In 1992 Bill Clinton chose an interesting slogan for his political campaign:
Of course, there were many other important topics for the country and a lot of factors that were influencing their resolution. However, Bill Clinton’s key message was focused on the core driver for the country, the economy.
I frequently meet companies that struggle with the need to reduce delivery time for their projects and services, provide more competitive prices, and adapt better to changing customer needs.
It is difficult to introduce drastic changes in organizations where hierarchical structures and responsibilities have been settled for long years and any disruption scares people and makes them resist. For such organizations, the need of change is definitely recognized. How to approach it, however, is not yet completely clearly.
Although I myself would not call anybody “stupid”, if I have to summarize in Bill Clinton’s way what I have seen that companies do to become fit, I would say
It is about making the work flow, stupid.
How? – Through few simple steps:
- Visualise and focus on a limited amount of ongoing work
- Do what adds value for the customer. Do not do what is not necessary.
- Learn to see and remove waste from processes. Simplify processes.
- Manage the workflow, not the plan
- Make people resolve problems collaboratively, within and among teams
Visualization safes you essential effort for:
- understanding the work status – you see it right on the board instead of deducing it from numbers
- making effective decisions about work impediments and risks – you spot them as soon as they appear, no need to wait for a report, and you immediately get a picture of the real situation that has to be resolved (affected work, persons to than can be involved)
- wondering how to tailor your standard process; you simply do this with your team taking into account the real project/ service situation
- to communicate information and get to a shared vision and understanding of the work – everything is on the board, and speaking about the details in front of the whole picture of the work to be delivered is the most effective communication approach
Visualizing defects and re-work strengthens the consciousness of the team members about the need of good processes and helps them identify how to improve current practices. Remember that
“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”
Limit work in process
Limiting the ongoing work in a kanban system makes the work flow (second Kanban practice). Moreover, focus on value and delivery time naturally rises questions like “why do we do this?”, “does the customer needs it?”, “how can we get the same result more quickly?”. All these lead to simplifying and lightening the processes.
In addition, the need of audits and controls by the quality department shrinks because the team themselves perform them on the spot. This allows the quality guys to concentrate on resolving issues that go across several processes and projects / services, job that corresponds to their profile and that they really like.
Manage work, not the people
Managing the work instead of the people or the plan is the key to achieving good results. This is the difficult part! You can find the most important metrics and techniques in the Lean Kanban Analysitcs series of posts. Customer focussed management, real time- and shared among all team members, melts project manager’s burden and provides her more time for doing better job.
All models and standards suggest collaboration. Few provide means to really get it. A group of people with assignments on a common project is not a team and does not necessarily collaborate. Collaboration occurs when people meet regularly and speak about how to achieve common objectives, resolve problems altogether, and help each other when necessary. Visibility plays an important role in creating a team and making them progress towards a goal.
To wrap-up, business environment is constantly changing and organizations have to learn to adapt and respond quickly to this. There are many practices that help companies satisfy their customer needs and the vital one of them is making the work flow. Visualization, management focused on delivering customer value quickly, and involving people in simplifying and lightening processes are important for making it happen.