Posts filed under 'process improvement'
For 12 years, I’ve had an ad on my desk that says “Are you afraid to think?” to push myself to consider new points of view, new ways of doing things, new possibilities, rather than sticking with only what I know. When I read Heroic Checklist in Fast Company, it reminded me of this ad. Why?
As described, people think that checklists are “basic”, “routine”, and “dull”. I would have said the same. And, while I loved the stats that Chip and Dan cite, like:
When Michigan ICUs put the checklist into practice over a period of 18 months…[snip] saving the hospitals an estimated $175 million…[snip] Oh, and it saved about 1,500 lives.
…what this article made me realize is that checklists actually free you to think. You no longer spend your time remembering steps, but rather noticing what is happening around the steps in your specific situation. Following a checklist does not make you dull or routine, it presents you with time and freedom that can be used for knowledge work — where you are more valuable.
TIP: The authors of this article are Chip and Dan Heath, who wrote Made to Stick, which I’ve blogged on already. While I find Fast Company to be a top quality magazine, generally, I’d subscribe to Fast Company for their column alone. It is that good.
Let me give you a checklist example close to my heart right now. Last year, I did my first Half Iron triathlon. I had a flat. I started to fix it and realized that I was too anxious to remember all the steps quickly. I ran my bike back to the start. While the official race saviors fixed my flat, a woman told me that she puts a checklist in her flat pack. Honestly, at the time, I thought, “Isn’t that cute? I don’t need no stinkin’ checklist. I just need more experience.”
Now, as I face my first IronMan (t-10 days and counting), a checklist for a flat is what I want in my flat pack. I know I can change the flat, but I need to pay attention to details to do it quickly and notice any issues that could cause problems later. I don’t need to spend time second guessing if I put air in the tube before or after putting it in the tire. I do need to notice if the tire is not seated correctly. A checklist would free me to think, rather than remember. Brilliant!
Based on the recent launch of a cool ad campaign of Holiday Inn Express (take a quiz and possibly win a free shirt that express your breakfast identity — powered by Spreadshirt), I recommended a “shop launch checklist” to our sales team. Nothing went wrong with the launch that prompted this, but I saw it could have been easier on the team. Creating multiple shops (for free t winners and non-winners) — each with many details and the strenuous tracking requirements of a contest — would have been easier if the team could have only focused where their thinking would add value, rather than the dull routine work of remembering when to dot an i and cross a t.
So, what is on my shirt today?
humbled by simplicity
A special request for my friends and family:
In 10 days, Evan and I are attempting our first IronMan. There is a terrific report written by an IMBrazil 2007 finisher that covers how lonely this course is. I wondered how we could take the spirit of you with us, and I had an idea. You know I’m addicted to personalized shirts now, as I love this form of expression. I’m asking that you to go to the Spreadshirt Designer, design a shirt that would inspire you (a quote, a graphic, a saying, one word), order it, take your picture in it, and email me the pic. We’ll take them with us on the 112 mile bike ride for when we need a boost. For free standard shipping, enter goeggers as the coupon during check out. You should order by Sunday to get the shirt in time. If you can and want to do this, thanks for giving us this special boost for the tough miles!
[For my EU friends, by late morning, goeggers will also work for free standard shipping in the EU Spreadshirt Designer. The .com coupon works now.]
May 15th, 2008
I’m getting a little defensive over the Wal-Mart “thing” due to living in the Northeast and Germany, where Wal-Mart has been chewed up and spit out. I have to admit that I hate having the Wal-Mart conversation with many people in both of these places. Most typically, they boastfully say, “Well, Wal-Mart couldn’t succeed here.” I’m not completely sure why that is something to be proud of in itself. I think that folks are saying it because the big company didn’t overrun their town or country and turn everyone into mindless (money-saving) zombies with small businesses left in the wake. But that’s not the point of my post… that’s another conversation that maybe I’ll find interesting enought to write about at some point. My point is that
- Even though they are a very large corporation and I’m quite sure there are people involved with Wal-Mart that have both deliberately made unethical decisions and mistakenly made bad decisions
- And yes, turning a ship that big is hard, and they can’t react in the way they used to be able to react
- And yes, they have lost some of their charm with Mr. Walton gone
… I still respect what Wal-Mart has done and I’m proud they are from Arkansas… my home state.
I’ll give you my top 5 reasons why I respect Wal-Mart:
- Before Ben & Jerry’s, Google, and Southwest, Wal-Mart shared success throughout the ranks. Yes, across the South, there are people who were cashiers at Wal-Mart who are millionaires now. Sam Walton believed in his employees and rewarded them with stock in the company through ESOPs and stock grants.
Sam Walton was a communicator, and he built a company that values communication. Being from Arkansas, I saw examples of this from friends who worked there. I knew about the Saturday morning meetings that drove the business for years and years. I know about the incredible satellite network used for communicating across the country to all the remote places where Wal-Mart was.
Wal-Mart defined relentless focus on execution. An example: Their distribution centers lay out let stores have the minimum amount of space dedicated to storing inventory without risking selling inventory… they used 40% of what most competitors did. Why? They knew that stores were about selling and they wanted maximum space to selling space. Wal-Mart knows what is important to them and then execute with keen focus against that.
Wal-Mart is not a slave to their systems. Their systems are built and bought to support their business. (I was a vendor to them… this one I know keenly.) For example, their retail systems were designed to give local flexibility with centralized control. Stores were allowed to adjust prices as needed to respond to local competition, but only to a certain point, as defined by the business objectives set in Bentonville. In all my interactions with Wal-Mart, I have to say they are the best at being the master of their systems.
Sam Walton set up the company to learn. This is one reason they’ve struggled more in recent years, there are very few people from whom they can learn. Mr. Walton set the company up to be driven by benchmarking themselves across industries and departments. Every single group was expected to benchmark with people that were the tops in their areas… across marketing, communications, HR, retail, distribution/logistics, etc.
- Note… The company doesn’t have that leverage for employees now due to their size. This is a law of nature, not something evil they are doing to their employees.
I recently learned from the book What I Learned from Sam*Walton that there was an internal rally cry at Sam’s Club, HEATKTE, which stood for “high expectations are the key to everything”. This is how Mr. Walton ran the company. He expected more… all the time… from everyone. He was tough, but inspirational, and he built an outstanding company that has been the most successful company in my lifetime.
Please know I am not saying Wal-Mart is perfect. I don’t think this. I also don’t think they deserve the ire they have stirred up in people. Before you bash them, make sure you know the facts. The company has done a great deal of good and are a model company in many ways, particularly looking at the first 4/5ths of their existence.
OK, I’ve gotten that off my chest. Feel free to hurl insults my way for standing up for the big evil American corporation.
December 17th, 2007
[Aside… At 3:20a I shouldn’t be doing this, but I don’t learn…]
I’m reading Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. There’s a great description of a then recent study (book from 2002) from HBS on learning curves in different industries. One “industry” that the HBS students decided to study was the medical industry — surgeons specifically. In this case, they followed 18 cardiac surgeons as they learned a new technique of minimally invasive surgery.
The surprise from this study was that the surgeon on one the fastest learning teams was relatively inexperienced to the surgeon on one of the slowest learning teams. The fast learning surgeon:
Picked specific team members and kept a consistent team for max learnings
Conducted a dry run before the first case
Scheduled six operations for the first week to increase knowledge retention between cases
Held a planning and update meeting before each surgery and a debrief afterwards
Tracked results carefully
The slow learning surgeon did not carry out these points.
It reminded me of one of the areas where we are struggling a bit now as we grow. Folks are understandably frustrated by the number of people with whom they “have to” coordinate now. I’ve often thought about this and wondered how you inspire the excitement of working with a team more. Sure, it is easier to be “fully in control” yourself, but you miss so much learning and improved solutions… and really collaboration fun. Yes, it takes work… and more work than if you were able to do things yourself. You need to have the dry runs, and the planning and debrief meetings. Basically, without this kind of structure, you do have the overhead of a team, without the rewards.
Hope this spurs some thoughts for you as it did for me.
What is on my shirt…
What do you pack
to pursue a dream?
… as I go off to pursue a dream! (By the way, this is written on my shirt in our new Santa’s sleigh font. Perfect for this thought…)
December 12th, 2007
Whenever I’ve moved on from a job, I’ve always told the team I was leaving to blame me for the wrongs when I was gone to move past the blame game quickly, and focus on solving the issue. A piece of an awesome Fast company article on Toyota’s continuous process improvement way of life made me think that’s not such a good idea… because it let’s people continue the idea that blame (or shame) is a natural part of a work environment. Here’s the story in brief:
Jim Wiseman joins Toyota in community relations. In his first presentation to the plant manager, he spoke about how well things were going. When Jim finished, the manager, Fujio Cho, now chairman of Toyota worldwide, said, “Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.”
This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite work environments, when I was working for Lorrie Norrington at Intuit. She was SVP of Small Business and Personal Finance at the time, and was one of the three board members, who directed the Innovation Lab I ran. What was remarkable to me about working for Lorrie was that in any meeting, she focused on what was wrong. But, not in a negative “what did you do wrong” way, rather in a moving forward way. She was focused on solving together piece, and never made you feel like she was stepping in because you couldn’t handle it. I have a feeling this is what the folks at Toyota feel like… and it feels productive!
I need some techniques for setting that environment up correctly, because, as recently as this week, I’ve unintentionally put people on the defensive about what was done when I wanted the focus to be on moving forward. It wasn’t productive. Have you worked in an environment where the focus was deeply focused on the problems, but it wasn’t about blame or shame? If so, how did you, your manager, or your team set the tone for this?
I think what would go on my shirt for this:
Learn from history, but don’t relive it
I need to learn from you and your experiences here, as it is core to the way I want to run my businesses, and it is one where I don’t have a “doing business as Jana” way of doing things that I’m comfortabe with. So, what is your “doing business as you” on this topic? Or what are the experiences you’ve had?
December 21st, 2006