Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you

If you check the Internet for this quote, chances are that it will be attributed to Confucius. It’s variations can found in many religions and cultures (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule) and can be easily understood as a basic code of conduct in a relationship based on reciprocal respect.

Now here is an incoming (unsolicited) e-mail from an unknown lady. She’s offering me to give a course in some public sector in-house university. For me the interest is limited, but the mail is very polite.

The proposal does not fit my agenda nor the usage I’d like to do with my very scarce private time, but in order to be polite and acknowledge the opportunity, I will of course answer.

The irony is that immediately after my answer was sent, an automatic mail message came back, explaining that my correspondent wants to shield herself off any unwanted e-mail (spam of course) and therefore, if I wish to overcome the digital blockade, I have to go through a procedure to identify myself.

If I don’t, the time invested in my polite reply will be lost as well as my nice guy reputation.

Hmm, isn’t it ironic that this lady, protecting herself from unsolicited e-mails:

  • doesn’t apply the same rule to herself
  • amplifies (involuntarily I believe) the inconvenience for the people she’s more or less asking a favor from.

So I went through the procedure and invested more time. I then felt this could be shared as a post on my blog and invested much more time.

Thank you lady. If you happen to read this post, please meditate on this maxim: Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you. And check your anti spam policy.

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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Quick look back to 2017

The first days of every new are usually the time to reflect about the past twelve months and make plans for the next twelve to come. As I write this post, 2018 is already 13 days old but probably not too late to look back to 2017 blog-wise.

This blog went online in January 2014. Tada! 4th anniversary!

In these 4 years, the blog accumulated 401 post, was visited by 110,132 visitors / 197,589 views. 142 visitors found worth enough to click the follow button. Thanks to them all.

This is all organic.

Twitter and LinkedIn are my best sounding boards, with reblogging from or embedding in other blogs.

In 2017, I found time to write and publish 53 posts. Roughly one per week.

Besides this blog I try to feed my French website, my latest French Blog and my YouTube channel. All this mostly during the weekends when the family members still sleep or don’t care about me… Some of my posts were written during traveling, or while walking and dictating to my smart phone.

What blogging plans for 2018? Try to post regularly, try to share value, have fun.

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Jargon doesn’t make an expert

In a blog post I read the warning about candidates exaggerating their insight by using lot of jargon. It was about Lean Management. The author stated that when recruiting, mastering enough Lean vocabulary is important in order to catch candidates exaggerating their insight by using jargon. Any talented Lean manager can explain the same concepts without Lean management specific language, the author wrote, but inexperienced or unskillful interviewees may lean (pun intended?) on “concept-dropping.

Even so I agree with everything above, the heavy use of peculiar lingo is not specific to Lean and Lean “experts” are not even the worst.

>Lisez-moi en français

I remember a recent (July 2017) conference in which a speaker delivered a pretty convincing presentation about a somewhat uncommon approach we are familiar of. One of my colleagues, intrigued, went to see the speaker and asked him a question on a specific aspect only a true experienced expert could answer. This very question reminded the speaker of an important call he had to make and he vanished. He was indeed only “concept-dropping”.

Nothing really new. Molière, our most famous (French) playwright and actor (1622 – 1673) used to ridicule the physicians of his time in several of his works. Those experts were depicted as pompous and disputing in fantasy latin about this or that just to impress their audience or others fellow “experts” with fake erudition, while their patients usually were bleeding away.

In French slang, a “faisan” (pheasant) is a crook, a good-looking but stupid pretender. I used to hear fake experts being called “faisans”. Nice feathers, but that’s barely all.

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When facing a choice, get clarity with the change matrix

The change matrix is primarily a tool to explain why people seem to resist change, but it can be used to make a decision when the appeal of the proposed change is facing some doubts about losing more than gaining.

Doing the exercise of filling the matrix should help getting clarity about the plusses and minuses of the change, and base the decision on some rational weighing.

In order to understand the matrix and the associated metaphors, I recommend watching the video.


When facing a choice with significant impact on current and future situation

An envisioned or proposed major change in life can be scary. Who never faced the dilemma of daring a change and face the uncertainty or keep everything as is for the sake of some “safety”?

The safety here can be nothing more than an illusion, but the familiarity of the current situation gives some impression to remain in control. In the current situation, everything seems predictable and known while a change will modify many things, adding a lot of unknown and uncertainty.

Furthermore the popular saying states that every improvement is a change but every change isn’t an improvement, adding to the fear of giving up something good for worse.

Relying only on gut feeling may not be the best way to make the decision unless one trusts his or her intuitions. The change matrix can bring some clarity when the exercise is done honestly.

Pot of gold and mermaid

Write down all promoted benefits as well as those the intuition suggests. What makes the change desirable and that CANNOT be gotten or achieved in current situation?

Switch to the mermaid and ask yourself what would make you ignore the pot of gold, something of great value ONLY provided in current situation.

The capital letters stand for extreme wording, a technique useful for identifying false assumptions. If it sounds weird or not true, the assumption is probably false or overstated.

Crutches and alligators

Assess the risks of change figured by the crutches. What can possibly go wrong with the change that WILL end up with SIGNIFICANT damage?

On the other hand what CATASTROPHE WILL happen by keeping the status quo?

Looking at the matrix

It is time to look at all quadrants and check in which direction the matrix points. Hopefully a clear indication is shown, either favoring change or recommending to stay put.

The last time I applied the matrix to a personal important choice I was surprised how clear the best choice appeared.

It was consistent with my intuition but was more elaborate, thus added much clarity to the best choice. The result could have been opposite and could have put a rationalized end to a fantasy. The clarity and the list of pro and cons gives great confidence about the decision to make. I really recommend to give it a try.

Possible biases

When facing a desirable change, one may overestimate the size of the pot of gold as well as the threat of alligators while underestimating the risks (the crutches) and the sex-appeal of the mermaid.

In plain English this means overestimate the gain or benefits of the change as well as the potential danger of not changing, thus making the change desirable. This looks much like fulfilling a self prophecy.

In order to complete the demonstration or reinforce the desirability of the change, the risks associated with the change are minimized or ignored and the advantages of the status quo downplayed.

Conversely, when facing a less desirable change and even more in case of an undesirable change, the person may evaluate the quadrants in an opposite manner: overestimating the number of crutches and the sex-appeal of the mermaid while underestimating the value in the pot of gold as well as playing down the threat of alligators.

Again the translation in plain English: to justify the rejection of a proposed change the risks of the change are magnified and the advantages of the status quo highlighted while the benefits of the change are questioned and the threat of not changing minimized or even denied.

I  order to avoid this pitfall, it is meaningful to share all (emphasize “all”) the elements of the choice in the most neutral manner to a person of confidence or (someone selected as) a coach. A new external point of view may question the rationale and propose a new perspective.


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The man-machine system performance

When looking for performance improvement of a man-machine system, too often management puts emphasis onto machine or technology at large, ignoring the fact that humans associated with equipment, machines or technology form an interrelated system and consequently humans are the discriminating factor.

The fallacy of trusting the latest technology

There is a strong belief, backed up by vendor’s marketing, that the latest state-of-the-art high-tech equipment will bring a breakthrough in performance. This is welcome news for executives struggling to keep their organization up with competition and seeking a significant performance uplift.

Production managers, industrial engineers or system designers are big kids loving high-tech expensive toys, geeks of their own kind and dreaming to get the latest, biggest, fastest piece of equipment.

Once investment made, performance does not skyrocket though.

What happened?

Management blindness

Management ignored the human factor, i.e. people put in front or in charge of the new machine, the latest technology. An operator and his machine for instance are a system.

The overall performance of this system is determined by the human-machine pair, and guess what, the most variable and hardest to control is the human factor.

Unlike machines, humans have their moods, their worries, variable health and morale, private concerns and motivation issues. One day fine, the other day down.

Humans are not equal in competencies and skills. Some learn fast, some learn slow and some never really get it.

So what’s the point giving the latest top-notch technology to someone not competent or not motivated?

Yet this is most often what happens. Management assumes that the best of machines will make the difference, totally ignoring the influence of the people in charge.

The irresistible appeal of technology

Most decision makers and managers have some kind of hard-science background, got their degrees in engineering or business management. They were taught the robustness of math, the beauty of straightforward logic and to trust only facts and data.

When puzzled facing in real-life the highly variable and elusive nature of humans, they have a natural tendency to prefer hardware. This is something that can be put into equations and eventually controlled. This is what they are most familiar with or at least the most at ease with.

Humans are only trouble. No equation helps to understand their intrinsic drivers nor to reduce their variabilities. This is all about soft skills and psychological factors. Nothing for engineers and hard science-minded people.

Instead, they put a strong hope that the best and latest technology will trump the human factor, reduce it to a neglectable pain. But this never happens.

So again: what’s the point giving the latest top-notch technology to someone not competent or not motivated?

Leveraging performance

In order to improve a man-machine system, it is key to first have a look on the human factor, the most important one. Make sure competency is granted. If someone lacks the necessary competencies, performance is nothing than a matter of luck.

Beware of incompetent but highly motivated people though. In their desire to do well, they may have unknowingly potentially dangerous behaviours and/or take bad decisions. These motivated ones are likely to learn, do thing right but need training and guidance.

Not motivated incompetents are not likely to take any initiatives. They are the manager’s pain and burden and giving them better, faster machines won’t help. What’s worse with not motivated incompetents is passive aggressive behaviors that can lead to potentially dangerous situations as well.

Competent but not motivated people need and probably deserve management’s attention in order to get them into the winning quadrant of the competency-motivation matrix, aka skill-will matrix (top right).

There are the competent and motivated people who do their job effectively, often efficiently and without bothering anybody.

Competent Find a driver or a whip No worries
Incompetent Long way to go… Potentially dangerous good will
Not motivated Motivated

Competency-motivation matrix from a supervisor perspective

It is with these competent and motivated people that the limits of machines or technology can be found, as they will use them properly and purposely. Even when these performance limits are reached, it’s not certain that better planning and/or better organization cannot get more performance out of the system.

Think about quick changeovers and all capacity that can be regained applying SMED methodology, or rethinking maintenance in Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) style.

Wrapping up

When facing the challenge for improving performance, considering the way operations are done should be the first step. The second is to remember than investing in people is usually cheaper and more effective than investing in technology in first place, because a well utilized outdated machine will have better yield and be way cheaper than a poorly utilized state-of-the-art new one.

“Unfortunately” for tech-lovers who would prefer new “toys”, this investment in humans has to be a substantial part of their manager’s daily routine.


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What you may have missed this summer

About the AuthorIf the summer holidays did not allow you to check my posts, you may have a look on the July 2016 list of 8 posts and the August list which made it only up to 6.

You may wonder Why No One Talks About TPM Anymore? Discover that Value Stream Mapping applies to Product Development as well, how and why color a Goal Tree and What data for changeover monitoring and improvement.

We are all Lean now. So you may want to know what’s next?

Before buying “throughput accounting”, the book, you may want to read what I found worth reading it.

Check out. Give a thumb if you like and share it on your favorite social media.

Give me the fish, don’t teach me fishing!

In our fast moving, fast changing world, ancient wisdom may no longer apply. And chances are it is true.

There is this proverb with unclear origins yet sounding ancient and wise:

“give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

I can imagine the old bearded man in white robe sitting under a very old tree on some mountain top, the wise hermit you come see after a long, difficult and dangerous climbing. You seek guidance and this is the kind of advice he gives you.

These were times when time was slow and a man had to take care himself about many aspects of his daily life.

Nowadays when someone asks for a fish, they want the fish. And they want it now. They don’t care about the details how to catch the fish, it is just about immediate satisfaction of the need of fish.

Why care about the fishing technique? In a world of interconnected networks it is enough to know someone who masters the fishing technique.

Nobody cares climbing the mountain for advice either, the wise old man is a digital native of less than 18 years and his cave is named Facebook, twitter, snapchat… you name it.

Why investing time to learn fishing? Maybe next month it will all be about deer, beef or strawberries, apple pie or orange juice. We can’t learn all the related hunting, farming and cooking techniques according to the need or big thing of the moment. We simply have to turn it to specialists.

Furthermore, when asked for a fish and teaching fishing instead, chances are that the mentor and mentee go into the technical details of fishing or the pro and cons of this and that gear, to a point they’re likely to forget about the initial problem to solve: getting fed with fish.

The final irony is to die starving savvy about fishing.

Where is all this getting us to?

Just as when a customer is looking to satisfy his/her need, he/she is probably not interested in the details, specifications and technical aspects of the solution, he/she is awaiting results. The same applies when a CEO or senior manager has a problem to solve, he/she calls in a specialist and ask him/her for a quick fix. The methodology used is of almost no interest, it’s about the fish (the need) not fishing (the means).

Therefore putting Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints to the forefront only pleases the promoter, not the customer. The later is asking for a quick fix, not a catalog of nice tools and techniques that might eventually solve his/her problem.

Looking for internal people to take over (learning how to fish), sustain and hopefully continuously improve tends to get out of fashion. With more and more disruptions in any technologies or businesses and the acceleration of all cycles, planning for long term is happy guess at best and long term a very relative concept.

A business owner, CEO or senior executive may not stay in position long enough to see the outcome of the teach-don’t-do approach. Even the long established organization may not exist long enough to think about sustainability of this or that methodology.

As a result, business consultants or special interest groups should advertise more about their results and achievements than their favorite toolbox to attract decision-makers’ attention as these are looking for the fish, not the fishing.

My hermitage is my blog, you can join the meditation here.


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Respect for people starts with saying hello

Lean respect for people principle is somewhat difficult to grasp in first place. While some gurus say it is not (only) about saying hello, I do think respect for people definitely starts with the basics of politeness, especially saying hello.

Respect or signs of reverence have long been unidirectional, from the lower ranking to the higher ranking, from subordinates to higher authority.

The mighty demanded respect to show how mighty they were and the lower ranking paid respect to the unquestioned power, especially when they were on the pointy side of the sword.

Everyone having been on the modern form of the pointy side of the sword (whatever it now is) understands that not been greeted or not been returned a hello is a deliberate sign showing some (real or pretended) distance.

Still in our days many higher ranking believe it is not necessary to say hello, return a greeting or simply be polite with “lower rankings”.

Respect for people is therefore, at least for me, recognizing the other as a peer, regardless of conventional or social ranking. Being polite is recognizing the other as a peer and showing him or her respect and saying hello is the very first polite sign to give.

When it comes to Lean Thinking and working to improve a process, the gathered talents can come in many forms and are all welcome. Original Lean did not come with grades and belts to show some kinds of ranks but put very different talents together to solve problems. And it usually works fine, especially when participants don’t have to care about (artificial) ranks or social differences.


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Why secret weapons can’t remain secret 

A secret weapon, in its metaphorical or literal meaning, is a means that trumps the actual known ones. It brings a decisive advantage to its user/owner, is more effective and… unknown.

A secret weapon will create a surprise and grant its user a favorable opportunity to exploit,  and if exploited properly can lead to victory.

Once the competition – in warfare or business – aware of the existence of a secret weapon, it will relentlessly try to gather information about it, destroy it or get one too in order to restore balance.

A good reason for the owner to keep on trying keeping it secret and competition to catch up. What eventually will happen.

On the other hand, at some moment it will be politically, strategically or “marketingly” smart to advertise on the competitive advantage and reveal the secret.

For those reasons a secret weapon can’t remain secret.

This is the case with Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), a “new” approach still somewhat “confidential”.

When we applied it to aircraft MRO and helped our client to halve the aircraft turnaround time, we helped our client to forge a competitive advantage. And when we wanted to advertise about the achievement, the client was reluctant to “give away his secret weapon”.

Well, I thought, how long do you think it will take for word of mouth to spread? How long before your sales team will boast about shorter aircraft grounding? How long before the information will leak via informal channels?

In business it is useless to waste energy trying to keep the secret weapon secret.

On the contrary, focus should be on exploiting the competitive advantage, advertising heavily on it and quickly reap as much profit as possible before competition closes the gap.


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Learning Faster

In this video, Clarke Ching explains Philip Marris how to speed up learning by speeding up the audio book playback. While Philip has reservations about this technique, I do use it with several medias:

  • Podcast playback on iPhone x1.5 (x2 is usually too fast for me)
  • Youtube conferences clips, Youtube allows x1.25; x1.5 or x2
  • Pocket, (getpocket.com) the app that stores web pages of files for later reading embeds a vocal synthesizer (at least on iPhone) with variable speed. This app reads in several languages and gives indications about text formatting.
  • Adobe Reader proposes Read Out Loud Text-to-Speech Tool (https://www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/reader6/sec2.html)

I agree with Clarke: the speeding up of the reading saves time while remaining understandable.

If you’d like to share your tricks, post a comment!


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