have given managers reasons “to think about about laying off a little bit and giving people some time to get work done.”

Related: Understanding How to Manage GeeksBetter MeetingsWorkers Allowed Recreational Use of the Internet are More ProductiveManagement By IT Crowd Bosses

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?

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

A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers

Excerpts from The Deming Library Volume XXI, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Russell Ackoff and David Langford demonstrate that educators can begin a quality transformation by developing an understanding of the properties and powers of systems-oriented thinking. You can order the entire video, as well as the rest of The Deming Library.

Great stuff! If you enjoy this blog (the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog), you definitely should watch this webcast. This video has some great insight into education, learning and systems thinking. It also provides a good explanation of systems thinking compared to analysis. Dr. Ackoff: “You cannot explain the behavior of a system by analysis.” “The performance of the whole is never the sum of the performance of the parts taken separately: but it’s the product of their interactions. Therefore, the basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking is that to manage a system effectively you must focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.”

Dr. Deming: “You may reduce defects to zero and go out of business.”

Dr. Ackoff: “Most discussion of education assume that the best way to learn a subject is to have it taught to you. That’s nonsense… Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Therefore if we want people to learn we have to make them teach.” If you want more on this see David Langford’s work which provides great advice on how to improve learning and education.

Related: Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly DiseasesAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter ScholtesHow to Manage What You Can’t MeasureMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution

Why Don’t Football Players Just Thrown the Ball Out of Bounds to Stop the Clock

I have never understood why players don’t lateral the ball out of bounds to stop the clock in pro or college football in the USA. If time is running out and the player is tackled in bounds the clock keeps running and time can expire. You can stop the clock by running out of bounds. Also if the ball goes out of bounds the clock is stopped. I figured maybe there was some rule against just throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. I never hear announcers explain that they can’t just throw the ball out of bounds due to a rule, though.

John Clay, Wisconsin Badgers

I decided to go the the source, on page 73 of the official NCAA football rules it says the clock stops: “With fewer than two minutes remaining in a half a Team A ball carrier, fumble or backward pass is ruled out of bounds.”

However, on page 103 (of 272) it states: “A ball carrier may hand or pass the ball backward at any time, except to throw the ball intentionally out of bounds to conserve time. [The penalty for breaking the rule is] five yards from the spot of the foul; also loss of down.” The clock is started when the ball is ready for play (rule 3-4-3 says the clock restarts on the ready to play signal for “unfair clock tactics” penalties).

From the rule book appendix: “A ball carrier, late in the second period, throws a backward pass out of bounds from behind or beyond the neutral zone to conserve time. RULING: Penalty – Five yards from the spot of the foul and loss of down. The clock starts on the ready-for-play signal.” By the way an illegal forward pass has the same penalty.

Still to me this leaves a very good reason to lateral the ball out of bounds. It should certainly take less time to line up and ground the ball after the ball is marked ready for play than it would if the clock is never stopped. Often you could still have time to run a play or just ground the ball and stop the clock.

The NFL does use a 10-second runoff rule, and with the referee winding the clock on the ready for play, which would likely make an deliberate attempt a bad idea. But as far as I can tell college rules don’t have that time penalty. It seems to me, if you want to have a rule against stopping the clock that way, it probably is wise to have the 10 second penalty.

Even if for some reason taking that penalty doesn’t work if you are in the middle of the filed you could thrown it to someone near the sidelines to let them get out of bounds. Also if you at least make that attempt and then the ball goes out of bounds (based on your lateral attempt) it seems to me you at least have the hope the referees won’t call the penalty that requires your intent to thrown it out of bounds to stop the clock, in order for it to be a penalty.

Related: Randomization in SportsNHL Experiments with the Rules of HockeyPhysicist Swimming Revolution
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