Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zero Quality Control

I picked a book off the shelf this morning and browsed through it again. I'm always amazed at what I miss the first few times through a good read. This time, I actually read the preface!

The book was Shigeo Shingo - Zero Quality Control. In the publishers message, Norman Bodek talks about engineers and their approach toward quality. He says that according to Shigeo Shingo, there are three types of engineers - Table engineers - who spend their time in meetings arguing about problems on the shop floor, Catalogue engineers - who spend their time browsing for the latest gadget to solve these problems, and Nyet engineers - those who put the kibosh to any improvement suggestion.

He suggests that instead, we should strive to become Improvement engineers, by spending the majority of our time on the shop floor - observing problems, making suggestions and working with those who do the work to implement solutions to problems. Go to the Gemba!

His quote from Shingo really hit home - "My medicine works, but only if the patient takes it". How often have good suggestions been discarded, forgotten or ignored.

It’s tough to change the mindset when what we have done so far has brought us so far. Becoming a successful company was no accident.

Making the company the best that it can be means challenging your paradigm, looking at things differently, going to the gemba and working with your team to drive out waste. That's a lot of work - and not as comfy as the board room chair. I guarantee the result of this effort will not only open your eyes, but it will shock and amaze you. Because continuous improvement means just that - you can ALWAYS do better.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Gain focus with Strategy Deployment through A3

I received a timely note from Jim Womack this morning. He touched on the topic of strategy deployment and the loss of focus at GM in these trying times.

Several companies I contact are struggling with aligning their teams and establishing priorities. Even in this difficult economy, I’m surprised how many of these folks report their order books are overflowing and they are unable to keep up with customer demand. Between expediting materials, cooling the blazing customer calls and keeping product flowing out the door, there is little time for improvement initiatives. Juggling these demands means they are clearly unable to see the forest for the trees. It’s difficult working ON your business when you are so busy working IN your business.

Strategy deployment is all about focus. Many companies get overwhelmed with too many initiatives on the go. We seem to think we need a lot of different projects going or we’re not doing "it" right. During a recent value stream mapping exercise with a client, the team identified over 130 “opportunities” for improving their processes. While this low hanging fruit could help the organization, getting it done is the challenge. And how do we determine what to tackle first? Success is about getting the right things done.

Do we start at the top with senior management, or do we work on one departmental initiative to show success that we can build upon. In transitioning from a being a planning organization to becoming an execution based organization (just do it!), initiatives are driven from both top down and bottom up. We meet somewhere in the middle. The focus is on your zone of control, be it a team, department or facility.

Probably the most important thing to tackle is team leadership thinking. Transitioning from “thou shalt” to “what do you think” requires leaders to take responsibility for developing their people. Once that door has been opened, people come forward with ideas for eliminating waste and making process improvements that could not have been foreseen at the outset. Getting the people who do the work engaged in improving the work is key to success. The “thou shalt” philosophy is so ingrained in business culture that it has spawned a great following in the Scott Adams Dilbert cartoon series. We know its there, but exposing it directly could be a CLM (career limiting move). Many organizations utilize coaches, mentors or consultants to challenge the leaders mental models and guide the organization to better understanding.

How well your strategy will be implemented depends on how persuasive a story you can tell. How well have you engaged your team in developing the plan? How simple is it to explain to others?

The A3 process works because it is simple. Plans must be defined well enough to be presented on a single piece of paper – if you can’t express your plan on one page, you probably don’t understand it well enough. The A3’s tell a persuasive story, using the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) methodology with its roots in TQM from the 1980’s. Using a storyboard format, the elements of storytelling are covered – what do we need to achieve, how did we do last year, what have we tried before, how did it work, what do we need to achieve our objectives, what is the plan, are there unresolved issues, what help do you need. Keeping the action plan tight – no more than 5 key action items – ensures that work will get done. Using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Trackable) goals ensure we know where we’re going.

Aligning the A3’s to the organizational goals is a key part of the process. The senior leadership defines the organizations “True North”. The “mother A3” aligns the strategy with the true north. Departmental initiatives build on the mother A3 with “baby A3’s”. Using this methodology, activities and efforts are aligned and everyone starts pulling on the same rope.

Defining the True North can be a challenge. One of the first questions to ask an organization is “What is your purpose”. The typical response of “to make money and grow” has nothing to do with the customer. Developing a customer focus is essential. The customer provides the money the organization needs to grow and prosper. So making money, growing and increasing shareholder value is an outcome of your strategy, rather than the strategy itself.

This takes us back to Jim Womack’s email this morning. In it, he told the story of GM losing focus. In 1921, GM's leader Alfred Sloan produced a simple memorandum on the topic of "Product Policy" that defined GM’s purpose for generations to come. Sloan stated that General Motors would provide a carefully configured range of products for "every purse and purpose", from used Chevrolets at the lower end of the market to a "fully loaded" Cadillac at the top end. This simple memo rationalized GM's chaotic product line-up so its vehicles would not overlap in the market. Instead, they would each have a clearly defined place in a status hierarchy and would always be more refined, a bit "classier" with a higher price, than competitor products in each market segment.

Somewhere, GM lost its focus. Like the Titanic sailing across the ocean oblivious to the dangers ahead, it crashed and burned, taking a world economy with it. And now they are restructuring. But before you restructure, state your purpose.

Your entire organization needs to align on your true north to focus the strategy. Many organizations have put significant effort into defining Vision, Values, and Mission statements. Refining that into your True North, and developing a strategy deployment plan will move the vision from its resting place on the lunchroom wall to a living, breathing process on your workplace floor. And that will create an execution culture in your organization with the mindset of “Get it Done”.

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