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.