Archive for January, 2012

Why It’s Tough To Decide

There is no progress without decisions. More strongly, decisions are unsung heroes of progress.

Decisions are powerful – things are different after a decision. (You are different after a decision.) Before a decision it’s one way, and after, another. And once a decision is made, the follow-on actions are clear, straightforward, transactional. In fact, the follow-on plan is justification for the decision. Decide this, do that. Decide the other, do something else. But decision is the hard part.

Progress is born from decisions and follow-on actions, but actions get attention and Gantt charts and decisions get short-suited. There is no project plan for deciding, no standard work. And it’s often unclear when a decision is made. Rarely is a decision documented. And once the organization recognizes a decision has evolved to stand on its own, the rationale and ramifications are unclear. And it’s unclear who birthed the decision. (The genetics of the parents define the status of the decision.)

There are two types of decisions: made decisions and unmade decisions. Made decisions are the ones we know, but it’s the slippery unmade decisions that are the troublemakers, the devious gremlins. Unmade decisions have a life force – they want to live, to remain undecided. (When unmade decisions are decided, they die.) That’s why it’s so hard to decide.

Over the millennia unmade decisions have developed natural defenses. Their best trick is camouflage. They know if they’re recognized, there’s a good chance they’ll be decided, and it’s over.  When they go to the meetings they hide in plain sight. They blend in with the wood grain of conference table or the texture of the ceiling tiles. They’re there, but hiding.

Unmade decisions know when they’re about to be decided – much like migratory birds sense gravitational fields. When they’re almost snared, they create complexity and divide into many, small, unmade decisions (think cellular division) and scatter. The increased complexity requires more decisions and enables at least some of themselves to live to fight another day.

But there’s hope. Unmade decisions get their life force from us – we decide how long they live; we choose not to see them; we choose to create complexity.

We must learn to spot unmade decisions, to call them out, and help our teams decide. At your next meeting, ask yourself if there’s an unmade decision hiding in plain sight. If there is, call it out, and decide if it should be decided.

Manage For The Middle

Year-end numbers, quarter-to-quarter earnings, monthly production, week-to-week payroll.  With today’s hyper-competition, today’s focus is today.  Close-in focus is needed, it drives good stuff – vital few, productivity, quality, speed, and stock price.  Without question, the close-in lens has value.

But there’s a downside to this lens.  Like a microscope, with one eye closed and the other looking through the optics, the fine detail is clear, but the field of view is small.  Sure the object can be seen, but that’s all that can be seen – a small circle of light with darkness all around.  It’s great if you want to see the wings of a fly, but not so good if you want to see how the fly got there.

Millennia, centuries, grand children, children.  With today’s hyper-competition, today’s focus is today.  Long-range focus is needed, it drives good stuff – infrastructure, building blocks, strategic advantage. Though it’s an underused lens, without question, the far-out lens has value.

But there’s a downside to this lens.  Like a telescope, with one eye closed and the other looking through the optics, the field of view is enormous, but the detail is not there.  Sure the far off target can be seen, but no details – a small circle of light without resolution.  It’s great if you want to see a distant landscape, but not so good if you want to know what the trees look like.

What we need is a special set of binoculars. In the left is a microscope to see close-in – the details – and zoom out for a wider view – the landscape.  In the right is a telescope to see far-out – the landscape –  and zoom in for a tighter view – the details.

Unfortunately the physics of business don’t allow overlap between the lenses.  The microscope cannot zoom out enough and the telescope cannot zoom in enough.  There’s always a gap, the middle is always out of focus, unclear. Sure, we estimate, triangulate, and speculate (some even fabricate), but the middle is fuzzy at best.

It’s easy to manage for the short-term or long-term.  But the real challenge is to manage for the middle.  Fuzzy, uncertain, scary – it takes judgment and guts to manage for the middle. And that’s just where the best like to earn their keep.

Radically Simplify Your Value Stream – Change Your Design

The next level of factory simplification won’t come from your factory.  It will come from outside your factory.  The next level of simplification will come from upstream savings – your suppliers’ factories – and downstream savings – your distribution system.  And this next level of simplification will create radically shorter value streams (from raw materials to customer.)

To reinvent your value stream, traditional lean techniques – reduction of non-value added (NVA) time through process change – aren’t the best way.  The best way is to eliminate value added (VA) time through product redesign – product change.  Reduction of VA time generates a massive NVA savings multiple. (Value streams are mostly NVA with a little VA sprinkled in.) At first this seems like backward thinking (It is bit since lean focuses exclusively on NVA.), but NVA time exists only to enable VA time (VA work).  No VA time, no associated NVA time.

Value streams are all about parts (making them, counting them, measuring them, boxing them, moving them, and un-boxing them) and products (making, boxing, moving.)  The making – touch time, spindle time – is VA time and everything else is VA time.  Design out the parts themselves (VA time) and NVA time is designed out.  Massive multiple achieved.

But the design community is the only group that can design out the parts. How to get them involved? Not all parts are created equal. How to choose the ones that matter? Value streams cut across departments and companies. How to get everyone pulling together?

Watch the video: link to video.  (And embedded below.)

Have fun at work.

Fun is no longer part of the business equation. Our focus on productivity, quality, and cost has killed it. Killed it dead. Vital few, return on investment, Gantt charts, project plans, and criminal number one – PowerPoint.  I can’t stand it.

What happens when you try to have a little fun at work? People look at you funny. They say: What’s wrong with you? Look! You’re smiling, you must be sick. (I hope you’re not contagious.) Don’t put us at ease, or we may be creative, be innovative, or invent something.

We’ve got it backward.  Fun is the best way to improve productivity (and feel good doing it), the best way to improve work quality (excitement and engagement in the work), and the best way to reduce costs (and feel good doing it.)  Fun is the best way to make money.

When we have fun we’re happy. When we’re happy we are healthy and engaged.  When we’re healthy we come to work (and do a good job.) And when we’re engaged everything is better.

Maybe fun isn’t what’s important. Maybe it’s all the stuff that results from fun. Maybe you should find out for yourself.  Maybe you should have some fun and see what happens.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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