Welcome to suburbia

I've finally plucked up the courage to set-up an online blog. I'm going to endeavour to blog as often as possible to share my thoughts, to share some articles and news i find interesting, and also use it for my private reflections (you guys won't get to see that!). Also i hope people will read and comment on some of my posts.

The spur for deciding to set-up a blog has been my studies through the Open University. They encourage learning and reflection, and collaborating with others.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Turning away from the tools: Improver behaviours

Tonight i'll be speaking for just 6 minutes on this topic at a Pecha Kutcha evening of the "Place for Luxembourg Improvers" I'll be one of many speakers, but i hope to be able to add something insightful and spark a bit of a debate.

6 minutes (as i found out writing the following text) is a very short amount of time, try it some time and you'll realise how precise and structured you have to be. Unfortunately i wont get the opportunity to say all i had to say, or use all of the resources i had hoped too. But the beauty of blogs is i can put the Directors cut in here. So below i've included the Full text of what i believe the improver behaviours to be, and also included the material i will use this evening as well as some extra goodies!

Hello my name is Luke, and I’m a process and business improvement specialist at Open Text in Luxembourg. Open Text is a global software company with over 100million users in 114 countries, some of the products we sell include; clould technology, document management, BPS and many more.

I’ve been working to improve the processes and business practices that impact customers in a variety of companies for over a decade now. My current role focuses on working across the R&D function; deploying my improvement expertise to solve problems that stop Open Text from serving its customers better, imparting my knowledge to build comfort and capability with improvement methodologies in our staff, to work with senior leaders to understand how Lean Six Sigma can help them achieve, and develop a strategy to make Lean Six Sigma part of the way we work in R&D globally, but especially Europe.
We’re in the very early stages of our improvement journey, and I hope that I will be able to come back and talk about our progress at a later date. But today I want to talk about something I am deeply passionate about, something that when it hit me allowed me to become a more effective Improvement practitioner, and an easier person to work with!

But first let me start with a question. How did you find Improvement? What courses did you attend? What was your first introduction to the wide field of improvement?
(Audience Participation)
Do you know I’m not surprised by those answers, because they mirror my experience and the typical experience of most Improvers. The foundation of our introduction to improvement is through tools, models, methodology, sometimes strange languages like Japanese, German or Americanised business speak! Think about it, Six Sigma talks about Voice of the Customer, Lean about the 8 wastes, BPM talks about elegantly designed processes, Operational Excellence is about process efficiency and productivity models. All of which are tools and techniques that build up a science around improvement, barriers to entry; do you speak the language? Do you know the difference between a VSM and a Process Map? Where did you get your badge?
A fantastic industry has been built up around determining and delivering the tools to improvement professionals; whether it be through training, consultancy, or the myriad of books cluttering bookshelves. The orthodoxy is tools, specialist knowledge, language, methods…. I’m not against any of these; I think they’ve given credibility to a skill set that only existed in manufacturing up until the early 90’s. They’ve opened up the potential to make massive changes to the customer experience, and from a purely selfish perspective they’ve kept me in employment!
But I’m concerned. Because despite the volume of training and models, we are still contending with this statistic….

Thousands of words have been written on the subject, and I can tell you, very few of the conclusions blame the failure on the paucity of training or the ineffectiveness of tools used. So if we all acknowledge that improvement is influenced by the human aspect and less about the tools, can we start to turn away from tools and start a dialogue around improvement behaviours?
I’m not claiming to be the first to realise this. The excellent people at the Lean Enterprise Institute are making Collaborative learning a focus of their summits this year. Having worked with McKinsey & Co. whilst at the Royal Bank of Scotland I am aware of their laser like focus on “Mindsets and behaviours” to enhance the likelihood changes and improvements stick. I’m sure you’ve got other examples of where the people aspect has been explored as part of your improvement work….From my experience a lot of this focus on people is more about influencing, coercing, cajoling them into changing their behaviours. Rather than taking the time to explore the behaviour you as a change agent exhibit and understanding the impact that has on others and their behaviour.
A quick question; who here thinks people are naturally resistant to change? (show of hands), and who is on the other side of the fence? (respond to show of hands) There is an excellent video on youtube, which unfortunately I don’t have the time to show that explains the behavioural reasons behind resistance to change.
Successful improvement efforts are conducted by people, who know how to engage other people, and typically we, as improvers, have to rely on those people bring ideas and new ways of thinking as we ourselves are not the experts in their job. How can you create the right atmosphere for successful improvement? Lets talk about behaviours.

Negative ones first! I’m sure that some of these will be familiar to you, and that you yourselves may have fallen into some of these behaviours…. My first 5 years as an improver looked a little bit like this!

 Are you an improvement fundamentalist?
Where are you on the continuum? At one end you have the adaptors, they have very little conviction for their tools and techniques, they sense the mood of the company or the department they are working in and adapt, conform, or as a Fundamentalist would say “they go native!” At the other end of the continuum you have the Fundamentalists; this is where improvement can start to feel like religion, you’ll know a fundamentalist by how much they love 5s (typically they’ll have upset their partners by Sorting, Setting in order, Shining, Standardising and sustain auditing the kitchen at home!). They’ll also be the person that when standing in a queue at the shop is not moaning at how long it is taking, but instead be drawing a process map in their mind and seeing how Takt can be introduced to ease the flow. What I’m advocating is a middle ground, an adaptable flexible improver that has a toolkit they can use, but is humble and respects all of those involved.

 The Emperors new clothes
This is where you delight in finding faults in the company processes or operations. Where everyday is a series of conversations where you expose (hence the Emperors new clothes reference) the area you are working in. I mean, that is why they brought you in right? To be an insufferable know it all to tell them everything that is going wrong in their organisation? However the part of the fable that people forget is that someone convinced the Emperor of the merits of his new line of clothing, he agreed and went ahead with this wardrobe malfunction. Those people that convinced him are still around, and they don’t appreciate being told they were wrong on a daily basis. In fact they’ll come back to haunt you later when you need to convince the Emperor to put some clothes on! What I’m saying is, be humble, be conscious of your impact, be interested in the history and how the company came to work in this way as it may help you put what you’re seeing in context.

 Hiding behind the language
We’re rightly very proud of the training we’ve received, the hours spent reading the wise words of our improvement forefathers. It also feels like we really have been accepted into the secret society of improvement when we know the difference between Heijunka and Kaizen, or between Takt time and cycle time. Take Musa Faisal of Emirates Group talking about his role and the improvement work that is happening in his company:

“In my capacity I operate as a corporate advisor to senior leadership teams on business performance excellence, hence, along with my team we partner with leadership teams in the business to identify and initiate business transformation programs and initiatives necessary to successfully manage profitable growth. These are then enabled through our tool kit of which lean six sigma is a part.
Within my division, I am the only Black Belt and we currently have over 10 team members trained to a Green Belt level. We are planning to train more people up to Green Belt level during this financial year.

The thinking behind the DMAIC approach as well as the agility that lean thinking and tools bring has helped us in enhancing our problem solving approach and speed in addressing some of the growth challenges.
When we scope an engagement around Lean Six Sigma, for instance, we are capable to turn around a project up to the recommendation stage within 3 weeks. The business would highly favour this approach as they are able to see what the future state looks like in a quick manner as opposed to spending significant time in stakeholders meetings/ interviews and extensive analysis. A typical Six Sigma project would typically take from 3-6months based on complexity of the problem on hand and the availability of data. “


I mean it’s perfectly understandable to me and you, because we know the secret handshake… but most of the people we collaborate with on improvements don’t. So let’s keep it simple, after all improvement and simplification is what we’re trying to achieve right?Focusing on objectives, goals, and adopting a checklist mentalityNot a bad thing, right? Providing a measurable focus makes it easier to prove success. Having a goal is an excellent way to ensure consistency across improvement efforts. What I have a problem with is the checklist mentality that sometimes comes with an obsession with goals and objectives. It links a little bit with the first point around where you sit on the continuum. Being adaptable to changing priorities and customer requirements is a fact of life these days. The typical improvement effort varies in duration from a couple of weeks to 6 months; during that time many things can change and so adopting a checklist mentality or being too focused on objectives lends the impression that you are not interested in what is happening around you. I was recently undertaking an engagement in an Investment Banking unit, assisting their local improvement teams with the programme of activity they had laid out for the next 2 years. They had a laser like focus on the cost goals and the ticking off of items from their checklist of mandatory activities- again I’m not against this. But it distracted them from improving the situation in the processes and also the customer experience, because everything centred on how to reduce cost and ensuring that the inflexible checklist was completed. What I tried to get them to figure out was what philosophy they were following in pursuit of their improvement goals? I asked them this question because if it were cost they were interested in controlling they could’ve conducted a “slash and burn” exercise, but they had chosen Lean Six Sigma, and so it seemed apt to get them to think about why? And what they were really hoping to achieve from their programme of work?

So lets talk about positive improvers behaviours

Firstly make it clear in actions words that you are here to help and not to hack away at their area. This involves the simple act of taking an interest in what they do, how they do it, what frustrations they suffer on a daily basis. Understand the history of previous attempts at improving, talk to as many people as possible, regardless of position, and show curiosity.

 Lean teaches Go, See, Understand and show respect. Go with an open mind, open your eyes to see how work is completed (leave your assumptions at the door, and show curiosity), make an effort to understand how and why things are done the way they are, and most importantly show respect, listen, ask open questions, challenge assumptions and absorb their frustrations. Go and See is not about showing how much you know about the process, but saying I don’t know how this works and am keen to learn

On that last point, be comfortable saying “I don’t know the answer”. This doesn’t reduce your power, it isn’t improver kryptonite, it is reasserting the fact you are here to help facilitate the improvement, and not to channel the dark arts to come up with a perfect solution. It positions you as having no pre-agreed agenda, it empowers the experts you’re working with to share their experiences and also admit there are things they don’t know. 

Teach by coaching. Every interaction with people should be an opportunity to coach them in some of the skills you’ve learnt as an improver. Most people learn best by doing, and so coaching on the improvement itself can be a very powerful way of getting the concepts across.

Finally, be a conscious problem solver. Use the challenges that occur during improvement projects as opportunities to use structured problem solving techniques from your toolkit. If you impart one piece of knowledge to those you are working with, let it be conscious problem solving, as this will create a lasting continuous improvement attitude.

So in summary; turn away from the tools. Consider how you exhibit the positive and negative behaviours, and finally how you can improve the success of your projects by switching on the people aspect of improvement

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