Tag Archives: lean and six sigma

Telling stories at work


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th October 2017

Why tell stories at work?

I first heard about the power of using stories at work, in the context of sharing knowledge and building learning and understanding, in the 1990s.

Stories are a powerful way to share knowledge and build learning and understanding.

David Snowden, who was then a Director at the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management, was a chief exponent of the use of narrative to convey complex messages.  (Snowden’s work has since evolved, and there is an informative and somewhat entertaining account of David Snowden on David Gurteen’s website.  Gurteen is himself somewhat of a guru of Knowledge Management.)

what makes stories so powerful?

Paul McGee tells us why stories are so powerful in his article “The power of telling stories” for the April 2017 issue of the Training Journal.  He reminds us that we have been using stories since the cave paintings 20,000 years ago, and we continue to engage with stories through books, TV programmes, film and in our day-to-day conversations.

And the reason, he tells us, why good stories are so engaging, is that they activate every part of the brain.  Not only the language processing parts, but every other part of the brain.  The more sensory and action words we include: how things look, smell, feel, and the actions involved – the more we engage the parts of the brain that would be activated if the listener was actually experiencing the event themselves.  They don’t actually need to be experiencing it for this to happen..

The result of telling a good story in this way is that it engages the emotions as well as the intellect.  Emotions make a story more memorable, more inspiring, and so are more likely to lead to commitment and to action.

When and How to tell a good story?

1.  Choose your opportunity and your topic

Stories can be shared about just about anything – but they do need to have a point to be effective!

Here are some situations I can think of – and that I have experimented with in my work with RiverRhee:

In a one-to-one mentoring or coaching situation to give a verbal example of how to do something, or not to do something based on your own experience of doing so.

In a training course or workshop, to convey some key principles, a framework or a methodology.

During a presentation, to get people’s attention and/or to illustrate some key points that you want to get across

2.  Think of a main character or characters, an event, and an outcome

As McGee says, in the Training Journal article, artistic licence is fine.  The story does not have to be true, although you might find it easier to create it, and to be convincing, if it has some basis on reality.

Christopher Booker, in “The Seven Basic Plots” (Bloomsbury, 2014), argues that these different plots (including comedy, tragedy, quests, rags to riches, encounters with monsters, voyages, rebirths) actually resolve themselves into some basic common denominators.

So, as he says, a typical story unfolds as follows: “once upon a time there was such and such a person, living in such and such a place… then, one day, something happened”.  That happening leads the main character (hero or heroine) into some experience that changes their lives.  There is conflict and uncertainty.  Ultimately there is some form of resolution.

One of my most powerful stories of this type illustrates how people can react to changes that they initially perceive as positive.  The words used in the change curve below mirror, to some extent, those for Booker’s story plot above.

Positive change curve – from “The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook”, RIverRhee Publishing, 2013

Although I can’t share the details of the change here, it was a family event that we had instigated, thinking that it was the right thing to do (uninformed certainty).  No sooner had we initiated it, than I literally felt like I had gone cold with shock (informed doubt!).  We persevered for a while, but eventually realised that the solution was not going to be as easy as we had thought, and that we had to start exploring other options (realistic concern).  Eventually we did find a way forward and are in a much better place (emotionally and intellectually!) now (informed certainty).

3.  Add some sensory detail – and try some metaphors

I learnt, in my NLP Practitioner training, about the wide range of words we can use when we talk to bring our own experiences alive, and to communicate more effectively with others.  We use some of these words automatically when we speak, and often neglect the wide array available to us.

So if we deliberately think about appealing to all of our senses, the results would be something like this:

  1. For visual language use: see, look, picture, blue, yellow, light, bright, dark, transparent etc.
  2. For auditory language use: hear, sound, loud, quiet, clank, click, tinkle, shrill etc.
  3. For kinesthetic language use: touch, feel, damp, dry, wet, sharp, hot, cold etc.
  4. For auditory digital (inner dialogue, or self-talk – this is more language based) use: understand, think, explain, process etc.

In fact, in our NLP course, we also used the power of metaphors as an aid to communication: telling a story that does not even have to directly mention the principle or method that you are trying to get across.  People draw their own inferences from the story – and the fact that they have to ‘work it out’ can make the final message even more powerful.

It can take a little courage to trust your audience to make the right inferences, and I generally err on the side of telling them – as with the ‘urban myth’ I use for explaining the importance of finding root causes to address sources of waste in Lean and Six Sigma and process improvement!

when and how will you try out stories at work?

As McGee suggests in his article, and as my own experiences show, it takes some courage to have a go with story-telling, to share perhaps personal stories, and to embellish the stories with sensory detail.

Choose a situation to begin: a one-to-one conversation, a course or workshop, a presentation.

Develop a story that you are comfortable with.

Write a list of prompts to remind you of the key points.

Test it out on a friendly audience.    Rehearse.

Remember the very long tried and tested history we have of the effectiveness of stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

 

 

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Framing your problem so it can be solved..


By Elisabeth Goodman, 22nd February 2017

I had a very enjoyable day yesterday teaching four young people about Lean and Six Sigma as they explored how to improve one of their processes.  I work on the premise that ‘problems are treasures’: the more you find and deal with, the less fire-fighting you will have to do at time and cost critical times. They found lots of lovely problems to explore, and we got stuck into the 5 Why’s and Fishbone analysis to find the root causes to one of them.

fishbone-analysis

Fishbone analysis – illustration adapted from “The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook” by Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Publishing, 2015

How each problem is framed can make an enormous difference to what root causes are found, and how many of them.  This was graphically illustrated with when a re-framing of the problem resulted in some root causes that the team could actually do something about, as opposed to the original root cause which would have fairly limited potential.

I already know, from the workshops I’ve attended with the Ideas Centre that it’s worth exploring the nature of a problem before getting down to finding solutions for it.  There are many ways to do this.

Find the root causes

The Lean and Six Sigma techniques provide one way to do this.  As the story I share about the Jefferson Memorial building illustrates: there’s no point investing in bird scarers when the root cause for high cleaning bills caused by large number of birds, is actually when the street lights are turned on creating a food chain from midges, to spiders to birds.  The solution hinges on the timing of the street lights rather than the bird scarers!

jefferson-memorial-coloured

Illustration of the Jefferson Memorial building in “The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook”, by Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Publishing, 2015

The different headings in Fishbone analysis can also provide useful prompts to explore what other themes might be associated with a problem.  Is it to do with people, the methods or metrics being used, the wider environment, the systems or IT involved, or the materials available?

Get other people’s perspectives

A Lean Sigma principle is that it’s the people doing the work who have the best understanding of the associated problems.  As I found in the Ideas Centre workshops, involving people who are not directly concerned with the work will bring some different and often helpful perspectives on a problem.  They will ask the ‘dumb’ questions that those doing the work might not be aware of, or may not have the courage to ask.  That could help re-frame the problem, as well potentially providing some very different solutions.

A January-February 2017 Harvard Business Review article: “Are you solving the right problems” by  Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, p.76, refers to people who can provide these other perspectives as ‘boundary spanners’.

Think about the problem differently

One of my previous blogs about the value of learning to draw references a number of ways that we can think about or look at a problem differently, and the HBR article referenced above has a nice range of ideas too.

I like the suggestion that we could think about what could be happening, as opposed to what the problem is.  This has hints of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – what vision would we like to move towards?  Appreciative Inquiry – what situations can we think of where things have worked the way we would like them to?  Clean Language / Questions – what would we like to have happen?  We can gain insights from these positive mindsets and experiences that could help us reframe and resolve the problem.

Conclusion

 

It’s worth spending time experimenting with how you frame your problem.  What solution will one definition of the problem give you?  Will a different definition potentially lead you in a different direction?

The various techniques described above could help you.  Treating each problem as a treasure to be welcomed, rather than another headache to get anxious about could be an interesting mind-set to experiment with too!

As one of yesterday’s delegates said in his feedback, they took away some good learnings from the course: “Wonderful training course, learnt plenty, look forward to using this knowledge.”  Hopefully one of those learnings will be to think carefully about how they frame their problems.  Will you?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

 

Appreciative Inquiry – a tool and philosophy for positive change


The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th November 2016

Asking questions sets the tone for what will follow – start from what’s working well

It seemed obvious from the moment that our facilitator, Andy Smith (Coaching Leaders), mentioned it at the start of the two day course on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that I attended this week. The minute you ask someone, or a group of people a question, you have influenced their mindset. Ask them what they like about something, or what is going well, and the chances are they will relax, open up and be in the mood to be creative. Ask them what’s not working and they may get defensive, close up and descend into despondency.

That’s a simplification of course as people may want to air their problems before they can open up to explore solutions, and they may automatically rise to the challenge rather than wait to be asked the right question. But the general premise of AI is to focus on what’s working well, on what people do best and on everyone’s potential to do so much more and better. Asking the right, open, positive questions will enable this to happen.

There are implications for coaching and personal development, for team building, for problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management and for managing change! This blog just highlights a few of the ways to do this. There’s obviously a lot more about this that I will weave into RiverRhee‘s work and that you can find out about from some of the references below.

A new five-step model

The illustration at the start of this blog is of the five-step model. (Andy calls this ‘the 5 Ds’ but I already have a different 5D model that I refer to for time or productivity management so I will keep these distinct.)

Define the topic to be explored in an affirmative way: so it is stated in terms of what you want to move towards, rather than the problem to be moved away from. Focus on the vision and your mind and body will be already working out creative ways to achieve it.

Discover all the things that you are already doing well towards achieving that vision. This is where the affirmative questioning really starts to kick in.

Dream what it would be like when you achieve that vision: what will you hear, feel, see, think? What would it be like if a miracle happened overnight? This step engages the emotions: the heart as well as the mind and creates a really compelling vision.

Design all the possible alternatives (without evaluating at this stage) for achieving the dream. Build on what’s going well and stretch beyond that.

Deliver – this is the point at which you evaluate the alternatives and decide on the next steps to achieve your vision.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry to coaching

People familiar with the GROW and T-GROW models of coaching will have spotted that define equates with setting the topic (T) or goal (G). Discover equates to reality (R) but with a focus on what’s working well rather than on what’s generally happening. Dream is an enhanced version of the goal. Design equates to options (O) but holding back on evaluating those options. Deliver equates to will ( W ).

The slightly different order of the AI five-step process means that the aspirational vision or dream can build on the positive mood generated and so be more creative than the early definition of the goal permits in the GROW model. Although, in practice, either model can be iterative in a coaching situation.

Appreciative Inquiry and team building

The five-step model could also be used with a group of people in a team situation, to explore how a team can become more effective and attain, or sustain high performance. It could be used ‘live’ within a workshop, as an alternative to using pre-workshop diagnostics or temperature checks as described in some of my previous blogs for team development.

So the team can define in real time what it wants to achieve, discover all the things it is currently doing well, dream of what it could do, brainstorm how it could get there (design), and then agree the actions to take forward (deliver). The team could use rating scales (1 to 5, 1 to 10 etc) at any point in this discussion to make their assessments and goals more tangible.

Appreciative Inquiry and problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management

As the previous sections demonstrate, the five-step model has built in approaches to aid with problem solving, decision making and innovation. Focusing on what has gone well and using the dream steps arguably allow people to go beyond just fixing the problem into new realms of creativity.

Apparently others have already explored how to apply AI in Lean and Six Sigma, and I shall look into this more. Certainly, exploring what has gone well and why, in the Measure and Analyse phases of the DMAIC are possibilities that I do already touch upon in my RiverRhee courses. We also sometimes use ‘blue sky’ thinking to imagine a ‘to be’ way of working in the Improve phase.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis also encourage equivalents to the Discover step (yellow hat, and Strengths respectively), the Dream step (green and Opportunities), and Design (green again, and the actions arising out of the SWOT analysis).

Andy also mentioned SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) as an affirmative alternative to SWOT and which should give more scope for the Dream step!

Finally, knowledge management techniques will obviously benefit from AI, especially as having a productive conversation is at the heart of sharing knowledge between people. After Action Reviews, Learning Reviews or Retrospects (or Lessons Learned exercises in Project Management) already explore what went well. So AI techniques and philosophies would enhance the outcomes in these areas too.

Appreciative Inquiry and managing change

Last but not least, AI has something to offer those leading or dealing with change and so support one of my missions which is to create ‘navigators‘ as opposed to ‘victims’ of change! We can aim to understand and look for ways to maintain, enhance, or at a minimum, compensate for the best of what people previously had in creating whatever the new situation might be. And we can ensure that that new situation is as compelling a vision or ‘dream’ as possible.

In conclusion

There are lots of opportunities to apply Appreciative Inquiry tools and ways of thinking in our working and home lives.  I am using some of these applications already, and looking forward to exploring more with with clients, colleagues, friends and family!

I’ll try not to be a “rose-tinted evangelist” though: we still need to acknowledge the very real problems and challenges that people experience and how they feel about them.

How might you apply AI?

further references

ABOUT THE author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

The Kano model for team building – an alternative application for this Lean Sigma tool


By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th November 2015

The Kano model  is traditionally used as a ‘Voice of the Customer’ Lean Sigma tool

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a seminar with Carl Halford  recently, for the APM (Association for Project Management) Thames Valley Branch, on behalf of the Enabling Change SIG.

The full set of slides and the notes from our event: Process Improvement and Change Management are available on the APM website.

The Kano model is traditionally used in Lean and Six Sigma as a ‘Voice of the Customer’ tool, to understand customer requirements, and to distinguish between the ‘critical’ versus ‘nice to haves’.

Carl used the model for a lively interactive exercise with the delegates, using a dry cleaning business as the basis for the discussion.

The Kano model - illustration by Carl Halford for a Drycleaning model

The Kano model – illustration by Carl Halford for an APM event

Carl’s demonstration was a helpful reminder of how effective the Kano model can be as a tool for stakeholder analysis.

As he said, there can be no debate about the ‘must-haves’, or critical requirements.  If these are not satisfied, then those customers will never come back, and word-of-mouth could be your ruin.

The ‘more is better’ line (which I had learnt about as the ‘it depends’ requirements), are those that may make a difference to customers depending on their circumstances or what else is going on in the store on any particular day.

The ‘delighters’ are the ones that will win your customers’ loyalty, and cause them to recommend you to others.  Of course these ‘delighters’ are also a risk to managing your long-term resources as they may in time become expected ‘must-haves’.

Using the Kano model for team building

What especially peaked my interest was Carl’s suggestion that the Kano model could also be used for team building.

A team might have traditionally used the Kano model as part of a team meeting: to help extract what everyone already knows about their stakeholders, and to agree what other research or conversations might be needed to enhance that understanding.

Using the Kano model for team building works on the premise that each team member is a stakeholder in the team’s success.  Carl mentioned that he tends to use the model for project teams, but it could also be used for an operational team.

Each person is likely to have uniques ‘must haves’, ‘more is better’, and ‘delighter’ expectations.  There will also be some overlaps between what different people want.

I can imagine preparing a wall poster of the Kano model, and issuing each team member with post-it notes to provide the basis for a rich discussion and enhanced understanding of the various perspectives within the team.  If managed well, this might help the team through its ‘storming’ phase of development and pave the way for greater trust and support.

I’m looking forward to giving this alternative application of the Kano model a try, and of course will be curious to hear about anyone else’s experience of this approach.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook


By Elisabeth Goodman, 10th June 2015

This is the third in my series of  “The Effective Team’s ” workbooks and it will be out shortly.

THE EFFECTIVE TEAM’S operational excellence WORKBOOK

Elisabeth Goodman (author), Nathaniel Spain (illustrator), 2015 – ISBN 978-0-9926323-7-3

Cover illustration for the Effective Team's Operational Excellence Workbook

Cover illustration for the Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook

This third book in the series focuses on how to achieve operational excellence.  Here is the description from the back of the book:

“Operational excellence helps us to create a more fulfilling work environment where everyone actively contributes to quality customer services or products and to the efficient flow of the organisation’s end-to-end processes. In this third book for ‘effective teams’ the author draws again on her experience with business support groups such as Library and Information services, and with organisations in the Life Sciences and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises).

The book reflects her approach as a trainer, mentor and consultant for operational excellence. It takes you through a systematic approach for defining and improving how your team spends its time and resources. It will help you to ensure that you are focusing on the right priorities to deliver value to your customers, and that your processes are simplified and streamlined. As with her previous books on change management and high performance teams, the plentiful principles and methodologies are explained through scenarios and are accompanied by individual or team exercises. There are also notes on further reading.

Again, both operational teams and project teams will benefit from the book’s rich insights and depth.”

THE detailed content of the book

The approach and format for this workbook is much like that of my previous two. It can act as a refresher for people who have attended one of my workshops relating to operational excellence (or Lean and Six Sigma). It can be used as a stand-alone manual for individuals who wish to learn about how to continuously improve their work. It can also provide the basis for planning and facilitating workshops with others.

Please note that this book is an introduction to the discipline, and you might want to read around the subject, take some formal training, or use an accredited practitioner to support and mentor you on your further journey.

Each chapter is designed to reflect my approach for running workshops in operational excellence. The first chapter provides the context and framework for starting any operational excellence initiative. The subsequent chapters are best followed sequentially as they will take you through the framework in a step-by-step way.

There are practical scenarios to show how the various principles and methodologies can be applied in almost any area of work where there is some form of repeated process. Each chapter has an exercise for practising the principles and methodologies, either in teams or individually.

The workbook also includes support materials in the form of full-page versions of illustrations and tables for use as a team and for your individual planning.

Finally, there are references for further reading if you would like to find out more about the subject.

COST AND AVAILABILITY

Copies are priced at £10.00 each, plus packaging and posting, and will be available via the RiverRhee Publishing web page.  Or you can use the RiverRhee contact form to pre-order your copy.

Facilitation – some new ideas?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 21st May 2015

The Ideas Centre – a great resource for creative thinking

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of Dave Hall’s workshops from The Ideas Centre. Dave regularly holds off-site and in-house workshops where he introduces delegates to principles and tools to stimulate their creative thinking, and so enables them to find novel solutions for their problems, issues, challenges and opportunities.

I found the workshop tremendously insightful, not only to reflect on one of my own business questions, but also to challenge my thinking as a trainer and facilitator. (See also one of my previous blogs – Reflections of a team facilitator.)

Using Lego for solution development

Using Lego with The Ideas Centre for solution development

The picture above represents the ‘solution’ I found to my business question. I would strongly recommend one of Dave’s workshops to help you explore how you can use Lego and his other ‘tools’ for addressing your own challenges.

In the meantime, here are three things I discovered and will be exploring further in my work as a trainer and facilitator.

Facilitators should take an active role in idea generation

One of the challenges facilitators often have is finding the right balance between addressing the content as opposed to the process of what they are facilitating. Whilst Dave is adamant about there being a clear problem owner for idea generation, and this person never being the facilitator, he does allow the latter to be more actively engaged in the discussion than might traditionally be the case.

So, for example, the facilitator is the one that holds the pen in the discussion. He or she will actively ask questions both to clarify the problem, and to generate ideas. So far this is not too unconventional.

Where Dave introduces a different element is that the facilitator is also ‘allowed’ to make suggestions that will help to shape the problem owner’s thinking. This is true whether the facilitator knows something about the subject area or not. In fact the problem owner will benefit from as much input as possible, and so the facilitator should definitely support this too.

At the end of the day though, the problem owner will be the one to select the final solution, and the facilitator has a key responsibility to enable the process for getting to that point.

Naive participants are invaluable for idea generation

Break-out groups are a core element of my work as a trainer and as a facilitator. They give participants the opportunity to explore new principles and tools in more depth, and to apply them to their own issues and challenges.

I have typically (up to now) encouraged participants in break-out groups, in both my off-site and on-site workshops, to work with people who are doing something similar to them, so that they can add their expertise to that of the problem owner’s. In fact some delegates have expressed anxiety when they have not felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the area being explored.

However, such content ‘naivety’ is, according to Dave, to be actively encouraged. Participants who are not familiar with the subject area are more likely to challenge assumptions, and to bring in novel ideas which, whether useful or not, will encourage the more divergent thinking that is critical to innovation.

This is something that I had previously only been subconsciously aware of.  Now I will make more active use of ‘naïve’ participants, whilst also ensuring that the problem owner has other subject matter experts to support him or her.

Emotions will support rather than hinder innovation

My courses on management skills, and on Lean and Six Sigma typically include sessions on continuous improvement. As Dave rightly pointed out, there is something of a gap between this kind of incremental innovation, which is obviously still useful and important, and breakthrough innovation. In fact delegates at my workshops sometimes want opportunities for more blue-sky thinking and, I do look for ways to enable that too.

However one principle that Lean and Six Sigma techniques strongly uphold is the fundamental importance of facts and data. Subjective or emotional problem statements such as ‘this process is taking far too long’ are strongly discouraged, and instead must be written for example as ‘this process is taking 2 hours longer than it should’. This then sets the scene for exploring all the root causes for the problem.

The Ideas Centre has its own methodology for articulating problems that paves the way for generating solutions, but what is particularly novel is how they encourage the problem owner to use emotional language. The impact in the workshop was startling. What was otherwise a dry and somewhat boring statement turned into something that grabbed everyone’s attention and committed them to finding a solution.

Using more emotional problem statements is definitely something I will be experimenting with when a client is willing to explore something other than the more purist approach to Lean and Six Sigma.

My courses also address how to manage change, where winning hearts as well as minds is such a critical factor for success. I will be experimenting with the use of emotional problem statements in this context too.

Notes

You can find out more about The Ideas Centre from their website.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the recently renamed Methods and Standards theme for the Enabling Change SIG.

 

The five principles of “error proof” collaboration with people outside your own organisation


By Luis Fernandez, with an introduction by Elisabeth Goodman 21st November, 2014

Mistakes are proof that you are trying

Introduction

I asked Luis to write this blog as he has a very people centric approach to project management, and I thought he might have a valuable perspective on how to bring that to bear when collaborating with people outside the project team. He has brought an additionally unique perspective to the blog by relating it to his experience with Lean and Six Sigma, and PMP and associated concepts of ‘error proofing’.

The five principles that Luis shares certainly strike a chord with me, and I especially liked that he included one around Knowledge Management in the form of reflecting on lessons learned. I might have changed the order of Luis’s principles and put ensuring common understanding of expectations first.

But read the blog and see what you think.

Do you agree with Luis’s five principles?

Would you cite them in a different order?

What do we mean by error proofing – why is it important for collaboration outside of your organisation?

I frequently remember something that caught my attention during the Lean and Six Sigma green belt training course: The intention of this methodology (amongst other things) is to create “error proof” processes.

However, during the preparation course to obtain my PMP certification, a different concept caught my attention: Following the PMP methodology does not guarantee “successful” projects, it just “increases the probability” of making them successful.

In my opinion, the explanation of PMP is more humble and realistic. Nothing is “error proof” and what we do is to try to “increase the probability” of success in all the things we do in our day-to-day life. This is why I wrote “error proof” in quotes as the subject of my post.

Taking this into account, I can’t promise you that the five principles below will make you an “error proof” professional when collaborating with people outside your organization, but based on my experience, I promise you that if you remember the steps and start to apply them:

  • You will avoid most of the relevant errors in your professional life (and in your personal life) and as a consequence you will save the time necessary to correct them
  • The people you work with will notice it and remember you later for your professionalism. Most project managers need years to learn this.
  • The people you work with will remember you later for your kindness. Project Management sounds very technical but it is mainly a matter of human relations

The five principles for effective collaboration

The five principles are:

  • Avoid micromanagement (almost at any cost!)
  • Ensure a detailed review of the budget and contract
  • Clarify the expectations that have not been expressed in writing
  • Ensure the lessons learned are compiled and shared
  • Treat people as people, not as resources

Take note:

In my PMP certification training programs I always say that from my personal point of view the three most important matters that a project manager should never forget in their day-to-day work are: Communication, Team and Risks. You will see that the five principles are strongly related to these three areas.

Moreover, they are inter-related. If you miss one of them out, this will have an impact on the other two.

They are applicable to both these situations: when you are subcontracted as a project manager or when you are subcontracting team members, because they are just the two sides of a coin.

Let’s start!

1- AVOID MICROMANAGEMENT (ALMOST AT ANY COST!)

I have a friend in charge of a Project Management department at Hewlett Packard that once told me something that I will never forget: You only need one (subjective) metric to know if a project is profitable or not. This metric is the “level of satisfaction of the client” about the project.

When I asked why? I found the explanation very smart. If the level of satisfaction is high, the client is probably relying on you and as a consequence, they are not bombarding you with continuous requests, giving you the freedom to manage your project in the most appropriate way, and saving thousands of hours of unnecessary tasks.

What can we learn from this?

  • If you are subcontracted, be proactive and ensure your contractors receive more than they expected to keep them happy as quickly as possible, and to make them appreciate that you are really taking care of their project.
  • If you are contracting, test the team member working for you, until you are happy with their commitment and they understand what you expect from them. Then let them work by themselves, clarifying what and when you want to be informed about the project progress (see principle # 3)

2- ENSURE A DETAILED REVIEW OF THE BUDGET AND CONTRACT

The budget is usually extensively reviewed by Project Managers, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen equally for the contract, as in many cases it is reviewed by a legal department.

What should we do?

a) Regarding the budget:

  • Never forget to clarify specifically what is included inside items with names that carry the word “management” as they could include a spectrum of tasks, maybe duplicated or unexpected
  • Negotiate from the very beginning (when your procedures allow it) the possibility of implementing new tasks without signing a new budget (to avoid time consuming agreements of change orders) by using the items in the budget that will never be implemented, or the items of the budget not burned yet.

b) Regarding the contract, never forget to check the clauses:

  • Which have an impact on the invoicing approval for the most important (related to cost) items.
  • That list what work is included and more importantly “what is NOT included”. If you forget the second one, it is very probable that the client will finally expect the unexpected.
  • Inform your client as soon as possible about the probable or relevant risks that you detect. It is possible that by changing a single word, you could save hundred of thousands of pounds

3- CLARIFY THE EXPECTATIONS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN EXPRESSED IN WRITING

The budget and contract will probably not include all the future project issues.

So, it is a clear example of expertise to start the project by:

  • Asking your client (and your team members): What do you expect from me to help you feel as comfortable as possible during the project? Then take into account their responses and implement them or explain why they can’t be done. This will make people rely on you and make future communications more fluent.
  • Clarifying the expectations especially for the content of Status Reports, Main Deliverables and Approach to Meetings.

4- ENSURE THE LESSONS LEARNED ARE COMPILED AND SHARED

Everybody speaks about this but it is underperformed in most projects.

If you want to be remembered for your proactivity and ability to learn, just do the following:

Keep updated (and share proactively) an easy to review list with the:

  1. a) Mistakes: Tasks badly executed, and what should have been done instead
  2. b) Matters to improve: Tasks that could have been performed better avoiding unnecessary difficulties (and how to do them)
  3. c) Successful results: Things done well and how to extend them to other areas

5- TREAT PEOPLE AS PEOPLE, NOT AS RESOURCES

Your client and your team are people, not roles or resources.

In every single interaction you make (calls, meetings, e-mails, face-to-face…) remember these three pieces of advice:

  • Always use the magical words: Please, thanks, sorry…
  • Avoid instructions. Try to increase awareness by asking questions (this is one of the principles of Coaching)
  • Be aware of the tone of your voice and your written communication. Avoid expressing frustration. You can express your frustration or disappointment in a neutral way.

It took me many years to learn all of these principles and the best advice I think I could give to a Manager is to “develop your assertiveness”, and a good way to do this is by remembering this quote:

People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”   Carl W. Buehner

If you have read until here, I’m sure you will apply some of these principles in your next projects.

Now, I have a more challenging question for you:

lost

HOW WOULD YOU APPLY THESE PRINCIPLES IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?

About the author and editor

Luis Fernandez obtained a degree in Pharmacy and Chemistry (he liked biochemistry so much that he has delivered health sciences training courses since 1989) and has worked in clinical research since 1996, managing global projects for Pharma since 2005. Luis realised that he needed to improve his technical project management knowledge so he obtained the PMP certification and started to run PMP-certification training courses from 2012. He honestly found the technical part easy, but the soft skills were more difficult, so he decided to study Coaching and NLP with the godfathers and their disciples. Luis is now sharing what he learned about the three disciplines (Coaching, NLP and Project Management) in his blog (http://coachingforprojectmanagers.com/blog/) where he provides practical tips that optimise their synergies.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she now leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.