Friday, December 18, 2009

Time to Look Back and to Look Forward

Another year is coming to its end, and it's time look back at what we have achieved. It's also time to set objectives and plan actions for next year.

How was your year? Did you meet your objectives? Did you stay focused? Did you manage to keep your work and life balanced?

How about next year? How are your objectives? Are they focused? Will you be able to keep yourself and your relationships healthy?

I received the seasons greetings below from Gemba Consulting. It is spot on.

I wish you all happy holidays and a successful new year!


How many things are on your agenda for 2010? Whether you are the CEO of a major company or the leader of your own life this is a question we all must ask ourselves as we prepare to meet the coming year. When teaching the TPS approach to strategic planning and deployment known as hoshin kanri there are several critical conversations we must have.

The first and most important is to limit the annual objectives to only the vital few, three to five at most. This is incredibly difficult for most to do since we all want and need to do so much. Yet to be as effective as possible we must focus most of management team's effort on the vital few breakthrough objectives.

What happens to everything else we need or want to do? We must deselect these other initiatives, integrate or turn them into enablers for the breakthrough objectives, or handle them through daily management. The capability of senior leaders to delegate to junior leaders much of the daily management and problem solving that occupies them can be a breakthrough objective in itself.

I wish all of you improved health, success and well being in 2010!

Jon Miller
Gemba Consulting

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to Keep Talented People

On the comments of my previous post my regular commentator Daddy asked: "have you ever thought of becoming a professional consultant by yourself?" That is a tough question to answer publicly, as Daddy is commenting anonymously, and the only thing I know for sure is that he is from Finland (and could even be my boss or his colleague).

Here is my honest answer.

Yes I have thought of becoming a consultant. Several times a year, every time I work with good consultants. But I have too many reasons for not to take the risk. The company I work for meets several criteria that are important for me, and for any business.

Opportunities for professional development

Some weeks ago The Wall Street Journal published an article called How to Keep Your Best Executives. I am not an executive, and if I am talented or not, is for other people to judge.

Reading the article made me realize that I do not have a satisfaction gap on the opportunities for my professional development. The most important opportunities are summarized on the picture in the right, for details see the article.

I am given increased responsibilities and challenging tasks to develop diverse competencies. I am allowed and encouraged to accumulate marketable skills, to expand my professional network, and to build my professional reputation. Partly through my blog, which is no secret.

Matching values

My values match the company values. We are among the companies having received recognition from UN for outstanding Communications on Progress regarding Corporate Social Responsibility reporting.

We are included in the Cleantech Index which is comprised of 78 publicly listed companies that are global leaders in cleantech across a broad range of industry sectors.

Business fundamentals

We have a solid foundation for Achieving Business Excellence with (1) high-quality products and services, (2) solid financials, and (3) reacting to change.

Management fundamentals

We pay attention to important management fundamentals of (1) vivid vision, (2) best people, (3) robust communication, (4) sense of urgency, (5) disciplined execution, and (6) extreme customer focus. For more on these, see my earlier post about the book Awesomely Simple where these criteria come from. Or check how I rephrased the list as advice I gave my management team when I gave them the book.

Continuous improvement

Nobody's perfect, and we are working on to improve some of the above. I am able to influence many of them. From inside.

Yes I have thought of becoming a consultant, but why would I?

Instead, would you be interested to join us?

Monday, December 14, 2009


Two years ago I saw Presentation Zen guru Garr Reynolds talk about a new way of presentations. To me it was really eye opening and gave me a totally new of seeing, creating and delivering presentations.

Last summer he delivered the following keynote speach about simplicity. His earlier talk is included in my earlier post Presentation Skills

The presentation is 43 minutes long, and you can read Garr's thoughts about it in his blog. I decided to post it today, because tomorrow Garr is delivering a presentation at Apple Store Ginza.

I will be there tomorrow. Last time I saw him had such a lasting influence on me and I realized that the search for simplicity was a common topic in many books.

Simplicity has became 2nd most frequent tag in my blog. Below some examples:

Let's keep it simple!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lessons Learned = Some Advice

I created this blog about 3 years ago because I realized there were quite a number of things I needed to cover in my first management position. About two years ago I started updating my blog and it has become a way for me to process the challenges I face in my job.

Now it is time to summarize the lessons learned - next week is my last week in my current position before relocating back to the head office.

Today I gave my management team a book called Awesomely Simple by my friend John Spence along with the following advice:
Please remember to
  1. Comment, follow and communicate the direction set by the head office
  2. Develop our people
  3. Ensure smooth communication locally and globally
  4. Make sure that our processes concentrate on important things
  5. Systematically manage all of the above
  6. Last, but not least, please remember that everything we do must serve our customer
It's that simple, but it's not always easy.
These points pretty much cover all the challenges I had, and all the lessons learned during the past years. What is left outside is mainly the challenge of change resistance when trying to change the way things used to be done - when trying to lead a culture change.

I did my best, I hope with these advice you can do better!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Curse of an Open Office

It's Monday morning, and I am getting ready to start another working week. Last week I saw this video and tweeted it. My friend Cheri wrote a blog post about it and I realized two things
  1. The noise in open office greatly reduces my productivity, like Julian Treasure points out in the video

  2. The office setting with no walls, and not even a meeting room door to close, makes it very difficult for me to communicate especially HR issues with my team, like Cheri points out.
I suffer from both of these daily.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Things that work

Lately I have been thinking about Operational Excellence. Not the low cost strategic positioning I used to know as operational excellence, but something completely different.

An article by Spencer Stuart starts by stating: Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, total quality management are just a few of the programs companies are implementing to increase profitability and eliminate waste. When integrated under the umbrella of Operational Excellence and applied across the organization, however, a new way of doing business emerges — one that produces higher yields, reduces waste, improves quality and increases customer satisfaction.

The institute of Operational Excellence gives this definition: Operational Excellence is when each and every employee can see the flow of value to the customer, and fix that flow when it breaks down.

But what does this really mean? I tried to define this in a way that would apply to anything and that could be understood by anybody, and came up with my own definition.
  • Operational Excellence is your ability to design, produce, deliver, support and continuously improve things that work the way they are supposed to.

  • Your customer requirements define the way your products or services are supposed to work.

  • Things that work the way they are supposed to lead to customer satisfaction.

  • Things that don't work the way they are supposed to lead to frustration.

This morning I saw this ad by Apple, which is pretty much built around the same message.

Did you notice Anne saying: "The real fresh start would be moving to a (product) which is rated #1 in customer satisfaction. ... I could stick to what I know, but what I know is pain and frustration."

Easy choise - isn't it?

Does your product or service work as it is supposed to? Are your customers satisfied or frustrated? And what might be your next step?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thoughts on Lean and Kaizen

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with Hayashida san, a retired Japanese gentleman who used to be the factory manager for a Lexus plant. This post is based on the notes I made during his presentation and during the long Q&A after his presentation, with many references to my earlier posts. Hayashida san uses the original term TPS rather than the western term Lean.

It all starts with building the foundation on 5S - if you do not (continuously) pay attention to sorting and being organized, how can you expect Kanban, one piece flow or other principles to work? Slipping back from 5S always happens because we are concentrated on the task at hand - it is important to keep on repeating the importance of the basics. See earlier posts for 5S definition or 5S video. He sees the first 2S most important: Sort and Straighten - sort out the tools and equipment you really need, straighten and keep them in order and remove everything you do not need.

You need to have an idea management system - but "An idea it self has no value, it must be implemented (to be recognized). If it did not work well, that's no problem, let's just improve again." To build a culture that supports continuous improvement, do not expect break trough ideas, but recognize small steps. Small Kaizen is valued a lot - that creates the base for continuous improvement culture.

Related to this some comments from the book I often refer to The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation by Matthew E. May. He starts his book by noting that Toyota implements 1 million ideas each year. He continues, Do the math: 3000 ideas a day. That number, more than anything else, explains why Toyota appears to be in a league all their own, playing offense on a field of innovation, while their competitors remain caught in a crossfire of cost-cutting.

Here’s the thing: it’s not about the cars. It’s about ideas. And the people with those ideas. But not just any ideas. Mostly tiny ones, but effective ones nonetheless—elegant solutions to real world problems. Not grand slam home runs, but ground ball singles implemented all across the company by people that view their role not to be simply doing the work, but taking it to the next level…every day, in some little way. Good enough never is. When an entire organization thinks like that, it becomes unstoppable.

For Matt's own summary of his book, see my earlier post. In a recent podcast Matt emphasises the need for a simple idea management system where immediate supervisor can decide on implementing and rewarding the ideas on spot – without a company wide screening process.

See also my earlier posts on culture that supports ideas, getting ideas from customers and What’s blocking your ideas?

Hayashida san comments that Toyota VP has always been a TPS man, except for the past 3 years. Toyota "got greedy" and made some bad decisions in the US - like Texas plant capable only to produce one model which is against TPS principles.

"I do not think we were wrong to expand our business in an attempt to meet the needs of customers around the world. But we may have stretched more than we should have, and that made us unable to capitalize on Toyota's traditional strengths." said Mr. Toyoda, Toyota's new president on his speech June 25.

Even Toyota’s Lean production is not working based on pull as much as they let us believe. "The sea of new cars, 57,000 of them, stretches for acres along the Port of Baltimore. They are imports just in from foreign shores and exports waiting to ship out -- Chryslers and Subarus, Fords and Hyundais, Mercedeses and Kias. The customers who once bought them by the millions have largely vanished, and so the cars continue to pile up in Baltimore and at ports around the globe. ... Last month, when space filled up at one Swedish port, Toyota was forced to lease a cargo ship as a sort of floating parking garage for 2,500 unsold cars." (Washington Post, April 3, 2009) as cited on my post about Beer game pull system simulation.

Related to “getting greedy”or not, the recent floor mat recall is a heavy blow on Toyota’s quality reputation.

Hayashida san continues saying goal setting and follow up are essential. Goals are cascaded down from corporate level and translated into clear individual actions. Corporate, (division), plant and depart level goals are done annually, section (and team) level actions every six months and individual goals quarterly. Performance evaluation is based on achievement of goals and bonus is linked to performance. Bonus is not directly linked to meeting the goal target (missing an ambitious goal can be rewarded better than exceeding a secure goal). There must be a group function to watch over that there are no conflicting goals - in Toyota matrix that is Production control or the Chief engineer (who reports directly to top directors).

Again, it's in the culture: "Many Japanese businesses start their day off with a morning meeting, where workers line up and chant the company's slogans as a way of inspiring motivation and loyalty, and as a means of keeping the company's goals fresh in their minds."

With Hoshin Kanri goal setting "the daily crush of events and quarterly bottom-line pressures do not take precedence over strategic plans, rather, these short-term activities are determined and managed by the plans themselves.”

Essential management skills constitute a cycle of goal creation, commitment, feedback, reward, and accomplishment, with human interaction at every turn.

Do not reward performance against planned or budgeted target, but actual performance. Jack Welch adds that "this kind of budgeting can only happen if compensation is not linked to budget but to actual performance against previous year and competition."

Back to Hayashida san - Standardize - work to the standard - and improving the standard on small Kaizen steps. Use small steps that result to new standard rather than aiming too high. Naturally in some cases you must also have radical top down improvements. Ask first what we can reduce to make this better, not what we can add. And remember to keep it simple!

The key to implementing TPS outside shop floor is to standardize work so it does not depend on one person only. On shop floor problems surface automatically because they interrupt the flow. In an office environment if you have a problem, report it to surface the problem. Don't fix it your self but share with others who can learn from solving the problem and eliminate the root cause avoid the problem to happen again.

For TPS and continuous improvement it is essential that you have enough resources close to the shop floor who have time to concentrate on Kaizen, not only on daily production quota.

Hayashida san advices you not to try to copy the TPS tools as such, but try to understand the philosophy behind them and to figure out how to implement that in your environment. Peter Drucker has said: "Management is doing things right, Leadership is doing the right things." It's good management to implement the tools and processes the right way, but it requires good leadership to figure out which tools are really essential for you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Promoted

Dan at Great Leadership blog listed last week how he would give an early warning to people who are being promoted. His list is actually pretty good list to think about - am I delivering any or many of these things and should I expect a promotion in the future?

Here is his script for delivering the good news:

Congratulations, you’re going to be promoted next month! You sure deserve it. Here’s why:
  • First of all, you’ve consistently achieved outstanding results, ¼ after ¼, year after year. Even in this tough economy, you’ve managed to hit or exceed the targets that were established for you. And not just recently – you’ve consistently demonstrated the ability to get results, in any situation you’ve been in.

  • You’ve demonstrated the ability to learn and adapt. The last few years, you’ve been given a series of “stretch” developmental assignments. In each one, you quickly got up to speed, got results, and more importantly, developed new skills and incorporated those skills into your repertoire.

  • You’ve got rock solid values, including ethics, integrity, credibility, and unwavering respect for others, no matter who they are. We did 360 interviews with your peers, coworkers, clients, and suppliers. Your scores were consistently high on each of these attributes from all stakeholders.

  • You’re been committed to developing your people. Quite frankly, given the importance of your current role, we were reluctant to let you go. But you’ve done such a remarkable job developing a pipeline of talent, we have three outstanding candidates from your team to choose from.

  • You are seen as a leader amongst your peers. You are the one they turn to for advice and look at to see how you react. They respect you and will have no problem working for you. You’ve demonstrated the ability to reach across functions and work collaboratively for the greater good of the organization.

  • You’ve got outstanding “leadership presence”. The executive team respects you, you don’t back down, and are able to influence decisions at every level of the organization.

  • You’ve created a motivating and inspiring environment throughout your organization. We’re wondering if there is something in your department’s water coolers. People seem to love their work, are always positive and upbeat, and you’ve got the highest employee engagement survey scores in the company.
Dan also provides another list - what if you are not delivering any of these things, or even working against them as a leader? For his script for delivering the bad news, please visit his original blog post Head’s Up – You’re About to be Promoted or Fired

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

About Intrinsic Motivation

This talk by Dan Pink was posted recently on three blogs I follow.

Cheri at The Enlightened Manager commented that "It's a fascinating look into when money changes behavior, and when it doesn't."

The Heart of Innovation thinks it is a "Fabulous presentation on the power of intrinsic motivation and the utter goofiness of "carrot and stick" methodologies to improve business performance. 18 minutes. Worth every second."

Garr at Presentation Zen makes many good comments and I will highlight some below the video.

Based on my four years in Japan I (unfortunately) agree with this comment by Garr: "When I worked at Sumitomo in Japan through most of the '90s, I experienced the opposite spirit of (my flexible schedule in the US). Results were important, but just as important — and sometimes more important — was just to be there in the office and be seen as a good member of the team. Sometimes the motivation in Japan is a different kind of carrot and stick, the stick is really the fear of being an outsider or being labeled as one. Things are changing in Japan, but the idea of giving workers loads of freedom with their schedules is something that is hard for a lot of managers and firms to do."

Garr also posted some slides from the presentation he made last year based on Dan's book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

I don't have anything to add on what Dan and the bloggers said, but I will definitely buy some of Dan's books.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dirty Business

Last week I saw this presentation about A Trade / A Crime So Monstrous

It would be my pick to be the winner of World's Best Presentation Contest 2009. The last day for voting for presentations is today.

Yesterday published a talk by journalist Misha Glenny about his investication on the same industry.

About midway to his talk he says "A significan minority of those 500 million Europeans [as well as the US and Japanese] like to spend some of their leasure time and spare cash sleeping with prostitutes, sticking 50 Euro notes up their nose and implying illegal goods/labels (?) ... It is this Western desire to consume that is the primary driver of international organized crime."

This comment about desire reminds me of an article a read earlier this year, Why Sweatshops Flourish at HBS Working Knowledge. It's key concepts like "Moral standards about sweatshop labor are subject to change when desire for a product is high." and "Consumers have more power than they think to influence how products are made."

These are all excamples of worst practices and dirty business, while I try to collect best practices in my blog. The best practices in this case could be defined by The United Nations Global Compact, which is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

And again, like in so many other cases, I am proud for the company I work for. We are among the companies having received recognition from UN for outstanding Communications on Progress regarding Corporate Social Responsibility reporting.

Let's keep up our moral standards and fight back!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Awesomely Simple Advice for (Middle) Managers

Earlier this week I received John Spence's new book Awesomely Simple: Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas Into Action. I have been waiting for the book since May last year, and it was worth the wait.

Before listing the key strategies, let's look at what makes them so important. During his trainings and workshops John has been asking hundreds of executives a simple question: "What are the four biggest issues you are dealing with right now in your company?" Just about all are stuggling with four basic issues listed below with typical example of how they are described to John.

  1. Communicating vision. "I have a clear vision of where I am tryin to take my organization. I think about it all the time and it's always on my mind, but I bet if you went two levels down in my company and asked people what the vision of our organization is ... they would not be able to tell you."

  2. Openly addressing challenges. "I realize now that we're not having the tough conversation we need to have in our organization. There are issues, challenges, and problems that everyone knows about but no one wants to talk about. As a leader, I now understand that I'm going to have to accept that is is my role to engage everyone in discussing the undiscussable."

  3. Enabling mediocricity. "I have a few mediocre people in key places in my organization. And I understand that every day I allow them to come to work and do a poor job, turn things in late, mess up projects, and miss deadlines is another day that I am telling all of the rest of the people in my organization that I was just kidding about excellence."

  4. Following trough on plans. "We have a serious problem with lack of execution. We have innovative ideas, good plans. We have goals and objectives, but we lack the discipline to follow trough and ensure that out good intentions become focused actions."
Does any of them sound familiar to you? To me some of them do. If one or more of these are an issues in your organization, I recommend you to buy the book and read more about the six strategies John presents in his book:
  1. Vivid vision

  2. Best people

  3. Robust communication

  4. Sense of urgency

  5. Disciplined execution

  6. Extreme customer focus
For a preview of each of these and some additional resources see John's website at

In his new manifesto, John points out that most of these strategies fall into a handful of key result areas, which are completely within the control (and responsibility) of any manager.

I wish I would have received this advice some years ago. On the other hand, in that case my blog would not exist.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A3 - Toyota’s way of solving problems and creating plans

Toyota has designed a two-page mechanism for attacking problems. In July MIT Sloan Management Review published an article about what can we learn from Toyota's A3.
  • The A3’s constraints (just 2 pages) and its structure (specific categories, ordered in steps, adding up to a “story”) are the keys to the A3’s power.

  • Though the A3 process can be used effectively both to solve problems and to plan initiatives, its greatest payoff may be how it fosters learning. It presents ideal opportunities for mentoring.

  • It becomes a basis for collaboration.

Unlike in my presentation, a real A3 plan is formed trough a series of productive dialogue and iterations which serve on building a common understanding and agreement on the situation and planned actions. Common understanding and agreement are always great help when implementing any plan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

5S and 7 wastes

I have been thinking about Lean lately, and run across some great (and basic) stuff by Gemba Academy. I'll let them do the talking:

(notice how they are influenced by one of my favorite books Presentation Zen, and how the show it on their otherwise messy bookself!)

(Notice how the bookshelf has transformed!)

Gemba also gives you ideas how to apply 5S in an office, and what the 7 wastes look like in the office environment. It all starts with building the foundation on 5S - if you do (continuously) not pay attention to sorting and being organized, how can you expect Kanban, one piece flow or other principles to work?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hazards of Leading Culture Change

I just received the latest ChangeThis newsletter including one manifesto on my favorite topic leading culture change. I decided to just quicly blog the manifesto as is (under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License).

"When great starts have poor endings, it can leave change pioneers disappointed, hard working organizers disheartened, and skeptics with proof they were correct all along. It makes the next initiative more challenging to launch and the next set of resistors more defiant. However, without needed change the organization risks losing its competitive advantage. Losing its edge makes it harder to attract and retain the best talent and resources, and in today’s economy, the death knell begins.

Planned change takes courage and tenacity. Even organizations with a burning platform, effective leaders, and well-crafted plans can sometimes miss the mark because they fail to recognize early signals that the seeds for derailment are being sown or they fail to realize the power of the signals they are sending via decisions that are unsupportive of the culture change commitment. Derailment is much more likely during periods of organizational anxiety from economic challenge, organizational shift (like a major merger or new competitor), or a change in senior leadership. However, these high profile hazards are easier to spot and therefore simpler to combat. It is the more subtle shifts that can do the most damage before their presence is even noticed.”

by Chip R. Bell & John R. Patterson. Their newest book is Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. They can be reached through

Saturday, July 25, 2009

About stress and work life balance

This spring was extremely stressful for me. Mainly because of things not related to my work - but my high stress level naturally effected also my contribution at the office. I had difficulties to sleep, which led to poor concentration resulting to delays and forgetting things. I was even too tired to ride my bicycle. And that is alarming, since riding bicycle is my main method of relaxation. I went to see a doctor who told me to “Relax!” and offered sleeping pills, which I refused to take. Instead I slowed down and my stress level came down. At the same time many things started to get solved and my stress was gone.

I did some thinking about stress and work life balance and decided to blog about it now on the first day of my summer holiday. I actually blogged about the same topic last year. I hope I have learned something and don’t need to blog about stress again next year.

Let’s start with finding your stress level right now by completing a simple online test provided by Canadian Mental Health Association. They also provide resources for Coping with Stress.

Many of the blogs I follow regularly have had posts related to stress. John Spence wrote about How to have Much Less Stress and Much More Happiness, Matt May wrote about the power of The Quiet Mind in producing Eureka! type breakthrough insights. Zen Habits has several posts about stress – see for example 20 Ways to Eliminate Stress From Your Life, or type stress on their search box.

But remember: dealing with stress starts with you - nobody else can stop you form pushing too much but you.

To save time (and reduce stress), I will use material from our Corporate Responsibility Report to describe how we deal with Work life balance in the office. And I dare to say I provide these possibilities for my team and our company provides them for me.

Work Life Balance

Work-life balance means different things in different cultures. Our approach to the issue is designed to meet the needs of our employees around the world. Working patterns, activities and benefits vary by country according to local legislation, culture and common practices but can include:
  • Flexible working hours
  • Healthcare services and programs
  • Employee assistance program
  • Generous time-off plans
  • Telecommuting
  • Fitness facilities and support for sporting activities
  • Social and cultural activities
  • Taking advantage of local rules to provide access to tax efficient retirement saving, child care, computers, charitable giving
Our managers have a key role in supporting and enabling our employees to achieve both professional and personal goals. Being a flexible employer benefits both staff and the company. Moreover, our leadership development programs help to focus our managers in promoting innovative and flexible solutions for job satisfaction, job performance and overall quality of life.

But again, at the end it is up to you as an individual to take advantage of the possibilities provided.

Tomorrow I will fly to Finland for summer holidays with my family and will not update this blog until late August. Meanwhile you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Please enjoy the summer and relax with your family and friends!

If you need something to read, check out Slowness by Milan Kundera, one of my favorite novelist. According to him There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lean, Elegant and Excellent

I just experienced the most impressive company visit during my career. I have visited quite a few companies in several industries during the past 15 years, but none of them compares to NBK in Gifu, Japan. NBK originally started 450 years ago as a pot maker and has during the years evolved to a maker of metal parts such as pulleys, couplings and screws, with 410 employees generating US$ 80 million of revenue.

What made this visit so impressive is that they seem to fullfil all
I'm not going to list all those principles here, I have explained most of them earlier and will be blogging about Toyota Way later.

NBK has managed to create a true learning organization which operates according to lean principles producing high quality products with high customer and employee satisfaction and good profitability.

And they do this with
  • no sales budget

  • no cost budget

  • no profitability target

  • no HR department

  • no Quality assurance department

  • no maintenance department

  • no bureacracy

  • ...
Instead they had had culture where they put high emphasis on employee learning, job rotation, continuous improvement and meeting each customer's needs. Their Sushi Bar Concept describes how committed they are to meet their customers needs - to understand the rest you need to go and visit the factory.


NBK's craftsmanship meets each customer's needs.

As our customer, we would deliver what you need, right when you need it, in just the amount you require. We at NBK have been polishing our skills in an effort to craft each individual product with precision and mastery, as embodied in the work of sushi bar chefs. We continually strive to respond to all customer needs. We do so by engaging in "one-by-one production," and inspecting every single product that we produce in order to ensure the highest quality possible, and by responding to customer orders anywhere, anytime, and for any quantity, even for an order of one.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Creative Chaos or Productive Neatness?

Recent blog post on Bill Matthies’ Business Wisdom got me commenting on creative chaos and productive neatness. And it got me thinking of brainstorming which might look like creative chaos. But when brainstorming is mastered the creative chaos is actually guided by productive neatness.

I’m not that good at it, but here’s the best practice I learned five years ago by watching the video(s) below by Ideo. While watching the video I sketched the process on the right – the “chaos” at Ideo happens neatly within these boundaries.

See also FastCompany articles Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming and Six Surefire Ways to Kill a Brainstorm. Or my previous post The Art Of Innovation (which is also name of the book where Ideo presents these rules and stories).

OMG! This is all 5-10 years old stuff, am I getting slow or old?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Your options in change

I have been writing a lot about organizational change from the organizational point of view, but this Nevin Danielson's ChangeThis Manifesto looks at change from the individual's point of view.

He is talking about organizational change, but you can actually apply his thoughts to political change, economical change or other types of major changes happening around you. Nevin examines the options you have for participating in that system. And submits this challenge: Will you flow with it, flee from it or fight it?

Our radar is constantly on, sensing the cues that we’ll synthesize to decide if we’re actually going to be engaged at work. The end result of our synthesis is
a feeling, a feeling of whether we’re content within the system. Are you accepting the status quo? If not, what are your alternatives?

The Flow Option

If you work in an optimal organization, you like it and how it allows you to contribute at your best level, then naturally you can flow with it - unless there is room for continuos imprvoment which is a form of slow change, not flowing.

Or are you just comfortable with the system and flow with it because you are less comfortable with the other options - flee or fight.

Nevin's manifesto argues that we should make the deliberate and courageous choice to NOT flow. You owe it to yourself to find true meaning in your effort. Flee if you must, but consider what it looks like if you choose to fight. It may be a watershed event that defines your career.

The Flee Option

In today's labor market you are free to flee the existing system if you want. By flee, Nevin means choosing to leave the system, ostensibly to go to another system more suited to your needs. But there are risks and challenges with this approach - you do not actually know how the other system looks form inside and it will take time for you to earn credibility in the new system.

Fleeing could be the best option when you know the system you are in is too entrenched to change. It will require too much energy from you to see meaningful progress. Shifting your energy to a new system can be valuable for you, the organization you leave and the organization you go to.

This is actually what I did seven years ago, when I had a mismatch of values and did not see any meaningful future for in at the system I worked for at that time - not even after a period of coaching and partly because the coaching made mee see I was not able to fulfill myself at the system I was in. I have never regretted that decision to flee - it opened me a whole new world in a system where I am able to contribute, and where I am allowed to fight for change.

The Fight Option

Fighting is a pretty strong word. Please forgive the alliteration. By fight, Nevin means that you can work to change the system. If you’re in the system and disagree with it but are passionate about the outcome the organization is pursuing, this may be more of an obligation than a choice.

The variables Levin sees in fighting the status quo:

Loud or Quiet? Are you going to state your intentions and go on the offensive? Alternatively, are you going to disagree with the system and choose simply to not participate? The quiet non-participation does not lead to anything except maybe to you been seen as a non-performer and to change resistance when the system will further develop to something you disagree even more.

Fearless or Pragmatic? If you choose to fight, it really boils down to deciding how much you’re willing to challenge the system. This choice is best envisioned as a continuum. At one end, you fearlessly behave the way you believe you should, even though the system may have consequences, either expressed or implied, for those who behave that way. At the other end, you gingerly select the safe route, expressing your displeasure at the system when you’re not stepping on toes, or perhaps toes of people who can’t hurt you. There can be a feeling of accomplishment if you lean towards the pragmatic option. You see that you are not flowing and you have not fled, ergo, you must be fighting.

Earlier I was more fearless, was about to step on too many toes and became more pragmatic. The pragmatic approach has led to the results I was hoping for. Slowly but surely. Slower than my fearless change agent would have wanted, but I have achieved them at the end anyway.

It’s a delicate balance, but Nevin believes a thoughtful blend of compassionate articulation, well-founded arguments and insightful behavior can be seen as an effort for a greater good. You can stir a change movement that affects the system and creates positive results for the organization.

Photo by bizior

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Atomic Rules of Kaizen

Lately I have been thinking about Kaizen (continuous improvement), and came across blog by Pete Abilla. Earlier this year he wrote a post about The Atomic Rules of Kaizen. The post was so good I will quote it as such:

Systems that are internally consistent and externally pragmatic stem from just a few rules. Systems with exceedingly many rules typically fail or will not endure. For example,
  • Most mathematical truths stem from just a few axioms
  • Music stems from just a handful of finite notes
  • Most Martial Arts stem from a few principles of angle, attack, force, etc.
This same approach is true for Kaizen. In Kaizen, it is important to have fidelity to just a few atomic rules, from which a range of behavior will originate. Below are the rules that I subscribe to:
  1. Spend no Money
  2. Add no People
  3. Add no Space
  4. Add no Steps (Touches)
These four atomic rules collectively form constraints, leading to some creative tension. For example,
  • We will be compelled to use creativity
  • We will be compelled toward elegance
  • We will be compelled to respect people
  • We will be compelled to question the status quo
  • We will be compelled to think “we can, if…” instead of “we can’t because…”
  • We will be compelled to focus on processes, instead of finger-pointing at others
  • We will be compelled to make many small improvements, instead of big, water-shed changes that take a lot of time and resources
  • We will be compelled to seek the collective wisdom of many people, instead of a few, select heroes
In a tough economic climate in which we all find ourselves, a Kaizen worldview is needed more now than ever.

By Pete Abilla,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Toyota has learned?

Earlier this week Toyota president Akio Toyoda gave a speech which was almost like an answert to my previous post about How should business leaders learn from GM's latest turning point?

In HBS Newsletter last week Nancy F. Koehn, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, highlighted three fundamental management issues on which GM has failed for decades:

  1. First, pay close attention to what is happening to consumers' lives in the context of the larger environment—not only their stated preferences, but their hopes, dreams, wallets, lifestyles, and values.

  2. Second, keep an equally close eye on the competition.

  3. And third, understand how a company's structure and culture relate to its strategy.
In his speech this week Mr Toyoda addressed all of these fundamental issues and outlined how Toyota is going to move forward. His speech covers many things from company philosophy to recovering from past challenges, from current challenges to realigning the organization and re-segmenting the market to overcome the challenges.

There is one paragraph I want to highlight from the speech, but you should read the whole speech.

Rather than asking, “How many cars will we sell?” or, “How much money will we make by selling these cars?” we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of cars will make people happy?” as well as, “What pricing will attract them in each region?” Then we must make those cars.

Matt May said it well in his blog: If every company leader thought and acted in the transparent manner you will hear in Akio-san's message, I dare say the world would be in a far better position today.

Photo by Current News Stories

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How should business leaders learn from GM's latest turning point?

In this weeks Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter several faculty members write about GM: What Went Wrong and What's Next. Nancy F. Koehn, Professor of Business Administration, highlights same fundamental leadership and management issues I have been blogging about earlier.

General Motors was formed in 1908, the same year Henry Ford brought out the first Model T. Ford Motor Company became the undisputed leader of this young market and by the early 1920s, it was producing 60 percent of all the motor vehicles manufactured in the United States and half of those made worldwide. All of these automobiles were Model Ts, offered in one color: black.

Beginning in the mid 1920s, GM staged an astounding victory against Ford Motor Company. Alfred Sloan, Pierre Du Pont, and other GM executives placed a series of important bets on what American consumers wanted (different makes, models and prices; cars that were status symbols and identity holders as well as transportation sources) and they did so with careful, consistent attention to what the competition was—and was not—doing. As company leaders rolled out this daring strategy, they also created an organizational structure and culture developed to support a multi-product, vertically integrated enterprise. By the mid 1930s, GM's market share had risen to 42 percent while Ford's had fallen to 21 percent.

In this context, it is interesting to consider the root causes of General Motor's decline, which has been under way for 30 years. Although there are many factors that contributed to the company's long, slow bleed, the three fundamental issues are management's consistent failure to do the very things that made the business so successful initially.

  1. First, pay close attention to what is happening to consumers' lives in the context of the larger environment—not only their stated preferences, but their hopes, dreams, wallets, lifestyles, and values.

  2. Second, keep an equally close eye on the competition. (Look close at the picture above and you will see a hybrid Prius among the pick up's and SUV's.)

  3. And third, understand how a company's structure and culture relate to its strategy. Use all this understanding to place innovative bets. This is what the early leaders of GM did. And this is what several generations of executives—beginning in the 1970s with the first oil shocks and the entrance of Japanese imports—have consistently failed to do.
It has been a failure of leadership as astounding and momentous (and ironic) as the company's early achievement,
Professor Koehn concludes.

In my earlier post Link Between Strategy, Culture, Change and Leadership I quoted Edgar Schein from The Corporate Culture Survival Guide:

The organization clings to whatever made it a success. The very culture that created the success makes it difficult for members of the organization to perceive changes in the environment that require new responses. Culture becomes a constraint on strategy.

This is what happened to GM. At the moment GM is changing their strategy and structure dramatically. Their survival will depend on wether they are able to change also their culture - and that requires a lot of leadership and quite some time. But there is hope – the same thing happened to Ford (in the 1920s) yet today they are the only US car manufacturer not needing government bailout.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Change Your Thinking > To Change Your Results!

Today I found another good manifesto from ChangeThis. It is based on concepts discussed in Tony Jeary’s latest book, Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life

He is on spot writing how business as usual is unrealistic in our current economic climate. Leaders must accept the fact that success is likely to become a moving target and their organizations must become faster, leaner and better equipped to compete and change quickly.

He determines three basic strategic concepts that directly impact achieving superior results. The concepts are Clarity, Focus and Execution. These are the keys to achieving superior results on both professional and personal fronts. These three keys also reflect a new way of thinking you need to embrace, to better frame your strategy building process. Here is a quick description of each of these strategic concepts.

You must be clear about your vision and what you really want!

You must focus on high-leverage activities that will move your results needle!

You must execute by elevating your ability to persuade and influence others!

Clarity, Focus and Execution must become the foundational framework for all that you do.

This is the new action template he is suggesting for your mind. Get Clear! Get Focused! Execute! When you are committed to this approach, the next step is to wrap them in a powerful concept that can transform your life and work. The concept he refers to is this: Always exceed expectations!

Good leadership is required to put all these pieces together. For a vision to be executed, it must be understood and supported by the business as a whole. There must be unity and there must be clarity. All of this comes together with one primary goal: To get results! In the most basic terms, that is what leadership is about: Creating organizational environments capable of getting superior results. To get results there must be a high level of organizational energy.

Tom lists seven things for a leader to do NOW to change results
1. Recognize that “Business As Usual” is not an option.
2. Create strategies based on what can actually be seen.
3. Reevaluate the Value and Purpose of your Vision.
4. Identify and disrupt organizational comfort zones.
5. Conduct Quarterly More-Of-Less-Of Reviews.
6. Commit to exceeding expectations and providing value.
7. Abandon activities that won’t move the strategic results needle.

In other words stop doing what is comfortable but not necessary, and start doing what is necessary even if it feels uncomfortable in the beginning.

Tony's text reminds me of two earlier manifestos I have been blogging about - Leadership in Hard Times and Achieving Business Excellence.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Example of Elegance

I just finished Matt May's new book In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing, which I had been waiting for.

Matt explores the elements of Elegance in innovations of different types - technological elegance, fast food elegance, architectural elegance, elegance in top athlete training, elegance in art, etc. This variety of fields covered makes it truly an interesting book and for a business book it talks very little about business.

He defines the key elements of Elegance being Symmetry, Seduction, Subtraction and Sustainability.

Symmetry helps us solve problems of structure, order and balance. We notice a lack of symmetry, which is why we can exploit it to our advantage. Elegant solutions can have part of the symmetry missing, and our brain fills it in to make it elegant.

Seduction captivates any attention and activates any imagination. By giving only partial information and leaving something to the imagination, open to temptation, and we are compelled to find answers.

Subtraction helps us solve the problem of economy. Doing less, working smarter. Stopping and thinking of what can be removed to solve a problem - in stead of adding more features and acting upon them.

Sustainability is about achieving and keeping the maximum effect with minimum effort. Sustainability can be achieved With just enough symmetry, seduction and subtraction. If you subtract (remove) too much, the solution will not be sustainable.

While I was finishing the book this morning I saw an ad that seduced me. It was an add by fashion house Gucci, but subtracted to contain a plain T-shirt and a canvas shopping bag. Gucci, along with other top brands, was promoting a movie by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a master of elegance in photography capturing the symmetry and sustainability of our planet.

The movie will have a unique multi-platform release on June 5th - World Environment Day - in cinemas, on TV, on DVD and on the internet in 14 different languages and in public places like the Eiffel Tower, Paris and Central Park, New York.

I have seen his pictures in two exhibitions and in his books. I bet this movie will have all the Elements of Elegance - Symmetry of landscapes, Seduction to know more about where they are and what the surroundings are like, Subtraction of anything unnecessary to the visual beauty, and Sustainability of our planet, on World Environment Day, and for the years to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Power of Being Organized

I visited two Japanese factories this week and I was impressed on how extremely organized their production lines where. This got me thinking about the Japanese manufacturing line, the Montessori classroom and Google - and the power of being organized.

One of the principles of Lean manufacturing is 5S, a philosophy and a way of organizing and managing the workspace, especially a shared workplace (like a shop floor or an office space), and work flow with the intent to improve efficiency by eliminating waste, improving flow and reducing process unevenness.

5S is comes from a list of five Japanese words which, transliterated and translated into English, start with the letter S:

Phase 1 - Seiri (整理) Sorting: Going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Phase 2 - Seiton (整頓) Straighten or Set in Order: Focuses on efficiency. Arranging the tools, equipment and parts in a manner that promotes work flow. For example, tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path), and the process should be set in an order that maximizes efficiency. For every thing there should be place and every thing should be in its place. (Demarcation and labeling of place.)

Phase 3 - Seisō (清掃) Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness: Systematic Cleaning or the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work - not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

Phase 4 - Seiketsu (清潔) Standardizing: Standardized work practices or operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are to keep above 3S's.

Phase 5 - Shitsuke (躾) Sustaining the discipline: Refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4S's have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating.

Seeing this in implemented in Japanese production line, reminded me of some of the principles at the Montessori classroom. It is amazing how many similarities there are between them.

All materials in a Montessori classroom are kept in order.
1) There are only essential items.
2) For every thing there is place and every thing is kept in its place which is normally labeled.
3) At the end of each task, the learning area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place.
4) The materials are standardized and have a way for the child to check their own work.
5) This clean, tidy, calm and child friendly environment is maintained in every classroom around the world.

But what does this have to do with Google? I can think of two things

1) Being organized:
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

2) The Montessori classroom:
Both of Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended Montessori school in their childhood. My guess is the have learned something about the power of being organized then.

And I think I need to take a closer look at my office desk and our office space tomorrow...

Photo by Trenton Schulz