Fail fast = learn fast.

The smartest people I know deliberately try to “break” their new ideas, or make them fail as quickly as possible… so that they can learn from the mistakes & optimize their ultimate results. 

They purposely create environments where they can quickly learn through rapid iteration: they may test ideas with customer advisory groups, or better yet actually run a new process with pilot groups.  Some use inexpensive prototypes for experimentation, allowing dozens of failures without incurring the high cost of full production.  You get the idea.

(Sidebar: Make sure to structure these experiments using the scientific method, rather than just shooting from the hip.  For more on this, I recommend you read Steve Spear – process improvement wizard, author, 5-time Shingo winner, consultant, and [disclaimer] a personal advisor.)

Key to this approach is a fundamental mindset question: How do you feel about failing?  Years of schooling & the conditioning of early career success may have you thinking you are supposed to “always know the right answer…” but let’s be honest: that’s statistically impossible.  We must get comfortable with admitting to the unknown, because this puts us into the “learning zone” and sets the right example for our teams.

Failure is tremendously helpful as long as it leads to accelerated learning.  Can you change your mindset about failure?


PE Skills for Leaders (Pt 2)

Part two of my thoughts on critical PE skills a leader must have to be effective.  Realize that I’m staying at “100,000 feet” here and that each of these can be dissected into great detail.  To be an effective process owner, here are additional skills I believe you need to develop:

Use a systematic approach to attack improvement opportunities:
> Make sure we are solving the right problem
> If the problem was important enough to fix it is important enough to ensure it stays fixed
> Focus on prevention vs. fixing

Execute well:
> Clearly identify a single owner for each process, and task them to measure & improve that process
> Allocate full-time dedicated improvement resources to avoid day job, night job resource drain
> Have a clear method to actively manage the portfolio of improvement projects being run in your organization.

Continually Improve!
> Know how to get to true root cause before taking corrective action.  (Example: use techniques like “The 5 Whys”)
> Use tools to anticipate the likely failure modes before they happen.  Don’t wait for the failures to occur before you put preventative measures in place. Establish contingency plans!
> Look for ways to error-proof your processes to avoid inadvertent mistakes.  Make it easy for your team to do stuff the right way, and hard for them to do it the wrong way.

Coming up next: Mindset

PE Skills for Leaders (Pt 1)

Last post about Process Excellence (PE) mentioned that processes can usually be expressed by the formula:

Y=f(x1, x2, x3…)

where Y is a discrete output & the x’s represent the major (critical few) inputs & process steps. With this in mind, here are some key skills & I look for & teach my leaders:

Be Clear on the Output:
> Consistently identify & communicate the correct “Y” (the output).
> Transfer customer needs into measurable, actionable targets (“customer specs” in PE lingo).
> You must also be clear on how you measure your outputs
> And finally be clear on the specific target for that measurement.

Understand Process:
> Apply “input->process->output” logic to all situations
> Be clear on which input+process combinations drive which specific outputs (understand cause & effect). This allows you to focus your improvement efforts on the right levers.
> Apply the whole “Y=f(x)” thing situationally. For example a specific project-level “x” probably has a statistical/linear relationship to a given “Y”. But as you move away from data-rich situations, this becomes less of a math equation and more of a judgment call.
> Map entire processes end to end, from the customer back to you.

Use Baseline Measures, & Think Statistically:
> Establish visible measures of key Input->Process->Output variables, and utilize this data to run your function. Again, don’t measure everything, just the important stuff.
> Display performance data for the process over time, compared against customer specs, wherever possible
> Take appropriate action based on data… Figure out if specific outlier data points are signals v. noise
> Do not be content to just manage your metrics by the averages…know that variation matters…push to understand and reduce the variation in your process

Are you clear on the outputs & targets for your processes?  Do you understand relationship between the inputs, process steps, & outputs for the processes you own?  Are you using data to understand how your process is performing?

More “PE skills for leaders” coming in part 2…

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