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Kaizen-Kanban Keys of continual improvement

Yesterday’s post shared thoughts about how multi tasking could lead to decreased productivity in project management activities. We have also briefly touched upon how group reviews can help overcome burden of a project manager who handles multiple projects. Kanban diagrams and kaizen principles can be coupled to address the multi project multitasking challenges. While Kanban is a great tool in visualization of project milestones with clear visibility to all stake holders, kaizen is an improvement tool that provides continual improvement functions to key activities. Visibility to all stakeholders coupled with continuous improvement means projects and people perform progressively as they move along the milestones. In Agile projects the impact of the Kanban-Kaizen will be reflected in the improved velocities between successive sprints and releases. These tools in addition providing direct impact on productivity of projects that applies these, they collect the process assets and knowledge along the way. These lessons learnt will be key assets for the organization for learning and development for future projects


System thinking helps superior products development

I have discussed about CTQ and CTC in this post about Agile development addresses Critical to Quality and Critical to Customer dimensions.

As Quality and Customer requirements have become more clear due to the collaborative nature of Agile and Lean Development, products are developed faster and better. No issues upto this. Another parameter along with ‘better and cheaper’ that needs to be inbuilt is cheaper (competitive context), this where the flow and systems thinking that need to be embraced within the organization and its customers and suppliers.

Theory of constraints (TOC)  offers Drum buffer rope, Critical Chain project management and Thinking tools to address this third critical parameter (cheaper = competitive) of any product. Processes can be automated to the possible and required limits. However Thinking process differs from project to project depending upon the many stakeholders involved. It takes domain, experience and System thinking skill sets to achieve the smooth flow . lean and TOC have their focus mainly on Systems thinking and on careful, patient and full application of these management models, super productive systems can be achieved.
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Budgeting for success

Budgeting – for sales, production, inventory, finance, quality, testing, new initiatives, Research and many more functions / departments is done as per the context and the focus of any organization. Organization take into consideration factors like  revenue streams, cost of compliance, support and future business etc.

Best results will be accrued by reducing operating expenses  and minimizing inventories. inventory. Theory of constraints key focus is around these premises. While it is understandable in principle on reducing operating expenses  and minimizing inventories, in practice it is not very easy to achieve this goal. How can we make a positive difference in realizing these improvements? One way could be after identifying budgets for each and every function, the leadership should look at the interfaces and interplay between multi departments and then work out suitable budget booth in terms of cost and effort. To understand the interplay and interfacing activities, it is better to set up a small team by choosing good champions from each department and create one interrelationship maps between all the teams and leadership together. Then every six month this interface map should be reviewed and revised as per the current realities.

Now it will be easier for management to understand the effort and cost allocation and budget to the each team. After the allocation, the champions teams  can take their respective teams into confidence and impress upon them about details. This way organization will have more probability for smooth sailing as flow.

Improving productivity by mindset change


Two major mindsets of project teams that are real bottlenecks in improving productivity  are :

  1. Student’s Syndrome. 

Project members especially in services sector with large team sizes, some time feel its okay to take up the work at the last few hours / days. They tend to quote estimations with buffers for each task and hence start the work only when the real  effort (after using the buffer time unproductively) estimated time clocks ticking.  Some of the the ways we could avoid this mindset is to make the team motivated, getting them involved, rewarding good work, helping when struggling etc.

2.Parkinson’s law : work expands to fill the time available for its completion

In this case its similar to Student’s syndrome, where the overestimation of effort is  done. However here tasks get spanned in which ever way that suits the team member’s needs to fit in with the scheduled effort. In some cases reasons like more non value added processes like waiting time, extra reviews,  more manual work (where it can be automated) contributing using all the time available.  We need to make teams understand about productivity and how saved time from one project / program can help getting additional features / projects being developed.

Learning and Development team need to work with all heads in the organization and bring about the need to innovation by reducing above two wastes.

Establish flow, invest in people growth for maximum ROI

Establishing flow in business and its various departments like operations, planning, design, sales, procurement, testing, leadership will be looking easy in principle. When its comes to implementing the flow of products / services right from vendor, to the various departments within organization and then to customer is not smooth. There many known factors like, market fluctuations, competition, new technologies adoption, retention and attracting best talents, keeping customer happy and complying to various acts and regulations that all of us know.

However sometimes we do not get to see some obvious causes because of the established pattern of thinking and the mindset “that’s the way we always worked”.  Its upto the leadership to come to ground level and asses the situation in the organization and motivate the teams at all levels to perform their best.  Lean practices like respect people, kaizen, gemba, Theory Of Constraints and Agile methods like SAFe, LeSS,etc throw a lot of light in keeping the people aspect as key focus to scale and achieve maximum return on investments for al stakeholders.

Choosing a right model for scaling and innovation is of critical importance for a particular business context.

Improving productivity by proactivity

Some ways to improve productivity and reduce non value added activities / wastes :

Use Agile practice of stand up meeting discussing three key questions :

what tasks are planned today,

what were the tasks executed yesterday and

what is the main bottleneck

Encourage group reviews – this reduce waiting time and avoiding duplicate questions from different people who might have same views. Quick response to customers and stakeholders, Complete team will be in sync.

Involve Senior management – to the critical decision and commitment for the programs on needed basis.

Learn, develop, test, relearn and again learn

Leverage common teams Create pool of teams / tribes – for domain, technology, security, innovation and communication. Leverage them for all projects

Evolve, change and adapt to not only technology but innovative thinking too.

Gemba walks and Thinking tools

Gemba walks principle has been successfully used in many manufacturing Industries. It means ‘the real place’. Taiichi Ohno from Toyota believed and leveraged these concepts to a great extent in Toyota.

Toyota believed that the activity is happening in the shop floor, operations area and not in conference rooms. This led to Gemba walks in production and operational areas and the executives were able to get direct inputs on machines, working, men and all their issues.

Using Five WHY techniques asking the right WHY’s during the Gemba walks produced brilliant solutions. The deep root causes can be identified and systematically eliminated by observing what is happening in the real operational floor. In TOC too, thinking tools like Current reality tree, conflict clouds (Evaporating clouds) are very useful in depicting the real picture of current problem. Cause and effects are categorized and analyzed in detailed steps and finally Undesirable effects are identified. These Undesirable effects are prioritized and treated using thinking tools like future reality trees and prerequisite trees etc.

Though the models Lean and TOC are called in different names, the central focus in both of them are  ‘the real place’ . Gemba walks are used in observing, identifying and eliminating the real harmful effects to produce grand solutions.