Whilst on a Business Trip recently, I bought and read the book Focus, by Daniel Goleman and I found it to be an excellent articulation of how a Disciplined, Focussed approach to life, both Business and Personal, can have a significantly positive impact on Performance, or as Daniel Goleman puts it, Focus is:
The use of a PPM, utilising the Personal Kanban and Pomodoro techniques has the potential to revolutionise an individual's way of working and make them more effective, whilst reducing the number of hours worked. Note that I use the word effective, not efficient, as the PPM is about both removing those things that don't add value and doing those that remain in a better way, whereas some techniques focus on efficiency and result in doing the same (wrong) things but faster. The PPM approach that I will describe has certainly improved my effectiveness and has made my work-life significantly more focussed as a result.
The way that it works is as follows:
1. Personal Kanban
The Personal Kanban approach is relatively simple to set-up but the challenge, as with most Lean Tools is the Discipline around its application. There are variations on the design and nuances on the 'rules' but the approach that I take is:
2. Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is not new, having been developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and is named after the Italian word for Tomato, due to the predominance of Tomato shaped Kitchen Timers in the 1980s.
The idea behind the technique is that a Human can work best in concentrated focussed periods of 25 minutes, whereby they should focus on a single task and avoid distractions. In brief, the process is:
I have used this technique for a few years now and it is not an exaggeration to describe it as revolutionary. In the last couple of years, I enhanced it with the use of the Kanban flow software, which allows the management of the Kanban and the utilisation of a Pomodoro timer, as well as collaboration with others on projects. However, as with all processes, I would recommend making the process work for you before automating it.
In an increasingly distractive world, it is more important than ever that we enable ourselves to reclaim focus and I would recommend that anyone who might feel 'out of control' of their personal planning, or simply doesn't feel that they are as effective as they could be, to give this approach a try.
If you're interested in my recent Podcast regarding Being a Visible Leader, you can access it via this link or by clicking on the picture below. If you would like to read the Pulse Article, 'Being a Visible Leader', please click here.
There are many Lean Leadership Books out there but I have reviewed those that I think are of most use on my Book Recommendations page.
The book, Focus, by Daniel Goleman may be found at this link.
The Pomodoro Technique, by Staffan Noteberg, may be found at this link.
A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve your Personal Performance, by Daniel Markovitz, may be found at this link.
Follow Philip on Twitter: @LeanMaster1
In Business, focussing on Discipline is often seen in a negative light, a way of controlling people and limiting both their personality and creativity. However, in my view the critical factor is whether the focus is on driving discipline in Processes or in applying discipline to people.
To explain, consider as just one example the ineffectiveness of a large proportion of meetings, where it is not uncommon for people to arrive late, unprepared and for a significant proportion of the meeting to be unproductive, resulting in an ineffective meeting. If we try to solve this problem through the application of increased discipline on our people, we are unlikely to make any long-term improvement, as we will encounter both passive and active resistance as we 'tell' people how to behave. However, if we countermeasure the root causes of the under-performance and instead focus on reducing the inhibitors and increasing the promotors of effective meetings, we take a process approach to engendering discipline and will engage our People in improving the process of meetings. This may be, in one sense, nuance but will result in the creation of a standardised, effective meeting culture in the organisation, driven by the People who make them work.
Athletes and Sports Players are a great example of this and in the book Focus the example is given of those great Quarter Backs (American Football) who are credited with being able to 'see the field'; which is actually due to their thousands of hours of practice, which pays back the return on investment through being able to utilise the low cognitive energy part of their brain. This is true in all areas of life where we want to perform at the top end of the spectrum, whether it be, for example, American Football, Golf, Marketing, Public Speaking, Painting or Ballet. Whatever we want to be good at, we must standardise and then have the Discipline to continuously practice the standard.
To illustrate this visually, take a look at this 54 Second video clip of a Tennis Rally between Federer and Djokovic:
This is a fantastic rally and what you will see is that they undertake a lot of it utilising their low cognitive energy, playing well practiced strokes that they must have played thousands of times in practice and in earlier matches. However, at around 42-43 Seconds, Federer uses his high cognitive energy to play a shot that Djokovic cannot adequately respond to and he wins the point. Contrast this to how you would observe amateurs playing Tennis, where a lot of the strokes would be in what we might term 'Fire-fighting' mode, as they play the majority of their game in a state of high cognitive energy.
Bringing this back to Business, it is therefore essential that we set up our Business Processes in a standardised way and act with the Discipline required around them. Only when we do this will we allow ourselves the time to adequately focus on making the break-throughs in performance that are necessary to be the best at what we do. The challenge is that most of us spend our time in perpetual 'Fire-fighting' and that some Organisations actually promote People on their competence as a Fire-fighter, therefore reinforcing this culture within the organisation. Ironically, working in a culture where Fire-fighting activity is the norm will mean that our People will become highly skilled at it and will become almost robotic in this approach.
What we therefore need to do is break the habit of Fire-fighting and start to celebrate and recognise those people who utilise Disciplined, Standardised approaches to Problem Solving and Process rigour to prevent problems recurring and free up the time to improve the business. To paraphrase Albert Einstein:
"Managers Fire-fight problems; Leaders prevent them"
To do this requires us all to behave differently and for the Leadership to take up the challenge to drive the Transformation that is required in the business. This takes Individual and Organisational Stamina and a Change Leadership approach that is consistent and long-term in its thinking. However, what is most important is the mindset in Business towards Excellence.
Whilst we would expect the performance of Artists, Musicians, Sports Players and Athletes to improve, and we observe advances in how quickly they develop, we would never expect to see one of them performing at the top of their chosen profession without thousands of hours of practise over many years.
"That being the case, why do we expect to take short-cuts in developing our Businesses to be World Class without putting in the Disciplined Practise that it takes?"
We somehow seem to expect that there are formulaic approaches that can be applied and 'bought-in' to short-cut the years of practice required to become excellent in the areas that the Business needs to be excellent in. This doesn't mean that we cannot learn from others and transform faster than others have down before but what it does mean is that we cannot abbreviate the process to the extent that most businesses do and must invest the time to consistently execute on the Transformation plan.
At this point I think that it's important to clarify that this Standardised and Disciplined approach to Business Processes does not mean that we won't improve them or that we don't make step changes when necessary. We must also create a culture of Continuous Improvement (Kaizen Culture) that delivers multiple small, every-day, improvements leading to large improvements over time. Combined with this, through Policy Deployment (Hoshin Kanri) we will make the step change improvements that are required where Continuous Improvement won't suffice.
Once again, we can use the Sports World as an analogy, with the example of Tiger Woods. When he had reached the limits of success that he could master with his 'tried and tested' Golf Swing, he controversially decided to transform it. He effectively took his Golf Swing out of the Bottom Part of his Brain, up to the Top Part whilst he 're-programmed' it and, slowly but surely, through hours of practice, his new swing moved into the Bottom Part. This was a step change improvement that Continuous Improvement couldn't have brought him.
We therefore must realise in Business that Transformation takes time and therefore we must get the balance right between the Continuous Improvement and Step Change activity and that, in both cases, the ability of the Organisation to maintain Discipline over the long-term is going to be the difference between success and failure.
This is where Discipline becomes Competitive Advantage.
There are many Lean Leadership Books out there but I have reviewed those that I think are of most use on my Book Recommendations page, or alternatively go to Amazon.com. The book, Focus, by Daniel Goleman may be found at this link.
Follow Philip on Twitter: @LeanMaster1
I wrote about the requirements for Change Leadership in my article 'Breaking the Mediocrity Barrier' , in which I gave an overview of an essential measure of the success of a Transformation approach:
VCRSP: Vision, Commitment, Resources, Skills and Plan
A large proportion of these programs fail due to the loss of Commitment, which requires the following to be successful:
The Senior Leadership must be fully committed to the change and be willing to accept that they will have to change as well as the rest of the employees. The Transformation starts with them and will then cascade through the organisation as priorities and expectations are aligned across the business. The behaviours that got them where they are today are not those that will get them where they want the organisation to go to and so they need to be Role Models in the change. This means being both a Visible Leader and ensuring that Communication is clear, consistent and frequent.
This is where I very often observe the fall-off in momentum in a Transformation, as the Leadership fail to realise that it is not sufficient to set the Vision, Resource the Program, Train and Skill the People and have a great Plan; they must be the change that they want to see. This is often a challenging issue for the person or people charged with the Transformation Management, as they cannot ignore this watershed moment in the Program or they will consistently run up against its barrier until failure is reached. This point in the Transformation I describe as follows:
The Leadership have had the Transformation described to them very much as Christmas might be described; a time when all of their wishes will come true; a time when gifts will be lavished upon them; sustenance will be in abundance; and joy will be on the faces of all. They will have wholeheartedly voted for Christmas.
However, at a certain point, this watershed juncture in the Transformation, the Leadership realise that they are, in fact, the Turkeys and Christmas may not be as comfortable as they thought.
What I hope to convey with this message is that Business Transformation cannot be about simply setting the direction and that, to gain the significant rewards on offer, the Leadership must be Change Leaders and, if at the time of loss of commitment it is not recognised and acted upon, the Transformation will be doomed to failure.
This element of Leadership Commitment is one which I think is the defining element of the ongoing discussion around whether Business Transformation, and in particular Lean Business Transformation, can be effected better 'Top-Down' or 'Bottom-Up', with my view being clearly that we need both the Leadership commitment and the Team Members engagement to be successful. Those Transformations that have been successful and are described as 'Bottom-Up', may well have significant evidence of employee mobilisation and bottom up leadership but will also have clearly met the VCRSP criteria, including Top Leadership Commitment. Similarly, for those Transformations that have been described as 'Top-Down' there will certainly have been very visible Leadership Commitment but the success would not have been attained without a clear engagement of the 'Troops'.
All elements of the VCRSP test of Transformation must be met if it is to be successful, although the Leadership Commitment is the one that most Transformation Managers struggle to deal with, due to the difficulty in challenging the Leadership, and this must be a real focus for all of us involved in Business Transformation if we are to deliver the results that we aim for.
"I aim to promote the global sharing of best practices in the application of Lean Thinking."