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Embracing Complexity – Voices on Project Management.

A nice write-up on some ways to manage the inevitable unknowns in a project.  These are great leadership suggestions as well.

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The End of Winter…Perhaps? A Lesson in Extremes

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I live in the Chicago area, which means that along with corrupt politicians I am plagued with cold winters, hot summers, and not much time in between.  For those of you that have been keeping up with the national weather this winter you have noticed that the entire United States has been through quite a bit of a cold snap.  Chicago had to deal with actual temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (I didn’t make a mistake, that is a negative sign).  It the summer we will undoubtedly have a week of highs that will reach, if not breach, triple digits.  That is a 120 degree swing!

We can cope with these changes because they are gradual.  Yesterday was 50 degrees and it felt like a wonderful summer day to me.  Everything is relative.  If you peppered 100-degree days in with -20-degree days it would be miserable (not that they aren’t by themselves).  However, the gradual changes makes for a more tolerable extreme.

The caution I am giving here is the analogy of the frog in the pot of boiling water: put a frog in boiling water and he will jump out, but put him in warm water and slowly boil it and he will stay in and not notice the difference.

If you are in a working environment where the pot has slowly started to boil, how can you tell?  Have you ever worked with the people that say “we have always done it like that”?  Those are the folks that started in cool water and have reached a boil and don’t know it.  Extremes can sneak up on us if the change is slow.   And these extremes aren’t limited to processes or equipment, they can be related to culture and working relationships as well.

So how can you make sure you are not in hot water?

  1. Benchmarking.  If you can, benchmark your industry and see where you sit.  Don’t give yourself excuses either, if you are at the bottom, so be it.  Get better.
  2. Long-term trending.  See if you can get trends from the last decade.  Don’t look at the last few years as they may be too small of a sample size (Have you seen the stock market daily chart versus the 3-year?  One is not necessarily and indicator of the other.)
  3. New-hire assessments.  Use your new people as thermometers to gauge your water temperature.  Have them write honest one-month, three-month and six-month essays about your organization.  Make them anonymous so that they can be completely truthful.  They are the frogs that just entered the pot.  They can tell you if the water is too hot.
  4. The Right KPIs.  Make sure they are the right KPIs (read here).  It is not always easy to tell if you have the right one, but looking at these trends versus your standard can help.  You should always evaluate your standard, too.

Those 50-degree days seem great in the winter, but they seem downright cold in the summer.  Make sure you are using the right thermometer when you gauge the temperature.  A point-of-reference is necessary to understand your true situation.

Running by the Numbers

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

We are all measured on what we do and how well we do it.  After all, if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.  But what happens when we measure the wrong things?

The answer is simple, we get the wrong (or suboptimal) results.  Having KPIs is a good thing.  But the wrong KPI or the wrong target can spell disaster.  It is important to find the right measurements before you implement a tracking system.

Step 1 – What do you want to accomplish?  Define a goal.  It doesn’t have to be quantifiable at this point.  It can be something as simple as “reduce operating costs” or “improve customer satisfaction”.

Step 2 – Is your goal one that will not contradict others?  For example, if instead of “reduce operating costs” we used, “reduce labor costs” that could cause a reduction in throughput and then a net increase in operating costs if we are not careful.  Don’t improve in one area simply to worsen in another.

Step 3 – Determine not what will get you there, but what will hold you back.  Understanding the constraints to your goal will help you to find the areas where your KPIs will assist one another rather than conflict with each other.  If you want to decrease operating costs know that you still will have to conduct changeovers and shutdown for cleaning, etc.  Quantifying these impacts will help you understand the real room for improvement that you have.

Step 4 – Create your baseline.  If you don’t have one, you need one.  If you have one, confirm it.

Step 5 – Set a realistic, time-based goal.  Don’t shoot for the moon on your first try.  Set something modest and make sure you have enough time to accomplish it.

Step 6 – Celebrate your wins.  Learn from your losses.  Too often we are focused on the bad.  Take some time to recognize when you and the team have done well.  Don’t punish failure, rather learn from it and publish the results or talk about them in a team meeting.  Don’t hide from failure either.  People should know if they didn’t hit the mark and how to do better next time.

Step 7 – Repeat.  This is a process.  Don’t rest, but don’t change things up so much that you don’t have time to make significant strides.  Try to have fun and make sure you are winning more than you are losing.

Justifying Your Rebuilds – How to talk to Accountants

Rebuild

Equipment rebuilds can be expensive.  However, that is a cost of doing business.  Sometimes they can be capitalized and other times they can’t, it depends on your accounting rules and whether or not you are increasing the life of the machine beyond its original design.  If the rebuilds are routine maintenance, you generally have to expense those items, and that can be hard to put in the budget.  If the rebuild will increase the machine life and you can capitalize it, it always helps to show a savings or increase in performance to help get the capital approved.  Either way, it is valuable to show people what you save when you complete a rebuild.

The other consideration is to determine if the rebuild is worth the money.  If you don’t see any significant improvement in the machine after the rebuild and the machine cost isn’t considerably high, why rebuild it?  Just replace it.  That can be the solution sometimes.

I have attached a worksheet that takes into account some of the simple things that can be used to calculate the value of a rebuild.  Often times we forget to include the labor portion of downtime or even the additional income that can be generated on the machine if it is capacity constrained.  Those are some of the things considered in this worksheet.

Rebuild Justification

I haven’t locked it, so feel free to modify the worksheet for your own use.  I would be interested in the feedback of anyone that tries this out.  I am always open for suggestions and improvements.  If anyone has created something similar or has a different resource, please feel free to comment with those as well.

Leading Operational Change

 

Coins-300x199

I read an interesting post on maintenancephoenix.com about change management and reactive vs proactive maintenance.  The article, by Ricky Smith, was thought-provoking.  He talks about culture change in the organization and how to determine if you are in a reactive or proactive organization.

As leaders, regardless of department or function, it is our duty to create and build the right culture.  Below are 5 tips on how to do this in an operational setting.

  1. Set the expectation.  It seems easy, but it isn’t.  Expectations must be realistic.  That is not so simple.  It takes a bit of educated guessing and self-temperment.  Often, as leaders, we expect others to be as capable or more so than ourselves.  That is not always the case.  Don’t underestimate the ability of people, but don’t set the bar so high as to create discouragement.  Remember that there is a limiting factor to the progress that can be made, find that and then set the pace.
  2. Create the game plan.  Here is strategy.  Don’t confuse strategy with goals.  Strategy is the route that you plan to get to the destination.  Jim Collins has had some great books and one of the lines that has stuck with me is the “20-Mile March” from his book Great by Choice.  Pick your march.
  3. Don’t be a flavor of the month.  You can’t be a fad (read more here).  Once this happens you lose all credibility.  Trying to recover from a lackluster start is just as bad as never starting.  Don’t let up and keep your strategy in view.  Even when times get rough, continue your march to make sure that you can gain what is needed.  If you said you would shut down the line once a week for maintenance, do it…even if the schedule is tight.  It will be worth it in the long run.
  4. Get the team on board.  Make sure your teams are supporting the change.  There can’t be any undercutting of the program behind closed doors.  Encourage your team to vent to you if they are frustrated with where the change is going, but make sure they don’t vent to anyone else.  The team must have a united front everywhere in the organization.  If not, this is poison to the change process.  It is painful to do it, but you may have to cut loose those that aren’t supporting your culture change.  One rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.
  5. Celebrate success.  Celebrate your accomplishments.  As milestones are achieved, make sure that people know you are proud of them.  Don’t celebrate if you don’t succeed something, that makes it superficial when you do celebrate for just cause.  Culture change is a long road and these celebrations keep people motivated along the way.

Change is never easy.  In any organization where deadlines and customer demands are put before everything else, you can never accomplish your own goals.  We tell people that they need time for themselves, so do companies.  Treat your company right and your customers will notice.

Placing Blame: It’s All Your Fault

finger-pointing-1308660615

It is easy to point fingers and highlight problems.  The difficulty comes with solving the issues.  If you find yourself finding problems more than you are solving them, you may want to change your approach.

The problem is perception.  While you may think you are doing a good thing, you are really just creating work for other people.  Granted, it may need to be done, but it creates a negative vibe and that doesn’t help to motivate.

What are Some Alternatives?

Instead of just pointing out the problems, try partnering the issue with a potential solution.  Take some time to work out a way to fix the problem before you tell someone about it, especially if it is something that is not directly under your authority to fix.

If you get into a finger-pointing match try to take the conversation back to a root-cause analysis.  Even an informal RCA discussion will start your conversation on the path of figuring out how to fix something rather than trying to figure out whose fault it is.  Blaming doesn’t do any good if the problem still exists.  Using 5-Why or Fishbone diagrams are examples of more formal ways to conduct an RCA and may be appropriate depending on the complexity of the problem or the audience you need to convince.

Be willing to own the problem, or at least help with fixing it.  It makes the pill a lot easier to swallow if you are willing to work with people to get things done.  You may make some valuable allies along the way as well.  Remember that you probably have some issues of your own that you haven’t identified that your new ally may be willing to help you with down the road.

Set aside personal agendas and do what is best for the organization.  Allocate some of your labor or budget to fix the problem if it is worth it.  Your generosity will help the organization and will earn you more respect in the long run.

Create a list and prioritize.  Stephen Covey, in his book First Things First, uses a quadrant approach to categorize items as Not-Urgent/Not-Important, Urgent/Not-Important, Not-Urgent/Important, and Urgent/Important.  Using this method is a good way to categorize your finds and determine the amount of effort that needs to be put to them.  Keep in mind, however, that your filter may not be the same as others and take that into consideration when working in groups.

If you are approached by a finger-pointer, guide the discussion one of the directions above so that you are talking solutions rather than taking the blame or retaliating.  Remember, it is easy to find problems, but it is difficult to find solutions.  The people that find solutions are the valuable people in an organization.

Survival of the Most Adaptable

be like water

I read an interesting blog post about the responsibilities of companies to change their views of the phrase “survival of the fittest”.  This article is about corporate social responsibility and the ways that we interact with nature.  While I think it is a great post, I would like to talk about the same concept, but on a level that is more for the manufacturing middle-management folks.

Let’s interpret the phrase “survival of the fittest” to be “the best at adapting”.  In business that means flexibility, versatility, and nimbleness.  But how can we influence these factors when we are a cog in the big business machine?

  1. Strategic development of a process model that allows for smaller runs and higher flexibility.  As an Operations Leader, you have the ability to influence how you design your department.  Most companies are looking for the big runs, fewer changeovers, and highest volume.  But what if you could create a section of your department that is specialized at small runs, reduced inventory, and high-speed turnaround?  Could you provide a service to customers at a premium?  Could you handle frequent changeovers as a matter of course?  Check out QRM.  This methodology might be able to help you get started with something.
  2. Stop focusing on reducing changeover time and start focusing on eliminating minor stops.  Let’s look at a typical production line.  If you run a product for 16 hours with equipment speeds of 20 cases/minute you should see 19,200 cases at the end of that time.  But it takes you 20 hours to run that amount.  Then you have to perform a 2-hour changeover to the next product.  Most companies want to reduce changeover time because that is downtime where you are making zero units.  But the changeover has to happen.  Even if you cut the changeover time in half you only saved 1 hour.  But it took you an extra 4 hours to run the product.  Cut that in half and you save 2 hours.  Minor stops on a line can result in huge hits on efficiency.  Quicker runs equal more capacity for new volume.
  3. Slow down to speed up.  It sounds like taboo, but Maintenance groups will tell you that if you run your car at 9000 rpm you won’t get as far as if you run it at 3000 rpm.  But that is exactly what we do to our production equipment.  We run it to the max and shorten its life and Mean-Time Between Failure (MTBF).  This not only increases downtime and Maintenance costs, but it also reduces the machine’s availability for more volume.  Conduct a constraint analysis on your line and set the limiting machine to at least 10% below its maximum rate.  You will see a smoother run and a more predictable life of the equipment.  Remember, it is about cases out of the door, not units per minute off of the filler.
  4. Set goals for management and supervisors that reward flexibility.  It is a difficult thing to do, but try setting department KPIs around how you manage the department, not how much volume you push through the door.  You may have to create a set of KPIs that you track internally and still publish the ones that upper management wants to see.  Think about how the behaviors of your team will benefit your business and create metrics around those behaviors.  It will take some thought, but you will have a better performing system out of the deal.

Project Management Gone Awry

mistakes

One of the nice things about being American is that the government always gives us an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  It doesn’t matter your political views, government is messed up.

So with the latest fiasco with Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act, if you prefer…but Obamacare is so much easier to say) we can see how the website rollout was a poorly managed project.  Let’s do some inferring and see why.

A project is really about syncing three things: Scope, Quality, Time.  Let’s look at how these things are interconnected and how we can make sure we observe some basic understanding of what to do.

The scope must not have been well defined for the website since the major issue was that too many people were trying to log on at once.  This should have been projected as a risk during the definition portion of the project and a mitigation strategy designed.  Now, I am not a web designer or network engineer, so please forgive the errors I may state and feel free to correct me if you have knowledge in these areas.

The system should have been designed to manage the peaks of the users.  The traffic should have been projected and then doubled.  I know that some of the States had their own systems and that needed to be factored in as well.  But there are mathematicians that can help with the statistics.  There are design criteria for the servers and workflow processes.  Some users could have been given a “sorry” message rather than having their information lost when applying for healthcare.

Obviously, the timeline was not reasonable since the website clearly wasn’t ready.  This should have been a pushback to the White House.  Another option would be to cut back the scope or quality of the site, but since that was probably not a good option, they should have delayed the start.

In the political environment, you have to pay attention to what is promised to the people.  The web site designers should have been regularly communicating with the President (their Sponsor) who in turn is communicating to the people (the Stakeholders).  The President and system designers should have been on the same page with timing, capability, and expectations so that everyone understood what was going to happen.  If it would have been stated that the site could only handle so many users, it would have been better received when there were issues and the corrections could have happened immediately.

Lessons…

  • Clearly understand your objectives and create a comprehensive scope.
  • Listen to your Sponsor.
  • Predict the needs of the users.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

As with Leadership, Project Management boils down to communication.  Communication of expectations, progress, and reality.  We all want an optimist to lead, but reality has to be part of what is communicated.  People can tell the difference between hope and reality if you give them the information to distinguish between the two.