Planning the value-stream map event

Planning the value stream map event is critical for success, do not take shortcuts.

Lack of visibility and clarity are common mistakes while planning all kinds of events.  Most of the time, the reason is not enough time spent on planning.  Given that it is a strategic tool, planning the value stream map event is crucial for success.  For that reason, you should ensure to complete this step without shortcuts.  This is the second post from a series dedicated to VSM.

Aim to provide clarity while planning the value stream mapping event

Ensure clarity about what is the subject by stating the scope of the event.  Describe what triggers the process, where it starts, and where it finishes.  Also, think about regulations, policies, or critical procedures that cannot change.  Those are the limitations or boundaries that cannot be crossed or change during the exercise.  In addition, indicate the specific conditions for the process map.  Does the map is for one product or service or a family of products or services?  Are you mapping the process for new customers or existing customers?

Based on the objective of the event and the process itself, determine how you will measure success. What metrics will you use to measure progress?  Learn the process’s actual and forecasted volumes.  Furthermore, the types of tasks manual or automatics, machines, or technology used.  That information supports the mapping discussion where capacity, inventory volumes, and staff are conversation points.  Besides, you should gather relevant data to accelerate those conversations.

The VSM team for the event

During planning, you also choose your mapping team.  The team should be a multi-disciplinary group representing all the functions along the value stream.  Because the VSM is a high-level map for strategic purposes, team members are managers and above.  In other words, people who have the authority to approve changes, assign resources and change current strategies.  To facilitate effectiveness, limit the number of team members to 5-10 people.

The focus of the preparation stage is to get clarity and information.  However, that is not the only objective.  Like with any kaizen event, you need to communicate its purpose.  Gaining support from leadership before the event starts is convenient for success.  For that reason, ensure that all leaders know what you want to accomplish and why.

The facilitator must ensure that all team members have a basic understanding of value stream mapping. Also, they need to know the basics of lean manufacturing principles.  For instance, knowing what waste is, is critical to achieving the mapping objective.  If there is a knowledge gap, then it should be closed before the event.

There is more regarding the planning the value stream map event

Another activity for this stage is to determine who is the owner or champion of the value stream.  That is the person accountable for the performance of the value stream that is the subject of the mapping activity.

Other planning actions are choosing the date(s) of the event and location.  For instance, to ensure that all necessary equipment and materials are available.  In addition, to coordinate break times and snacks or lunch. 

Once the plan is complete, it is time to share it with the event sponsor and the champion.  If all agree, the next step is the event itself.  In part 3 of this series, we will address the first step of the value stream mapping event, draw, and understand the current state.

What are the steps to create a value stream map?

Value stream mapping is a high-level tool where we can see the process from request to delivery.  It is used to create strategy.

Value Stream Map (VSM) is a high-level tool used by leadership for strategic planning. It represents the flow of material and information through the value stream. It is a tool that allows you to see waste.  In addition, you can create your plan to eliminate it.  However, this is not a one-person tool.  For best results, organize a kaizen event to create the value stream map with a multi-disciplinary team.

Things to do prior to create a value stream map 

Like any other kaizen event or improvement activity, planning is critical for success.  During the planning stage, the facilitator will guide the team to prepare for the VSM event.  The preparation includes details such as team composition, scope, and limitations.  

Steps to create the value stream map

At the kaizen event, the team must complete three critical steps.

  1. Draw and understand the current state map.
  2. Design and draw the future state map.
  3. Develop the plan to arrive at the future state.

Understand what you want to accomplish before start drawing

What is the motivation or reason for wanting to do a value stream map?  Do you want to understand how the organization works from order requests to product or service delivery?  Or is there a need to learn how to serve your customers better?  The objective of the event must be clear before executing the planning phase.  

Knowing what you want to learn from the VSM facilitates the process of forming the team.  You want to have a cross-functional team of managers and decision-makers from all the areas that cover the process under study.  Remember, this process map is a high-level study of the process; the purpose is to make tactical decisions.

Planning is so crucial that I will dedicate an entire post to talk about it in detail.  More posts will follow with the different steps of the value stream mapping process.

How to promote innovation, a must-know for leaders.

Leaders must know to promote innovation and the attitude to never stop exploring, learning, and growing.

Innovation is crucial for the success of any organization.  Finding out-of-the-box ways to improve the operation or satisfied your customers can give you a competitive edge over your competitors. Innovation can produce a new product or service.  It can also help you to empower your team.  Regardless of the purpose, creative thinking is a must.  Given the competition out there, leaders need to know how to promote innovation as part of the daily processes.

To promote innovation, develop your team’s skills.

To empower the team, leaders need to ensure they have what they need.  How do they know what skills to develop?  Some skills, like problem-solving or data visualization, are easy to recognize, but others are not.  If you are not sure, go to the best source for this information.  Ask your team member what do they need for success?  What skills or knowledge do they like to develop?  Then, evaluate if the request is reasonable or worth the resources. Finally, approve the request or work with them to find a solution that fits their needs and aligns with the company goals.

Create a safe place to learn.

One of the rules for a kaizen event is to create a safe place to learn, voice ideas, and test their hypothesis.  A safe environment is fundamental for a learning experience.  Employees are more likely to engage in the problem-solving or creative process when they feel safe.  Creating such a place is one-way servant leaders show that they care about their team. The absence of fear of losing their job or retaliation is critical for innovation.  

Even when there is no fear of losing their job, exposing themselves to failure is a deterrent.  Although in continuous improvement, you win or you learn, it feels like a failure if you don’t get what you expected. To change that, leaders will need to step up and model the expected behavior.  

Promote innovation modeling the expected behaviors.

They can model them in two different ways.  First, they can show how to react when they face failure.  Great leaders do not hesitate to show their vulnerabilities.  Leaders make mistakes like everybody else.  When people see the boss has fears or insecurities about following his ideas but do it anyway, they feel good.  It is that aha moment when they realize that their boss is human and feels fear like they do.  

The second way to model correct behavior is by demonstrating the expected reaction when things turn out differently than expected.  During those times, it is normal to feel defeated or upset.  However, it is the reaction to that feeling what counts.  Instead of roaming your sadness or anger, good leaders show their team that it is ok not to win all the time.  Ask your team how they feel and let them vent their emotions.  

After that moment of relief, reset the mindset by showing them how to reflect on the lessons learned. With those learning on hand, adjust the plan and test it.  Moreover, show them to never stop exploring, learning, and growing!  

Ask without telling, the art of asking questions

To make good questions and help your team to develop their problem-solving skills, you need to know how to ask without telling.

One thing that everybody does every day is asking questions.  We ask questions to learn, clarify doubts, or obtain information.  As a leader, you ask questions to learn about a situation.  Also, you make questions to guide your team on their learning process.  However, are you asking or disguising your solutions as questions?  To promote a learning environment, leaders need to ask without telling.

Sometimes a leader needs to tell

Leaders have the responsibility to communicate, set direction, and provide a purpose.  To accomplish them, they tell information and share news or concerns with their team.  Moreover, there are times when they need to set direction.  Sometimes, there is a need to change a strategy or adjust a plan.  When that happens, the leader tells the group what the change is and why it is needed.  Also, how it will affect them and the new expectations.  During these situations, telling is the right thing to do.

Another responsibility of leadership is to teach and coach their team.   The objective is to transfer knowledge and create capabilities.  While facilitating the learning process, leaders tell new information.

Finally, sometimes leaders need to advise people.  It is common to share previous experiences or tell a story to illustrate a point.  If that is the case, say what you are trying to do, do not hide it behind questions.  The best leaders are humble and compassionate.  There is nothing wrong with showing your humanity by using past experiences to illustrate a point.

Why do you need to ask without telling?

A servant leader’s job is to develop more leaders by teaching, motivating, facilitating, and supporting the team.  By asking questions without telling, they promote learning.  Also, their team’s confidence in their ability to solve problems and create more value grows.  As their confidence grows, their participation in the improvement process grows as well. 

A critical step to change the culture is to empower the people.  While asking questions with respect, leaders guide them to find answers by themselves.  By allowing people to use their brains and participate in the daily management processes and innovation, they feel more engaged with their work and happier when they come back home.  

How can you ask without telling?  How to ask better questions?

When you ask questions that people can answer with a simple yes or no, they don’t put too much effort. Closed questions do not lead to engagement or promote thinking.  When you don’t receive answers, the next thing you do is telling people what to do.  On the other hand, with open questions, people need to think.  Use the 5W and 1H to ask questions.  That is, reframe your questions using who, what, where, when, why, and how.

To keep the brain’s wheels turning, ask one question at a time and give people time to think.  In general, we are not comfortable with silence.  Therefore, right after asking something, people jump to tell their answer.  To be successful in asking without telling, you will need to become comfortable with silence.

Sometimes it is easier to ask closed questions.  Therefore, you would need to stop and think about how to reframe it as an open question.  There are two questions that I used often.  The first one is, what makes you think that way? or ” What do you think we can do differently?”  The second question I often used is, “How do you think we can accomplish that? 

Ask without telling that is what we should do.

Contrary to common perception, leaders are not supposed to have all the answers.  However, very often, they have ideas or solutions to share with the team.  During those times, tell the group that you want to share something with them.  You can always tell people, here is a suggestion and then ask how they can improve it.  Do not hide answers using questions.  Let people think, promote learning and problem-solving skills.

By telling, leadership is not fulfilling their responsibility of teaching and coaching.  Once again, this is a stop-and-think situation.  Think about your idea, do you have any doubts about it?  What parts of it need fine-tuning?  Use your doubts or unknown parts to ask open questions.

A continuous improvement culture seeks to foster a learning environment.  Servant leaders teach, motivate, facilitate, and support their teams.  Show them that you care by helping them to develop their skills and grow.  Learning how to ask questions without telling is a way to achieve that.

Effective meetings, how to have them?

Effective meetings are a necessary evil.  They are fundamental for the growth of any business.

Meetings, everybody needs them, and at the same time hates them.  They have the potential to be a powerful part of any growth, innovation, or improvement strategy.  However, many times they turn into a waste of time.  Moreover, many times they are the reason why people allegedly have no time for other meaningful things.  As a leader, what can you do to ensure your business or organization have effective meetings?

Causes for ineffective meetings

Before discussing what to do to have productive meetings, let’s start with the common causes for ineffective meetings.  One thing that bothers most of us is not knowing the motive or objective of a gathering.  Lack of clarity regarding the purpose can lead to decline or not take it seriously.  For the organizer, the lack of a plan or objective leads to inviting the wrong people.  Maybe they will end with people that don’t need to be there.

Another cause for unproductive meetings is when participants arrive unprepared.  Preparation includes reading the objectives, search for backup information, read related reports, and others.  Lack of preparation leads to a repetition loop where players talked non-sense or repeat the same things discussed during the previous meeting.  Not being prepare also causes inefficient time management. Moreover, distractions, interruptions, and off-topic conversations cause lost time.  

There is no point in having a meeting without a record of the topics discussed.  Notes of the issues reviewed, ideas and opinions, action items, and decisions are critical for effectiveness.  Follow-up the progress on the action items and decisions enforcement is easier when there is a record.  It also eliminates different opinions or recalls about what happened.

Effective meetings require preparation

A productive meeting starts with the planning.  The first step is to define the objective of the meeting.  What do you want to accomplish with the reunion?  From there, you can decide what topics need discussion, how much time, and who should be there.  Avoid too many complicated subjects for one meeting.  Consider splitting the themes in more than one gathering if necessary.  

Second, prepare the agenda and list possible sources of information to facilitate preparation.  Third, separate a room big enough to accommodate the people you will invite.  If possible, avoid conference rooms close to areas with too much noise.  Also, ensure to have available all the tools or equipment that you will need.  

The fourth step is to send the meeting invitation.  Along with the invitation, explain the purpose of the meeting.  Also, send the agenda, scope, outcome expectations, and sources of information.  With this information, participants can prepare for the meeting.  Preparation will facilitate effective participation and better time management.  Communicate the rules for the reunion as part of the invitation email.  For instance, request to turn off mobile phones and refrain from using laptops or tables during the meeting.

To run effective meetings, leaders do the following.

  • Complete the adequate meeting preparation (objective, scope, agenda, and others).
  • Set clear expectations by opening the meeting summarizing the scope, purpose, and desired outcome. 
  • Continue the meeting discussing the points of the program.
  • Ensure that everybody on the table has a voice, promote participation.
  • Always take notes or have a designated secretary.
  • Respect the allotted time for the meeting by managing the time for each topic. 
  • At the end of the meeting summarize the outcome, decisions, and action plans.
  • After the reunion, send the minutes along with action items.  Ensure to include what, who, and due dates.
  • Set up time on your calendar for follow-up.

Meetings are a necessary evil to run a business.  However, they don’t need to be a waste of time.  A well-run meeting is fundamental for the growth and process improvement of any business.   Effective meetings are possible with proper planning, conduction, and follow-up.   

How do you sell the need for continuous improvement?

Know what matter to your team before you start to sell the need for continuous improvement.

This week I was facilitating a workshop for a group of team leaders and supervisors.  The subject was managing and sustaining 5S.  I asked what their biggest concern is to implement and sustain 5S.  Close to 70% of them answer that selling the need for it.  How do you sell the need for continuous improvement?  How do you get your team to buy in to lean? 

Using benefits to sell the need for continuous improvement

The answer of the workshop participants did not surprise me. My experience tells me that they were right on the money. For a long time, I struggle to get the buy-in of the team. It took me years before I realize what I was doing wrong.

During the launching phase, I talked about the benefits of continuous improvement. For example, for a 5S implementation, I mentioned things like better organization, increased productivity, cleaner machines, and no search for tools. But I failed to tell people what was vital for them.

People respond to what matters to them

Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that who we are is an inherent part of everything we do. Our beliefs, values, and life purpose are at the front and center of all our decisions. Even when we don’t realize that we are doing it, those things guide ours thought process.

Talking about how continuous improvement or 5S will benefit the company will not gain their buy-in. Your team needs to know what is in there for them. We would gain their support when they see how this new initiative connects with their needs and who they are. It is our job to find that connection and communicate it to them. To know that, we have to answer a few questions.

  • What are the most important things for them? – family, community, personal values
  • What higher purpose they pursue? – fighting climate change, curing cancer
  • Their personal goals – professional and personal
  • How do the team feel about their work?  – content, frustrated

Answer their questions and concerns to sell the need for CI  

Every proposed change will encounter resistance or hesitancy. None of those changes will be sustainable unless the team understands and support them. This statement is true for continuous improvement, 5S, or anything else. Job security gained through increased profits or better customer service is a great selling point. However, maybe it is not connected to their values or emotional needs.

To sell the need to change, you need to understand their goals and what they value. When the team sees the relationship between what matters to them and your proposal, buy-in and sustainability have better chances. Ensure that your communication plan highlights that relationship. Also, answer any other questions and concerns they may have before they voice them.  

Facilitators, their role in a kaizen event

A kaizen facilitator has various tasks to complete, for example keep the team focus, engaged, and energized.

Various roles are critical for a successful continuous improvement event. One of those roles is the event facilitator.  He or she is responsible for leading the event, but that is not the only responsibility.  

What are the responsibilities of the facilitator?

Most of the time, the facilitator is also the kaizen or continuous improvement event planner.  As an event planner, they organize and prepare all the activities related to the event.  For instance, the facilitator works with the event leaders to establish the scope of the event and develop the charter.  Also, they identify and gather resources and materials while keeping everything under budget.  

During the event, the facilitator has a couple of responsibilities that can make or break the activity.  A CI event requires a good coach that guides the team by asking questions.  Through these questions, he or she helps the team to see and approach problems using lean thinking.  In other words, participants learn lean thinking by doing it.  

While executing the different steps of the event, the use of CI tools is common.  Because not all team members know those tools, they learned them from the teacher or facilitator.  This means that during the event, they develop team skills.  

Keep the team motivated

Unfortunately, not everything always goes as planned.  Sometimes, participants do not show interest or lose focus during the event.  When that happens, it is time to put on a different hat.  This time the facilitator will act as a motivator and cheerleader.  Accepting change is never easy.  Therefore, people need to understand the purpose of the event.  Furthermore, why they are participating in the event and what is in there for them.

Even when event participants know those things, keeping them motivated and engage in the activities is a tall order.  A good facilitator will take time to learn about their audience before the action starts. Knowing ahead how they learn better and their learning type will go a long way to keep them motivated.

Some parts of a continuous improvement or kaizen event can be bored.  Not everybody enjoys sitting in a room for hours or analyze information.  The facilitator needs to work hard to keep those individuals engaged and energized.  A way to do this is to acknowledge those challenges and the accomplishment of milestones during the activity.  Celebrate those accomplishments as all small wins.  Keep the audience active by incorporating exercises and having them assisting you in some parts.  For example, participants can help as scribers.

Facilitators also manage conflict

Another situation that is inevitable when we are dealing with change is conflict.  Some people will be more open than others to accept change or participate in activities that lead to change the status quo. Those groups may disagree on the causes or solutions.  When that happens, the facilitator acts as a mediator to help those groups to reach a consensus.  

There are a few other things that can cause some trouble.  For instance, when technology fails, it must pivot and adjust the training to the new circumstances.  The same happens when the original training plan is not working.

Help the team succeed is the most important job of the facilitator

The event facilitator’s most important job is to help the team succeed.  Teaching and coaching while focusing on the kaizen’s objective is a critical part of that job.  Also, to remove any obstacles to learning and keep the group energized.  Motivate and show respect by focusing your attention on whoever is sharing an idea or commenting on a subject.  Celebrate small wins and praise teamwork and collaboration.  In other words, create a positive and safe environment that invites people to participate and be the best they can be!

How do you overcome resistance?

Every transformation effort will face resistance.  An effective plan can help to overcome most of it.

Every transformation effort will hit the resistance wall sooner or later.  In general, in the beginning, your team will be divided following the 20/60/20 rule.  The rule states that approximately 20% will be happy to participate, 60% will watch from distance, and another 20% will resist the change.  

How to handle resistance with each group

Those who are happy to participate, or at least try, are your golden group.  They can help to spread the enthusiasm.  The resistance group will actively work as roadblocks.  They will oppose every idea and maybe even try to convince people to stop or delay progress.  

Focus your efforts on the 60% group.  With the right transformation plan, you can influence this group and have them participating in the transformation.  Treat the first group as your advocates and helpers.  With the participation of these two groups, things will start to get traction.  Eventually, they will convince most of the resistance group.  

Use the transformation plan to overcome resistance

While there are no magic bullets, an effective plan will help address some situations that cause resistance.  For example, explain what will change, the reason for the change, and how it will happen.  

A critical part of the transformation is the communication plan.  Think who, when, and how to break the news.  Start saying why the culture needs to change.  Explain the reason to invest time and resources into a conversion of the company mindsets and methods.  Be open and honest about those reasons. Also, be transparent about the challenges ahead.  Moreover, explain in detail what the goal is, what do you want to achieve.  In other words, try to answer all the possible questions before they become a source of resistance.

Build your plan around the team needs

Your team is the most critical resource in the journey from traditional to continuous improvement. Assess the gaps between the skills and knowledge your team need and currently has.  Talk about education and training.  For instance, cite examples of training needs and how you will close the gap.

Changes are stressful, remove a bit of anxiety by presenting the big picture, a high-level view of the roadmap to success.  Present how success looks like, what the expectations are.  Monitor the execution of each step of the plan and report back to the team how things are going.  Be honest about what is working and what is not.  Reflect with the group about lessons learned and celebrate together every win regardless of how big or small.

Your people are the heart of your business, the most valuable asset.  When you take care of them, they take care of your customers.  Keep the focus on providing them all the support and guidance they need throughout the transformation.  Listening to their concerns and act upon those things that you can improve is critical for a successful transformation.

Good communicators listen, are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener?

Continuous improvement and lean need effective communication for its success.  Lean is a people-centric system, which means that the way you treat and communicate with people is critical for success.  Therefore, for a successful continuous improvement journey, you need to be a good communicator.  One of the characteristics of good communicators is that they listen.  Are you a good listener?

When you go out to the office, shop floor, or construction site, AKA gemba, you ask questions to understand what is happening.  However, you can ask good questions, but if you don’t listen, you are missing the point of visiting gemba.

What is a good listener?

Many people believe that being a good listener is let the other person talk without interruptions. Furthermore, nod or repeat a few words.  It is a common belief that a good listener repeats a few words to confirm that you understand.  But a good listener does more than that.

Continuous improvement fosters an environment of learning and discovery.  Asking the right questions helps to promote curiosity and observation.  Leaders are expected to teach and guide their team through questions.  Good communicators are thoughtful about the questions they ask.  The purpose is to understand and help the speaker to gain a deeper understanding of the situation.  In addition, you want to guide them to uncover more details.  For example, think about the priorities or benefits versus risks. 

A good listener uses active listening

Active listening occurs when you suppress the need to dominate the conversation or provide ways to solve problems.  Instead, you listen and focus on the speaker.  Be empathic with the other person.  Notice the speaker’s body language, tone, and emotions while it speaks.  Recognize the implication of the words by understanding how he/she feels.  

Create a safe environment to have an honest conversation.  Listen with curiosity and ask questions to understand.  Also, watch your body language.  For instance, maintain eye contact and use appropriate gestures.  Show respect by keeping your whole attention on the speaker. 

But there is more to it than listening and asking questions

In addition to asking questions, there is something more a good listener does.  A conversation is an exchange of ideas.  Clarify your doubts and restate their thought to confirm that you understand.  Provide feedback to keep the conservation going.  However, resist the urge to tell what to do.  Build upon the speaker’s ideas, help them to build their self-esteem. Answer their questions honestly and clarify their doubts.

Listening and cultural transformation

Effective communication at every stage of cultural transformation is crucial.  People need to know what, why, how, when, and who.  During the process, leadership work to facilitate the team’s work and develop their skills.  To increase their engagement, daily Gemba walks supported with effective communication are key.  

The team needs to know what the problem is and what you want to accomplish with a continuous improvement strategy.  Moreover, leadership needs to listen to what the team has to say.  If you don’t practice active listening and do something upon the subject of that conversation, the transformation will be broken.

Keep it simple! Processes, training, everything.

keep it simple! Simple procedures and communication is easier to understand and follow.

A company culture transformation is an undertaking.  You will attempt to break with old habits and mental models.  Also, you will introduce new ones.  For that reason, you and your leadership team will make many decisions regarding what to do and how to do it.  Later, there will be a lot of communication, skills development, training, and new standards.  While teaching new behaviors, mental models, and ways to do things, keep it simple.

For a successful transformation, keep it simple

Along the transformation journey, you and your team will have countless communication efforts. That communication will happen in different scenarios and formats.  In other words, individual or group settings, in writing or verbal.  Also, you will write new policies, standards, work instructions, and others.  The purpose of the communication or procedures and other details needs to clear.  Keep the receiver or user in mind while deciding the language, design, or communication structure.  Moreover, it needs to be simple, easy to understand and execute.

If you can’t explain it simply, take a step back.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Albert Einstein

Any continuous improvement activity starts with gaining an understanding of the current situation. The cultural transformation begins with a similar process, understanding the present culture.  The knowledge gain during this step helps to design the best way to share with the team the intention to change.

Why do you want to engage in the transformation process?  Why you propose to use continuous improvement?  What are the steps?  A long and hard thinking process is required to answer these questions in a simple way.  Refine your thoughts, do not use too many words, do not overthink.  Be honest and talk from your heart without fancy words or excuses, just the truth.

You are not ready to communicate this idea until you can say it in simple words.  

Keep it simple, all of the processes, language, structures, and formats.

Simple language is easier for the reader or receiver.  For instance, try to avoid the use of technical words unless it is necessary.  The same rule goes for industry jargon.  For example, in continuous improvement, we use many Japanese terms like kaizen.  Depending on the current culture, you should use generally accepted American words as a substitute.  In our previous example, you can use continuous improvement or rapid improvement events instead of kaizen.

While teaching new tools, use simple structures.  Further, give examples of things related to their work.  Things are complicated enough as it is, keep it simple.  Processes that are easy to understand have more probability of sustainability.  It is much easier to execute simple instructions than complicated words.  

Summary

Trying to explain something complex is often a humbling experience.  It makes you realize how much you don’t know.  Therefore, it forces you to break the subject into smaller pieces and understand each one of them.  When you think you know the process well enough, try to explain it with simple words. Would your five years old self understand?  If the answer is no, then keep refining your thoughts, keep improving your pitch.  

Simplicity avoids confusion, and processes are easier to execute consistently.  Don’t complicate it, keep it simple.