The work week is officially over and I would like to reflect on the 7 day progress that has occurred in my organization. Please stay the course because this will be a lengthy post, a lot has transpired and I really am excited. Now this blog theme is Lean Transformation but you will also find details about my personal and professional growth in a new environment and opportunity. As stated in my first post I recently moved to this region and began the job as operations manager of a facility that is well established and has been “working” without me. Just like many of you we are given a chance to do something we may have not chosen but the celestial and supernatural predetermined coordinates say otherwise.
I find myself seeking assistance from anyone within earshot that can help transition me into the daily grind of the job. Administrative tasks out of the way now I begin the daunting mind memorization of trying to learn your name and what you do here. There is one of me and more of you so the advantage is in your court. We’ve all been there, “This is Jim he cleans the tile with toothbrushes, nice to meet you Jim I’m Leroy and I’ll be the new manager.” So on and so forth until Jim is as distant as what you had for dinner two weeks ago. The handshake kiss baby shuffle happens for the next few hours.
The challenge now is trying to assess how people size you up. What presence did my predecessor command, did they build teams and trust where everyone wants to talk to you or did they micromanage and minimalize your capability to inflate their heroics and ego? Everyone hopes the former but only time and gemba will tell you the place you fit according to all that surround you.
I didn’t even situate my desk, I put my stuff down, grabbed my legal pad and went to the floor. Sitting down where value is created I tell people I’m new and just want to see what you do so I can understand how things go so I can begin helping. Tensions eased about the new “boss” (coach and mentor is my goal) sitting next to them I begin observing the current value stream. The wise man I alluded to in my first blog told me to ask questions like a toddler, not to be combative or annoying but rather to get to the genesis of the process. Simply put, ask WHY. Not knowing the VSM I do just as advised, why do you use that? Why do you ask them those questions? Why do you write that down? Why do you put that paper there? Why do you ask that person for help? Why don’t you do it yourself? Annoyance is cloaked behind professionalism but ever present. I continue digging, Where does that come from? Who puts that there? When do you do x, when do you do y? I start to get answers and see the value our customers need and how we are currently providing it. As you already predict with accuracy there is shoulder high muda punching me in my face. I change my approach by rotating between sitting with people creating value and the echelons above that also create value. Often giving them a break from what seems like an interrogation I simply stand and walk around observing and taking notes, deflecting glares and handing out smiles and handshakes. Being the FNG, simply the new guy is a daunting task for any person. You have to show people that you are part of their team, one of them. You have to show that you have empathy but most important you are the funnel they desperately seek for their frustration relief. This relief will come through proper understanding of everyone and what they do, what they think they should do, what they aren’t doing and what you can do about it. Too often lip service is paid when a new person with opportunity to influence change hypes but doesn’t deliver. Lean is about ridding that stigma and leveling the playing field. Teach people how they can see the waste and how they, yes how they can rid their environment of it and improve job satisfaction while satisfying consumption on a once and done philosophy.
Armed with a wealth of information and a quasi-value stream map I now go to the office where my colleagues and Lean hopefuls also reside. As stated before I’m not new to the Army so I am not naïve, I don’t jump into the swim lane head first. I put my toes in to test the water. I tell them I am getting my bearings about the organization so I can be successful. Luckily for me one person only has three weeks tenure on me and the other is eager and willing to receive us both. He has been keeping the lights on and saving the ship from sinking (maybe not so dramatic but still chaotic.) I tell them what I have been doing and that I will continue but I actually just begin speaking about Lean. I tell them that I don’t want to tell people they are doing things wrong but I want to see where we can eliminate unnecessary steps in a process to ensure our survivability in variable influx of work. Being senior professionals they immediately pick up what I put down and commit their support. Energy, Synergy, Collaboration; these are the terms to describe how I feel we are getting along.
The first technique I describe to both colleagues is KanBan, one has heard of it and the other has not. I show them a friend’s KanBan (mentioned him before) and how his team uses it daily. It was like an ember in a desert, it ignited and went full blaze. Of course I didn’t see this when I was talking about it but the very next day one of the guys in my office left his computer logged in while he got up from his desk. I happened to walk by and see his personal KanBan displayed to my utmost satisfaction right in front of my face. As my Jack Nickolson smile stretched my face I also see that he has a book from multiple reading lists (including mine) sitting on his desk. Not only has he implemented KanBan but he bought The Phoenix Project. I know for sure I have a solid support cell to help me see the dream of lean to fruition.
I internally debate how I can begin planting these same seeds in the workforce without a mass presentation or mass anything, where I’d lose 98% of the audience as soon as I began. Considering our work structure and method of delivering value content to our customers I have to finesse these principles before a dramatic shift in culture and structure.
Enter the Dry Erase-Board
What is it?
Why do we care?
What can we do about it?
I don’t know if it is the culture in which I was reared but I love white boards, I enjoy the smell of the marker, finding one that still writes dark and legibly and the dynamic creation of collaborative ideas changing into a solid way forward. What is your idea, GO, what is your idea, GO…Until at the end we have a board with barely visible scribble scrabble beneath the lucid reflection of the genius we as a team have created. This is my initial delivery, find a working (yah it is federal government) white board and place it in an obstructive corridor with lean breadcrumbs to provoke lean thought and conversation. I wrote what is above about Muda, nothing more to explain the purpose or even direct participation. It took two days to even get one person to engage because I think they are not used to being asked what they think. The dry erase effort is still one that needs an ember but I know it will ignite.
Someone identified Muda. One person loosely said what we can do about it. SUCCESS. Two people engaged the effort, took initiative and conducted research and provided valuable feedback. Celebrations are due because we got people to take their time to see what is going on around them in the Lean world and the seeds were planted that show them they are ultimately in charge of their happiness no matter what.
I casually tell people to look at the board and engage, provide answers in your own thought process and terminology. I purposely remain ambiguous because I don’t want to just tell them what Lean is and why I feel it is important. My approach is take time to let them think and grasp concepts, then when I come fully engaged with Lean Principles in our organization the light bulb will turn on and the WHY will become evident to those that sought information. These professionals will become my other colleagues and advocates in the effort to implement Lean Thinking in the United States Army.