Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Problem Solving that Leverages Worker Empowerment

In a Lean management system, continuous problem resolution is dependent on a worker-driven 'bottom up' approach rather than the conventional management driven 'top down' approach to problem solving.

This principle is at the core of Demingism but can only be effective if leaders create a blameless culture for workers to identify defective work and a structure that enables and incentivizes their participation and collaboration in continuous improvement. The irony here is that to empower workers to be accountable in solving their own problems through PDCA requires more work for leaders, not less.

In other words, the main role of leaders and managers is to ever improve the system of work itself. We do this by leveraging the quality improvement organizational structure illustrated below in this Henry Ford Production System adaptation of Toyota.


This quality reporting structure aligns team members with their team leader by work stations into small teams that foster worker identification of the nature and scope of daily defects, and stimulate and guide the discussion of possible solutions that can be tested. This cooperative approach is predicated on a 'no blame but all accountable' sense of process ownership by teams.

Workers more readily assimilate the mantra- "never pass a defect" through this empowering structure that continually informs the workforce about the quality of their work product and charges them with improving it. 

Roles of Leadership

The roles of leadership are to establish the shift in work expectations, structures and realignment of incentives so that workers can relate to and interact with each other horizontally across the path of workflow and contribute collaboratively toward work process redesign across historical silos of control. To be effective in fostering change from the bottom-up, so to speak, the people-focused strengths of Toyota's culture must be reproduced- namely:

·         Employees in charge of their own jobs
·         Employees designing standardized work
·   Employees working to continually improve the work, changes made and effectiveness assessed by the customer focused PDCA cycle

Roles of Team Members

In this new Lean culture of work, the consistently engaged, learning, communicating and contributing team member is expected to fulfill the following empowered roles so that effective process improvements can be continually designed and tested by scientific method (PDCA) in the workplace:

·         Understand the work rules, principles and tools of process improvement
·         Identify defects, daily, on whiteboards
·         Meet in teams regularly to share and brainstorm problems in the workplace
·         Join teams charged with addressing interventions
·         Assist in design of measurement tools
·         Collect data
·         Assist in root cause analysis
·         Communicate to other teams, customers-suppliers
·         Communicate to managers/leaders
·         Keep track of process improvements
·         Continually seek better ways of performing the work
·         Present results of successes
·         Learn from previously proposed interventions that did not work (the failures)

Teamwork is the Cure

Teamwork is the foundation of Lean process improvement, and it has been proven that individuals will extend themselves to make the company successful if they are engaged early on in the decision-making process. In Toyota’s culture, learning often is by experience in which an early ongoing effort is demonstrated to teach teams how to work together to reach common goals. The problem-solving approach is “Go and See” in which subject matter experts observe the problem to deeply understand the current condition before suggesting process improvements. This includes analysis of workflow, standardized work procedures, and further evaluation to analyze and detect the root cause of defects. In comparison, other quality improvement methods often are limited to the review of data from reports created by individuals external to the work itself. This has limited value and changes made without participation of those invested in the work seldom sustain.

Transforming the culture of work, or more correctly the employees' incentives to relate to each other and work differently, must occur to obtain success in a Lean enterprise.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Requirement of Worker Empowerment

It is safe to conclude that anyone who attempts to adopt Lean management is not satisfied with the status quo and desires to change work outcomes. Lean success is highly dependent on management’s understanding, as Steven Spear put it, that-
“The real challenge is to expand beyond understanding Lean as a set of tools, and more aggressively pursuing an understanding of the comprehensive approach to managing organizations so they are capable of self-diagnosis, learning, and relentless internally generated improvement and innovation." 
 But how is this done?

To cut to the chase, Toyota’s success is the result of leadership and employee involvement.

Worker Empowerment

Probably the most significant attribute of the Toyota approach is the establishment of a system culture composed of an empowered workforce that is expected to drive continuous improvements. This results in a basic expectation of continuous attention to opportunities for improvement by all staff. This also defines the foundation of work. The need to continually improve is woven into the fabric of the people and not viewed as a time-consuming inconvenience, option, potential reward, or incentive, as often is the perception in the usual American workforce.

Your success in adapting Lean to your own work environment can be judged when you can walk away and the employee culture can sustain itself in the implementation of continual process improvements. This requires a critical philosophical difference in the expected roles of the workers or as we refer to them, team members.  Every worker is a potential team member. If they don't understand that they are part of a team and who their team leader is, then that is a management failure. If they haven't been instructed in the expectation of zero-defect work, the structure for contributing to change, the opportunity to communicate in effective customer-supplier relationships to solve their own problems, and the principles of waste-free, efficient work, then that is a management failure.

Unlike many businesses, in the Toyota culture on-the-job employee training is built into the system such that the expectation embraced by all is that of “learning by doing” first, with more formal training second. In this approach, staff are placed in an everyday difficult circumstance and then allowed to problem solve by doing. Lean processes are designed to highlight problems in real time where the work is performed by getting to the root cause and by the person doing the job at the time the problem occurs. In short, feedback loops making use of indicators and metrics are designed into the process to allow working staff to identify defects in real-time.

In comparison, the usual American approach to training is that of an undertaking that must be scheduled, presented by formal instruction, with a minimum of hands-on instruction. In this latter view, training time is viewed as a detractor of valuable production time. The Toyota approach to work has been described by Mike Rother as the 'improvement kata' (a method or routine of human behavior). Can we replicate it? We can certainly try. It is a fact (proven in industry) that proper training reduces the time associated with the learning curve and improves quality.

Applying Work Rule #4, Basis of the Improvement Kata

One of the opportunities that most impressed us as a means of moving toward the ideal condition is Toyota’s Work Rule #4 as defined by Steven Spear, which states that any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization. That is to say that changes or pilot “experiments” are suggested and carried out by those actually doing the work. This approach also facilitates worker buy-in (empowerment) to change and increases compliance with the new work standard.  From our own experiences in the HFPS, we know that when a worker contributes to the change, they are more likely to experience ownership. Change then, is not made by, but facilitated by the teacher who is defined as an internal expert, knowledgeable and experienced in the area taught. This also promotes worker accountability.

In comparison, the American business culture often employs external consultants to analyze and suggest change. Yet many times these ‘experts’ have only minimal knowledge of actual work processes and outputs and must be informed and taught of details by the workers themselves. Conversely, in the Toyota approach, empowered workers see their daily work in the context of continually making effective process improvement changes that are designed and tested by the scientific method. To convert to and foster this latter culture, it is important to acknowledge that your workers are the ‘experts’ and hold the knowledge that can result in continually improving the work toward whatever goals are desired by themselves and defined by their leaders/managers.


References
Rother M. Toyota Kata. Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.
Spear SJ, Bowen HK. Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. Harvard Bus Rev. September 1, 1999:96-106.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Team Leader Role

As in biologic systems, structure (organizational) begets function. To get to the desired outcome of individuals charged with accountability for the quality of their own work that is idealized to be delivered in continuous flow, according to next-customer specification, without defects, timely, accurately, cost-effectively and safely requires us to redefine the expectation of workers themselves.

"Its the work, not the man that manages."  -Henry Ford

It is extremely important when training in Lean tools and principles of work improvement to train teams and their leaders along the path of workflow not just individuals to work effectively together.

Here we discuss the all important role of the team leader.

The Team Leader

The concept of the work station team leader is a novel adaption to the work of healthcare that we borrowed from TPS in creating the sustaining work structure of the Henry Ford Production System. The team leader is the equivalent of the quarterback in football and is responsible for the functional health of the team. This individual is responsible for encouraging team members to identify workplace non-value added work or waste, for instance using whiteboards, to mine the type and nature of in-process defects that plague us every day so that teams can generate and test solutions leading to new work design.

Worker Empowerment and Structure

This structure of teams with their designated team leaders requires identification of work stations along the path of workflow in order to foster individual worker and team empowerment and accountability for continuous improvement.

Juran's definition of empowerment is pertinent here as one who “has knowledge, skills, authority and desire to decide and act within prescribed limits and takes responsibility for the consequences of their actions and for contribution to the success of the enterprise."

To arrive at the consistently engaged worker requires us to transform our approach to work from just showing up for work on time and doing as directed, to workers invited to think about and learn from doing their work and to contribute thoughtfully and creatively to doing the work better.  In this manner we cultivate empowered workers who now see their daily work in the context of continually learning, constantly communicating with their team members and team leaders in a structured approach to making effective process improvements that are designed and tested by scientific method (PDCA).

We should think of work as something that is supplied to or done or created for someone else's use (the customer). To ensure that the work of the work station is defect free, continually improving for its customer and aligned with the work received from the supplier, requires designation of work station team leaders to assist the team members with their newly expected focus on continual improvement. This is the effective structure that allows teams to consistently understand improvement opportunities presented by the work itself, for instance from white boards, and to employ the tools of improvement in a sustained fashion. If you have multiple shifts, consider appointing a team leader on the work station of each shift so that they can coordinate quality initiatives from workers on all shifts as the in-process defects are encountered. This structures communication between shifts and with the next level leader, the supervisor or manager.

The Work Stations

Our definition of work stations are semi-autonomous and multi-skilled work teams along the path of workflow that contribute to a task, service or product that is used by or serves another group in the workplace. You may ask yourself several questions to identify what constitutes a work station:
  • Who does what for whom? (Customer-Supplier) 
  • Who passes you your work? (Supplier) 
  • Who requests work from you? (Customer) 
  • Are they inside or outside your department?  (Internal or External Suppliers and Customers)
Work may be seen as accomplished in stages.

Stage 1 --> Stage 2 --> Stage 3

According to Deming,
"Work comes into any stage, changes state, and moves on into the next stage. Any stage has a customer, the next stage. The final stage will send product or service to the ultimate customer, he that buys the product or the service."
 What are the stages of your work? Do you have someone who is specifically designated as a team leader for process improvement in that stage? How have you structured oversight for quality in that stage so that we can achieve Deming's vision: "Each stage works with the next stage and with the preceding stage toward optimum accommodation, all stages working together toward quality that the ultimate customer will boast about."

Role of the Team Leader

We all have job descriptions sanctioned by leaders, managers and Human Resources. But in a Lean culture the most important job expectation of the often ill-defined "OTHER duties as defined" option. In a Lean managed culture this "OTHER duties" option becomes larger as we ask employees to act creatively within the prescribed limits of the Lean culture and structure to contribute to continual work improvement.

Recognition of team leaders along interconnected workstations in the path of workflow to foster this transformed approach to work is an opportunity gifted to leaders and managers that should not be squandered.

But how do we identify one of the team to serve as the all important team leader? We have numerous options and we should chose very well as this individual's passion and commitment to continual improvement and change are key to success of the Lean culture. Typically this individual is already defined by an existing leadership or work station role. If no work station leader exists then you can appoint by ability, by passion or by vote of the work station members. Of course, as leaders we may occasionally need to side-step an existing but dysfunctional leader by appointing a co-leader to ensure success. This has many advantages over removing a leader who, despite coaching, for some reason is not capable of leading in this fashion or is not supportive of the changed manner of working with empowered, communicating workers.

The team leader choice is critical as this individual must never be complacent with the status quo but rather must continually and proactively push for continual improvement. The advantage of these work station leaders is that they are located closest to the level of the work where the defects are apparent often only to the workers who do the actual work.

Roles of the Team Leader

The newly added team leader work expectations include the following:
  • Project identification, selection, and prioritization
  • Focus on problems and process, not personalities (neutralize the personality blame game)
  • Knowledge of and adherence to the Lean work rules and principles, and use of appropriate tools
  • Team member selection
  • Project definition, study, and identification of sound measures for PDCA based improvements
  •  Customer-supplier connections
  • Reality test proposed interventions
  • Project tracking
  • Pushing for continual problem identification and ideas for change from the team members Communication and recognition
  • Coach, develop and encourage team members
  • Deal with failures Celebrate the team’s success

This team leader role is a growth and development opportunity that leverages workplace learnings to continually develop people to solve problems in a defined manner. This will come to define your new work culture. You will find soon enough after months of team successes that the Lean culture provides fertile ground for self growth and breeds our next generation of leaders.

Did someone just say Employee Engagement again?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Roles and Responsibilities of Leaders that Empower Workers

"My theory of waste goes back of the thing itself into the labour of producing it." 
                                                                          -Henry Ford


Last month I was reading Taiichi Ohno's 1988 book describing how the Toyota Production System evolved and was quite taken with how much inspiration he took from Henry Ford. As Ohno noted,
"I believe Ford was a rationalist- and I feel more so every time I read his writings. He had a deliberate and scientific way of thinking about industry in America. For example, on the issues of standardization and the nature of waste in business, Ford's perception of things was orthodox and universal."
Ohno goes on to observe:
"We see in Ford's thinking his strong belief that a standard is something not to be directed from above. Whether it be the federal government, top management, or a plant manager, the person who establishes the standard should be someone who works in production." 
This one of the differentiating bases for the success of what has become popularly known as a Lean management culture, namely: 1) Employees are in charge of their own jobs, and 2) Employees design their own standardized work.


Role of the Leader

How and what would you as leaders and managers need to change to foster and sustain this management system of empowered workers? In the previous 3 parts of this series we addressed the philosophy and behaviors of a self-sustaining continuous improvement culture, the business case and methodology of change and then creation of organizational structure and teams that promote that culture of continuous improvement.


Your new leader role is that of cultural transformer.


To achieve that cultural transformation will require a transformation in how you lead, that is, to move from the typical Western manager to the Japanese or Deming-style manager as described in the management systems below.




Deming's philosophy of work and leadership can be summarized as:


"Management’s job is to ‘work on the system’ to achieve continual product and process improvement."  -W. Edwards Deming



Specifically, the Deming redefinition of management leading to cultural transformation has been described by Andrea Gabor in her book The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America as follows:




Recognize that Lean quality cultural transformation:

  • Is leadership driven- without leadership, it doesn't happen
  • Is based on the organizational structure you create and values you espouse
  • Has redefined roles of middle management and workers
  • Values, respects, empowers, protects the workers
  • Aligns incentives
  • Recognizes, rewards the new behaviors continually
  • Educates, develops the workforce (the next leaders) continually


Your leadership and management goals now include:

  • Adopting Deming's philosophy of work and leadership
  • Managing through a focus on quality- your constancy of purpose
  • Creating a learning organization and culture
    • Developing people, with active participation of all staff
    • Creating ownership for problems and resolution
  • Operating according to defined structure, work rules, and using manufacturing based tools in empowered teams
  • Continually improving quality, not just to meet, but to exceed customer needs
  • Moving incrementally to the ideal target condition, continuously
Or in other words, relentlessly pursuing perfection.


Other roles of the Leader and Manager are now to:

  • Develop and communicate
    • Vision, Goals, Priorities, Resources
    • Strategies for leaders, team members, ownership
  • Facilitate
    • Remove barriers and roadblocks
    • Communications, connections outside department
    • Accountability for progress
    • Require follow up, monitoring, documentation of changes
  • Encourage
    • Celebration and recognition of contributions
  • Spread enthusiasm


In this manner, leaders can continually promote the goals of 1) zero defects, 2) teamwork, 3) team problem solving and group learning, 4) unleashed creativity and innovation. By creating a culture that allows change from the level of the workers, you enable the continual redesign of work systems that consistently attain excellence. This is the essence of 'kaizen,' hundreds of process improvements contributed by expert workers at your bequest. Did someone say Employee Engagement again?

References:
-Ford H. Today and Tomorrow. New York, NY: Doubleday; 1926.
-Gabor A. The Man Who Discovered Quality. How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America--The Stories of FORD, XEROX, and GM. New York, NY: Penguin Books; 1990.
-Ohno T. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. Portland, OR: Productivity Press; 1988.

 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Customer-Supplier Meetings

“Your methods are formed by what you are trying to do; they do not determine your purpose. To my mind it is starting wrong to put methods ahead of purpose.”     -Henry Ford


The purpose of this management model is employee empowerment to effect continuous process improvement where the work takes place and defective work is encountered. This includes includes empowering employees to call for a customer-supplier meeting as a means of actively increasing communication and initiating the process for implementing change for improvement. Because of the complicated nature of serial, parallel and, at times, disconnected processes contributed by numerous highly trained individuals in healthcare, it is often difficult for employees to comprehend the magnitude and the downstream effects of their own work, especially if not done to a standard specification, if that even exists. To compound this problem, we have inherited a culture of change of top-down directives that address crisis issues, so called 'crisis management'. 


Customer-supplier meetings involving empowered teams are designed to allow workers to gain a detailed sense of the work product or service that each section requires to function more efficiently as that product or service is passed from one workstation to the next. This fosters management in a horizontal fashion along the path of workflow. 


Discussions involve highly specified requirements to aid in the direct hand-offs between customers and suppliers so that the main types of waste in processes can be eliminated. Barriers between work stations and professional groups can be more readily eliminated when people recognize that issues between workstations are universal and fixable and the typical finger-pointing 'blame-game' can be stopped now that they are empowered to remedy the situation. 


Eventually, "suppliers" understand and accept the demands of their "internal customers" and begin responding by changing processes to meet customer requirements. With this new understanding of team, eventually the culture begins to change.

These structures described in this and previous posts are needed to prepare people to work together, to form healthy work relationships from a vantage point of understanding other's requirements, to communicate freely and effectively in a blame-free environment in order to be fully engaged, daily, in a common goal of excellence. This, in turn, can foster workers' sense of pride and accomplishment in contributing, no matter how small, to the success of the enterprise.

Did someone say Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

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