Tag Archives: leadership

The Air Boss oversees operations on the deck of an aircraft carrier

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.”  Lord Kelvin


Do you have genuine insight into your project’s delivery risk? By risk, I mean, do you know the chance your project has of delivering on time or late? By genuine, I mean, something quantifiable?

Most of the time, managers look at task completion dates or schedule compliance to judge the risk. If you’re on planned timeline, your risk is deemed to be low. The problem is that you can’t know if that plan is a good one. You only know it’s good so far. Good, in that your progress matches the plan. What if the plan is padded with extra time? Your team is only going as fast as the plan tells them to. What if there is risk later in the project? Only “so far” won’t tell you if you can speed up, or if there’s an obstacle ahead.
Most managers don’t know if their project will be on time, until it’s not.
I’ve written before about the most important measurements in projects and the behavior you need to deliver on time: proactive and speedy resolution of problems. These metrics are based on the premise that behavior is the precursor to results. If you want to know if you’re going to get the results, you should measure the behaviors.
Managers are at the core, influencers of behavior. What needs to be done, is done by people, behaving in specific ways to accomplish specific results. Managers exert influence to:

  • Increase some behaviors
  • Decrease some behaviors
  • Initiate new behaviors

No matter what you’re doing, whether you’re improving quality or increasing productivity, it’s the behavior that drives that result. I’ve often said the best project managers are the best negotiators. The best project managers are the ones that know what behavior they need and are successful at getting it.
Do you know the behaviors that will deliver projects on time?
If you don’t know the behaviors, you can’t measure them; you can’t influence them.
Any project worth doing is worth doing quickly. Shorter completion times mean more revenue, sooner. If your project is not moving, the risk of late completion is rising. Therefore, the on-time behaviors to watch and measure are geared towards speed and flow
Several people have roles in keep the project moving: Executives, Project Managers, Functional (Task) Managers, and the Resources that are doing the work.
In this post, I’m focusing on just the executives. The owners of the projects. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to manage their behavior, as much as it is to manage the activity of the project.
The most critical on time behaviors for the executives are around engagement. They are engaged in the process of delivering projects; governing the portfolio schedule, establishing project priorities and resolving resource allocation conflicts to keep the projects moving. They’re directing and leading process improvements.
You could ask, “Why should I care about process improvement?” After all, you’re a project manager, you don’t own the work practices of your resources (engineers, subcontractors, welders, etc.). While the project manager doesn’t “own” anything except the project, you do care about schedule risk. You should care about speed (or flow). Speed is a function of the process. That puts you (the PM) in a kind of governance role, overseeing process improvements. You can’t implement the improvements, but you can make sure there’s a process in place to continuously reduce schedule risk.
How do you know if the senior managers are engaged? Not by the number of emails you get, that’s for sure.
Measure the blocked and critical tasks, the quantity, and the number of days to resolve them. I keep a list of process improvements and watch if the number of items is stable or falling and the rate of the completion of process improvements
If blocked and critical tasks are languishing, it means someone is:

  • Not watching the impediments to progress
  • Conflicts are not being resolved
  • Resolution priorities are not assigned correctly (for speed)

Each of these are governance responsibilities.
If you don’t have the right behaviors at the top, you’re not going to get them in the middle or the bottom. As the person accountable for on time delivery, you must know, measure, and manage the behavior to get what you want.

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Obstacles to Implemeting Lean
Obstacles to Implemeting Lean
At the heart of continuous improvement is the matter of change.  In order to improve the process, we must change it.  However, not every change results in an improvement.  We would not bother to make a change if it didn’t result in something positive, yet many changes we make result in little real improvement.  Why is there is there such a mismatch between our expectations for change and the results?

In 2007, the Lean Enterprise Institute surveyed Lean practitioners about the biggest obstacles to their Lean Implementations.  Most practitioners cite “resistance to change” as the biggest obstacle; from every level of management, the middle, front line, and employees as well. 

Note that unrealized financial value ranks very low in obstacles, indicating the practitioners do not connect the lack of bottom line results to organizational resistance.  Rather, they seem to be focused on implementation “maturity”, which is another way of saying that the organization is using all the tools.  These results indicate that there is a disconnect between the goals of lean practitioners and management; emphasizing tool adoption over results achievement.

Why is everyone resisting the change?  Why wouldn’t the organization want to use these tools?  Certainly the lack of results is part of the problem, but it doesn’t explain the seemingly universal resistance.  To find the answer, we looked at a management fad from the past, Total Quality Management (TQM).

Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Research Results

Malcolm Baldrige AwardTo get insight into the reasons for CI success or failure, look at the Malcolm Baldrige Award, the award for business excellence in the United States.  The award establishes benchmark practices  and processses for business excellence, “To enhance the competitiveness, quality, and productivy of U.S. organizations for the benefit of all residents.”.  It has been criticized as being irrelevant to organizational competitiveness because many of the early recipients of the award subsequently failed.  In recent years this issue has been corrected and the award is focused more on the results the nominees achieve, with the tools adoption taking a secondary position.

Quite a bit of research has been done on the relevance of the Baldrige Award criteria.  In the spring of 2000 a study was commissioned to answer the question, “Is there a causal link between the Baldrige Criteria and actual performance of firms?”[1]

The research had several significant findings related to our discussion.

First, the most significant driver of system performance is not process, but leadership.  Leadership pervades everything the organization does, but those organizations that score well in leadership, score well everywhere.  This doesn’t mean that tools are not important, but they’re not as important as the core skill of leadership.

Process management is twice as important when predicting customer satisfaction as when predicting financial results.  We can conclude that having good processes are important to customers, but there is not a straight line from process excellence to financial performance.  So you might have happy customers, but unhappy stockholders.

The lesson for management and continuous improvement program directors is that the soft skills of leadership are very important to delivering results and that the program, to be financially successful must have strong leadership from the real leaders of the organization.  The real leaders must be commissioning, guiding, and delivering real accountability to CI teams.  CI and business excellence initiatives cannot be delegated to the “business excellence department”.  Leadership must be fully engaged in continuous improvement. 

Continuous Improvement and Business Excellence is not something to be added to the work of managers, it is the work of managers. 

[1] An Empirical Investigation of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Causal Model
Darryl D. Wilson, Sam M. Walton College of Business Administration, University of Arkansas
David A. Collier,  The Ohio State University

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One would think we have the idea by now…

A recent study done by the London School of Economics and Stanford University shows that a standard of management practice is linked to the favorable financial performance of the business. The way an organization is managed has a strong effect on its performance. It also states that “Management excellence is a matter of internal policy and not just the business environment”

The study cites practices such as:

  • Setting Goals
  • Managing Performance
  • Promoting people based on merit
  • Managing people
  • Operations management

The study shows that practical management techniques actually do deliver financial results for the company, yet many organizations do not even attempt to implement such practices. “For companies, the research is good news, suggesting that they access to dramatic improvements simply by adopting good practices used elsewhere.”, says the authors.

The study of 4,600 factories in 12 countries, referenced in the September 8 issue of The Wall Street Journal, found that, “a one-point increase in a factory’s management rating (on a one-to-five scale) translated to a 25% increase in labor productivity and a 65% increase in return on invested capital.”

These results, which Harvard Business School said are, “pioneering work,” and, “a real innovation in the study of management,” led experts to conclude that, “common management techniques such as setting targets, monitoring performance and ‘lean’ manufacturing actually help companies become more productive and profitable.”

Another convicting – and humbling – finding in this research relates to the apparent inability of factory managers to accurately assess the strengths or weaknesses of their own leadership skills.

“Good management appears to be so strongly linked with good performance that it might be reasonable to expect all firms to make better practices a priority,” shares a Stanford University report about this research. “The techniques of good practice are, after all, available in the public domain in a wide range of easily accessible forms. Yet many firms are still poorly managed…The majority of firms are making no attempt to compare their own management behaviour with accepted practices or even with that of other firms in their sector. As a consequence, many organizations are probably missing out on an opportunity for significant improvement because they simply do not recognize that their own management practices are so poor.”

The authors also note a disparity between family run organizations and those that are not: “Family-run and government-run businesses are less well managed and less productive than similar plants with professional managers. Promoting successive generations of family management “significantly damages company performance,”

Remember the London School of Economics research finding above that, “a one-point increase in a factory’s management rating can translate to a 25% increase in labor productivity and a 65% increase in return on invested capital,”

You can read the article here

You can download a copy of the study here

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It’s that time of the year; review your past successes and update your plans for the coming year or so…

I was doing some research on selling professional services, and ran accross the “best business brochure ever written”. It was a brochure written by Arthur D. Little for his fledgling consulting firm. In it, he describes how his team literally converted sows ears into a silk purse!

Silk purse made from sow's ear

The purpose of the article? To demonstrate that the commonly accepted wisdom is not “true”, merely difficult. Secondly, along the same lines, the firm sought to make lead balloons fly. Quite successfully, too!

Here’s some insight into the process.

Here is the actual brochure

So often, when faced with a difficult situation, we accept the conventional wisdom as being “true”, when really, we haven’t looked deeply enough into the situation, challenging ourselves to find the essence of the problem.

I find the more problems I solve, the less willing I am to accept the conventional solutions. In fact, the more publicity a solution recieves as being “correct”, the more skeptical I become!

“Things that everybody thinks he knows only because he has learned the words that say it, are poisons to progress. The only way to get ahead is to dig in, to study, to find out, to reason our theories, to test them – and then hold fast to what is good”

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