Category Archives: Cowboy Thoughts

Stop Fighting Emergency Fires in Five Steps

Whenever I find myself spending most of my day fighting fires, I try to step back and understand why. A great framework that I like to use comes from the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. The firefighting example takes a process through five steps, going from “emergency crisis mode” to “no problem mode.”

The Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence program is a government sponsored award that focuses on promoting quality in US organizations. You can see the images below and other great resources on their graphics page.

Step One – Running and Reacting

1The first stage is where most of us start when we think of fighting fires. We react to emergencies that pop up by dropping everything and running to what’s urgent. If this only happens once or twice, then it might not be worth the effort to improve the response. However, the problems that occur frequently or have large impacts are the ones that need to move beyond step one. Focus on those problems for moving them through steps two through five.

Step Two – Running Less and Reacting Quicker

2If fires pop up in the same places frequently, then installing extra hoses in that area can really help. Likewise, if you repeatedly face the same emergency, making additional resources available in those areas can cut down the size or length of an emergency. Taking a few minutes to create simple, small countermeasures makes reacting easier.

Step Three – Response Game Plan

3Once countermeasures are in place, how can we get everyone on the same page? When the next emergency strikes, who contacts whom? Addressing these issues by making a game plan can make the response much more effective. More importantly, getting others involved makes the emergency less dependent on you. If you can’t ever leave the office because you’re the only one that knows how to handle certain problems, then this step can free you from that burden.

Step Four – Automated Response System

4Just like a sprinkler system automatically dousing flames, you can build a system that handles emergencies automatically. Basic computer automation or alerts can take care of many problems that frequently pop up. Emergencies that are more complex may require some IT investment, but many of those solutions are worth the price tag. Conversely, significant investment may not be necessary if a manual response system will work just as well.

Step Five – Innovate Emergencies Away

5This final step is not “brainstorm how this emergency doesn’t happen again.” That type of thought should happen at any stage. Instead, this is a systematic change in the design of work flows, products, and systems so that unexpected problems are less common and less damaging. A product’s cost can often be reduced by 70% when the designers’ goal is to make the product easier for manufacturing. Similarly, perhaps 70% of your emergencies could be avoided by focusing on internal customers and avoiding downstream emergencies. Of course, balancing the needs of internal customers with those of external customers is difficult. Nevertheless, keeping the needs of both customers in mind will help reduce emergencies for which you can’t plan.

How to Use the Five Steps of Firefighting

Whenever a problem arises, I look at where in the five steps my response to the emergency is. Based on the size and frequency of the problem, I can then look at options for moving the response to the next level. Few fires need all five steps; such investment would be overkill. However, simply knowing at what stage each of my problems is helps me prioritize my improvement efforts. Soon the categorization becomes second nature, and process improvement becomes easier, quicker, and more effective.

Best of all, there’s less fires to fight. And the fires I still have to fight are easier to put out.

At what stages are the recent emergency responses you’ve initiated?

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When Semi- is Better than Fully Automatic

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Christopher Hatcher published a great article over at 21st Century Supply Chain about when semi-automatic processes are better than automatic ones. As an example, he talks about the exciting day in army basic training when he switched his gun from semi- to fully automatic. His observation is important: accuracy often goes down dramatically. He says,

“I can’t remember if I actually hit any targets that night, but it was so cool to try the automatic setting.”

Many companies go through a similar exciting phase – especially young companies that are learning how to expand their operations. Instead of taking time and really thinking out each move, we often want to find an automatic process that will “just make everything work and not bother me anymore.” When making investment decisions, it’s tempting to buy the Ferrari solution with all the options when the less glamourous bicycle product might actually work better.

In addition to spending too much on the automatic solution, we often create additional problems or miss valuable opportunities by letting processes run on autopilot. Many opportunities for improvement present themselves through deep understanding of how processes work. That understanding can only happen when we participate in the process.

What processes in your business would benefit from switching to semi-auto for a trial period? Which might benefit from a permanent semi-auto setting? Could less automation make some of your processes more efficient in the long-run?

For example, I often learn more from updating important metrics by hand than metrics that update automatically. That extra attention frequently brings me important insights.

Hatcher’s article includes these wise words:

“Running most operations in automatic mode is likely a wise choice, but it’s important to understand which parts of the process can trigger the responsible party to intervene when necessary. Automatic sometimes just scatters lots of bullets with a great deal of sound and fury, but semi-automatic usually hits the target every time.”

Check out the full article here: Will that be automatic or semi-automatic to manage your supply chain?

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The Most Popular Supply Chain Cowboy Articles of 2014

We’ve seen significant growth this year – online traffic and subscribers have more than tripled from 2013. It’s great to know there’s so many people working together to tame the wild west of supply chain management.

Below is a list of our five most popular articles from the past year:

Number 5 – How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

How Skullcandy Rocked S&OPFor Supply Chain Cowboy’s first podcast, I had a great interview with Mark Kosiba, former VP of Operations at Skullcandy. He shared a ton of great advice on how small companies can leverage their nimbleness to grow and become world-class operations in competitive fields. If you haven’t yet listened to what Mark had to share, be sure to download it now so you can listen to it during your next commute.

Check it out here: How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

Number 4 – Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

Mark DwightWant an example of what supply chain excellence and lean production really look like at a San Francisco bag company? Then be sure to check out this Q&A interview with the CEO of Ricksaw Bagworks. The article received a lot of positive social media attention, especially from people passionate about US-based manufacturing and small business entrepreneurs.

Check it out here: Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

Number 3 – One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

Ship Track Excel FromulaIf anyone in your organization tracks packages, then they’ll definitely want to take a look at this article. It reviews a free excel add-in that lets you track shipments from most major carriers with a single formula. Even if you’ve shied away from tracking your shipments in the past because of how much work it can be, the article shows how that might now be possible.

Check it out here: One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

Number 2 – Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

Tips for the APICS CSCP ExamSupply Chain Certifications are growing in popularity to not only help build an educational base, but distinguish job seekers looking to advance their career. This article details what I learned while preparing for the APICS CSCP exam, including useful advice for how to tackle the test. The first section about whether the exam is even worth pursuing is a great read for supply chain managers wanting to develop their team’s skills.

Check it out here: Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

Number 1, the Most Popular Article in 2014 – Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

Vendor Scorecard ExampleThis vendor scorecard how-to article won by a wide margin, attracting one in every four visitors during 2014. As supplier relationships become more important to a firm’s success, scorecards provide a simple and effective method of managing those connections. The downloadable template, included in the article, is a great place to start in building your vendor metric program. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in improving your supply chain, be sure to check this article out now.

Check it out here: Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

What’s Coming in 2015?

Here’s a sneak peak to a few articles and podcasts coming in the next couple months.

  • The First Steps in Improving Small Business Operations
  • Fighting Fires – a How-To Guide
  • More Business and Lean Quotes
  • Bringing Lean into Your Organization

What else would you like to see as topics for articles? I’ve had some great conversations with readers this past year, and I’d love to hear from you too. What topics are you interested in – and what challenges are you up against? Shoot me an email, or post in a comment below.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season and a happy new year! Grab your cowboy hat and join me in riding your forklift into the sunset of 2014.

Everything is a Change Management Problem

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Back to Marketing Class

In a recent marketing class, we discussed a case of a startup company segmenting its customers. The startup had two primary customer types that were beginning to require different solutions. The company had to decide which segment to focus on and which one to let go.

Running through the numbers, we came to a clear conclusion that customer segment A would be more profitable with the largest growth potential. The class wrapped up, and we all felt good about successfully using our marketing tools. Marketing lesson accomplished.

After class, I asked the teacher what actually happened to the company. She replied that even though segment A was more profitable, the company went after segment B. The founders and investors all felt better about Segment B, so they decided to take the riskier option and drop A.

I joked to the professor, “Oh, so it really wasn’t a marketing case – it was an organizational behavior and change management case.”

With a smile, she quickly responded, “Every case is a change management case.”

Everything is a Change Management Problem

My teacher’s response has stuck with me. On one hand, it seems so obvious and something I already knew. On the other, it seems like a deep insight – words a wise, gray-haired sage would whisper from the shadows. Everything we try to do within our own team, across the company, or personally depends on changing current behavior. The hardest goals of all require us to change ourselves so that we can then change others.

Change Management in Supply Chain

When skilled change management leaders enter supply chain and operations, companies tend to do quite well. Toyota, for example, rose to prominence through its culture of embracing constant change toward improvement. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a systematic way to enact change on a recurring basis. Just as McDonald’s realized in the 1950s that their main product is a franchises rather than food, Toyota realized its product isn’t just cars but an improvement system.

As I’ve tried to make changes, I’ve looked to Toyota as an example. The temptation I’ve faced is to take Toyota’s tools and copy their processes completely. When changes weren’t implemented as quickly as I’d like (or not at all), I would get frustrated and wonder if Toyota’s tools really held the answer.

Eventually, I realized they don’t.

Toyota’s problem-solving tools work at Toyota because of its culture of embracing changes TPS suggests. Those tools are great if you’re in that type of environment, but most companies’ cultures are very different.

In fact, the actual tools, numbers, or improvements often become much less important than how you manage the proposed change.

The best ideas, implemented poorly, will always lose to decent ideas implemented well.

How to Change

So how do you effectively lead change? The right answer varies by situation and personal style. Here’s five suggestions to help you find what works for you.

(1) Remember the Primary Issue is Always Managing Change

No matter what type of problem you think you’re trying to solve, there is always a bigger question of “what will I do to get to enact this idea.” Figuring out the right segment to target is one thing, convincing the company that it’s the right thing to do is the real issue.

(2) Spend a Ton of Time Getting Buy-in

I’m an ‘act now, fix it later’ kind of guy. I’m constantly running experiments to improve processes. When I see an improvement, I jump on it and move forward. Why waste time with a less-efficient process? This is often a common mentality within groups of operationally minded people. It’s a skill that helps reduce costs and improve efficiency. But this can also be a weakness when working with others.

Change management often requires a much different approach. People take a lot of time to prepare of major changes. Communicating all the knowledge you’ve gained to the rest of your organization on why the change needs to happen is very challenging. Resistors, supporters, and bystanders emerge, and it takes a lot of work to convince others to change their behavior.

A common thread throughout change management literature is the time it takes to get buy-in. Getting buy-in from your own team of five may take a five-minute conversation, but an organization of just fifty people can take five months of meetings. Bigger companies can take five years. Investing in buy-in upfront can be a frustratingly slow change of pace, but it’s the best way to enact significant changes in larger organizations.

(3) Give Others Credit

If you really care about the change, don’t care about who gets credit. Make others look good, especially superiors, and you have a better chance of your mission moving forward. Even if you’re name is never mentioned, most people will recognize your role if you repeatedly bring others success.

(4) Show Leadership by Following

My favorite TED talk is only three minutes long, and it’s called How to Start a Movement. It shows how a lone dancer at a concert creates a movement to get everyone at the concert dancing. With that dancing movement happening in the background, Derek Sivers explains the characteristics the video exemplifies of how to make change happen.

It’s a fantastic video – take three minutes watch it here: TED Talk – Derek Sivers, How to Start a Movement

My favorite insight from the video is, “The first follower turns a lone nut into a leader.” There’s lots of people trying to enact changes. By becoming their first follower, you can make those changes happen. You can pick which “lone nut” to follow and pick which change succeeds.

(5) Read Switch

Finally, read my favorite business book:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

This book is simply fantastic in every way. It’s entertaining, easy to read, and the advice applies to changes of all types. Whether you want to change your personal diet, change how we address world hunger, or change your company’s procurement policies, Switch has real-life advice you can use right after you read each chapter. I can’t recommend this book enough.

If you’ve already read Switch, Decisive is an excellent follow-up about how to make better decisions.

 

As you tackle your problems this week, choosing between A and B, remember that the biggest issue is how you manage that change.

How Yelling at Your Employees Brings Better Results

How Yelling at Your Employees Brings Better ResultsLet’s pretend you manage Chuck. He’s a fairly good employee most of the time, but occasionally, he really messes up. Whenever this happens, you bring him into your office and yell at him for a bit. Chuck’s next assignment is much better. You’ve done your job as his manager. It’s not fun to yell at people, but someone has to do it.

Or do they?

Yes, it’s true – when Chuck does an unusually bad job, and you yell at him, his performance will almost always improve. What’s equally true, however, is that Chuck’s improvement has very little to do with your shouting. Instead, it has everything to do with random variation and statistics.

Being in supply chain and operations, I have a healthy respect for statistics. Much of the Toyota Production Systems (TPS), lean, Six Sigma, and quality improvement tools are a direct result of applying statistics and the scientific method to production. However, what I haven’t thought of much before is how those same principles of random variation apply to office coworkers just as much as to assembly lines.

What started me thinking about this was a great book I just finished called The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. In it, he tells the story of Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Mlodinow writes:

In the mid-1960s, Kahneman, then a junior psychology professor at Hebrew University, agreed to perform a rather unexciting chore: lecturing a group of Israeli air force flight instructors on the conventional wisdom of behavior modification and its application to the psychology of flight training. Kahneman drove home the point that rewarding positive behavior works but punishing mistakes does not. One of his students interrupted, voicing an opinion that would lead Kahneman to an epiphany and guide his research for decades.

“I’ve often praised people warmly for beautifully executed maneuvers, and the next time they always do worse,” the flight instructor said. “And I’ve screamed at people for badly executed maneuvers, and by and large the next time they improve. Don’t tell me that reward works and punishment doesn’t work. My experience contradicts it.”

What Kahneman realized, however, is that while the yelling preceded improvement, it did not cause the improvement.

The pilots in training were all slowly improving, but you wouldn’t be able to see that improvement from one maneuver to the next. Instead, their performance was a random variation around an average skill level that was rising over months. When one maneuver was unusually bad, it was just random variation. The same held true for the exceptionally good performances – random variation around the true average skill of the training pilots.

The name of this statistical principle is regressions toward the mean. Whenever an observed results is far from the average, the next result will likely be much closer toward the average. Observations tend to gather around the average in a bell shaped curve.

This principle is widely used in production quality. We calculate upper and lower control limits on a process and expect random variation to occur. It’s only after several repeated outlying events that we intervene and investigate. If processes are within their limits, we just leave them alone. Even if several measurements are below average, we have faith that the next measurements will be higher.

Process Control Chart

Realizing that this principle holds true with humans as well is powerful. All of us will have random good and bad performances simply as a result of random variation. The majority of our performance will regress toward our true average skill level without any outside influence.

So next time Chuck has an outlying bad performance, you could yell at him, and he’ll do better the next time.

You could also watch online cat videos together – the improvement will still occur.

Why not save your lungs some stress?

 

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