Saturday, 20 July 2019

Value is not a simple factor


Lean Thinking emphasises the concept of value - which in business is the creation of product/service features and attributes that the customer wants or needs AND is willing to pay for. 

The second criterion of that statement is very important. If the customer is not willing to pay for something you are creating or adding to your product/service, then you are wasting your time (and money). Take a few moments and think about, say, your car.  If all the items were separately priced, are there some of the ‘included extras’ that you would choose to exclude? In my case, one item is electric windows. In my youth, all car windows were raised and lowered by mechanically turning a handle. The system worked. It was simple. It has been replaced by a system that is more expensive and is more likely to go wrong, resulting in an expensive repair. So, I would  be quite happy to eschew this feature and save a little money. So, why can’t I?

Well, the car companies work on standardised procedures and economies if scale. If I, and others like me, were able to choose between electric and manual window opening, the manufacturer would have to create a separate production line or workstation for the manual option. This would increase costs, add to their parts costs and make manufacturing a little more complex.

These ‘value decisions’ are thus not simple. Manufacturers are continually balancing customer choice and value with manufacturing cost. You, as a customer, may lose a little choice but you do get a cheaper car.

And, of course, price is factored into your value decision. 

Friday, 19 July 2019

Efficiency is not enough


Are you doing everything you can to make your organisation efficient? Do you run a very ‘tight’ and ‘lean’ company..

Good! 

But it’s not enough.

Efficiency is the baseline. It is where all organisations should start from. It is almost a ‘given’.

If your competitors are also striving for efficiency, they will be at the same base position.

So, on top of your efficiency, you need to add .... innovation, strategic direction, world-leading customer service ... those things that make a difference to the customer experience. These are often perceived as somewhat more difficult to achieve ... but a singular focus on the needs of the customer is all that is required.

One way to help this is to think not about what the customer wants but about what the customer wants to achieve.  So if you are selling dog biscuits successfully, you might, on reflection,, assess that what the customer really wants to achieve is a healthy, happy dog. The biscuits are simply a means to that end. 

You might then consider what other things you could do (and sell at a profit) to help create healthy, happy dogs.

Your expertise and experience with dog biscuits should be retained (and even enhanced) but you might look for complementary products and services ... or simply a marketing campaign for the biscuits that focuses on their role in creating healthy, happy dogs.

Your biscuit manufacturing should be efficient but the ‘wrapper’ of customer service and appropriate promotion is where additional profits lie.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Aim for the attainable


I saw someone suggesting the other day that increased private  investment in (private) education would improve its productivity.

 think this is debatable.

As in many other areas, it depends on how you define and measure productivity. We all know that productivity is quite different than production or output: fundamentally it involves the incorporation of resources consumed ... mirroring the judgement we all face daily on assessing 'value' for goods and services we consume.

More investment would certainly raise the numbers of students coming out of private education .... but, as we have just said, that is not a measure of productivity..... nor, importantly, of that very elusive factor 'quality'.  

Take India as an example. Lots of private colleges and universities output thousands of students each year. Yet, there is some doubt about whether many of them are fit for the workplace. They know lots of stuff ... but they can't do very much. Their employability skills are lacking.

Even in admittedly strong areas like engineering, India's education is limited. Their engineering graduates are excellent at solving 'standard' engineering problems .., but when faced with a problem that requires ingenuity and innovation, they lack the problem-solving and creativity skills to take the next step.

So, let's define what we mean by 'productivity' in relation to education, let's determine our aims, objectives and aspirations ... and then try to assess whether more investment from the private sector can help us deliver.

It possibly can .... but if we don't know what we want to happen, we can't bring it about.


Saturday, 29 June 2019

Too Remote?


Remote or distance working (often referred to as ‘working from home’) has become increasingly popular over the last decade.

There is no doubt that fir many job roles, the technology exists to facilitate such working. Access to company data and services is no longer a problem.

What is still a problem, however, is that most workers are not ‘solo fliers’ ... their role is part of a wider set of roles that constitute a team - and, often, the performance and success of the team depends on more than the performance of the individuals within it.

Success depends on how the group of people function as a team, sharing responsibility, handing off tasks to one another, supporting one another when something goes wrong and acting on the basis of mutual trust. 

This can happen with remote workers but only if the relationships hsve been built by face-to-face working before remote working is introduced and preferably when at least some of the team maintains a physical presence and co-working. The team needs to maintain the ‘glue’ of shared values, culture and trust that make them a team.

So, introduce remote working by all means but you must manage it. Decide which roles can be carried out remotely without breaking team spirit, team responsibility ... and team productivity.

Well planned and well managed, it can work, and can save costs and help some employees with work-life balance, child care, etc.  But if you don’t plan and manage it well, it could destroy team cohesion .. and cost you more in the longer term.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

What do you need to improve productivity?

Interesting question, is it not?  I guess you found it interesting or you wouldn't be reading this.

So what do you need?

Well fundamentally - just one thing.

A burning desire to identify and eliminate waste in all its forms - waste of resources, waste of effort, waste of talent, waste of time and so on. 

Once you've learnt to identify waste, it can become something of an obsession.  Seeing people wasting their time and effort makes you angry.  Seeing people who create processes that makes people waste their talent and effort makes you even angrier.

So, start to attune your radar.  If you don't know the 7 wastes of Lean, read up about them - and start to look for them wherever you go.  Calm your anger and think about how you would organise things differently to avoid the waste.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Life is ....

I used to ask myself the question...

What have you done today to improve the organisation?

Now I am older and wiser, I ask ...

 What have you done today to improve your life?

After all, work is part of life and we are understandably being asked to think about work-life balance.

Too many people don't think about their non-work life ... yet there is quite a bit of evidence to show that those who do - and have an active, balanced life, are more effective during work time,

Remember also, that life is what happens whilst you are waiting for something to happen. If you don't take control of your life, you are left at the mercy of ..... fate.

So, regularly ask yourself ...

What have I done today to improve my life?
What am I planning to improve my life?

Your organisation will be better for it!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

BREXIT will improve UK productivity???

UK productivity has been bad for quite a long time and productivity growth is currently low. 

What impact will BREXIT (the departure of the UK from the European Union) have?

Well, we don't know all the implications but here is one scenario.

The UK is currently a high employment, low wage economy with lots of people working part-time.  This means that for some time it has often been easier for firms to expand production by hiring new staff than by investing in capital equipment.

When the free movement of labour from EU countries ends,  there may, in certain industries, be a shortage of the right people with the right skills.  This will create problems .... but in the medium term, it will make capital investment seem more attractive and more financially viable. So, in the longer term, we may see a gradual move to a higher wage but more capital-intensive economy ...  with an associated productivity rise.

Its an ill wind .....

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Throw the task manager away

Do you use a task manager to help you schedule tasks and activities?  Many people do.  There are many apps out there to help you.

Do you wake each morning, look at your list of outstanding tasks and feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you should achieve that day.

You are setting yourself up for failure.

At the end of the day, you probably look at the list again and find you are carrying over quite a few of those tasks until the next day.  You therefore feel you have 'failed'.

This is repeated each day, increasing the sense of frustration, of pressure, of failure.

This is no way to become productive.

What you should do is to determine which of the tasks should be done by you - and which by others.  You should maintain 3 or 4  important tasks to be done each day - others should be eliminated, automated or delegated.  You can then complete those tasks, tick them off and feel a sense of achievement,  Your morale will rise, your stress lower - and you will become more productive.

You can also, then, throw the task manager away.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

How are you relations?


What is the most important thing to be done in a business?

Is it creating the vision?
Is it setting strategy?
Is it managing people?
Is it building a supply chain?

Well, all of these are important - but perhaps the biggest single thing to be done is to build relationships - with all stakeholders - other managers, investors, employees, customers, and people in the local communities affected by the organisation’s activities. All of these have an interest in what the company does - and how it does it; some have the ability to influence the outcomes.  We need to share information with them, understand their concerns, recognise the contributions they have to make and listen to them when making decisions - especially those decisions that affect them.  We should treat them as a valuable resource - able to improve the decisions we take and increase our chances of success. We need to recognise when conflict may occur - and take steps to avoid or minimise it.  If we build positive relationships, we do indeed maximise the chances of success - and we build trust and confidence.

If you are unsure of the quality of the relationships you have with your stakeholders, or not confident in your ability to build positive relationships, then you owe it to yourself - and your business - to seek out support, training or other forms of help that can transform your ability to build those positive snd supportive relationships.

It might be the most important thing you ever do!

Saturday, 11 May 2019

What (no, how) do you think?

We are often asked to reflect on 'what we think'.  But, rarely, on how we think.

Many of us are charged with making improvements, with innovation, with important planning and decision-making.  How we think - and how well we think - is therefore important.

Yet most of us don't know.  We think how we think - how we have always thought.  We haven't had thinking lessons.  We developed our thinking processes based on our education - but, even there, there were no lessons on thinking.

So, we may think illogically, with bias, with pre-conceived (perhaps out-of-date) notions and on the basis of insufficient or imperfect information.  If we have the occasional 'flash of brilliance', we congratulate ourselves - forgetting that the rest - the majority - of our thinking is far less than perfect.

So, perhaps it is time to do some basic research (reading) about critical and creative thinking - and start to think about how you think, why you think like you do - which leads to why you behave like you do. It might change what you do (because you've changed why you do it).

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Treat your employees well,.

"Our people are our greatest assert:".  So say most companies.  Yet few of them behave as if they really believe it.

They fail to involve, empower - even train and develop - their employees and then are surprised when those employees fail to maximise their contribution - if they stay at all ... they are much more likely to seek an employer who will look after them.

So, treating your employees well makes all kinds of sense  - especially financial.  The costs of poor performance coupled with the costs of high labour turnover might break your business. they will certainly make you less competitive.

So, take the time to think about how you might improve the participation and performance of your employees.  It makes sense!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Virtual Reality, Real Impact

I have been involved with training individuals and groups for many years.  I think i know something about what works - and what doesn't.

My main lesson is that 'doing' works - getting trainers to undertake activity to reinforce any knowledge they might have gained.  The closer the activity is to a real-life work situation for which the trainees are being prepared, the better.

This is why I am really looking forward to the impact that VR and AI are going to have on training.

When we can put trainees in a near-to-real-life situation and observe how they get on , the more we can tune our training, mentoring, coaching and skills development processes to deliver maximum on-the-job impact.  VR is about to enter the mainstream - getting cheap enough to deploy practical -sized  training groups.  It will then take a while for we trainers to learn how to exploit it ... but the results could be amazing.


Saturday, 20 April 2019

Efficiency is not enough


Efficiency is not enough.

I have spent much of my life urging companies to become more efficient - and helping them to do do.

But, of course, I know that some do not go far enough.

Becoming more efficient should not be an end in itself.

Becoming efficient creates capacity - it gives an organisation the headroom to start thinking about doing different things, adding more value, innovating.

So, regard your journey to greater efficiency as a stepping stone. 

Refine your business to create that capacity to transform it in the longer term.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

New recruits

Recruitment is perhaps the most important function you ever undertake.

If you don't recruit talented, skilled, flexible staff, you can't expect your staff to exhibit talent, skill and flexibility.

But you also have to create an organisation in which that talent, skills and flexibility can thrive and grow.

You have to impose your will ,your way of thinking, your values ... but leave 'room' for your staff to demonstrate their own values, their own commitment, their own drive.

Then, think about what you are trying to achieve, communicate this strongly (and often) to  the team, set them goals and targets - and hold them accountable for their performance in achieving those goals and targets.

Your job is to identify barriers to high performance - and remove them; to engage and motivate the staff, to reward good performance - and deal appropriately with underperformance. Not forgetting the importance of recruiting the right staff in the first place, of course.

All of this is not easy ... but it is necessary.  

Saturday, 6 April 2019

When you're not there?

If you run an organisation (or part of an organisation) and run it well, how do you manage to keep it running well when you are not there.  This can certainly be a problem for small, startups and growing organisations that do not have an established management structure.

First of all, let's hope you have recruited well - employing trustworthy, conscientious staff.

Secondly, let's hope you have trained your staff well - in the basics and in the less common tasks that can emerge as difficulties.

Thirdly, let's hope that your staff show initiative and have problem-solving skills, so they can deal with the unexpected (back to a combination of recruitment and training - and an atmosphere in which they feel they have the freedom to exercise their discretion).

And finally, let's hope you have created an organisation  that has a culture based on shared, core values - which can be used to shape decisions and actions.

So as you can see, how the business runs in your absence depends entirely on you - and the way you have built the organisation, its structure and its culture.  if you are not sure all of these are in place, you'd better start thinking and acting now to ensure these basic building blocks of a high productivity organisation are in place.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Quality or producvtibvity

Should we focus our improvement efforts on improving the quality of what we do ... or in improving the productivity?

It doesn't matter.

Productivity and Quality are inextricably linked. Improving quality adds value to goods or services which adds to the top line of the productivity ratio. 
Improving quality through systematic analysis and investigation of both product and process also throws up productivity improvements. 
Improving quality and productivity both require fresh thinking and innovation. 

An organisation that commits to quality, of necessity, commits to productivity.  One might even consider that one (a focus on improving quality) means improving the quality of what we do.  The other (a focus on improving productivity) means improving the quality of how we do things.

So, go ahead.  Do one or do both. You will end up improving your productivity.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Know the competition


Do you know how well your competitors are doing - not in terms of their results but operationally? They might have better results but be a worse performer because they are bigger than you. They may be at a disadvantage in terms of their location, access to labour, materials or energy ... yet still have similar or better results. 

What we see in public figures is the 'tip of the iceberg'. We need to take a look underwater to properly judge their performance.

There may be a benchmarking club, or an employers' federation that can show us at least a little more of the iceberg.

It's definitely worth finding out what we can. . If we know, for example, that a competitor's distribution costs are lower than ours, it can motivate us to address ours systematically and seriously, 

Knowledge is rarely value less. Take every opportunity to find out more about your competitors - even networking with them and listening to anecdotal evidence can be helpful.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Like an athlete


When running a race, an athlete has to be in peak condition, with no injuries. They also have to be aware of the capabilities of their opponents and set their tactics accordingly (especially for long distance races).

Well, business competition is rather similar. 

A business organisation has to be in peak condition with no significant performance drawbacks. They then must be aware of what their competitors are doing and set out their strategy and tactics accordingly.

So, if the two situations have similarities can one learn from the other? Can the business organisation learn from how the athlete prepares for his/her racing?

The answer is ‘Yes’.

The athlete trains often, to a pre-determined training regime, takes care with diet, makes sure they warm up before activity and cools down after activity.

Now I’ve set the scene .. it’s up to you how you translate those tasks into actions your business could take to ‘train’ for improved competitiveness.

Let’s get ready to win some medals!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

How does it fit?

Remember ergonomics?  Not many people seem to.

I often see products that look like the designer has no idea of the shape and size of a typical person.  They may have been designed for an average human being of the 1940s ...  but not thew 21st century.

Think seats on public transport, on aeroplanes, in cars.  You have to squeeze yourself into an impossibly small space - especially if the next seat is already occupied.

And control systems and and 'user interfaces' which are too often user-hostile rather than user-friendly.

And don't get me started on instruction manuals - translated from the original Japanese or Chinese into modern gobbledegook.

People change gradually from one size to another - or one frame of mind to another. There should be plenty of time for designers to 'catch up'.  This would involve a little more thought - but in addressing control systems, user comfort, user understanding, ease of use and so on could significantly improve productivity.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

People or Profits

Some organisations treat  people badly as they pursue profit at all costs.
Yet this is short-termism of the worst sort.

As you travel around and visit various companies, you will invariably see a poster or plaque in reception claiming 'Our people are our Greatest Asset' or "We are Investors in People:".

Yet few of those companies act as if they believe what they say in reception.

People are an organisations's greatest asset - but only if the organisation can release their potential, their contribution, their innovation, their ideas.

This doesn't just happen - it happens when the organisation creates a high potential culture, appropriate procedures, and most of all - development opportunities for the staff to keep adding to their skills and knowledge.

People are not 'human resources' but they can be a valuable source of innovation.

'People' ands 'profit' are not in any way mutually exclusive - they are inextricably linked. Organisartions that fail to recognise - and act on - this are doomed to poor industrial relations and low contribution levels from their staff.


Saturday, 23 February 2019

Bring on the revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the greatest ever change to UK society, transforming the lives of millions of people. Yet, at the time, many people suffered from appalling work under dreadful conditions.

Now the UK is faced with Brexit and ...

We vget all sorts of predictions but these are almost always based on prejudice, not on facts.

To b e fair, no-one knows what will really happen.


My own view is that the UK is resilient and innovative enough to cope in the longer-term but I accept there may be short-term problems.

It might, however, be just what we need.  A shot in the arm ... or a kick up the pants. A stimulus to greater innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

What will be, will be. If w approach it as a challenge, we might succeed.  If we accept it as a threat, we could be in trouble. We have to make the best of it!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Do one thing, say another.

Politicians often bemoan the UK's poor productivity.  Yet, at the same time, over the last decade they seem to have systematically destroyed much of the further education sector with a policy of 'a thousand cuts'.  The same is true of 6th form education. 

There is quite a bit of evidence to show that a well- educated, properly-trained workforce is one of the principal keys to higher productivity.

So., the politicians are the probable cause of the UK's declining productivity ... and are unlikely to be the saviours.... especially since the whole of UK politics is being sucked into the Brexit maelstrom.

So often what politicians say is undermined by what they do!

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Are you in the right job?


We expect modern managers to be numerate and analytical. We educate and train them to be so.

Yet when we look at entrepreneurs we see something else.  We see creativity and passion. 

Which of these are the best qualities to have?

Of course, I have given you a false dilemma. The answer is that really successful business leaders have both analytical and creative skills: they also have passion. They care about what they do; they care deeply about what they achieve. They will make errors and misjudgements but their inner belief, their passion will drive them on to rectify their mistakes, to improve their judgement and their results.

Think about what you do. If you don't care about what you do, you are unlikely to succeed. If you don't have the passion, you are in the wrong job - or the wrong organisation.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

What do we want from education?


I read a comment the other day suggesting that increased private  investment in (private) education would improve its productivity.

I think this is debatable.

As in many other areas, it depends on how you define and measure productivity. We all know that productivity is quite different than production or output: fundamentally it involves the incorporation of resources consumed ... mirroring the judgement we all face daily on assessing 'value' for goods and services we consume.

More investment would certainly raise the numbers of students coming out of private education .... but, as we have just said, that is not a measure of productivity..... nor, importantly, of that very elusive factor 'quality'.  

Take India as an example. Lots of private colleges and universities output thousands of students each year. Yet, there is some doubt about whether many of them are fit for the workplace. They know lots of stuff ... but they can't do very much. Their employability skills are lacking.

Even in admittedly strong areas like engineering, India's education is limited. Their engineering graduates are excellent at solving 'standard' engineering problems .., but when faced with a problem that requires ingenuity and innovation, they lack the problem-solving and creativity skills to take the next step.

So, let's define what we mean by 'productivity' in relation to education, let's determine our aims, objectives and aspirations ... and then try to assess whether more investment from the private sector can help us deliver.

It possibly can .... but if we don't know what we want to happen, we can't bring it about.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Forget the blips

Toyota has had its fair share of problems recently - and has certainly been knocked off the plinth it has been on for some time... held up as a beacon of efficiency and productivity,

So, what does this do for the reputation of the Toyota production system - must we now all try to forget those few Japanese words we learned - like kata, kaizen, gemba and so on.

No, it does not!  Conditions may not currently be favourable for Toyota  but the principles that underly the Toyota Production System are still valid - as are the tools and techniques. There are still countless firms benefitting from the lessons learned - and continuing to thrive in unstable, highly competitive markets.

The future will one day teach us why Toyota has had its 'blips' - whether this is due to them forgetting their own principles and practices, or whether there is some other unknown factor.

I suspect that before too long, they will be back on their plinth. In the meantime, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater ... keep the faith, aim for 'lean', maintain your focus.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Leading from the .....

You will have often heard a phrase like ... Success is a marathon, not a sprint ... indicating that the activity in hand must be addressed with focus and concentration over the longer- term.

Well, Productivity is certainly a marathon.

You need a good start, then a keen ongoing focus and finally a strong finish.

Tools and techniques are very useful but attitude and execution are what really matter. Productivity improvement is best achieved within a supportive culture that expects, receives and values contributions from across and throughout the organisation.

Productivity leadership is not about having the best ideas but about creating that culture in which all ideas for improvement are considered, evaluated and rewarded.

Switching off destroys the culture; the focus must be continual. Leaders must continually relate to, and report on, Productivity ... reinforcing the culture, maintaining the focus and demonstrating their commitment.

Effective leaders lead from the front and the back ... and all points in between.



Saturday, 12 January 2019

Bw good to your employees - and your planet

Many organisations make some attempt to treat employees well - with recognition and reward systems, flexible approaches to leave, healthcare and so on.  The trouble with such 'benefits' is that they quickly get absorbed into 'the expected' rather than being regarded as an 'extra'.

If you want something to have a longer-term effect on employee well-being - and even more importantly, on employee productivity  - then you need to select' benefits' that have a more direct effect on employee performance.

For example, why not institute a transport system to get employees to work - saving them the hassle and stress of doing it for themselves.  You can make it part of your environmental strategy since any form of shared transport is almost certain to be less resource intensive than lots of cars arriving with one individual. 

But more importantly, your employees should arrive fresher, less-stressed and ready to go.  They should be more productive, more content, more engaged with the organisation.

So you can treat your employees well, help  the planet and raise productivity.  Win-win-win. What's not to like?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Am I droning on?

Certainly in the UK, drones have had a bad press recently - with the disruption caused at London's Gatwick airport.

However, the sensible ones among us (and I do - perhaps rather arrogantly - include myself in that category) know that throughout history, technologies have been used for good and bad purposes.

Drones are also used to improve agricultural productivity by giving farmers a view of their fields and crops they could not afford to get in other ways.  They are used in  law enforcement and in the military, by sports broadcasters, and so on.

So, don't blame the drones: they are just pieces of technology.  Blame their operators.

But remember, if the 'bad' users (or their impact on society) outnumber the 'good', technology cannot be uninvented. Once it is 'out there', it stays out there - even if made illegal.

So, society must get used to drones - and their misuse. Be prepared to deal with mischievous or criminal drone use - it is not going to go away.

And, of course, continue to apply the technology to society's advantage. Make the beneficial impact outweigh the harmful.

Go, drones!