…but why?

downloadProject Steering Group Meeting starts:

Project Manager: “We’ve had a major setback and we can’t ‘go live’ next week as per the original target date set. We’ve worked some long hours to think about this and what we need to do and have re-planned. We have worked out that, if we work really smart and hard and everything goes to plan, we believe we could be back on track in 8 weeks time.”

Big tough Leader: “I want it in 4 weeks.”

Project Manager: “I know it’s disappointing and you would like it as quickly as possible. That’s why when we did the re-planning we cut out all the fat AND used really stretching estimates…and it is this that gives us the 8 weeks….it could easily have come out at 12 weeks or more.”

Big tough Leader: You’ve got 4 weeks.”

Project Manager: “I’ve spoken with everyone. We got together as a team to work out what is possible. They all rolled their sleeves up, did some good honest talking and they tell me that they will move heaven and earth to hit 8 weeks.”

Big tough Leader: “Look at my fingers [holds up four fingers]. I’m not going to discuss it anymore.”

…and so the meeting ends, with the Big Tough Leader walking off pleased with him/herself and the Project Manager having the unenviable task of trying to explain to the troops and keep them motivated…all of which will take further time (which could have been spent delivering value).

It’s at this point that I would want to press the ‘stop’ button in the conversation, wind back and at the point that the Big Tough Leader says “you’ve got 4 weeks”, I would want the Project manager to say “…but why?”

Now, there appear to be two logical answers to this question:

  1. The leader knows something that the Project Manager doesn’t, like there’s an important constraint that means that 8 weeks is no good….in which case the Project Manager (and the team) needs to know the full facts and can enter a proper dialogue about the options available…with some likely innovative ideas coming out; or
  2. The leader is attempting to ‘manage by fear’ and thinks that their clever ‘stretch-target’ will motivate (!) the workers. Further, it shows that the leader doesn’t trust his/her people and thinks they are lazy, that they are holding effort back and need a carrot/ stick management approach.

So, what actually happens when unrealistic target dates are set?

  • disbelief by those who actually know the reality of the situation…de-motivation…and therefore a major disconnect between worker and leader…leading to an understandable lack of respect in the leader;
  • de-scoping of value from the work so as to hit an arbitrary target date (“we delivered something!”), as opposed to achieving a target condition;
  • the customer (the people receiving the outcomes) never believing the dates that you give them along the lines of ‘the boy that cries wolf’ fable. This is because big tough target dates are published (“because, then, that’ll make ’em work harder!“) and then have to be continually re-published as reality bites and dates are re-set;
  • much effort is wasted ‘analysing’ variances between what was dictated vs. what eventuated…none of which comes as much of a surprise to the workers who knew anyway;
  • much wasted effort is spent after ‘go-live’ coping with the semi-complete outcome and the customer fallout.

Okay, so you hit a published target deadline…big deal!

What matters is what was actually achieved in respect of the purpose of the value stream being affected. Is the value stream more or less capable in the eyes of the customer?

Now, obviously any roll out needs to know a date to be able to plan its implementation, BUT we should be trying to delay the setting of this date as long as possible in the work so that we have the most certainty as to what it will actually be – a ‘just in time’ mentality rather than a ‘hook to hang people on’.

Let’s try to move:

  • away from thinking setting target dates as a management tool is a good thing;
  • to thinking that setting target conditions* is the right thing to do, and then providing an environment in which everyone works to achieve this as effectively as possible.

* A reminder: a target condition is a description of the desired future state (how a process should operate, the intended normal pattern of operation). It is NOT a numerical activity target or deadline.

“First determine where you want to go, then consider how to get there within financial and other constraints.” (Mike Rother)

Do you use target dates as a ‘management by fear’ tool to ‘make people comply’?!

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Benchmarking – worse than cheating

CheatingDo you remember back to your school days, and the scandalous crime of cheating by copying someone else’s work?

Why was school-boy (& girl) copying seen as such a sin?

  1. The most obvious reason in traditional education is that you are cheating the ‘grading’ system such that people will think you are ‘better’ than you (currently) are;
  2. But, what’s far worse is that you haven’t actually gone through the learning and development process, for yourself…which is what education should be about.

So why am I comparing and contrasting ‘benchmarking’ with school-boy copying? Let’s first look at a definition:

“Benchmarking: Managers compare the performance of their products or processes externally with those of competitors and best-in-class companies and internally with other operations within their own firms that perform similar activities.

The objective of Benchmarking is to find examples of superior performance and to understand the processes and practices driving that performance.

Companies then improve their performance by tailoring and incorporating these best practices into their own operations.” (from Bain & Co. website – a well regarded Management Consulting organisation selling its benchmarking services)

So, essentially Benchmarking is akin to deliberately (and usually openly) finding out who the best kids in the class are and then trying to copy them…with this being seen as a logical and acceptable thing to do. Business is clearly different to Education (right?)

A number of things strike me about this ‘benchmarking’ definition:

  • It assumes that, if I find someone with excellent ‘result metrics’ (in respect of what I chose to look for) then:
    • the metrics I see are true (undistorted) and tell the whole picture (e.g. cope with differing purposes, explain variation,…); and consequently that
    • I should be doing what they are doing…which implies that I can easily, correctly and completely unpick how they arrived at these results;
  • It is about managers looking for answers externally and, essentially, telling the workers which areas will change, and to what degree (commanding and controlling);
  • It is looking at what other organisations are doing rather than what the customer requires (wrong focus)…and likely constrains true innovation;
  • It focuses on component parts of the system, rather than the system as a whole (which will likely destroy value in the system);
  • It incorporates the related, and equally flawed, idea of ‘best practise’ (rather than understanding that, setting aside the above criticisms, there may be better practises but no such thing as perfection);

Sure, we should be aware of what other organisations, including our competitors, are doing for the good of their customers but attempting to copy them is far too simplistic (see my very first post re. ‘perspective’ ).

It is interesting to read what Jim Womack (et al at MIT) had to say about benchmarking after they spent many years studying the global car industry.

“…we now feel that benchmarking is a waste of time for managers that understand lean thinking. Benchmarkers who discover their ‘performance’ is superior to their competitors have a natural tendency to relax, whilst [those] discovering that their ‘performance’ is inferior often have a hard time understanding exactly why. They tend to get distracted by easy-to-measure or impossible-to-emulate differences in costs, scale or ‘culture’…

…our earnest advice…is simple: To hell with your competitors; compete against perfection…this is an absolute rather than a relative standard which can provide the essential North Star for any organisation. In its most spectacular application, it has kept the Toyota organisation in the lead for forty years.”

And to compete against perfection, you must first truly understand your own system:

“Comparing your organisation with anything is not the right place to start change. It will lead to unreliable conclusions and inappropriate or irrelevant actions. The right place to start change, if you want to improve, is to understand the ‘what and why’ of your current performance as a system.” (John Seddon)

Each organisation should have its own purpose, which attracts its own set of customers, who have their specific needs (which we need to constantly listen to)…, which then determine the absolute perfection we need to be continually aiming for.

You can see that, if we use benchmark metrics, we usually end up back with the Target/ Incentive game. We can expect distorted results and ‘wrong’ behaviours.

The real point – Experimentation and learning: Now you might respond “okay, so we won’t benchmark on result metrics…but surely we should be benchmarking on the methods being used by others?”

The trouble with this goes back to the 2nd, and most consequential, ‘sin’ of school boy copying – if you copy another’s method, you won’t learn and you won’t develop.

“We should not spend too much time benchmarking what others – including Toyota – are doing. You yourself are the benchmark:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be next?
  • What obstacles are preventing you from getting there?

…the ability of your company to be competitive and survive lies not so much in solutions themselves, but in the capability of the people in your organisation to understand a situation and develop solutions. (Mike Rother)

When you ‘benchmark’ against another organisation’s methods you see their results and you (perhaps) can adequately describe what you see, but:

  • you don’t understand how they got to where they are currently at, nor where they will be able to get to next;
  • you are not utilising the brains and passion of your workers, to take you where they undeniably can if you provide the environment to allow them to do so.

…and, as a result, you will remain relatively static (and stale) despite what changes in method you copy.

“When you give an employee an answer, you rob them of the opportunity to figure it out themselves and the opportunity to grow and develop.” (John Shook)

Reorganised

5325139336_871c2e57b4“We trained hard – but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised.

I was to learn later in life we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.” (Petronius Arbiter, 65 A.D.)

Now, this isn’t suggesting that there isn’t a need to reorganise every now and then. It does signal the folly and pain of continual reorganisations dictated ‘from above’.

Another quote helps to put reorganisation into perspective:

“As tempting as it sometimes seem, you cannot reorganise your way to continuous improvement and adaptiveness. What is decisive is not the form of your organisation, but how people act and react.

The roots of Toyota’s success lie not in its organisation structures, but in developing capability and habits in its people. Anything unique about Toyota’s organisation structures…evolved out of them striving for specific behaviour patterns, not the other way around.” (Mike Rother)

i.e. develop the right environment, and a suitable structure will evolve….not the other way around!

It is far far better that you provide an environment in which:

  • the purpose of the system is clear (to you and those who perform it);
  • any/all ‘contingent reward’ management instruments have been removed;
  • your people are provided with visible measures of the capability of their system* (against its purpose); and
  • are allowed and encouraged to experiment with changes to their system, whilst observing the effects on its capability.

(* this is NOT numeric activity targets!)

In this way, it will be the people who will consider whether a change to the form of the current organisation is a valid countermeasure to experiment with and, from studying the outcome, whether to adopt, adapt or disregard this change.

The difference between:

  • management imposing a reorganisation on its people; and
  • the people suggesting, and trying, a change that will likely improve their system

… is the difference between chalk and cheese.

Change – just suck it up!

dui-law-changesBeing a pom, I hadn’t heard the ‘suck it up’ phrase until I came to New Zealand. I find it quite amusing…I particularly like some of its derivatives like ‘harden up’ and ‘take a concrete pill’.

Obviously it isn’t always appropriately used but it reflects an attitude of ‘stop whinging, it is what it is – just get on with it’.

So, when I hear the oft quoted remark that ‘change is the only constant’ (or such like), I note that this is used (in various guises) by ‘leaders’ to basically say ‘just suck it up’. A re-organisation is a classic example when it is brought out of the ‘communication’ drawer.

Consider the opposite though, that human beings are creatures of habit and resist change. Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter sets out reasons for why this is so, and I pull out/shape some of these below:

  • Loss of control: interfering with our desire for autonomy
  • Excessive uncertainty: major change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded
  • Sudden surprise: no time to consider (where a short ‘consultation’ period does not count as time)
  • Loss of face: we are likely to have a lot emotionally invested in the current state…we might even have designed parts of it!
  • More work: having to deal with the change (and it’s inevitable glitches because the new ‘grand plan’ can never be 100% thought through) on top of the real work
  • Upsetting the system: the change is likely to have knock on effects, disrupting other parts of the whole which could not have been foreseen.

So there is clearly a paradox, a herculean rub here: We are being told to constantly change, yet we don’t like change!

Now, the command-and-control response is typically to introduce a ‘Change Manager’ to the mix to grease the change through the lumps and bumps in the way.

But what if the combined ‘manager – process performer team’s constant state was of one in which their job was to continually change the system they work in, for the good of the customer…rather than having this done to them.

Mike Rother, in his excellent book Toyota Kata contrasts two types of management thinking in respect to making improvements:

  1. normal daily management + improvement (where process improvement is a separate add-on activity, often wrapped up into projects to be carried out by other teams and then ‘rolled out’ to the process…often requiring significant ‘change management’)
  2. normal daily management = process improvement (where improving and managing are one and the same, where the changes are identified, tested and then ‘rolled in’ within the system…which virtually strangles the need for ‘change management’)

For us to crush the ‘change’ paradox, we need to move from a command-and-control environment in which the change is dictated to the system to a systems-thinking environment in which the changes come from within the system.

If we re-examine the reasons for fearing change, we can see that most dissolve away when:

  • the ‘manager- process performer team’ are in control of improving the process;
  • …which means we have replaced excessive uncertainty with controlled sequential experiments;
  • …with no surprise as to what is coming (they, after all, are masters of this);
  • …meaning that they own how they build upon what they have already done, for the good of the customer;
  • …such that these improvements are part of the work, not extras imposed upon them;
  • …with all experimental results studied to learn their effect on the system BEFORE action is taken.

How do we successfully do this? To start, we need to critically examine our management thinking.