Archive for April, 2010

Call for Community A3 Participants Redux

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Much to my surprise, the response to Joe Ely’s and my call for participants in our community A3 project has been, um, underwhelming. After some reflection with Joe and others, I’ve come up with the following possible explanations:

  1. Companies are so magnificently efficient that there’s no wasted managerial time, and therefore no need for a community A3. No problem, no A3.
  2. Companies may have a problem, but have no desire to be involved with Dan and Joe because, after all — who the hell are they?
  3. Companies may have a problem with all their really smart people stuck in unproductive meetings, but it’s just not really a priority compared to all the other stuff they’re doing, lean and otherwise.
  4. Companies may have a problem with all their really smart people stuck in unproductive meetings, but they’re reluctant to share those inefficiencies with the public — even the lean community.

I’ve ruled out #1 because having flushed more hours than we care to count down the toilet of flabby, pointless meetings, both Joe and I know better.

#2 is a good possibility. Aside from our devastating good looks and wonderful blogging voices, neither Joe nor I have double-top-secret Lean Six Sigma Infrared belts. (Actually, Joe might, but since it’s double-top-secret, he hasn’t told me about it.) But we’re pretty good as coaches nonetheless, if only because, as outsiders, we can ask questions.

#3 is quite likely. After all, it’s hard to measure the cost of waste of really smart people checking their Blackberries in a conference room for two hours instead of being out on the floor solving problems. It’s a real opportunity cost, but it doesn’t show up on the income statement. If this is the case, do me one favor: before you mark this RSS feed as read and move on to your next job, just try calculating how much time you’ve spent in the last week in meetings, and how much of it was waste.

Now, if #4 is the issue — you’re afraid of making either yourself or your organization look bad — let me put your mind at ease: the purpose of this A3 is to share ideas for improvement with the lean community, not to embarrass anyone. We’re more than happy to keep all participants anonymous. There’s no need to put your name on your A3 — we’ll share the content (root causes, countermeasures, implementation results, etc. — but not your identity.

So, with all that said, we still have room for a few more people or organizations to join us. Welcome; we’d love to have you.

Looking for volunteers for our community A3 project

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Joe Ely of Learning About Lean and I are organizing a community A3 project to figure out how to eliminate (or at least reduce) the soul-sucking waste of time masquerading as corporate meetings.

No less an eminence than Peter Drucker believed that a company is “malorganized” if it causes you to spend more than 25% of your time in meetings. (See my post on this topic here.) Based on our own experience and conversations with others, we’re guessing by that definition most companies are in trouble.  So we’re going to take up arms against this sea of administrative troubles and by opposing, end them.

We’d like you to join our effort.  We’re hoping that the collective wisdom of the lean community can give us more time to do important things (like, say, work) and spend less time in conference rooms sleeping through a 93 slide PowerPoint deck.

Here are the details:


  • To reduce the plague of meetings so that we can, you know, actually do some work


  • Participation is limited to the first eight companies (or groups) to respond
  • All members of the lean community are welcome to review the A3s at any time, or comment on the open access Google Doc


  • Dan Markovitz & Joe Ely will provide the problem statement for the A3 (this creates a uniform starting point for all groups)
  • Each company works simultaneously on its own A3
  • All A3s posted and readable (but not editable) on Google Docs to anyone who is interested during and after the course of the project
  • Comments/updates/funny cat pictures can be submitted on a separate Google Doc so that everyone can read them

Timeframe (75 days):

  • Target launch date: Monday, May 3
  • Target completion date: Monday, July 12
  • Two weeks to fill out the left side of the A3 (background; current conditions; goal; analysis)
  • Eight weeks for Do-Check-Act (proposal; implementation plan; follow up)
  • Report out/reflection by July 19

If you’re interested in joining us, please send an email to Dan Markovitz (dan ATSIGN with your name, organization, and contact information.  We’ll send you the link to the Google Docs area with the A3 template and problem statement.

Questions?  Comments?  Contact Dan or Joe (joeely618 ATSIGN

We hope you can join us.

“I’m not stressed out.”

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Mark Graban tells the following story about his visit to VIBCO:

The two women who were working at the front desk (answering phone calls and customer requests, among other duties) were describing the impact of Lean on their work – how they standardized many of their activities and applied a Kaizen mindset to making their work easier. There were lots of little Lean improvements in place, stuff they had worked on themselves. They mentioned how they were able to get much more done during their day.

A visiting healthcare executive asked one of the women if she was working harder as a result of those changes. She responded,

It doesn’t feel like I’m working harder. I’m not stressed out. I’m getting more done and there’s a sense of accomplishment.

There’s an important point here, and it’s easy to miss. Generally speaking, the front desk job is incredibly demanding: there’s no time for planning and there’s no predictability to the schedule — when you’re working the phones and tending to the front door, you have no idea what’s coming through the door or when. In a lot of respects, it’s a lot like working in the emergency department at a hospital: you never know what kind of patient will come through the door next.

What’s noteworthy is that even in a position where the worker has to be immediately responsive to the unpredictable incoming work (after all, they can’t just not answer the phones, or lock the front door), they were able to standardize some element of their activities and make those activities easier. And the establishment of standardization resulted in less stress and more work completed. (Not to mention that nice feeling of accomplishment.)

If you’re reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance that you’re not a receptionist, and therefore that your job allows for a more measured response time. For the most part, you don’t have to answer the phone on the first ring, or respond to an email within a minute of its arrival (even if you feel you do). Think about the effect that standardizing — and improving — some of your work could have on your ability to accomplish your work.

Analyze your responsibilities. Break out the recurring, predictable work (ordering supplies, processing email, dictating cases) from the creative, unpredictable work (writing ad copy, choosing a color palette for the product line, choosing a medication protocol). Standardize and kaizen the predictable stuff. Get more work done. With less stress.

If a receptionist can do it, you can too.

Meetings: the plaque of an organization.

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Ed Whitacre Jr., the CEO of GM, is struggling to get the company moving faster. The ossified bureaucracy at GM renders rapid decision-making nearly impossible, and nowhere is that more evident than in the plague of meetings that prevent people from actually making decisions.

How bad is it? The Wall Street Journal reported that in the past,

even minor decisions had to be mulled over by committee after committee. Once several years ago, the company tried to stamp out bureaucracy—and ended up appointing a committee to oversee how many committee meetings should be held.

Whitacre is trying hard to push authority and decision-making responsibility deeper into the organization, rather than requiring everything to be approved by the CEO. The Journal describes a recent meeting designed to get his approval for a new generation of cars and trucks:

Before the executives could present the pictures, charts and financial projections they had prepared, Whitacre stopped them to ask why they were having the meeting in the first place.

“Y’all have checked all this out pretty thoroughly,” Mr. Whitacre said in his Texas drawl, according to a participant. “I imagine you’re not going to approve something that’s bad or unprofitable, so why don’t you make the final decisions?”

Mr. Whitacre then let the team’s plans stand—and suggested that the group end its regular Friday sessions.

I don’t know if Whitacre has spent much time reading Peter Drucker, but Drucker was bluntly eloquent about the dangers of meetings. As a recent article in Human Resources IQ explains, Drucker went so far as to say that meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization, because you can either work or meet — you can’t do both at the same time. And although meetings are a necessary evil, they should be rare:

But above all, meetings have to be the exception rather than the rule. An organization which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.

Too many meetings always bespeak poor structure of jobs and the wrong organizational components. . . if people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more — there is time-wasting malorganization.

Too many meetings signify that work that should be in one job or in one component is spread over several jobs or several components. They signify that responsibility is diffused and information is not addressed to the people that need it.

How does your organization compare to Drucker’s 25% benchmark? My guess is that you’re way over that. Most executives I see are spending over 40% of their time in meetings (and most of those are poorly run, poorly focused, and don’t result in clear direction for the participants).

Meetings are like plaque, clogging the arteries of the business — and of the value stream. Companies become immobile from these unproductive, pointless time sucks. Compare GM’s sclerotic meeting culture with the stripped down, focused, problem solving meetings at Lantech, where decisions are made at the point of the problem, and at lowest possible level. (Read more about how those meetings are folded into standard work here.) No committees, no fluffy agendas, no long-winded Powerpoint presentations: all the information and all the necessary people are at the location of the problem ready to make a decision. Quickly.

Get rid of the meetings. Go to the gemba. Start flossing.