Sunday, April 10, 2011

Follow me to my new blog - Hospital Kaizen

Now that I've moved into healthcare, I'm blogging on that topic now over at my new blog - Hospital Kaizen.  I'll be blogging about continuous improvement concepts in the context of a hospital setting.  Come on over and check it out.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Guest Post at the Lean Six Sigma Academy

Dang, I totally forgot to cross-link to my guest post over at Ron Pereira's Lean Six Sigma Academy. Here it is:

You CAN Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Anybody who has studied for the PMP Exam, or who has undergone extensive Project Management training, has had the concept of The Triple Constaints pounded into their head over and over again. If you don't know, The Triple Constaints (aka the Project Management Triangle) are Cost, Schedule, and Scope. This photo illustrates:

The Assumption

The idea is that if you alter one constraint, you affect one or both of the other two. For example, if you want to reduce the project budget, you will have to lengthen the schedule and/or sacrifice scope. In other words, you can't have your cake and eat it too. "Pick two, but you can't have all three!" is a common refrain. Common wisdom says that if you violate the Triple Constraints, then the item in the center of the diagram, Quality, will erode.

I get it, but I don't accept it.

I agree that under static circumstances, the Triple Constraint theory holds true. However, I don't believe projects are static circumstances. In other words, I think we have the ability to improve our circumstances. How can we do this?

We can reduce waste.

Waste is present on all projects, and manifests itself in many forms, most of which we are way too familiar with: re-work resulting from defects, delays resulting from late delivery of needed materials and information, extra processing resulting from poorly designed work flows, and on and on. In addition to the waste itself being harmful to our projects, it also has the side-effect of creating overburden on our people, which brings a whole new set of HR-related problems. Waste is truly evil.

Fortunately, there are many ways to attack waste, most of which are within the grasp of any project manager. Lean, as a project management methodology, offers a wide array of process improvement tools that have been successfully and repeatedly shown to reduce waste on a wide range of projects. Furthermore, beyond lean tools, lean culture instills in organizations a higher awareness of, and stronger problem-solving skills for eliminating, waste. Eliminating waste is what lean project managers do best.

The Opportunity

If we can harness lean thinking to eliminate waste, we can create huge opportunities. Reducing waste means fewer resources being assigned to inefficient activities. It means less delays and fewer defects. It means finding ways to tailor the scope of the project to what the customer actually values.

Imagine being able to cut costs AND shorten the schedule WITHOUT sacrificing scope. Imagine Quality actually improving when all this is happening. Sounds like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy to most project managers, right? Well, for project managers who know how to attack waste, it's a reality.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Where I Go to Get My Lean Fix

Today, I was asked by a newcomer to Lean to recommend some good reading to help bring him up-to-speed on some of the basics of Lean. While I did recommend a couple of books (Lean Thinking and Lean Production Simplified by the way), I was much more enthusiastic about recommending my favorite Lean-related blogs.

That got me thinking about which ones are my favorites. For anybody looking to learn about Lean, here are my top 5 in no particular order:
  1. Lean Blog by Mark Graban - "A blog about Lean in hospitals, business, and the world around us." - combination of commentary on Lean-related news, developments in Lean healthcare, essays on specific topics, podcasts, and guest posts from some great writers...a good overall source of Lean information, especially for Lean Healthcare.
  2. Gemba Panta Rei by Jon Miller - educational blog that can easily transition from the abstract philosophical side of Lean to the specific tools-oriented side of Lean...indispensable source of information for anybody new to Lean.
  3. Evolving Excellence by Kevin Meyer and Bill Waddell - I hope you have thick skin, because these guys pull no punches. They call it like it is, and in doing so, provide readers with a real understanding of how things work in the world of manufacturing, business, politics, and so on. This might be for people who have studied Lean for a minute.
  4. Jamie Flinchbaugh's blog - another great Lean teacher, one who focuses on the human side of Lean: leadership, employee engagement, job roles, etc. Jamie's blog is kind of new, but he's been blogging and writing about Lean for a very long time on the web.
  5. Lean Six Sigma Academy by Ron Pereira- when you need to get your geeky Six Sigma fix, but don't want to stray to far from the Lean nest, this is your site. Also a great place to get good deals on free training videos and whatnot.
Honorable Mention:
  • Lean Communications by Liz Guthridge - I just found out about this blog earlier today, so I can't put it in my top 5 yet, but it's one of the best that I've come across in a long time. One of the neglected sub-topics of Lean, communication, is addressed in a way anybody can relate to, whether you are new to Lean or not.

Also check out the list of people I follow on Twitter by clicking here. The Lean Enterprise Institute's web site is also a great source of information. If you prefer books, check out the Lean Library here. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The "Unwitting" Lean Thinker

If you're a Lean geek like me, you might have read All I Need to Know About Manufacturing I Learned in Joe's Garage. It's a fun little book about utilizing lean thinking in our everyday world.

The title of the book got me thinking about when I used to spend summers working as a roofer for my dad. After thinking about it for a while, I realized--all I need to know about Lean I learned working for my dad.

My dad is what I call an "unwitting" Lean thinker. I say this because he had never heard of Lean until a few years ago when I started learning about it, but he has for years operated his small roofing business in an extremely Lean fashion. Here are a couple of Lean traits that his business exhibits:
  1. Just-In-Time (JIT) material supply...No warehouses, no inventory. Materials arrive within a half-hour of when the roofing begins. No exaggeration. This results in extremely low overhead and less conveyance and motion waste from material handling.
  2. Close partnership with suppliers...Item #1 above would not be possible if it weren't for the fact that my dad has an extremely tight relationship with his materials supplier, Bradco. He's been with them for years, hasn't beat them up on prices, and enjoys the benefits of a cooperative arrangement (one of which is JIT delivery).
  3. Employee loyalty...Construction trades are infamous for churning employees. A common practice for roofing contractors is to add on some "strong-backs" for a few weeks when business is good, pound out a lot of work quickly, and then lay-off half the crew when the backlog vanishes. My dad has taken a different approach. He keeps his crews together for years and years, rarely adding or losing any team members. His crew members can anticipate each other's moves, are best friends off the roof, and understand the performance level that is required to work for my dad. This is invaluable.
  4. Workload balancing...One reason why my dad has been able to keep his crews together so long is because he balances the workload. By working steady like the tortoise instead of frantically like the hare, he is able to reduce the overburden (muri) on his people and avoid the senseless depletion of the work backlog that is caused by overproduction. Even in these desperate times for the construction industry in Florida where my dad works, he has been able to keep his crews working steady.
  5. Focus on value...My dad doesn't try to be the low-cost provider, or try to reach customers via fancy marketing, or try to land huge contracts through political networking. He just focuses on minimizing waste by keeping things simple, maintaining the highest quality by having the best crews, and creating word-of-mouth advertising by being more focused on customer satisfaction than anybody else. That's value.
As a Lean advocate, I've drawn upon my experience with my dad countless times. People intuitively understand these concepts, regardless of the organization. I think if you could strip an organization down to a simple business like my dad's, you could get going on the Lean path a lot quicker.

All the complexity and distractions of a modern bureaucracy get in the way. That's why I think it's important that we Lean advocates get better at organizational design. We can begin by going back to basics, maybe by studying small businesses like my dad's.

Here's a photo of my full company uniform, but not exactly hard at work :)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What is a Lean Advocate?

Hey Lean Advocates, do you ever struggle with how to explain to people what you do for work? Some people have well-recognized professions: lawyers, engineers, nurses, and so on. Unfortunately, most people I meet have never heard of Lean. This can make it hard for us Lean Advocates to validate our experience and describe our skill-sets.

Maybe it's just me, but there just seems to be a lot of unresolved questions about being a Lean Advocate. Here are a couple that come to mind...

What is the job description?

It's not the same thing as a Lean expert, because I know I'm not that. It's more about being passionate about Lean than being an expert. It's somebody who wants to achieve excellence in everything they do, using the principles, thought processes, and tools that have collectively become known as 'Lean.'

The problem that I've personally encountered in my career is translating my role as a Lean Advocate into the common vernacular of the business world. Am I a management consultant? Sometimes I guess. Am I a process engineer? Sometimes, but not really. Am I a project manager? Yes, oftentimes. What about trainer/coach? Oh yes.

So, I guess Lean Advocates are consultants, engineers, project managers, trainers, and coaches. As unrealistic as that seems, it's actually true from what I've seen.

What industry though?

Lean Advocate is one of those roles that really is not associated with a single industry. Does that mean we can move around from industry to industry? For example, lots of Lean Advocates come from manufacturing. I worked for a construction company for seven years. Am I disqualified from working in manufacturing because of my construction background? What about being a Lean Advocate in the burgeoning Lean Healthcare sector? Do the skills translate?

Many HR/recruiting folks might disagree, but I think Lean Advocate skills absolutely translate. Being able to communicate with people, facilitate collaboration, identify waste, increase customer value, scientifically solve problems, help relieve overburdening of employees, help create alignment throughout the organization, and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement...where do these skills NOT translate?

How do we prove our value?

How do we avoid being considered non-essential? How do we show that we add value? I think we sometimes do a poor job of defining our value to our organizations. The most successful Lean Advocates I've known are not the smartest or most passionate ones, but the ones who connect improvement activities to business results. I believe this is sometimes referred to as...Show Me the Money!

Anybody interested in Lean Advocacy as a career choice will need to get really good at showing the money. If we can't consistently prove the value of Lean, we'll always be susceptible to cost-cutting. Lean Advocates are too talented and too passionate to be considered expendable.

Just as safety advocates proved that good safety saves money, quality advocates proved that quality is free, and sustainability advocates are currently demonstrating that being green makes business sense, us Lean Advocates must make the business case to the decision-makers...over and over again.

So, what is a Lean Advocate?

Everybody has their own definition, but I think the job description needs to be something like: "A person who harnesses and promotes Lean as a means to better tangible business results in pursuit of excellence." Is that too far off the mark?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Learning & Teaching with the Dallas Chapter of PMI

Message for my Project Management friends--start going to the PMI Dallas Chapter events!

I went to my first monthly meeting last night, and was impressed by how much value it delivered. And I'm not even talking about the high-quality dinner buffet. What I am talking about is the quality of the people that attended. I met consultants, educators, recruiters, fellow project managers, Dallas-based corporate leaders, and more. A great mix of professionals.

Specifically, I had the pleasure of meeting two impressive people that I'm tremendously excited to collaborate with in the near future: Colleen Drabek and Beth Burnside. They are involved with the Dallas chapter's Education Committee, which develops educational programs, such as PMP Exam reviews and practical training on specific aspects of project management. The committee also networks with local universities, colleges, and other types of schools through the Student Outreach sub-committee.

As a lover of learning and teaching, I can't wait to get involved with this committee. Colleen and Beth's enthusiasm for their work only bolsters my enthusiasm to volunteer.

If education is not your thing, project managers, then opportunities exist with several other committees. The point is, us folks living in Dallas-Ft. Worth are fortunate to have such an active PMI chapter, and we should take advantage of it. I know I will.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Great Expectations for Lean Construction in DFW

Today, I was fortunate enough to attend a kick-off meeting for the new Dallas-Ft. Worth chapter of the Lean Construction Institute. The meeting, which was hosted by Texo and facilitated by Cynthia Tsao from LCI headquarters, was an excellent opportunity for us participants to brainstorm and identify priorities for the chapter moving forward. I was truly impressed with the brainpower, experience, and boldness in the room today. I was equally impressed with the quality of ideas and priorities that were identified during our meeting.

For me, three items stood out as the most critical items to focus on, at least during the first year or so of the chapter's existence. In no particular order:
  1. Developing internal knowledge and competency of Lean Construction principles. This process can be initiated through education and training, although true learning ultimately comes from doing. LCI and its friends have the ability to provide this, and the construction folks in DFW want and need it. Developing that common vocabulary, understanding the thought process behind Lean, and getting some hands-on practice with everyday Lean tools are all valuable objectives for the DFW Chapter.
  2. Engaging all construction-industry stakeholders. The expectation is that the architects, engineers, and construction folks will probably join in on the fun, but that's not enough. The customers of the A-E-C industry (building owners, building operators, developers, etc.) must also be engaged. So much of lean construction depends on the level of commitment and cooperation of our customers because of the way construction contracts are typically structured. Without the support of our customers, establishing a better approach to construction will be so much more difficult. One way to begin gaining support for lean construction is by demonstrating how it actually reduces risk for the customer (more on this in a future blog post).
  3. Creating the buzz. Dallas-Ft. Worth is such a great capital of business for the U.S. and the world. So many talented people, so many successful companies, so many industries, and so much pride! The DFW Chapter of LCI needs to take advantage of this by creating a buzz about lean construction. This will have to happen on many fronts, one of which should be through online social media. With plenty of talented people willing to contribute value-added content, and a wide range of platforms for delivering this content to the people that value it, there's no reason why we can't build a tribe of people who are passionate about lean construction in DFW. Once we have a tribe of passionate people spreading the word about lean construction, we have a chance at really opening it up to the mainstream construction industry.
There are numerous other focus areas that are all important. These are just the ones that really stood out to me after listening to the discussions and presentations at the meeting today.

I'm just thrilled to be involved at such an early stage of the DFW Chapter. I see limitless potential in this group, and have no doubt that we will improve the construction industry in North Texas. This will not happen over night, but in true Lean fashion, it will happen through continuous improvement over time. Today's meeting was a great first step.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seven Years of Lessons Learned at PHH

Last week was my last week at Palm Harbor Homes, Inc.. I spent seven wonderful years with this company (the only place I've worked since graduating college in 2003). Before I turn my sights towards the future and my next great company (TBD), I think it's appropriate to reflect back on the time I spent at my first great company. In the Lean world, they might call this hansei; while in the Project Management world, they might call this "Lessons Learned." Either way, the idea is the same--learn from the past. Here are some of the things I've learned from my time at PHH...

Lesson Learned: Get your hands dirty, often.

When I was first hired as a Manager-in-Training in 2003, I thought I was going to be sitting at a desk, firing off e-mails, and filling out TPS reports. That's not what happened...not by a long shot! On my first day, I was sent out to the shopfloor to start welding steel I-beams together. Within about six months, I had worked hands-on in every department in our homebuilding factory. Blood, sweat, tears, and all. After that, I spent another six months supervising our crews and doing quality control inspections. Not exactly what I expected coming out of college.

But let me tell you, that was the most important year of my life. That was the year I first learned the importance of going to the place where the real work is being done, and seeing for myself how things are functioning. In the Lean world, they call this genchi genbutsu. At Palm Harbor, we just call it getting your hands dirty. Whatever you call it, just recognize that without it, you're limited in how deeply you can really understand the problems faced by your people everyday. This is no doubt one of the best lessons I ever learned at PHH.

Lesson Learned: Communicate, communicate, communicate.

After that year out on the shopfloor, I got promoted to our on-site construction division as a Personal Construction Manager. At first, I spent all my time putting together detailed construction schedules, examining blueprints, and analyzing cost estimates. Then, in no time at all, I began receiving all sorts of complaints from my customers, sub-contractors, employees, and just about everybody else. While I was paying so much attention to the technical aspects of my job, I had failed to pay attention to the communication needs of my project stakeholders.

The lesson I learned is that stakeholder communication is absolutely critical to project success. You can bring in a project on-time, on-budget, within scope, and with great quality; but if you fail to address the communication needs of your stakeholders, you can have a completely failed project on your hands. I learned that lesson the hard way, on more than one occasion.

Lesson Learned: It's the money, stupid.

For a couple years, I was one of PHH's most staunch supporters of the Lean Manufacturing methodology. For a while there, during my stint as the company's Corporate Lean Manager, I was responsible for spreading the Lean gospel to all our manufacturing divisions, and I did so with the fervor of a zealot. People started calling me Mr. Lean, and I felt good about that moniker. What I should have felt was the need to be a little more business savvy.

By that, I mean that I should have been doing a better job of framing Lean as an approach to achieving our business objectives. I was such a believer in Lean that I never felt the need to translate the benefits of Lean into dollars and cents. Unfortunately, many business managers only speak the language of accounting. I should have recognized that fact and adjusted my approach accordingly. That was an extremely hard lesson to swallow.

Lesson Learned: It's hard to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Following my time as Mr. Lean at PHH, I got deeply involved with the company's large-scale military construction projects. These projects were completely different from any work we had ever done before at PHH. Not only was the complexity of the buildings much greater than our normal product, but we also had a much larger scope of work being performed on-site (as opposed to in our controlled homebuilding factories). To top it all off, we had the pleasure of complying with the labyrinth of federal and military regulations pertaining to these types of projects. This was definitely not our bread & butter work.

But, it wasn't the complexity, or the huge scope of work, or the mother lode of bureaucratic red tape that caused us the most problems. It was actually our organizational structure that hurt us the most. Without going into great detail, PHH has always been organized around ongoing manufacturing operations, as opposed to temporary construction projects. As expected, PHH is quite experienced and competent at managing operations, but much less so at managing projects. Making the transition from our traditional type of work to large-scale construction projects was a huge challenge for us.

Fortunately, PHH has a great organizational culture to help mitigate the shortcomings of its organizational structure. The culture essentially smooths out the square peg so that it fits nicely into the round hole, albeit with a good deal more effort and stress involved. But that's Palm Harbor Homes in a nutshell--not a perfect company, but a company with a team full of people willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This wonderful organizational culture really sets PHH apart from other companies I've dealt with in my career.

Final Thoughts (Jerry Springer style)

I learned a lot in my seven years at Palm Harbor. The four lessons learned mentioned above are just the ones that stick out to me at this transitional moment. They are the ones that have resonated the most with me, and that will help me the most in my career, but there are literally hundreds of other important lessons that I've learned over my seven years with PHH. My entire time with the company was one giant learning opportunity.

I suffered through many mistakes, and enjoyed many successes. The company allowed me to try a wide range of jobs, and gave me serious management responsibilities early and often. This is a great business best practice that I wish every company utilized. I just can't see how I could have had a better environment in which to mature professionally.

On top of it all, I made friends for life while at PHH. Some of the people I worked with are just incredible. I could not have asked for a better place to begin my career. While I'm anxious and excited about the future, I'm appreciative and respectful of the past seven years. Thank you to the entire Palm Harbor family.

Monday, February 08, 2010

My Scrum Infatuation

I'm infatuated with Scrum. I had heard the term before, but never really knew what it meant. This past week, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture on the subject by Dr. Tom Sheives with the University of Texas at Dallas' Project Management program. Keeping in mind that this four-hour lecture/discussion was pretty much my first and only exposure to Scrum, I gotta say I like the concept a lot.

The Scrum Process in a Nutshell

I won't go into the history of Scrum, or how it fits into the Agile Project Management methodology, but you can read all about it here on Wikipedia. I'd rather just focus on one of the visuals that Dr. Sheives used in his presentation (courtesy of Mountain Goat Software):

This gorgeous graphic explains at a high level how Scrum works. Going from left to right on the graphic, here is the Scrum process:
  1. Product Backlog is established by a Product Owner
  2. Blocks of the Product Backlog are moved into the Sprint Backlog and decomposed into smaller chunks of work
  3. The project team processes the smaller chunks of work in 2-4 week intervals called "sprints"
  4. There are also 24-hour feedback loops during the 2-4 week sprints that include Daily Scrum Meetings
  5. The Scrum process yields an output called a "Potentially Shippable Product Increment"
Interestingly, on projects utilizing Scrum, there is no project manager per se. There is the previously mentioned Product Owner, who decides on the features of the product and prioritizes the Product Backlog. There is also a ScrumMaster, who supports the project team during the sprints and conducts the Daily Scrum Meetings.

The project team is somewhat self-managing, as the team members decide for themselves how to break down the work in the Sprint Backlog and how to execute the work during the sprints. This approach to project management is quite different than the standard approach as defined by PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Not everybody likes this departure from the standard.

Scrum & Lean

To traditional project managers, the Scrum approach seems risky and laissez-faire, but not to us Lean advocates. We understand the power of Scrum because it adheres to many principles of Lean:
  • Pull...the project team pulls work from the Sprint Backlog, which is pulled from the Product Backlog
  • One-Piece is processed in small, rapid intervals with frequent course corrections along the way
  • Daily Accountability...during the Daily Scrum Meeting, commitments are made, progress is verified, and problems are communicated
  • Customer Value...the Voice of the Customer is provided by the Product Owner
  • Servant Leadership...the ScrumMaster supports the project team, Gemba Kaizen-style
  • Self-Adaptive Teams...the constant change inherent in a Scrum environment tends to yield flexible team members capable of adapting to the needs of the project
  • PDCA...the Daily Scrum Meeting and the 2-4 week Sprints allow for frequent PDCA cycles, as do Sprint Reviews and Sprint Retrospectives, which are pretty much self-explanatory
Anybody who has studied Lean can see elements of lean thinking embedded within the Scrum methodology. For me, one of the best ways to tell if something is "lean" or not is to see how traditional managers react to it. While the audience at Dr. Sheives presentation seemed to be curious about Scrum, I definitely sensed some apprehension about using it in the real world. I've seen this same reaction dozens of times in regards to Lean, so I have a good feeling that Scrum is a lean approach to executing project work. This is obviously a silly way to judge the merit of a management system, but it has been surprisingly accurate in the past.

Scrum & Construction

During Dr. Sheives' presentation, one of the first things I thought of was the Last Planner System, which is an approach to construction management developed by the good folks at the Lean Construction Institute. Similar to Scrum, the LPS focuses on short time increments, rapid feedback, frequent course corrections, and continuous planning.

Whereas Scrum was developed in response to the constantly changing product requirements of the software industry, LPS was developed in response to the overwhelming complexity and lack of control in the construction industry. Scrum and LPS are just two variations of the same concept--lean project management.

Scrum has proven to be a highly effective approach in the software business, just as LPS has in the construction business. However, Scrum seems to be more utilized in software than LPS in construction, which probably points to the cultural and organizational barriers we face in construction. Figuring out how to remove these barriers is key. If we can do this, we can increase the adoption of lean methods in construction and start seeing the same great results that the software folks using Scrum often see.