The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 3: top-down and bottom-up

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first post of this series, I explained why bottom-up Lean initiatives have little chance to succeed. In the second post I switched the point of view and discussed the top-down driven Lean rollout attempts and their pitfalls. Neither is easy nor a sure way to succeed.

In this third post it is time to bring the conditions for success together.

Guidance comes from above

The system owners or top management are the sole legit to set the system’s / organization’s overall Goal. It is onto the ways(1) to achieve that Goal that all Lean initiatives must align. This is known as the “True North”.

Lean itself is not the Goal, it’s the preferred framework providing a way of thinking, principles, methods and a toolbox to efficiently achieve the Goal.

The Goal must be stated with clarity in order to avoid any misunderstanding and the Goal should be compelling for to motivate the stakeholders to play an active and motivated role in its achievement.

The worst Goal statement I was confronted with was “Survive another year”.

Stating the Goal alone is not enough. Top management should also set a limited set of top level indicators. In Bill Dettmer’s approach using the Goal Tree, those few top level indicators are called Critical Success Factors (CSFs). They are top management’s dashboard and ultimate steps before achieving the Goal.

Those CSFs must be set by top management for at least three reasons:

  1. It would be weird that anybody else defines the indicators by which top management monitors the progress towards the Goal it is responsible for achieving,
  2. Critical Success Factors are most often dictated by strategical analysis or benchmark, which are top management’s responsibility,
  3. Critical Success Factors constrain how the stakeholders will contribute to achieve the Goal. By this third reason I mean remaining consistent with the organization’s purpose, culture and values.

Once the Goal and Critical Success Factors are defined, enough guidance is provided from the top and it’s the subordinate level to take on and propose ways to achieve their goals, which are the CSF. The same will repeat with the next level and so on.

Lean-aware readers will recognize the cascading principle used in Policy Deployment, also known as Hoshin Kanri.

Appraisal comes from above too

If top management provided guidance, its role isn’t over yet. It is top management duty to make sure the whole organization works towards achieving the Goal and to remind and reinforce this guiding principle: working on anything else diverting resources from the achievement of the Goal is waste and is therefore invalid.

Remember, opportunities to improve are always infinite, while resources and time come in limited number. It is therefore mandatory to focus on leverage points and make wise use of limited resources.

I particularly like the Goal Tree because its logical structure lets no room for irrelevant nice-to-have that are immediately visible and their discarding rationally explained.

Enlightened management is about knowing what to do and what not do. And enlightenment can use a little help from a logical tool.

Without promoting the outdated command-and-control model, direction must be set top-down as well as the periodic checking of the organization’s right trajectory.

Constant attention is required over time in order to avoid any drift, deviant behaviors or loss of focus.

Help comes from above. Sometimes.

It’s still not enough to give direction and check the progress towards the Goal. Management’s top-down support is mandatory. By support I mean advice and backup when tough decisions need senior management to give input or take the decision, especially when those decisions lay beyond the field of authority of the lower ranking staff.

Support is also required when a settlement between conflicting objectives must be found.

From the Logical Thinking Process (Theory of Constraint) Body of Knowledge we know that conflict resolution should not seek a consensus (often disguised as “win-win” solution), but a way to “dissolve the conflict so that nobody has to give up anything except their beliefs in false assumptions.

Yet beware of drilling holes into the pyramid (2), meaning do not do what your subordinates have to do.

It is commonly accepted I hope, that leaders have to communicate the “what to change to” (the Goal) as well as the “why” of Lean transformation. It is up to the lower ranking staff in the organization to figure out “how to change”.

Achievement happens bottom-up

Since Policy Deployment or Hoshin Kanri are around, the cascading principle of top-down Goal setting and corresponding bottom-up answers is known.

Just as Hoshin Kanri, the Goal Tree uses the same principle: when the lower objectives are achieved, the corresponding upper objectives are achieved, and so on bottom-up till the top most objective (the Goal) is achieved.

Each layer of objectives is a set of Necessary Conditions for achieving the objective above. And here again, the Goal Tree provides the rational demonstration why employees can’t freely choose to work and improve whatever they want, even it seems an improvement from their point of view.

This disciplined approach may sound very constrained and limiting compared to other approaches asking staff for whatever improvement ideas. Maybe it sounds disappointingly controlled and restrictive but it makes no sense to burn limited and precious resources to “improve” whatever is proposed.

The lack of focus leads to many critics about lean lacking noticeable results compared to the time and money spent to improve. In this “open” approach stakeholders may have had their moment of glory when their proposed idea was validated, but their “improvements” didn’t impress nor last.

Conclusion

Neither bottom-up nor top-down initiated Lean journeys won’t lead to a Lean transformation success. The approach most likely to succeed is a smart mixture of top-down guidance, monitoring and assistance and aligned bottom-up contributions focusing on specific leverage points.

While top management provides the Goal to achieve and the framework within transforming the organization, the lower ranking staff make things happen working on meaningful and contributive topics.

Even if this approach looks constrained, it is more likely to demonstrate real improvement and proven, lasting benefits. Ultimately, this disciplined way should provide more satisfaction to all parties involved.

This ends the series of posts about the Fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives.

Comments welcome. If you liked it, share it!

Footnotes

(1) Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes would refer to these ways as “tactics”, while the Goal is a strategy
(2) An allusion about another one of my tales of the pyramid: the Swiss cheese

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The fallacy of bottom-up Lean initiatives – Part 2: top-down is no better

the-fallacy-of-bottom-up-lean-initiativesIn the first part of this series I shared my doubts and experience about bottom-up lean initiative to be successful and sustainable. In this post I switch position and explain why top-down Lean doesn’t always work either.

One common trap top management falls into is to believe that orders given will be carried out as expected and therefore managers save themselves the pain to go checking on shopfloor (1).

A variant is putting instructions in a procedure or on a work instruction sheet and believe it is all that is needed for things to happen.

The reasons for the expected outcome not to happen are numerous:

  • Orders may not be well understood
  • Instructions may be impossible to follow
  • People simply do not know what or how to do
  • People in charge resist the imposed change
  • People don’t know what the expectations are

For this last point, I came across several organizations where top management was aware about Lean principles and techniques and believed the lower levels were familiar alike.

They weren’t. But as none of the top managers went to check, the belief lingered, the performance remained disappointing and the blame was put on middle management.

When enthusiastic management promotes a Lean rollout without getting traction from shop floor, it’s like the top of the pyramid starting off while the base stays put, something I described in my tales of the pyramid series (1).

Another puzzling rollout I heard of was from a large corporate with a dozen of sites. The top management decided to go Lean and in order to get things rolling asked each of the sites to select a pilot perimeter, value stream map it and improve the selected processes.

I asked the central PMO manager if the sites had a common corporate Goal to align onto. No he answered, we’d like to start with local demonstrators to prove Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool for improvement.

But what if the improved processes are unnecessary in regards to corporate strategy? How will you cope with frustration if the improvements done locally must be reset or discarded because of the corporate roadmap to come?

I got no answers to those questions and could not do any business with that organization. I never heard anything about operations’ improvement and years later I was told that most of the people from central Lean office moved elsewhere.

To me it seems that this attempt was nothing else than a large-scale muda hunting, without any central coordination than the tools and methods to be used, mandatory.

There are also many cases were CEOs or senior executives got hooked by a Lean conference, a Lean-praising speech or a good read. They appoint a champion or a consultant and assign her/him to deliver “the same”. Of course there is no deep understanding of Lean, only the desire to get the same alluring outcome.

What follows is most often a failure, even so it was strongly “supported” from top-most authority. One of my greatest Lean successes was with a medical devices manufacturer calling for help after the internal team totally messed up with their Lean attempt (2). Everyone was so upset with that experience that “lean” was a forbidden word. Alas not seldom a case.

What we did to straighten it out was… Lean in essence, just camouflaging it with other wording.

Imposing Lean from top-down has probably the same failure rate than bottom-up attempts, or even bigger when stakeholders do not understand what is asked and what for .

Top-down support is mandatory in a Lean transformation project. It is a necessary condition to success but by no means a guarantee for success!

In part 3 of this series we’ll see how to set better conditions to succeed with Lean.

Footnotes

(1) Top management is often cut off from the reality as I explain is the Tale of the pyramid – Head first. Top managers may also like to stay in their cosy ivory tower, another tale of the pyramid
(2) It takes more effort than read and learn from books to get good results with Lean tools and techniques. A deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy is learned the hard way, experimenting and reflecting on successes and errors

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Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are

This quote, often falsely attributed to Theodore Roosevelt (see Sue Brewton’s blog), is an excellent mantra for both personal and management use.

Too often when facing a problem or a challenge, individuals tend to push it to others, to complain about their insufficient resources and have great ideas for others instead. Think about the latest cost reduction program for instance.

>lisez moi en français

With the “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are” mantra in mind when facing a problem or a challenge, the right approach should be:

  • What can I do by myself? What is in my hand? What actions are within my scope of authority / autonomy, what can I decide / engage / implement by myself?
  • With the means at my disposal, what can I do? How far can I go and is it enough to achieve the goal? What do I really need more to achieve the goal?
  • From my position in the organization, what can I do? What can I decide? What can I influence?

Here are 3 situations the mantra can be great for.

1. Facing one’s fears

These questions should be part of a personal routine and a mental checklist. Especially when facing a scary or challenging situation, going through the questions shifts the focus from emotional perceptions to factual assessment.

There is probably more that can be done than instinctively perceived, so in order not to give up too fast, remembering the mantra guides to an inventory of possible options.

We could double the mantra by another maxim I’ve found in General George S. Patton’s memoirs: “Do not take counsel of your fears.”

2. Facing the boss

When discussing a problem or a challenge with the boss, the quick inventory of personal possibilities avoids disappointing him/her with a list of reasons why the problem is very tough to solve or the goal out of reach, with request for more means or with suggestions for others to act instead.

Only when one’s capabilities, available means or one’s position in the organization are truly insufficient to solve the problem or achieve the goal, the limitations of all possible current options should be fed back to the boss.

3. Facing subordinates

On the other side a manager who sees a direct report trying to escape his/her duty, demanding more resources or offering great ideas for others, the rephrasing is easy:

  • I ask YOU to do what YOU can do
  • I ask YOU to do with the resources YOU have
  • I ask YOU to consider the options YOU have from YOUr position in YOUr perimeter

Conclusion

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are” is easy to remember, holds a lot of calm confidence and wisdom and can come handy in several situations.

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5 ways Lean guys trigger rejection on shopfloor

Lean guys are not always aware they triggered rejection of their ideas or suggestions themselves, only because of their behavior or their disregarding of some elementary rules.
Here is a short list of 5 ways to trigger rejection on shopfloor.

1. Play the sensei

A sensei, in lean lingo, is a recognized expert, which in japanese style would visit a facility, appraise and give advice in a master’s mysterious way, so that the followers must deeply reflect about its meaning and the hidden but valuable lesson.

Probably every Lean guy’s dream is to be called sensei some day, meaning someone recognizes his/her expertise and asks for guidance and mentoring.

Yet playing sensei without being asked for nor called that way will pretty surely upset people.

To-be senseis I’ve seen like to look down on people with contempt and call everything rubbish.

A sensei being a sensei, he/she is not supposed to explain why something is rubbish, it’s up to the shopfloor people to discover it. A practical way to appear, appraise and disappear without being bothered with details nor explanations…

About such a “sensei”, some upset people said to me: “he just dropped the grenade and left”. On another occasion, the “victim” of such a sensei told me: “he just goes around, says it’s rubbish, but gives no example of what is good or what he wants!”.

While true senseis deliver valuable lessons, even in a strange fashion, self-promoted senseis just flatter their own ego while parading on shopfloor.

2. Lecturing people

Newcomers from a kaizen or Lean promotion office, often young people that graduated recently, tend to go to shopfloor and evangelize everyone with “You should” or “Why don’t you”.

These talented young people have gotten a lot of theory and probably know a lot, at least through reading, but “You should” is difficult to take from someone having barely the same number of life years than others have years of (hard) work experience.

“Why don’t you” is an awkward attempt to apply asking the five whys or to camouflage the lecture with a kind of smart-sounding suggestion. The way the full sentence is spoken out is received just as insulting as the blunt “you should”.

The lecturers too often know little if anything about the shopfloor condition and their questions and suggestions reveal their lack of awareness of the local conditions.

That’s how a new engineer from another company, allegedly far more advanced regarding Lean maturity and appalled by what he saw, got everyone hating him at once for lecturing aggressively the old breed on shopfloor.

3. Assuming everybody know the basics

This is a kind of variant of the previous, savvy Lean guys coming to shopfloor and without trying to understand the local current level of understanding, keep jargoning.

Lot of people do not like to admit they don’t understand, leading at best to a dialogue of the deaf between confident jargonists and proud ignorants.

Worse, when the jargonists notice the ignorance, they likely go for “What? You don’t know…!?”

It is easy to fall into the trap when nice boards and posters suggest the area has had some training and has some Lean tools in use. Which leads us to the next rejection-triggering behavior:

4. Hang up posters and vanish

Hanging up poster, display new or modified procedures and vanish without a word of explanation, preferably doing it when nobody is on shopfloor and letting everybody clueless about what has to be done is another fine way to show disrespect and trigger rejection.

It could be nothing more than the assumption from the Lean guys that first line of management will take over the explanation to their staff, while shopfloor management assumes Lean guys will instruct operators.

After a while, when searching the cause of boards not used or procedures ignored, one will discover that there was no instruction, not even information about the change.

After a while and some of these experiences, operators will come to the conclusion it is all optional or for window dressing only. Shopfloor management itself will sabotage passively by refraining to give explanations and instruction in place of the Lean team.

5. Changing things without people

The last fine way to fuel rejection is to make changes without people from shopfloor; after work or on weekends.

Nobody likes to have his/her workpost changed without notice, information and asking anything. More often than not, the change prove inapplicable because some important fact was ignored.

Would the initiators have asked beforehand, the operators or shopfloor people would have explained. But, the arguments of shopfloor people are often interpreted as a mere resistance to change, therefore it was thought better to do without them.

I remember factory workers mocking the executives who came a saturday for a 5S action with the CEO and having the factory paralyzed on Monday morning. Jigs and fixtures had been thrown away as rubbish pieces of metal by the ignorant executives.


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How corporate Lean programs spoil golden opportunities

This is the sad and true story of a manufacturing unit of a major manufacturer in his industry.

This company has a corporate program to roll out Lean, with permanently appointed staff to support it. The Lean organisation is structured from a corporate level to sites representatives and staff appointed to support departments within the plants (Lean Promotion Office).

The corporate program is consistent and fine, designed by subject matter experts and tailored to fit both the activity and corporate culture. Such an ambitious program has a phased agenda, milestones, audits, reviews and everything necessary.

The Lean Promotion Office supporting team is therefore very busy breaking down the corporate rollout plan and preparing training sessions, coaching sessions, reviews and everything necessary.

Everyone who has witnessed such organisation and corporate rollout knows that the supporting team tends to become a swelling bureaucracy of its own, with very busy people seldom seen on shopfloor.

Comes a day in a department when the production must be stopped for supply shortages and unfortunately the stoppage lasts several days.

Once the things jobless personnel could do were done, they were left unoccupied and all by themselves, in a kind of readiness, the production being assumed to resume anytime soon.

Which did not happen, and boredom became the daily normal.

This is when the consultant regularly visiting the department shows up, and a bit upset by the waste of human skills, proposes to organize a much needed initiation to 5S.

That can’t be done.
– Why?
– 5S is scheduled later in the year, according to the rollout plan.
– But people are available now and with the current department (messy, dirty) condition it is a golden opportunity to both train people and improve the condition!
– Nobody is available for the training.
– But I can do!
– This is not compliant to our rollout plan and procedures.

As incredible it sounds, there was no way to organize the initiation and no manager would back up the proposal nor agree to give it a go.

I assume the Lean Promotion Office members are measured according to their (planned) activity and weren’t eager to mess up the plan, take any chances to displease their managers.

Production managers were blind to the situation and not knowing much about 5S, could not see the opportunity to have meaningful occupation for their staff.

To add to the sadness of the situation, when 5S training time will come, the situation may not offer the same opportunity: machines may be running, everybody may be busy and the mess and dirt may not be that visible as it was during the stoppage.

5S training will then probably be done with case studies and simulation, on restricted area at best, in order not to disturb production. This is where the golden opportunity is really lost: using a real case to act on, learn and improve.

Postponing the training and improvements to later scheduled time slot will make the actual 5S related problems last longer, cost more and waste the opportunity.


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12 tips for leading in a downturn

Slowdown, downturn, crisis, recession, words and condition that are around for some time now and for some businesses it seems to be the new normal.
I witnessed several companies’ and their leaders’ reactions when facing difficulties and I’d like to share my list of dos and don’ts.


Elevate your ambition

Chris HOHMANN

Chris HOHMANN – Author

When time is hard for business and everybody in the company gets anxious about the future, the ambition should be more appealing than the disappointing “live another day” and its variants. Yet how many times did I came across a similar sounding “ambition”! Frightening.

The leader’s skills, including inspire others, are supposed to show in troubled times. Gather your staff around a higher ambition, prepare all together the exit of the crisis and the turning of the vision into reality.

If the crisis is severe, people are more open to challenges and changes. Go for a leap, not a timorous step.

Focus!

When times get tough for your business, it’s time to (re)consider what your business is. instead of trying anything in order to meet the plan or budget, take a moment to (re)state what the purpose of your organization is.

With purpose clarified, the organization’s precious (and scarce?) resources can be focused on the purpose and deliver more, better.

I strongly believe that this exercise, in many cases, is enough to re-energize the staff and get better through the hard times.

Tip: with the Goal (re)set, the Goal Tree is a great tool to define all Necessary Conditions and on what to focus to achieve the Goal. Using the Goal Tree is a framework will help to break the new strategy down into concrete, meaningful and strictly necessary actions.

Search your blue ocean

The slowdown may be the result of recession and/or of competition. It may be the right time to question your offering and how it ranks compared to competition. You may be swimming with sharks in the blood-red ocean and then it is the right time to think about leaping into a quiet blue ocean, free from shark-like competition.

Make a side step, reinvent, do different

If you are to remain in the same business, and chances are you will, then what would distinguish your product, service, offering or company from competition?

Be bold. It’s about disruption, not small incremental change. You’ll have to surprize your customers, outmatch your competitors and inspire your staff.

So what sidestep would get you out of the war of attrition? How can you reinvent your business, products, services and get a wow effect in your market? What can you do different?

Ask your staff, all of them. Those closest to market and customers may have the right answers.

Sometimes brilliant ideas unexpectedly originate from people or departments you would not think about: accounting, finance, HR, delivery truck drivers…

Improve. Revisit your processes and create more value

In tough times customers are pickier, more demanding. They may be worried just the way everybody is but still have needs and problems to solve. Revisit your processes and improve in order to create more value for your customers.

Again, be bold! Competition may adjust to minor improvements and keep up. They may be afraid or unable to follow a bolder move.

Show confidence

Keep your worries for yourself or a very close circle. To all others, show confidence. Staff nor customers don’t like worried bosses/suppliers/partners. They are worried themselves. If you can’t show confidence in what you stand for, employees may seek more secure haven for themselves and customers will seek alternate suppliers or solutions.

Trust your staff, it’s not your enemy

Concentrate your energy to outmatch competition, not to harass your workforce. Too often worried managers turn their disappointment or anger towards their staff. Chances are few the situation is the staff’s fault, so why bother them?

Better build up a task force engage your team in finding and building a way out. Your staff is your ally, not your enemy.

So far for the dos , let’s see some don’ts

Don’t harass your staff because they have less to do in the downturn

When activity slows down it is normal to have more slack time. Consider using this freed time for training or creating new value for the customers, finding a way out of the crisis…

Refrain from micromanagement.

Constantly looking over the shoulders of your staff will not help getting out of the crisis, but will only stress your workforce more, show your lack of consideration and confidence.

Again, you cannot get angry with your staff just because business is not that good anymore.

Do not be unfair

If you are disappointed about some of your workforce not taking initiatives, first ask yourself if they ever were encouraged to take some or if this is a sudden expectation of yours.
Second, ask yourself if you gave enough insight and direction for people to understand where you want the organization to go, what the Goal and objectives are.
Third, if people are not the self starters you’re hoping, why did you / your organization hire them? What did you / your organization do to develop them?
If you objectively did everything to have autonomous self starters and they don’t behave like this, you may further ask questions about their attitude, by using the BlessingWhite X model for example.

Chances are that your workforce is nothing more than a representation of the general population, with some brilliant people, a bulk of average people and a some below average but still good enough for coping with their chores.
And chances are that your competition is not better off.

Don’t change direction every morning

In difficult periods doubt may surface about the strategy, the pricing, the customer relationship, about almost everything. Keep your cool and do not change direction too often. First because it will only confuse everybody, second because it will show your state of panic. Remember: people expect to have a self-confident leader.

You may conduct some experiments, but structure them with some consistency, show an overarching logic. If you can’t link the different ideas with some straightforward logic, some elements may have to be questioned.


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You don’t give me answers, you ask me questions

He’s a former colleagues of mine I worked with during 10 years. Let’s call him Jack. He’s about 10 years younger, cocky, went from graduation directly to consulting and as he stated himself one day, “can’t stand being unable to answer a client’s question right away”.

The opposite of me in many aspects and that’s perhaps why we worked well together for so long. The biggest differences between us are that I have no problem to admit I don’t know and I manage silence rather well.

What long flattered and puzzled me about Jack was his repeated “compliment”: You don’t give me answers, you ask me questions.

Well, this is what managers are supposed to do: help their staff to find answers and solutions. Even a manager is not supposed to have answers to all questions, but he should at last know how to tackle problems.

The questions I asked Jack were for both of us. They were a way to structure my own thinking about the issue as I didn’t have the answer myself. The questions were the logical loud spoken path to put pieces together, check the assumptions, simplify the problem and try to craft a possible solution or at least a satisfactory answer.

Asking questions was an invitation for Jack or others to join the exercise and connect our brainpower together. I could make believe I knew the answers but played it old wise man leading his mentee to find the correct answer by himself as a part of his initiation. But no, asking question is still my quiet and indirect way to say “I don’t know but I am willing to help you find the answer”.

Knowing Jack, it was a wonder he didn’t disregard me for being so openly ignorant, but on the contrary he kept seeking my questions.

Over the years, bits of explanations surfaced. One of them was I was a cool manager not giving direct orders (command and control) but helping his teammates to learn. Something so basic in my opinion it does not deserve any praise.

What Jack never said in such way but appeared to me recently (and still is an assumption) is that asking questions and logically analyzing the problem together, I simply showed him respect.

I did not care about my rank nor image, I gave a hand when asked for, worked with lower ranking associates, admitting I didn’t know. Furthermore, for highly educated and intelligent people it was a sign of respect not to throw them any answer but encourage them to analyze, try and solve by themselves.

Reflecting on my own experience, I’ve seen so many managers who couldn’t stand not to know and gave just any answer and left you on your own with it.

How many would I compliment for their managing skills?

No so common after all.

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Ten tricks to get things done

Many action plans share the same problems, they expand with additional todos but little gets done. Here are 10 tricks to change the wish list into real action plan that delivers.

1. accept only important and urgent actions

Setup a basic rule to filter out proposed actions or suggestions. A severe one would be for instance “anything that is not urgent nor important isn’t worth to be put on this type of action plan”. Give it some thinking. Unimportant and no urgent items will only clog the board.

If unimportant and no urgent ideas or suggestions are worth giving a later consideration, prepare a separate list.

2. accept only actions people can carry out themselves

As a manager, accept only actions people can carry out themselves. This means they have authority to get them done or the skills and resources – including time – to carry out the actions. If they haven’t but actions are necessary nevertheless, start a different action plan under the responsibility of someone having authority. These actions will have to be carried out by someone else, like maintenance  or support team, a subcontractor, etc.

3. limit the capacity of action plan

In order to prevent team members writing long wish lists, limit the capacity of the action plan. 3, 5 or maximum 10 lines is best.  This doesn’t mean the management refuses to hear problems or improvement suggestions, but as the plan capacity is limited, it is obvious that only meaningful actions will find their way onto the plan and actions need to be carried out quickly in order to free space for new ones.

4. every action has someone accountable for

Every action must have someone who takes ownership and accountability. This does not mean this person has to do it him/herself, but make sure action is taken by someone and objectives will be met on due date.
Do not accept orphans, that is actions without owners. There is a saying: “giving to all is giving to nobody”, in other terms if you wait for someone to spontaneously pick up the action you may wait a long time.

5. place the action plan in full sight of everybody

With action plan in full sight of everybody, Anybody can monitor the progress, hence the pride of actions’ owners and accountables will get some extra motivation. People that depend or suffer from a situation that needs solution or improvement may be demanding and challenge the ones in charge.

6. review plan every day

Such plans are suitable for Management in Short Interval, ideally everyday. Besides, urgent and important things require close-loop management. Daily reviews encourage real action as constant attention is kept. People usually want to succeed in their undertakings and constant attention gives extra motivation.

7. accept solutions not excuses

When actions get delayed or face difficulties, people in charge should propose alternate solutions or due dates, not excuses.

Make this rule clear from the beginning and stick to it firmly.

8. if plan is full, a new action needs an older one to be dumped

Another important rule is to keep the plan’s limitation. If there is no place left but a new action should be taken into account, there are only 2 options:

  1. wait until one action is completed and leaves the plan
  2. remove one action which wasn’t completed so far. Maybe it was not that urgent and important after all?

9. planned actions are perishable: out after ten days!

Linked to the previous trick, consider actions as something perishable. If one action could not be completed within 10 days (2 working weeks), it wasn’t probably urgent nor important. Dump it and free space for a new one. This rule will add some pressure to the group and help keep momentum.

10. escalate

The last trick is to escalate actions judged important and urgent but couldn’t be accomplished within the 10 days. Find sponsorship with somebody that has authority to allocate additional skills or resources. Let this option remain an exception, otherwise it would be too easy to push things to others.


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The catalyst

I like this word “catalyst” when talking about “a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic”.

We don’t use it currently in French even so the meaning is the same, we’ll talk about “moderator”, “facilitator” or “coach” instead.

Yet “catalyst” is much more how I felt recently with a small group of participants in a workshop. It was expected by my client to be a kind of kaizen event with a clear goal and limited time: in three days design the layout of a future streamlined assembly line.

It took me the first morning to get basic knowledge about current operations, difficulties and stakes of a company and a business I was discovering.

Being the alien, I asked many questions the insiders kindly answered. Those questions had a double benefit:

  1. give me the minimum necessary insight
  2. force the ops guys working with me to reflect about my questions

When we returned to the nearby office, I organized my new “knowledge” on several sheet of paper in order to summarize, memorize and understand as well as let the participants check my understanding.

During the shopfloor tour and my summing up, some of them had questions and surprises, which found their place on a paper sheet as well.

During the two and half days left, I asked many more questions, made some suggestions and did what I am good at (say my colleagues): sort out and arrange all the popping ideas and scattered data and facts to get a simple and clear understanding of the situation.

Doing so, the participants found most of the time themselves what to do next and how to do it. From time to time, some direction in form of question or suggestion from my side restarted again the stuck team.

In the evening of day two, the line was not only designed, it was 60% installed thanks to all spare furniture and equipment we scavenged. Two weeks later the first assemblies went out of the new line.

This result was unexpected according to the CEO and the group participants, as turning ideas into actions always was difficult in this company.

This was achieved by the subject matter experts themselves, I was “only” their catalyst which helped to unleash and focus their potential talents.

A role that fits me.

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