sábado, 31 de diciembre de 2016

Listen to the Voice of the customer! Please!

I have been luckily exposed over the past years, to concepts such as voice of the customer, critical to quality, customer first and so on. 
All strive to the need and importance of capture what the customer wants, in order to be able to deliver it to retain the customer and build loyalty over time. 
Listening to the voice of the customer is not an easy task. Sometimes we need to traduce the voice of the customer into requirements/characteristics a product or a service must comply. Some other times, we may need to translate those characteristics into specifications for the product or service, that will dictate how the process should perform. And sometimes, finally we also need to define the settings of our process, to ensure the process always performs within specifications, that eventually will meet the characteristics and/or requirements that the customer wants. Being the settings all rules, procedures, instructions, tools that will prevent the process from shifting away from the expected performance. 

This is more less the idea:

The hard part is to translate and capture the voice of the customer to succesfully bring it to your organization and deliver consistently what the customer expects.

There are different methods to capture this, such as surveys, face to face interviews, trends analysis and so on.  This post is not about those techniques, but to outline the importance of correctly capture what the customer wants. 

This came to me as a post, from Christmas. My 2 years old son, wanted a car for Christmas. So, as the tradition in Mexico requires, he and her sister wrote the letters to Santa and left them waiting at our Christmas tree (yes, Waste of Wating is present even in Christmas). So as we were getting close to December 24th, ran to get all the gifts and presents for the holidays, and got a small car, of about 1 feet long, pretty cool. So Imagine that my son would be very, very happy with it. 

To my surprise, my wife took him to visit some friends, and for some reason they ended up going to a Walmart, where my son saw a big massive electrical and expensive car. Those where the kid can actually get in the car and "drive".  Of course he said, "Thats the one I want, the one I asked Santa to bring me for Christmas".  

Of course my wife told me his terrified, since she knew that we already got all the presents. Luckly there was couple of days left and was able to find the right one. 

In the end everything ended up being just right. But this small - huuuge mistake could have brought the holiday down. 

Imagine that instead of my son, that would have been a customer! The expectations and requirements definitely wouldn't´t have been accomplished.  

Has something similar ever happened to you? If so, please share with me, I´d love to read your Christmas or business story. 

And of course, Happy New Year!

domingo, 25 de diciembre de 2016

True Crime meets Lean.

Its holiday, and I really hope you had a great time this Christmas. I hope Santa brought all your gifts and really hope that companies, as well the economy in general will get better for everybody in the world. 
Tonight I want to talk about podcasts. I´m kind of addicted to podcasts. I have been subscribed to Gemba Academy and Mark Graban´s podcasts for a while now. They are really great, so if you haven´t listen to them, I urge you to do it. You will get insights related to Lean and different other topics, such as Customer Service, leadership, continuous improvement and one of the most important, that I have been able to know other authors, speakers and leaders who work everyday to spread the knowledge and principles around Lean, and also to correct the misconceptions around it.  
Podcast: a program (such as a music or news program) that is like
radio  or television show but that is downloaded over the Internet.

Thanks to that and that I read the New Yorker, I came across with Serial. The famous podcast that during its first season, told the story of Adnan Syed, who was charged on the murder of his ex-girlfriend and locked for the last 17 years. The people who know me on a personal level, knows that I am true crime fan. And also a fan of series. So if you haven´t heard it, and you like the topic, listen to it. It is very good and the quality on the production is something that deserves a try. This is relevant because I found, recently a new podcast; Accused.  This podcast, in the tradition of Serial, tells the story of Elizabeth Andes, who´s case remains unsolved. Well at least that is what the journalist Amber Hunt says about this case. Elevator speech is; Elizabeth Andes was murdered, the police charged the boyfriend as the killer, but two different juries found him not guilty and he walked.
Accused: Podcast about the Elizabeth Andes case. A jumping to
conclusions case that has remained unsolved for 37 years.
So, what do this horrible story has to do with Lean? A lot in my opinion. Police was convinced the boyfriend was guilty, they even got a confession, but still, the boyfriend walked away. In the podcast, the Cincinatti Enquirer digs deep to try to know the truth. And what is noticeable is that despite the amount of evidence, the many suspects that weren´t investigated, the Police is still convinced that they charged the right guy, but they say that:

The justice system, just didn't work. 

This is the main reason why the police hasn't investigated further, and why this case is still unsolved and open, even though the police says they had the right guy. Through the episodes, is clear that police didn't like the fact that someone suggests that they may have Accused the wrong guy. Over and over we hear that they got the right guy, they don´t believe anybody else did it. And made me reflect why it is so hard for humans to accept the possibility of making an error. 

Basically  this story, is about jumping to conclusions before making a proper analysis: the result is that the case has remained unsolved for 37 years. Does that sound familiar? Jumping right away to conclusions? Pointing fingers to someone who was later determined to be innocent? This is very similar to business. I realize that we don´t like to be told that we committed a mistake. I believe it is because we have been taught that being wrong is bad. That we should avoid being wrong and that too often being wrong may bring undesired consequences. We are, basically taught to fear making mistakes. Being wrong is in fact, one of the best ways to learn and develop skills such as resilience, discipline and careful observation. PDSA is  based on trying different solutions, and observe the effect those solutions have on a given problem. Learning from each experiment and re-think the approach to the problem, until the issue is either solve or the solution is improved. Toyota kata are a series of routines that allow controlled experiments to be conducted in order to solver a situation or specific problem and, learn from them. So basically, encouraging, in a controlled way, failure and learning about our the plan, what´s preventing from achieving the results, and what to do next. Which I find powerful, because in the end, we are learning more from the situation we try to modify. 
Toyota Kata Process.
Source: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrother/Materials_to_Download.html

I think that´s why  babies do a lot of disasters. They throw things, paint walls, and basically create a big mess every time they can. Through this experiments, they learn, and absorb knowledge about the world and the situations around them. If this is a natural manner to learn? Why isn´t failure encouraged? Why taught kids that failing is wrong? Of course, nobody wants to fail. However, if we fail in a controlled way, is actually something really good. Just ask Toyota. 

I guess changing our beliefs, and the things we have been taught since kids, isn´t easy. But we must start at some point. And recognizing that we may have made a mistake, is a very good start. And of course, take actions to either confirm our mistake and take a new route, or be sure that we did it right the first time. In both cases great learning can be found. What have we done correctly to achieve the desired result? and of course, What have we done incorrectly and what needs to be done now in order to achieve the desired results? 

Of course, to do this, we require methods and systems that allow experimentation on a continuous basis. But also, experiment without harming our customers. Here is when Lean can help to create those systems. And at the same time, change the way failure and mistakes are perceived.  It may not be easy, but sure can be done. Probably in the case described in Accused, may not be right away, but  I´m confident that new techniques, technologies and methods will help to bring light to the situation soon. In the mean time, Lean thinkers should take lessons learned, reflect, and at the same time hear our podcasts this holidays. 

Hopefully this new year, won´t commit the same mistakes we did last year. I truly hope that this 2017 would be a better year for all!

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. I would love to read your thoughts about this topic. Please leave a comment and read you next time. 

sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2016

Engagement and the extrinsic motivation in daily job.

Good day. I haven´t been very active lately, due to many things I have been doing this past weeks. But I promised to myself that I will be more active, so I can share experiences and some Lean & Six Sigma templates for free. So if you are interested on using them, you could actually save some time while surfing the net and go straight to that section and download the template. I know that is hard to find the right tool and template to use it for an specific situation. So, If you are interested on this, stay tunned and soon will start uploading interesting tools and templates for you to experiment, have fun and learn.

Now, this week I wanna talk to you about an important topic that seem to be simple. But that actually is not. Many organizations do not know how to maintain engaged, motivated, happy to people in their headcount. Very often, organizations believe that conducting annual surveys on engagement will actually help to understand, and identify the gaps that need to be filled to increase engagement. And too often, that is far from being the solution. Although, an annual survey is a good start, I truly believe engagement happens on a daily basis. Every small activities we do every day, have a massive impact on motivation and engagement.

This comes to the table due to the fact that I heard some days ago, someone talking about attrition or (Labor turnover as it is also known) in the US. Remember that I´m located in Mexico City, but very often, have contact with colleagues in the US. This person, was referring to the low attrition we have in Mexico City and saying that basically in Indianapolis, where he is located, is very hard to maintain a very low Labor Turnover rate. The explanation he was giving is because his facility was located next to other facilites that actually were inside different industries. But mainly because if you looked for a job, you could find it, eventhough the salary would be almost the same. Sometimes workers left because they were offered 50 cents or even 1 more dollar. So basically he was complaining because, according to him, employment was good in the region and If a job didn´t like you, basically could find another without much trouble.

A few stats.

So, first I decided to look a little bit to see if that was right. If the unemployment rates where low in Indiana. Googling found that the department of labor in the US have a very cool table with statistics about divided by states. And you can actually see the actual rate, and the historical high and low. To grasp an idea of the variation on the process.  It is in fact true that there is low un employment in that zone.
Fig 1. Unemployment Rate by state.  Source: Department of Labor US

Fig. 2 Unemployment Rate by state. Actual, max & min.
However, if we look at the histogram we can see clearly that Indiana is no better than the rest of the country, is about the mean. Also the Histogram on employment rate, shows that Indiana performance is around the mean.
Fig. 3 Unemployment rate by State - Histogram
Source: Department of Labor US

Fig. 4 Hire rates US Oct 2016.
Source: Department of Labor US.

The run charts show however that Indiana is getting better compared to previous years. But even though things are getting better in recent years, looks like Indiana is no different to other states.

Fig. 4 Employment - Unemployment Yearly Evolution
Source: Department of Labor US.

Fig. 5 Unemployment Rate Yearly Evolution
Source: Department of Labor Us.
But it is true that as employment rates is getting better and unemployment is getting also lower, that combination might suggest that  this guy has a point. Probably isn´t a problem specific to Indiana, but to the whole country. Remember that I live in Mexico and tried to use data to validate and get a conclusion on this subject. So if this in fact is getting worse or better,  What can this facility do to solve this problem?

A lean approach to this problem.

Engagement is a people´s problem. There is no surprise to find that some people will eventually loose stamina on the long road if they find no motivation, but to get a pay check every month. I have heard that having a job, and getting a paycheck every month should be enough. I have heard that should be enough motivation to get up every morning and go to work. How ever, we know is not that easy. Even though we should be thankful for having a job, it´s almost natural to loose interest, stamina or motivation if we only have extrinsic motivation to do things. 
In this case it is very important to distinguish extrinsic from intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the kind of reward or recognition a worker gets in the form of gifts, bonuses, awards, etc. A raise is also a motivation of this kind.
So, what´s wrong about it? everybody wants a raise right? While might be good and even necessary and healthy to get raises, bonuses, awards or so, the problem is that the effect don´t last long. The excitement and energy that strives from this kind of awards tends to fade on the long road. The reason is that our brain and mind gets used to it. It adapts to the changes we have in our lifes and soon, will accept this new income or raise as something natural. Something normal. And eventually will go back to the old state of low motivation to perform. That´s how we are designed. It is completely normal and is good for businesses that now we know about it. 

So, what shall we do about it? Accept it and move on? Live with a high attrition rate in our businesses? NO. There is something we can do about it. Daniel Pink, Best selling author of Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us claims that there are 3 things we can do to drive Intrinsic motivation, the kind of motivation that lasts longer. The first is autonomy. Grant autonomy to our workers. Let them decide what´s the better way to do their work. What ideas can they bring in order to improve? How can they work with management together and improve/solve problems at their jobs? Involving workers in daily problems is a good start. Is even better to involve some of them in solving bigger problems the organization is facing. Two key things must be considered here. First not all the people want´s or believes that needs autonomy Due to the fact that most organizations and managers do not allow people to think and they are just told what to do. Some people may not be used to this kind of freedom. Second, when an employee is showing engagement and is actively participating with ideas, proposals, etc. We should´t kill that initiative, by saying things such as "No, thats a bad idea" or "No we don´t have budget" or even "No, we tried that and didn´t work" and don use the famous "No, that was invented somewhere else and won´t work here". Because, if that employee is motivated, eventually will start thinking that there is no point for proposing improvements if he/she is constantly rejected. If we have budget constraints and the idea requires investment, the right thing to do is to work with the employee to figure other cheaper available options. If the idea may not be the best for customers, don´t just say no. Work with the employee so he/she can realize the idea is more likely to harm the client, and coach him to come with a better new proposal that could be a win - win type solution. 
Second, is mastery. When we do things over and over, eventually we become masters in what we do. One good strategy I followed in the past was to use those masters to teach and coach others, to achieve two things: engagement from the "master" as he is instructing other rookies. And second show appreciation and respect for the "master´s skills" so he could help me to teach less experienced ones. By that, they become some sort of authority in the organization.  Third is purpose. When we know how our work impacts the organization, how our work impacts the client, and how our work is appreciated by our bosses we start to understand and find purpose in what we do. This is a hard one. My experience has shown me that by sincerely talking to employees, getting to know them, understanding their skills and passions, we can better use their talents and assign them challenges on a continuous basis so they could feel appreciated and find purpose beyond their daily responsibilities. It is the managers job to be aware and sometimes simply ask what employees like and dislike about their job. As an example I am very skilled in powerpoint, I can do amazing presentations in PPT. How ever, even though I often have autonomy over my presentations, and I have mastery, for me the purpose of a presentation often adds no value to the organization or even a customer. However mapping processes or creating lean systems is something that I like because I can have autonomy to create and use the tool i find better for the process. I believe I have mastery on doing that and i know that by creating and implementing a lean system will help the organization to improve its efficiency, eventually its costs and will be a contributor to keep the business alive; I have purpose.
“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

One last thought 

In my mind, that gentleman complaining about labor and unemployment attrition, instead of thinking that´s the way things are, should be thinking a way to engage personnel so they don´t want/have to leave somewhere else. Showing respect for people is the best way to engage them and ensure your labor turnover/attrition is low. If you engage your employees in continuous improvement, eventually they will get addicted to it. They will start thinking better ways to do things and will achieve innovation and improvement momentum. Just be careful. I´m not saying that employees shouldn't be paid well. In fact if you try to engage people, but they aren´t perceiving their salary being enough to cover their basic needs, eventually will leave because their needs aren´t obviously covered. So take care of their needs first (short term) but think ways to engage them (long term) so, no matter if other companies want your talent, employees will find so infatuated with your company that will find it hard to leave. That isn´t easy. But once you get it, is a powerful tactic to become a more efficient, leading company in your market. Remember that having the right engaged people, is one key input for your organization to deliver and exceed what the customer needs.

What is your take on this matter? What is your proposal to diminish attrition on a very competitive environment? Please leave a message, I´d love to read your thoughts.

Thanks for reading by the way.