Lean and Six Sigma are the two most successful quality improvement strategies, but implementing them effectively is not an easy task. Author of the upcoming book Culture is Everything: How to Become a True Culture Warrior and Lead Your Organization to Victory, Jeff Veyera has spent his career solving difficult business problems with lean and Six Sigma. Today, he’s sharing the quality and lean and Six Sigma books on his shelf that he can’t live without.
Over the past few years, Agile has gained popularity. This methodology emerged as a solution to manage projects with a number of unknown elements and to counter the typical waterfall method. Quality practitioners have observed the numerous similarities between this new framework and Lean. Some have speculated that Agile is simply the next generation’s version of Lean. These observations have posed the question:
I’ve worked with both Agile and Lean in my career. To me, asking if Agile is the new Lean is a little like asking if carpentry is the new plumbing. They are different trades, used for different purposes. Agile is a methodology of designing and developing products, and Lean is a methodology for streamlining operations. I worked at a company that transitioned from a traditional waterfall approach for design requirements, to an Agile method. What struck me most was the dramatic increase in the sense of urgency. It’s hard to get excited about a deadline that is 8 months away – 8 days feels much more real.
Lean is an approach to operations that focusses on flow. Identifying and eliminating barriers that stop flow, and implementing quick and easy solutions now vs. expensive and capital-intensive solutions. With software development, where Agile is most commonly applied, the hardest part is making the first release. Once you have the final release, it’s simply a matter of copying. Whereas with hardware development, the hardest part is not making the first prototype, it’s getting to mass production: being able to produce your design consistently, efficiently and cost-effectively. These are very different challenges that require different solutions. Agile, vs. Lean.
There are many useful concepts, tools and practices within what people refer to as agile software development. And the same can be said for lean. But they are distinct approaches (the links in this post flush out this idea more for those interested in learning more on that topic). That isn’t to say an organization cannot design their own solution that adopts ideas found in each approach. In fact doing so for software development makes sense in my opinion.
If you decide to transform your management system using lean management practices as a focus I think you can do great things. I would delve deeply into lean and also learn about Deming and agile software development. And if you decide to create an agile styled management system then do that and learn from Deming and lean as you continually improve. In either case continually iterate and improve they management practices that are used.
The longer answer is one I’m going to have to hold back some emotions to answer. Why? I have two reasons.
Reason #1: There is No Magic Bullet First, many managers are on a quest for the silver bullet — a methodology or a tool that they can implement on Monday, and reap benefits no later than Friday. Neither lean nor agile can make this happen. But it’s not uncommon to see organizations try this approach. A workgroup will set up a Kanban board or start doing daily stand-up meetings, and then talk about how they’re “doing agile.” Now that agile is in place, these teams have no reason to go any further.
Reason #2: There is Nothing New Under the Sun Neither approach is “new” and neither is going away. Lean principles have been around since Toyota pioneered its production system in the 1960s and 1970s. The methods prioritized value and flow, with attention to reducing all types of waste everywhere in the organization. Agile emerged in the 1990s for software development, as a response to waterfall methods that couldn’t respond effectively to changes in customer requirements. Agile modeling uses some lean principles: for example, why spend hours documenting flow charts in Visio, when you can just write one on a whiteboard, take a photo, and paste it into your documentation? Agile doesn’t have to be perfectly lean, though. It’s acceptable to introduce elements that might seem like waste into processes, as long as you maintain your ability to quickly respond to new information and changes required by customers. (For example, maybe you need to touch base with your customers several times a week. This extra time and effort is OK in agile if it helps you achieve your customer-facing goals.)Both lean and agile are practices. They require discipline, time, and monitoring. Teams must continually hone their practice, and learn about each other as they learn together. There are no magic bullets.
Information plays a key role. Effective flow of information from strategy to action is important for lean because confusion (or incomplete communication) and forms of waste. Agile also emphasizes high-value information flows, but for slightly different purposes — that include promoting: - Rapid understanding - Rapid response - Rapid, targeted, and effective action
Companies nowadays are no longer focusing on standardizing and ensuring quality. Quality is no longer value-added, is required. Lean and six sigma implementations are falling short, not because of quality issues, but because employees are not engaged enough to change. Unhappy employees equal unhappy customers. Now what, is agile the new lean?
Lean and six sigma process improvement approaches started in the auto industry and manufacturing in the ‘50s, and were successfully applied to other industries. Nevertheless, the software industry that grew significantly during the ‘90s realized that these quality practices were not fast enough. They needed to iterate faster to innovate faster. Being the customer favorite became a survival need, and they couldn’t do it without the ideas of their employees. Millennials in their workplace started asking for different ways of working. That’s how a group of IT experts developed the Agile Thinking Manifesto in 2001. They applied lean principles and tools to reduce waste and combined them with other idea generation tools and team enablers to bring innovation to the workplace more easily.
While lean provides a set of methods like 5S, kanban, just in time, agile is a cultural mindset, a way of thinking about how an organization should work. As Stephen says in his book The Era of Agile “in any particular organization, the practices that emerge will be the result of an interaction between the agile mindset and the specific organizational context”, which may include lean practices. So it is not “either agile or lean”, you can be both. For example, when I implement 5S, I always include in the training an introduction to an agile “we culture” mindset, so that team members can understand the true purpose behind the implementation.
November Roundup: The post by Influential Voices blogger Dr. Suresh Gettala, Talking Quality to the C-Suite, looked at how quality professionals, certainly experts in their field, may fall short in selling quality to top management and offered his perspective and advice. Throughout the month of November, ASQ Influential Voices bloggers contributed their ideas on talking to top management about the importance of quality. This month’s topic certainly generated some very interesting and somewhat diverse opinions.
Jennifer Stepniowski agreed that getting the attention of senior executives can be challenging and added even more tips in her blog, C-Suite Speak… “Quality.” She advised that quality professionals remember a call to action which needs to be clearly expressed and not just implied.
Robert Mitchell agreed that quality professionals need to speak the senior executive’s language in his post Talking Quality with the C-Suite. He wrote that his 34 years of experience in a global manufacturing company echoed and reinforced much of what Dr. Suresh suggested.
Dr. Manu Vora wrote that the easiest way to connect with C-Suites is to use the cost of quality approach which he explains in his post Talking to the C-Suite About Quality. He says this tool lets executives know where there is waste in the system and how they can reduce the Cost of Quality through continuous process improvements.
Nicole Radziwill wrote that it’s important to let the C-Suite know that you can help them leverage their organization’s talent to achieve their goals, then continually build their trust. In her blog, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We? A Retrospective, she added that the key to talking quality with the C-Suite is empathy.
In her response and blog, AUDIT, a tool to talk with the C-Suite, Jimena Calfa agreed that talking to the C-Suite about Quality is a real challenge as senior executives often consider quality to be a waste of money instead of THE tool to increase profit.
Tim McMahon wrote that getting executives in your company to want to support and then adopt Lean Thinking may be difficult but not impossible. In his blog, 5 Ways to Get Management Buy-in: What’s in it for me?, he shares a list of ideas to help you convince your management to start thinking Lean.
However, John Hunter had a different perspective in his post Making Your Case to Senior Executives. He believes success will come from concentrating on short term financial measures while also crafting a story to make your case for long term improvements.
This is a guest post by Sunil Kaushik, an ASQ Influential Voices blogger who is planning a round-the-world bicycle tour with a mission to train schools and universities on quality, all while exploring high-quality street food across the globe.
Sunil is a certified ASQ-SSBB, PMP, and SPSM with more than a decade of experience in project and quality management with Fortune 100 companies. He provides training on quality management at schools, universities, and corporations using innovative methods such as origami and food tasting. Read about his travels on his blog, Train and Trot.
My wife and I have backpacked close to 40 countries and we are still in the nascent stages of traveling cheap. It is a process that will just keep going—this November, we plan to embark on a round-the-world cycling trip. In this blog I will be sharing one of our travel episodes-backpacking to Egypt with just $500 in my pocket and how Lean principles helped me do so.
As you read this, think about how you’ve incorporated quality tools into your daily life. Remember, you might be doing so without even thinking of your actions as “quality”!
Being a quality professional, one of the things I’m good at is keeping track of data of all my past trips. On this trip, 40 percent of my spending went on transport, 30 percent on accommodation, and remaining part was left over for food, drink, and sightseeing. Even before I planned a trip to Egypt I designed a value stream map shown below. Every backpacker will more or less follow these processes irrespective of the style, luxury or budget.
The next and the last thing I had to do was to just identify and eliminate the seven types of waste at every opportunity.
5S: As a backpacker, too many things are stuffed into my bag, yet few are very critical, like my passport, visa documents, credit cards, etc. Every item has a planned, allotted space in my backpack. Every time I take one out I have to put it back in the same place so that I do not waste time searching or at times panicking when I do not find it.
5S is the key. Before my trip I make sure I set all the things I need in order with the help of a checklist and then sort them. For example, all important documents and passport are deep inside, my camera and iPod are in a separate carry bag. Standardization is another important element, as I carry items that can be used for multiple purposes. For example, a scarf can be used as a head scarf, towel, or a bag to carry items. A Swiss army knife also has many uses. Creativity is the limit and helps in utilizing the space inside the backpack efficiently. I have been able to get the weight of my backpack down by at least a pound from my previous trip by applying the 5S principle and it weighed just 4 kilos on this trip.
Plan Destination – Wait For the Pull Signal: I stopped waiting for an airline to throw an offer to a particular destination I intended to visit. Instead I made a list of destinations and just kept looking for any offer to come up. One day, I saw a two-way ticket from Mumbai to Egypt for $280. I had no reason to think twice. In short, I started looking for a pull signal.
Develop Schedule – Wait Time Is the Key: I planned for a 14-day trip to cover the entire length of Egypt, see all the wonders of the world (six in total), and at the same time I made sure I did not push myself too hard and got to spend enough time at each place. The key is to reduce the wait time, be it in the train station, bus station, ticket counter, etc. I booked overnight trains , took care of my accommodation, etc., in advance.
Getting In: Though the visa fee for Indian citizens is $25, the embassy was in a different province and I outsourced this part to a travel agent for additional $10. This way I saved lot of time, transportation cost, and stresses (Muri).
Getting Around: I planned in such a way that I stayed in localities which had easy access to public transportation, the market, and reduced unnecessary motion to go around. I downloaded a nice map to my smart phone and borrowed a bicycle from my host for shorter distances (less than 8 kilometers) and used subway, buses, and trains for longer distances.
Surprisingly, many are unaware that all it takes to get from downtown Cairo to the pyramids of Giza is a 20-minute ride on the subway followed by a short ride in a shared minivan, and it costs hardly $5 to get there. It just costs a dollar from the airport to downtown by bus and I get to see the real country this way and that is what backpacking and the lean principle Gemba (the real place) talk about.
Eat/Drink: This is where visual management comes into play. I avoided restaurants with multilingual menus in tourist areas. I preferred those that have a sign board and menu in the local language, are filled with locals, and which serve better local food for less money. If I have a problem in communicating I go with today’s menu or chef’s recommendations. Family-run restaurants have hardly let me down as they care more about their reputation and customer.
Sleep: My first preference is Couchsurfing, which is a large online community of travelers who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. I feel the cultural authenticity when I stay with the locals more than in a hotel. It is fun and it is safe, too. But it is a bit tricky; not every request on Couchsurfing will get a very welcoming response and one important factor is the way we write a request to our host. I made sure all my requests were SMART ( i.e. I tell about myself, where am I coming from, when I will arrive, how long I intend to stay, and why I chose to stay with that particular host–could be that we share common interests). Out of 14 days I couch-surfed for nine, which was a direct saving of at least $450 (extra processing) and I have new friends in Egypt now.
The second option was Airbnb–very similar to couch surfing though we need to pay our host, but it’s still cheaper than hotels.
See And Do: As an International Youth Travel Card holder, I got a flat 50 percent discount to enter Giza Pyramids, Egyptian Museum at Cairo, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, and Luxor Temple. The negotiation skills came into play at the Nile River cruise in a felucca. I started at 30 percent of the initially quoted price and we were able to settle at 50 percent of the price. Hence I avoided a huge, unnecessary fee (over-processing).
This is just my experience and there is no limit to come up with creative ideas to travel economically without compromising on quality.
Note: Many countries have warned against traveling in Egypt due to terrorist threats. I advise you to research the political situation and conflict zones before planning the trip. Of course, the techniques described in this post can apply to planning a trip in any country.You can read more about my travel on my blog, Train and Trot.