Production goals, Feedback, and Finding Nemo

I was halfway to nodding off while reading another turgid (“Lean is one of the very effective ways to actually mitigate operational risk”) and obvious (“Involve frontline employees in problem solving”) report from the Boston Consulting Group and Wharton on the value of lean when I read something that was actually interesting:

Part of what helps Pixar succeed is a model of working in which the individual is as valuable to the team as the team is to the individual. To help structure fruitful interactions, Pixar has instituted a system of daily meetings where team members talk about what they have or have not accomplished each day and others provide feedback.The point is not to track people. “In a creative world you often hit roadblocks, and team-based collaboration is critical,” [Wharton professor Kartik Hosanagar] explains. “People might discuss work that is clearly in an incomplete stage; they don’t have to feel embarrassed.”
Hmm. . . lean as applied to non-repetitive, creative work? How many times have you heard from people that their work is different, can’t be standardized, and doesn’t lend itself to lean principles?

What’s striking about Pixar’s approach isn’t just the idea of collaboration — plenty of people at plenty of companies collaborate. What’s really interesting is the notion of production goals for people doing non-repetitive, creative work. And further, the notion of airing production problems in front of others to garner ideas on how to overcome them.

No matter what your role is in an organization, you have to account for the very real limits on your production capacity. That means taking a gimlet-eyed view at how your time is spent, and identifying what obstacles and inefficiencies keep you from reaching “full production.” Institutionalizing feedback and learning from colleagues in a non-threatening environment, as Pixar has done, is a huge step in the right direction. It leads to the continuous improvement and growth — kind of like the hero’s journey of Marlin the Clownfish.

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5 Responses

  1. Jason Yip says:

  2. Joe Ely says:

    Excellent post, Dan. This illustrates the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle which is so fundamental. The difference is this group acknowledged there COULD BE a Plan!! So, that stated the plan, then checked it. By doing daily (rather than in a “monthly status report”) they shortened the loop.

    It can be done. And it starts with accepting there can be a plan.

  3. Dan says:


    Thanks for the link to Martin Fowler’s article. Exhaustive and incredibly useful in painting a picture of how a good stand up meeting should be run.

  4. Dan says:


    You’re dead on with your point about accepting there *could* be a plan. In my experience, most white collar workers don’t want to accept that there could be a plan, that any portion of their work is predictable, and that PDCA has a role. Instead, the inefficiency is accepted as “the cost of doing business.” But there has to be a better way….

  5. John Hunter says:

    It is too bad that so many people decide that anything that improves efficiency can only apply to rote task. This idea is completely untrue. They confuse bad management with efficiency improvement. Since bad management talks about improving efficiency and destroys creativity through disrespect for people. Good lean management is, of course, very valuable for creative work.

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