miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2015

Stop complaining...

There was a controversial video released by the Mexican Government. In the video the phrase Stop complaining appeared, and it was interpreted like the Government was telling the citizens to stop complaining about the different troubles that Mexico faces.
Mexico, as you may be aware, faces a big security crisis. Drug cartels continue to rule the country, Drug Lord Joaquín Guzman escaped from prison a few months ago and the economy isn´t going well. So it is no surprise that everybody has criticised how the government is performing. And when I say everybody, I mean, everybody. 
So, thinking about that, last week I heard an interesting coverage on the radio, about competitiveness. The story talked about how NAFTA was supposed to be the ticket for Mexico to go into the Major Leagues. "We are going to be in the first world" the Government said, but nobody told us that in order to do so, we needed to compete against the companies and the products from developed countries. The results, 30 years later, are that we haven´t been able to keep up. We lost the train and missed an incredible opportunity to learn and grow as a society. In the coverage, different examples were given, from Uber and how cab drivers have made demonstrations to put pressure on authorities to stop the fast growing pace Uber is taking, to how Walmart is taking over the market, and how small local marketplaces seem unable to compete with the giant. Most of the small, local companies in México have shut down operations, because they haven´t been able to compete with foreign products. Most recently we`re blaming China.

Where Does Lean fit?

This context reminds me to what every Lean authority explains. Lean is mostly about Respect for people. Allow the people to express themselves, to make suggestions, to allow them to apply those suggestions to improve the process, allow the people to experiment, allow them to learn and evolve and grow. 
By doing so, we will be engaging the people in a Continuous improvement cycle that will enable your company or organization to innovate, improve everyday, to become more efficient, safe, fair, organization and at the same time will have the processes to satisfy your customers and actually make money of it. But in order to achieve such ideal state, the employees must participate as well. Contributing with ideas, being open and expressing honestly what it´s going on within daily operations. Here, leaders must respond. After hearing carefully to the employees, leaders must take action. If a worker suggests a change in the process, the leaders must act quickly, reach a consensus and implement rapidly. Otherwise the worker who submitted a suggestion might think that this is only bullshit. And finally the trust is lost, if leaders do not respect, not only by listening, but actually by implementing as well. In this metaphor, this is exactly what the Government has failed to do. To respond to population demands, to reach consensus and of course have failed to rapidly implement. 
Exports of Crude Oil have slowdown in recent years. While
Imports from US have risen, closing the gap with Mexico. Source: EIA
How ever, citizens and society has failed to take a more active role too. I`m not talking about making a demonstration to demand the government to take action. I`m talking to be more competitive in our jobs, improve the way we live, the way we drive, and the way we act. Competitiveness is the greatest example. Uber is not going away because some cab drivers protest and demand the authorities to stop the company for growing and literally eat the market. Why instead, aren´t they trying to improve the service, security and cost? How much are we responsible for the problems our country is facing? and most important What can we do to revert this situation? In order to embark on a Continuous Improvement Cycle, it is required that leaders as well as workers commit themselves to try at least once. Leaders must commit to listen and to take action. Workers to collaborate, proposed and share their knowledge. Both need commitment to trust on each other. Trust, obviously, is something that needs to be build. But can be attainable if there´s will to accomplish a better future. For companies and for countries. 

Thanks for reading, would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment or share if you liked the post.

martes, 13 de octubre de 2015

What can a soccer game teach us about lean?

Last Saturday there was a soccer game between the national teams of United States and Mexico. They played for the opportunity to attend to the Confederations Cup, a tournament that usually takes place 1 year before the World Cup. Typically this tournament is played at the same country where the World Cup will be played and with the Champions from all of the confederations in the world. The Champion from South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Concacaf, which is where US and MX play.  This last game played on Saturday was won by Mexico, scoring a dying goal in the last minute to win 3 - 2 over the greatest rival in the zone. I`ve heard that this national team from US was`t playing at it´s best. Also heard criticism to the German trainer, and former Champion of the World, Jürgen Klinsmann since he hasn´t been able to surpass the success from previous managers that have trained US national Soccer Team. But, for me, being a mexican who enjoyed the game, and also liked the way our mexican team played, see, as a lean thinker (or at least trying to be one) many signs why Americans shouldn´t  worried about men´s National Team. 

System and Processes Standardization

US Soccer Federation relies on a system that has proven to be successful in other countries. Most teams in the MLS have a development area that scouts young players and develop their skills in order to prepare them for the teams in MLS. Other countries such as Argentina, have a similar system which has proven to be really successful to produce young players and talent. Currently Argentina´s National Team is the number 1 in the world, according to Fifa World Ranking. The Mexican league also exhibits different approach from the MLS. The teams in Mexico hire a lot of players coming from Southamerica. They don´t like to invest in youngsters. Costs too much and requires time. So, its easier to hire players from Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina or Brasil. Many of them come first to Mexico, hoping to have a good season and possibly sign for a better team in Europe or come back South. Here in Mexico it is very difficult for a young player to receive an opportunity and be able to play. Cause players from South america, usually receive all attention and in some cases must play to reimburse the investment. Even if they aren´t having a great performance. In lean terms we can say that the US Soccer federation focus on the customer vs a cost decision policy used by the Mexican Federation. The results are stunning: Since 2000 Mexico has won 6 games, 5 draws and 13 victories for the US. Clearly the system is delivering consistent results. Not only for victories but almost for the same score of 2-0. Despite the results Mexico still bets on variability hoping that history will help the players overcome the system implemented in US.

Long Term Thinking

Also the US federation promotes long term projects, which means that unless something really strange happens, will keep Jürgen Klinsmann leading the Soccer Team. If we review the quantity of managers the US National Team has had since 2000, we can see that only three different coaches have passed through that position. As we, lean thinkers have seen over the past years, stability is something desired. Since we can manage the processes better, as we know they are stable and results can be predicted. In Soccer long term projects often bring tremendous results. If you`re not familiar with Sir Alex Ferguson, recommend you to read The Official Manchester United Celebration of his career at Old Trafford.
Sir Alex, with Premier League and FA Cup. In 1999 he also
also won the Champions League.
This guy, managed to stayed with the Red Devils for 25 years, winning everything a manager in Europe could desire. The Mexican Football Federation has managed to have 6 different coaches in 5 years. It is impossible to establish a project with this variation introduced in the system. Mexico clearly do not have a system to select, support and maintain coaches. Mexican team success relies in great manner on players individual skills, rather than the system to sustain victories.


The US Federation seem to have a similar approach to the PDCA. If you review, specially the Bruce Arenas phase, clearly there was a Plan there. In fact, the Federation has said a few times that they want to win the World Cup & their plan started right after 1994.  That was the plan, they have Done some great work, the numbers are clear. They have executed the plan. Now they have more wins over Mexico and clearly US is the Team in the Area.  Currently they are in the Study phase. The Federation is analysing to take a decision. Wether or not get rid of Klinsman. But notice that have been 3 days since Saturday´s game. If Klinsman had been coaching Mexico, he would be unemployed by now. This clearly shows that the US Federation studies and takes decisions by consensus. Does that phrase ring the bell? Studying, analyzing that´s taking action too.
PDSA cycle.

Mexico on the other hand, do not have a plan. The Mexican federation do not know what works for us to win cups. They don´t understand why they loose, either. The proof that the Mexican Federation does`t have a plan, is that the coach who managed the national team on Saturday, is leaving, and the Mexican team will have a new coach this same week. Crazy right? He won the big game on Saturday, and yet he´s leaving. And yes we will have the 7th coach in 5 years.

Lean thinkers see waste in details. Details such as soccer. As we could see in this brief analysis, lean thinkers also tend to remain calm when everybody else worries. Maybe that`s why, while all the world wants Klinsman out, some how, he is still the manager. Is like when you look at a control chart. Analyze a little bit, and decide that you will not take action. Since the graph reveals that the process is in control and stable.
These are my reasons to believe that americans should´t worry so much about soccer and their current coach. Mexicans on the other hand, better enjoy this victory, cause I´m not sure it will be a nice road to Russia 2018.

As always, thanks for reading. Would love to read your thoughts. Don´t be shy and leave a comment.

miércoles, 7 de octubre de 2015

Is technology the only way to improve productivity?

We are living interesting times, at least in Mexico, these days. There is a discussion about the minimal wage and of course how much should this wage be. The goverment decided to fix the minimal wage through out the country. 70.10 pesos was the amount fixed (about 4 Usd per day), that will be used across the whole country. For those who don`t live in Mexico, should know that in the past, there were two economic zones with different minimal wages: zone A and B. Being A the zone where more economic activities are held and therefore the minimal wage was higher. México is one of the countries with the lowest wages in Latinamerica. Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Chile, and Argentina have a higher minimal wage. 
Mexico´s productivity compared to other developed
countries from 1991 - 2009Based on data from OCDE.
One of the key components, according to experts, to be able to increase the minimal wage is productivity. It is believed that the more productive the country, more wealth for the citizens. If you are interested about minimal wage this interesting paper from the OIT goes deeper on this topic. Going back to the productivity, the complain from the private sector was that increasing the minimal wage will go against the competitiveness. Some industrial sectors argue that an increase on this subject will hit the cost structures and will make the prices of goods and services go up. In the following analysis  done by CIDAC (Investigation Center for development) is clear that México is last when compared to countries such as South Korea, Ireland and Japan. The productivity of course is measured as production of goods (mainly) between resources used to produce those goods. The following article from CNN explains that in México, for example, an average worker, works 2237 hours a year, compared to a worker in Chile that only works 2015 hours a year.  So, we get the picture, we, mexicans aren't efficient, nor productive. So, how can we increase the minimal wage if we are not productive? Also in this article from CNN, there is a statement that I heard in the radio that almost made crush my car in the highway. An expert on productivity and economic development was saying that: 

We need Technology in order to be more productive, and for that, we need to invest more to be really competitive. 

In the article from CNN I found a similar statement that said:

When the company automates processes, is more likely to become more productive. how you do this? Through practical measures, such as helping the employee to understand what`s expected from them and training to be able to perform over and over again.

Ok, lets analyse both statements. The first one makes me angry. Technology isn't the only way to become more productive. I believe that technology works when actually solves a problem for you. Think about Taichi Ohno back in his days at Toyota factories. He didn´t have a cell phone, an app, or a computer. Yet he managed to create a great system to be more productive, respectful, and safe, A system that now, everybody talks about. Did he invest huge quantities of money to get the latest technology in order to be productive? No! as the Toyota Way states, Toyota only uses tested and reliable technology. And I should add, that actually solves a problem for them. 
Toyota is going back to Kaizen, for that they are trusting in people instead 
The following article talks about how Toyota is replacing robots with... Yes! you guessed. Humans! This obviously defies the statement that in order to be productive and efficient, you need the latest technology. As my manager used to say, back in my days at Ford. All automakers use the same robot´s brand, the same suppliers, similar tools, the design of cars is pretty much alike, and yet Toyota is the most profitable of all. This is because they know that the difference isn´t in the tool, but in the thinking and management behind the decision of acquire or reject that tool.
The second statement, well I partially agree. But I would say it differently. I think when you improve the processes to be more effective, safer and simpler, the company is more likely to be more productive, more competitive. Of course, engaging employees and explain them what´s expected from their job, explaining why is the job important is esencial to build ownership. Also training is required for the worker to perform in a stable standard way. But the key thing that will lead to innovation and a jump in the competitiveness of the company is the worker´s brain applied to continuously improve the methods, the processes, the way we work everyday. This is a lean basic. And that´s why lean has tremendous possibilities, specially in countries like México. Where changes are needed and Lean can be applied to the industry in a wide variety of ways. Unfortunately most of the leaders, "experts" and TV/Radio hosts believe, that the only way is Technology in the form of robots, software, programs, without considering if it´s really solving a problem. 
Also for the industrial sectors that state that increasing the minimal wage will make them less competitive, think twice. Think about products and companies that are highly profitable. Their products aren´t cheap at all, yet everybody wants an iPhone 6s, or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Eventhough doing coffee in your house is far cheap. This shows that taking care of your employees isn`t against profitability. If the company takes care of its employees, pays them well, allow them to grow, the company will grow even more as the employees will remember and notice when they are being treated with respect and kindness.

Please share your thoughts on this topic! Thanks for reading.