Information Management

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Need a robust process? How about starting with a checklist

robust [roh-buhst]: strongly or stoutly built.

checklist [chek-list]: a list of items.

Struggling to create a process that produces a quality end product every time?

Something as simple as a checklist may be your starting point.  It apparently has worked for hotels.  If you’ve heard about Peter Pronovost, then you’ll know the value it has brought to healthcare.

What does a checklist accomplish?  It ensures that each step of a process has been followed.  In terms of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, the checklist lays out the initial Plan of what to Do, and depending upon the process, can also provide all of the necessary Check elements to ensure that the process is meeting the desired outcomes.

I was not a software developer by education.  So when I began developing Thrive, I had to establish a way to ensure that when I developed a new feature of Thrive that the end result was something that was created with a minimal amount of defects (bugs) and with a maximum amount of value to the end user.  Nobody wants to do something twice…I don’t even want to discover a bug, and the worst scenario is when defects reach the end user.  The checklist I created attempts to prevent defects from being created in the first place, but also tries to uncover them before they’re “out the door”.

From a software development standpoint, my checklist involves two core elements, with sub-lists under each main area.  Summarized, it looks like this:

  1. Database Development: create data structures to support new feature, check impacts to existing data, create data necessary to support UI elements
  2. User Experience: UI feature layout, interface logic and interface with data, user navigation, user security

This has worked incredibly well.  It has even worked when creating custom, “one-off” applications.  It ensures that everything is considered, even if it is not necessarily relevant to the current feature.  The checklist doesn’t cover every possible development scenario, but it probably covers 95% of them.  And when the outliers arise the checklist can get refined to ensure that the process remains solid.

While a checklist is not standard work, it can certainly be the starting point, whether in manufacturing, healthcare, government, or services.  It shouldn’t be difficult to get people together to determine a basic process checklist quickly.  From there, a more robust standard work can be developed.

Don’t think lean principles or standard work can be applied to the development of software or your IT department?  Alan Shalloway and Tom and Mary Poppendieck would beg to differ.

UPDATE

Found some new checklist resources on Harvard Business Review: What Sort of Checklist Should You Be Using? and an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande on Using Checklists to Prevent Failure.

By |2009-10-22T12:04:54+00:00October 22nd, 2009|Information Management|2 Comments

Alright, enough with the jargon already, just tell me where it hurts!

About to go on a rant…a rant about marketing speak.  I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve done this.  I guess what is probably frustrating for me is that seemingly a lot of people swoon and end up in a trance at the horse and pony show a lot of companies produce.  "Yes, oh great company [read, marketing organization], I do need a real-time collaborative knowledge management portal…I’ve never used those phrase in my life until now, but I’m sure I need that."  You know what?  What people really need are easy-to-use tools that provide information that people can take action on and make improvements to their organizations.  Maybe I’m just too pragmatic in my approach.

Unfortunately, I think too many people pour money into things that don’t actually solve the problems that they have in the first place, or that will really deliver the business results that they need.  [Side bar: I guess I’m guilty sometimes, too…I almost made the plunge into a time-share that we could not realistically taken advantage of…but they key is: almost.]  Scott Whitlock has an example (if his blog hasn’t moved yet) about pouring good money after bad.

The VP at one of my clients tells a great story every time I bring other potential clients in to see there company.  "Give me the $2 million you were to spend on the ERP package you were going to buy, I’ll kick you in the shins because that’s how implementation would have felt, and then go buy Thrive instead."   (for obvious reasons I’m a little biased in why I like this quote).  While blunt, his point is of course that unfortunately many organizations do fall for the lure the dressed-up sales speak thrown around big systems.  Of course, we all know how Kevin Meyer feels about this as well.

I have a lot of feelings about ERPs, but here’s my current favorite visual about enterprise applications (from Go Big Always):

ideabankruptcy1

So what do people need?  Well let’s start with why in the world would you collect data to begin with?  People want to know where the problems are.  We need to know that something went wrong (or that things are going well).  We need feedback.  We need to know where the opportunities lie.  And then people want to be able to manage the process of improvement and see results later that they did indeed reach the desired target.

I guess if you do this through integrated and browser-based portal rationalization systems that non-intrusively collect data from disparate sources and provide real-time, resource multiplying, supply chain enhancing solutions, then more power to you.

By |2009-02-06T12:21:50+00:00February 6th, 2009|Business, Information Management, People, Technology|0 Comments

2009 will be the year of lean

John Shook at Lean Enterprise Institute says lean is “just what the doctor ordered” for 2009 and is hoping for a better year.

Brian Buck expects creativity and innovation to arrive on the scene.

Jon Miller talks about how Tom Vilsack might bring lean to the federal level (hooray!).

Kevin Meyer suggests Toyota could use some of its lean knowledge to energize the rest of the automotive industry.

In the lean software arena, “Mastering the Recession with Lean, Agile, and Scrum.”

And have you seen all the lean people that are now on Twitter?  Brian Buck and I surmised it must be some kind of New Year’s resolution.  Regardless the cause, there’s any obvious effort to get the word out about the value of lean, and Twitter is another tool to spread the word.  Here are the lean tweeps I’m currently following (I’m sure there are more): @brianbuck, @evanjmiller, @GembaPantaRei, @gerrykirk, @giladl, @GotBoondoggle, @leanblog, @lssacademy, @matthewemay, @mglombard, @Paulflevy, @RalfLippold, @Rwilliard, @shmula, @superfactory, UPDATE: @lizguthridge

If you aren’t creating value for customers…if you aren’t eliminating waste…if you aren’t respecting your people, this won’t be your year.  This is true now more than ever, as consumers and business get more picky about where they’re going to put their resources, and as the personal savings rate has actually gone up (this is a good thing since it had gone negative, but indicates spending will be tighter!).

Don’t think lean is drawing attention?  Check out the search terms people are using lately.  This is drawn from the Google Keyword Search Tool.  I just checked out “lean manufacturing” as an example.  In the month of December, there was an 18% increase in the interest in the term “lean manufacturing” over the average of the previous 12 months (the totals of the entire result set were 109,459 for December versus 92,808 for the average).

lean_keyword

And this is just the term “lean manufacturing”.  What about all of the other arenas like healthcare, software, and others?  Even just the term “lean” has a WHOPPING 50% increase (2,740,000 for December versus 1,830,000 prior 12-month average).  Granted, “lean” in this case might include people looking to improve their physical fitness, but regardless this is a huge jump.

Where are people conducting these searches?  For that info, check out this cool tool.  It gives you a “heat map” of where these searches are being conducted (US data only).

state_map

Principles that started in manufacturing have spread to so many different arenas.  And why not?  Look at how Tom and Mary Poppendieck describe the principles within software development:

The seven principles of Lean Software development are:

  • Respect people
  • Eliminate waste
  • Defer commitment
  • Create knowledge
  • Deliver fast
  • Build quality in
  • Optimize the whole

Sound familiar?  Manufacturing, healthcare, education, services, construction, government, and software development have all found how valuable these principles are.  Granted the tools and practices probably look different from one to the next, but the principles are constant.

(side note…I’m now going to use the phrase “deferring commitment” instead of “procrastinating”…it sounds a lot better! 🙂 )

Maybe we should organize a big “lean-fest” or lean tweetup to exchange ideas across industries and share best (or better, as some are now saying) practices (maybe the Lean Global Network is already doing this?).  A nice, central-US location might be nice.  Say…Pella, Iowa (street view from Google Maps)?

Thrive software referenced in ISO audit in a positive light!

Had to add “in a positive light” because being mentioned in an ISO audit may not be a good thing, but in this case it definitely was.  For those wondering about how Thrive can support your ISO certification, it is definitely a “value add”.  Here’s what was said in a recent audit:

The investment in tools like Thrive for a common communication platform is evidence of the organizations commitment to “….a dedicated focus on continual improvement” as stated in your Quality Policy.

To my knowledge, this is the first “in print” reference to Thrive in an audit, but I have spoken to two other auditors at other clients before who have said that Thrive exceeded their expectations for how software could support an ISO certified organization.

By |2008-10-30T10:13:38+00:00October 30th, 2008|Business, Information Management, Manufacturing|Comments Off on Thrive software referenced in ISO audit in a positive light!

Lest we forget…humans solve problems

Great quote I just read in “Lean Enterprise Systems: Using IT for Continuous Improvement” authored by Steve Bell (I downloaded the pdf version, but can’t seem to remember from where right now):

“Society has reached the point where one can push a button and be immediately deluged with technical and managerial information. This is all very convenient, of course, but if one is not careful there is a danger of losing the ability to think. We must remember that in the end it is the individual human being who must solve the problems.” Eiji Toyoda, 1983

(emphasis mine) I love this because it resonates with the Thrive tagline of “Software doesn’t innovate. Software doesn’t make decisions. Software can’t manage people.”  The software does not solve the problems.  The software improves your ability to solve the problems.  Even if you want to argue that software does solve problems, it is only because we humans built the formula/algorithm to solve the problem…so it still goes back to people.

Considering I haven’t made it past the opening quote and I’m already referencing the book, I suspect I might like it.

By |2008-08-19T14:59:08+00:00August 19th, 2008|Books, Information Management, People|0 Comments

Software doesn’t innovate, software doesn’t make decisions

…and software can’t manage people.  This is the tag-line for our Thrive product.  Why?  Because this is true.  Software by itself typically adds no value to the process it is analyzing (this is a very scary thing for a software vendor to say!).  It is the interaction with software…the entering of data, the analysis of data, the interaction with the data, the interaction of people together in response to the data.  That is where the value comes into play.  Software enables people to be more productive..it streamlines operations in collecting, analyzing, and managing information that surely could be accomplished manually, but when was the last time you used an abacus?  It enables them to see data in an aggregated visual manner that otherwise couldn’t be accomplished with a cursory glance at a set of data.

Robert X Cringely discusses SAP implementations on his blog (link courtesy of Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence from his blog entry).

Putting in an ERP system isn’t going to improve the business by itself: you still have to figure out what the data means and make decisions.

Of course, this is often the case: that people expect that just by putting the system in place they will see impact to the bottom line.  He goes on to say:

The problem is there is not enough return on investment from the ERP system itself to justify the cost. You need more. The real savings must come from improving your firm’s business processes. So a huge business redesign project is often coupled with many ERP projects.

And this is where I would argue you generally don’t get the information you need to improve your business processes.  The ERP is so financially focused (and the information is always end-of-the-month reactionary data), it does not effectively expose where the true operational waste is coming from.  A department that appears to be over budget could be that way because of waste caused by upstream or downstream operations.

Cringely’s article is interesting, because he argues that ERP’s are difficult to use by design, so that the ERP companies can pull in more revenue through consulting.

Eliminating Information Frustration

Getting closer to my mantra instead of my mission statement.  Guy Kawasaki often espouses the importance of having a mantra instead of a mission statement, and so does Andy Stanley.  For the longest time I struggled to put into a brief mantra what it was that I was really setting out to do.  I’m trying to decide if this is too generic and broad, but I think "Eliminating Information Frustration" is my new mantra.  It was my own personal negative encounters with information systems that has driven me to do what I do today.  And I encounter similar pain in the people I work with.  What are some of those frustrations?

  • Having to be trained and re-trained on the most mundane/routine tasks of using an application
  • Not being able to extract useful information back out of a system (as in, reports…why would I even put information into a system unless I hoped to gain some useful insight later to take action to improve my organization in some fashion?)
  • Not being able to quickly assess the information that’s relevant to me personally in my application
  • Software licensing…why do I always pay additional fees for another user’s access to the system…the information is the company’s info, why can’t we just have access to it?

I could go on.  But that’s what drives me.  Trying to eliminate information frustration.

By |2008-05-22T10:03:50+00:00May 22nd, 2008|Business, Information Management|1 Comment

Digital waste

I LOVE this article. In my opinion brilliant. And I’m sure when I get around to reading it, I will love this book as well. Tom Peters talked about the author, Mark Hurst, on his blog today.  Mark Hurst is the author of the book and founded the company Creative Good. The article deals primarily with how people manage (or don’t manage) their email. The book goes into greater detail on that topic, but primarily discusses how to survive below the “weight” of all the bits of data on your computer.

I’ve wondered in the past if a consulting business could be created to help people manage their emails, photos, and all other digital “stuff” on their computers. In the past, people had to find places to store photo albums, letters, and 8mm home movie films and the physical mess was often readily apparent and had to be dealt with. Today, people get away with a digital clutter that goes largely unobserved, but creates stress and work when something important needs to be located. And I think toward the future as well…when people pass away today, their heirs have to rummage through and make decisions about all the “stuff” sitting around. In the future, who’s going to want to pour through the legacy of terabytes of someone’s life and try to decide where it’s all to go?

I often shudder when I see other people’s email inboxes. And another favorite of mine is people’s computer desktops…every square inch (or pixel) littered with shortcuts to every program or spreadsheet imaginable. I think people make managing information stressful and difficult. Looking for the most important or “active” items becomes a chore, and has created a market for desktop search engines because people have no idea what they do with any of the information they have.

There’s a lot more to it, but the basic way I manage my own personal email is to leave only unresponded to or “active” emails in my inbox. And I never let the number of emails in my inbox grow larger than the pane their listed in (about 15 items). If I can respond to an item quickly, I do, and I do it right away and delete the item I just responded to. Google’s gmail with its conversational style accomplishes exactly what I set out to accomplish…always only have one copy of a chain of emails.

There’s probably a lot more I could say about email and file management, and I recently responded to someone’s post on Lean.org‘s web site, so rather than re-typing my ideas, I’ll just copy them here. The remainder of this post will show that.

(more…)

By |2007-07-10T12:54:37+00:00July 10th, 2007|Information Management|0 Comments