When Teams Become Dangerous

hawksTeamwork.  Often we have the need and desire to improve team relationships.  We have been told that we need to work well with teams.  We, as managers, must promote a team environment.  Leadership training focuses on working as a team.  If teams are so great, and we have teams everywhere (how many “teams” are you a member of?) then why do we still have issues creeping up on us?  Why do we still have to play politics?

There is no “I” in “team”: yeah, right.
In today’s culture we are celebrating individuality and simultaneously asking our teams to let it go.  I don’t think we will ever be able to suppress the individual to a point that teamwork will be natural.  People often work in teams because it benefits the individual.  This has been showcased in modern Reality TV where people will work in teams until it is time to ‘win’.  Additionally, this is also demonstrated in game theory analysis.  The concept is flawed because it comes from an idealistic premise that human beings can let go of their individuality. 

Emotional Teams
Overall, mankind is selfish unless we are touched emotionally by something.  People work very well in teams when there is a crisis.  We all tend to fall into an order of sorts and try to contribute in the best way we can.   However, these are short-lived teams that band together when the time calls for action and then disperse quickly when the job is done. Teamwork comes easy when we believe in something greater than ourselves.  Volunteer groups, emergency response teams, and first responders work together very well during the time they are needed but will resort to selfish measures when the emotions no longer dictate the behavior.  But it is hard to convince an employee that making Product A the most efficiently with the best quality is a noble cause.  Most people are not emotionally tied to their jobs.

The Opposition Within
When we create teams we often create competition: shift rivalries, departmental performance.  But competition is good, right?  Have you ever been in a meeting where two department managers are arguing about who will pay for something?  There is an agreement (stated or implied) that a service or good is needed but it is being argued about who’s budget will take the hit. As managers we should know that if one of us is going to buy something that it is for the betterment of the organization.  So who cares who pays? This is a common example of teamwork gone awry.  Are we not measured on how well we manage our budget?  This is an individual goal that trumps the business need.  It is a selfish endeavor to manage your budget over doing what is right for the company.  We have created turf wars in modern business.  We have pushed ownership to the point of possessiveness.  We sit in meetings and argue over jobs.  We are back on the playground, staking claim on the jungle gym. Some might argue that this is not teamwork, but I say it is.  It is teamwork as we have defined it over the years. 

Redefining Teams
The team should be defined as “the smallest group possible whose goals do not conflict with the goals of any other group.”  The key to this definition is the set of goals.  This is all about creating the right KPIs.  Coupling personal objectives with team objectives is the only way to create a win-win mentality.  This doesn’t mean that the other KPIs shouldn’t be measured.  They should, they are topographical maps of the company.  They show the peaks and valleys and allow the team to work together to achieve a common goal. 

Sustaining Gains

  1. Start from the top down when setting metrics and goals. 
  2. Personal goals should correspond to team goals.  The only personal goals that are outside of those team goals would be development goals for the individual (i.e. implement supervisor conflict management training before October 2nd). 
  3. If you can’t create a KPI for a group that doesn’t conflict with the KPI of a peer group, you need to think more critically or simply hold to the higher-level KPI. 
  4. Share successes of the team with the whole organization whenever possible.  This will help to build camaraderie and will motivate teams to help one another on achieving their collective goals. 
  5. Flex your KPIs to shift your business needs and create renewed focus in primary improvement areas. 
  6. Solicit the feedback of everyone to see where people can affect the KPI and if it is reasonable to set as a goal.

Remember, a few good metrics is better than a huge list.  I have seen companies with an entire matrix of Red/Yellow/Green scorecards that people simply can’t keep up with.  Keep your team focused and good things will happen.  Manage the extremes by exception and great solid game plans with your teams to see step change improvements.

How have you seen teams become destructive?

What are you doing to ensure that your teams are collaborative and not competative?


At a Snail’s Pace: 3 things to learn from the Gastropod



We are in a rushed world.  We want instant gratification and we expect timely service from our suppliers and our customers expect it from us.  When we manage projects we are looking at the critical path and trying to crunch the schedule as much as possible without any slip.  As project managers, our job is to complete the project with the right quality, cost and in time.

I was watching this particular snail move across the sidewalk.  It was slow and deliberate.  When it ran across an obstacle it took its time to evaluate the best way around it and then continued on its journey. In this relatively short amount of time I felt myself relax and become amazed with the simple movements and methodical pace of this creature.

When we are running projects we tend to rush through them in order to get the results.  What we neglect is the setup.  This is where a methodical pace will get us somewhere faster than the crazed frenzy we typically use.


Take the time to investigate.
We often leave out the most important part of the project: evaluating its validity in the first place.  Many projects are “handed” to project managers with the assumption that it will get done; that it has already been vetted.  But usually the project has only had a cursory glance and it “felt” to be a good opportunity.

Work with the end-user to begin the project.
“A stich in time saves nine,” right?  Slowing down at the beginning and getting a solid working definition of the project objectives through the eyes of the user is the best way to make sure that the project stays done (in other words you don’t have to keep revisiting and revising the project after it is “closed”).

Incorporate time to get around obstacles.
Just like our shelled mascot, give yourself time to properly evaluate obstacles as they arise throughout your project.  Conduct a solid risk assessment (sometimes this can be as simple as on the back of a napkin for smaller projects) and think of how to mitigate those risks.  When they show up, you will have the beginning of a workaround that you can refine when the risk arrives.


 What other benefits come from slowing down a project?

What can we Learn from the Stanley Cup?

Chicago Blackhawks v Los Angeles Kings

I think I mentioned that my wife and I are big Chicago Blackhawks fans.  Well, last night the Blackhawks captured the most coveted trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup!  Huge victory and a great example of perseverance and sacrifice throughout the entire playoffs.

This postseason was rife with comebacks and triumphs.  It was amazing to watch all of the teams work so hard for the chance to hoist the cup and have bragging rights.  I think that it is amazing that these players (mostly kids in their early 20s) have sacrificed so much of their lives to hockey.  Most of them would probably say that it has not been a sacrifice, that hockey is their life.  So how do we motivate ourselves just like the Blackhawks did?

Do what makes you happy!
Easier said than done, right?  Everyone tells you to do what makes you happy.  I think that is a difficult thing.  It is finding the things that make you happy in what you do and focussing on them.  Not everything about what we do makes us happy.  I am sure that the players don’t like traveling for 50 games a season, staying away from family and friends.  I am also sure that they don’t like having to nurse gashes, concussions, and breaks while they still go back on the ice to get hit all over again.  But they do.  Sports has a rare gift in that there is immediate gratification in a win.  There is an immediate knowledge of failure or success.  After 3 hours you know if your work paid off.

  1. Make small successes throughout your day.  Create a checklist and every time you cross something off, that is a success.
  2. Focus on what you like.  You still have to do the stuff you don’t enjoy, but savor the things that you do.  By doing this you take your mind off of what you dislike about your job and train your mind to think of the good things.
  3. Create long-term objectives.  Decide to create a relationship with someone.  Organize your work area over the next week.  Rearrange the office for better work flow.  Update the filing system.  Something.  This will give you something to look forward to: your own Stanley Cup.

If we can focus on what makes us happy, if we can have small victories that create momentum, if we have long-term goals, we will enjoy what we do and be willing to go through the injuries to get it.

Go Hawks!

What are some other tips you have to earn your own Stanley Cup?

Observations from the Airport

I am writing from my phone at O’Hare. It is always interesting to me to watch other people at the airport. I don’t watch too closely (I don’t want to be that guy), but I look at general behaviors and patterns. Her are a couple of the things I notice.

1. People want their space. Most people sit with a gap between them and a stranger. We also don’t really want to communicate with people we don’t know.

2. Most people are oblivious to others. They stand in the middle of the aisle and slow down others that just want to get to their destinations and they seem completely unaware that there is a huge line behind them. Also I have seen countless people simply stepping out in front of others without as much as a glance.

3. People become impatient without any logic. People stop sitting and start waiting in line to board the plane so that they can just sit down even more in less comfortable conditions.

These little behaviors come down to a simple summation. When we don’t know those around us, we become selfish and unconcerned with them. This is also true in business.

This is why it is difficult to get people to see things from the customers’ perspectives. The customer is a stranger and they don’t really affect me directly. You could argue that they pay our checks, but that is too impersonal and abstract.

To make the connection you have to make it personal. Create a personal story about your customers. Personify them and make a visual impact with your people on how they affect the lives of your customer. Maybe the. We can get the responses that we need in order to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

The Death of Maintenance

When we think of Maintenance we think of upholding equipment conditions.  Rarely do with think of maintenance as anything more than a team that keeps the equipment running.  At best we think of maintenance as having the ability to keep the machine running the way it did out of the crate.  But maintenance as we know it is reaching two extremes.  It is growing and taking on its own experts in larger companies that understand the importance of the maintenance role.  It is dying in small and midsize companies to the stranglehold of short-term gains.

If you are in the maintenance field, you know exactly what I am talking about.  If not, let me give you a quick introduction.  The real job of a maintenance department is to maximize the availability of equipment for production, to improve the performance of equipment and systems, and to maximize the life of assets.  The problem is that this work is done over a long timeline.  Part of maximizing equipment availability is managing when the equipment will not be available (planned downtime).  Part of improving equipment performance is enhancement projects (such as a new, improved low-friction bearing, or marine-grade parts for wet environments).  Part of maximizing equipment life is thorough cleaning, inspection, lubrication and replacement of worn parts.  What do all of these things have in common?  They require machine time and they require investment.

Small and midsize companies are looking at the month-to-month and year-to-year numbers, often without a solid long-term strategy (and by long-term I mean longer than 5 years).  This typically results in putting off maintenance expenses and asking the maintenance team to “just keep it running”.  What the industry has seen is a death of maintenance and a surge of back-yard engineering.

So how do we counter this trend?

  1. Educate
  2. Justify
  3. Prove
  4. Improve

We must educate ourselves and then educate those around us about maintenance.  We need to understand the different methods to maintain equipment and how best to implement them for the largest returns.

We then must justify the expense.  Get the help of the guys in finance and put together a cost justification for larger expenses (like rebuilds and major part replacement).  Extrapolate the costs of the equipment progressively failing by finding a failure model for similar equipment and predicting a performance loss over time.

We then have to prove that the expense was worth it.  Show data supporting the improved performance equipment.  Don’t leave out downtime expenses as these are huge costs that are often neglected when looking at equipment performance.

Once we prove that it works we have to improve our program and expand it.  We have to show a dollar improvement for the business.  Be willing to show that improvement over the life of the equipment and show how dollars would have been necessary for capital spending instead of the maintenance work that you are doing.

What applications can you apply this principle to at your business?

What are some tips you have seen work at getting maintenance dollars approved?

Learning from the Past


Today is my 11th wedding anniversary.  These milestones often make me look back and reflect on the past.  Reflection is defined as a “consideration of some subject matter, idea or purpose” by Merriam-Webster.

So why is reflection important?  Well,

“Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana

That is why, in Project Management, there is a lessons learned portion of the project.  This is meant to be a time of reflection.  It is a time to consider the project and learn from its successes and failures.  A time to document and to share what we have learned not just from the results of the project, but also from the processes we underwent to accomplish those goals.

Often, at the end of a project we are already working on the beginning of the next one.  We want to end the last project quickly and then move on so that we can focus on our next endeavor.  However, by shortcutting the lessons learned process we actually cause suboptimal work in the future.

I think that every project should have two summaries.  One that documents the project results and another that summarizes the lessons learned from the project.  These documents can have drastically different audiences.

Management generally will want to see the results summary.  After all, this is the typical document we create.  However, our peers and the upcoming project managers can learn more from a lessons learned summary than they will from a results summary.  The lessons learned summary should be distributed to the project management office and also to other departments that could benefit from the information collected in this investigation.

There are several sources on how to conduct a lessons learned analysis.  But there is not much on how to summarize and distribute these documents so that they are useful.  A 20 page summary will not be read by colleagues as much as they will be deleted or recycled.  Here are some tips on how to make the information useful.

  1.  Keep it Short and Sweet.  A one or two page document should be more than enough.  If you get longer than that, people will become disinterested.
  2. Use bullet points as much as possible.  These are lessons, so they should be only a couple of sentences long each.
  3. Talk about the What, Why and How.  Leave out the Who, When, and Where.  These are going to change for every project, but the What, Why and How will be the most likely things that will apply universally.
  4. Use accents to get the message across.  Using bold, italics, underlining or colors will help to get the message across about the major ideas.
  5. Keep it functional and factual.  Don’t put in your assumptions or guesses unless they are called out as such in a separate section of the document.
  6. Know your audience.  Tailor the document for those whom you are writing it.  There is no point in putting the budgetary information as a lessoned learned when you are sending it to people that are not affected by or do not affect the budget.

If this is done right, the report should be short and to the point.  It should be functional and something that can summarized even further on an index card.  The investigation needs to be thorough, but the report should be distilled.

Take the time to reflect on your projects.  Learn from them.  Then pass the knowledge on to others so that they won’t be condemned to repeat your past.

What are some of the things you have seen that work?

What lessons have you learned from others that helped you succeed?

When is it Pointless to Change?


Image Source

Change is an inevitable part of existence.  We change as people.  We change as businesses.  We change whether we want to or not.

Adapt or perish.  Evolve or become extinct.

However, changing because you think you should change because “change is good” is very foolish.  I like change, but I don’t change because changing is expected.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Many people are jumping on the change bandwagon because that is what is expected in today’s business.  If you’re not changing, you’re falling behind.  I disagree.

Change is good for certain things at certain times.  But if you change the wrong things at the wrong times, change can be disastrous.

Let’s examine some conditions that might be ripe for change.

  1. A process or system is not working like it was intended or is getting suboptimal results.
  2. A step-change is needed that cannot be accomplished with existing programs.
  3. There is a steady, negative trend that doesn’t seem to be recovering.

I am a big Chicago Blackhawks fan.  The head coach, Joel Quenneville, will change his lines when he sees that one of the above conditions is met.  However, if he is getting the results he needs (i.e. he is winning games) he will keep a line the same and allow them to gel and evolve naturally.

If none of these conditions exist, don’t create a change.  If you are looking for steady improvement over time, you should consider having a continuous improvement (CI) effort as part of the normal operation of your company.  Continuous improvement is not change as I am defining it.  Continuous improvement should be part of the culture.  It should be baked into the ideas and processes that run your operation.  Implementing CI is change.  Executing CI is not.

In Jim Collins’ Good to Great he talks about a “20-mile March” that is an unchanging goal that is inherent in the way that successful businesses view progress.  In some of his examples, these companies did not change their march for decades.

Change is hard.  It requires time and resources and is unpredictable.  If change is not necessary, it is an investment that has a lot of risk with little reward.

We should all change as it is required.  And we should be successful at managing change and take the time to educate ourselves on what it takes to implement change effectively.  But don’t be led down the path of change if it is not something that will give you the payback needed for the investment.  Be smart and lead effectively.  That requires positioning your team for wins.

What are conditions you have seen that require change?

How has needless change impacted your life?

Murder Weapon of Leadership

How many emails do you get in one day?  How many minutes do you spend reading each email?  How many emails do you write each day?  How long do you spend writing them?

Let’s do some simple math.  If you read and write about 100 emails each day and spend an average of three minutes on each one you have just used 5 hours of your work day sitting in front of a computer screen and not really accomplishing anything.  At best, you have delegated work and maybe put out a few fires.

Email is killing leadership by keeping leaders from interacting with and inspiring people.  It is hard to show enthusiasm in an email and the message can be lost.  If we want to delegate work, we should take the time to show others how important it is and make sure they understand the need for the work.  This is best done with interaction and two-way conversation.

Emails disconnect us from the real world and the problems that our people are facing on a daily basis.  How can we be expected to connect with others in a meaningful way?  We all take classes on how to be a better communicator and email is one of the worst ways to communicate, yet we default to this tool regularly.

You can’t lead from your chair!

Get out.  See the world.  Visit with your neighbors.  Show support.  Ask stupid questions.  Shake hands.  These are little things that create lasting impressions.  It is better to interact personally whenever you can.  Take the time to do it.

But how can you stop the barrage of emails that hit your screen every day?  Here are a few tips:

  1. Dedicate a certain amount of time to emails every day and stick to it.  If you start with taking a 1-hour block of time in the morning and another in the evening you will be able to answer emails effectively.
  2. Let people know they should come and talk to you if the topic is critical.  If it is important enough they will do that anyway.  A phone call is preferable to an email.
  3. Respond to emails asking that others anticipate no better than a 24-hour (12-hour, 8-hour, whatever works) response time.  You can use an auto-respond function like you do for vacations, thanking people for their email and letting them know they can expect a response in 24-hours.
  4. Expect the same from others.  Don’t expect immediate replies to your emails.  Use personal communication whenever you can and use emails as only an informative tool.
  5. Lose the CYA attitude!  Come on…we are all adults here and no one is going to lose their job because they didn’t send an email!  Work on building trust, not protecting your rear.

What are some other tips to manage emails you have found useful?

What other murder weapons of leadership are in your life?

Six Sins of Process Design

sixsins1Designing a process is a process in itself.  Webster defines process as

“a series of actions or operations conducing to an end”

By this definition, almost everything we do is a process.  So as we design processes as engineers, managers, or practitioners, we must consider several things.  Here is a list of six that, if not considered, can lead to disastrous results.

Sin Number 1: Not Involving the End User

It is easy to get caught up in the theoretical and to put pen to paper.  It is hard to get a lot of people to contribute to the design and to be humble enough to let them tell you how something should be done.  The End-User is the customer.  As a designer of a process you are typically not the end-user, but merely the creator.  Create a process and then walk away, right?  Wrong.  The process is no good if it is not used and it will not be used if the customer doesn’t have any say.  You have to get people involved with the design if you want the ever-elusive buy-in that has to come with a successful process.  Listen to what causes pain today and eliminate the pain in the process.  Not only will this result in a happy customer, it will also result in a more efficient system.

Sin Number 2: Not Knowing the Payback

The savings can dictate the intricacy of the process.  This is especially true for equipment and engineering.  If you know how much you save with the process improvement then you can understand how much you can spend and get away with it for the project proposal.  If your company has a standard payback rule of 18 months, then try to get every last dime you can into the project cost without jumping over the payback period.  Then you can design the project with the most automation or bells and whistles you can to make the system more appealing.

Sin Number 3: Doing Too Much Yourself

Don’t be afraid to seek help.  You can’t do it all.  Often times, taking on too much results in mediocre design and execution.  Get others to help take the burden up for you.  Supervisors, operators and engineers are great resources for technical knowledge and interviewing end users to identify project needs.  If you are on a multiple shift operation, get help from the supervisors on those off-shifts to help you with questions, implementation, and auditing.

Sin Number 4: Sticking to a Process for Process’s Sake

Just because you learned a really interesting process doesn’t mean it applies to your application.  Sometimes it is tempting to force a process design where it doesn’t belong.  Other times your organization needs to change a little to accommodate a design and that change needs to be the project first.  Very few processes can be implemented without some sort of modification.  Consider your options and don’t force a square peg into a round hole.

Sin Number 5: Not Consulting the Experts

If you are not the technical expert for the process, get the experts involved.  Don’t think you have to be the expert about everything.  You are the designer of a process.  Processes usually have individual components or unit operations as part of the system.  You don’t have to be the unit operation expert to create a stellar process.  But you need to make sure that you consult the experts to understand how the parts connect and make sure your design considers all of the needs for each unit op.

Sin Number 6: Neglecting the Future

Guess what…your process will not be the last.  Something will come along that will be better.  Another process will have to interact with yours.  Something will change in the system and it will have to be modified.  Don’t be arrogant, you can’t see the future, but you can accommodate it.  The U.S. Constitution was designed so that it could be changed in the future as the times changed.  Make sure that your process has a way to be modified with the times.  Document your process so that it is easy to follow and alter as the need arises.  Allow for simple bolt-ons or modifications.  Anticipate near-future changes and design for them wherever you can.

If you can avoid these sins you will have better processes.  It takes a lot of work to design something that will be functional, helpful and will last.  Take the time to do it right.

What other sins can you think of related to Process Design?

Which sin have can you relate to the most in your life?

Listen First: Fix Second

All too often we are in a hurry to fix a problem without fully understanding the underlying nature of the issue.  Doing this with mechanical equipment is one thing (and still not recommended), but with people it is a completely different story.

I have a great example of this in my personal life.  My wife and I were shopping this weekend and we were looking at some items we needed for the house.  These were relatively expensive (or they were in my eyes) and it was just too much for me to handle.

See, I have a problem with spending money.  I hate it.  And when I say hate it, I really mean it.  I get sick to my stomach and I start to sweat.  I don’t do well with buying things.  I can spend money on a vacation because to me that is an experience that will last a lifetime.  That, to me, is a good investment.  But buying objects is an issue.

As prices started to mount I felt my anxiety do the same.  My wife was attempting to “help” by saying all of the wrong things.  I knew that my issues were not logical but my wife was trying to use reason to help me: something I normally respond to.  She was doing her best and we had a good discussion, but it made me think about how this would apply at work.

In Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he states

“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”

I kept trying to get my wife to understand the way I felt and she was trying to get me to understand how my reactions were illogical.  I knew my actions were illogical.  I just didn’t care about logic at the time.

We do the same thing at work.  When people start to tell us about a problem they are having we usually jump to solve it without trying to understand how the person feels or how it affects the job.  We are so busy that we figure we just need to check the “done” box and move on.  After all, a good leader removes obstacles, right?  Taking the time to understand the situation, both the technical and emotional impacts, can be consuming.  But the dividends are most valuable.

By listening and truly trying to understand by asking clarifying questions and prompting for more information, we build trust with people.  Trust progresses into meaningful relationships and these are the foundation of loyalty, productivity, and a sense of value.  Once we truly understand, then we may be able to better help.  Helping is best when we can provide the tools for the person to remove the obstacle on his own.  This helps to provide a sense of accomplishment and shows your support.  It also demonstrates your trust in the person to handle these situations without your intervention and creates confidence where there may not have been before.

If we can take the time to understand we can create powerful results.  After all, it is more fun to talk with our people than it is to fill out the budget spreadsheet anyway.