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Mark Graban & Greg Jacobson: Thanksgiving Processes, the AME Conference, Technology, Favorite Books [Podcast]

Posted by Mark Graban

Dec 1, 2023 9:53:00 AM

Here's the latest episode of the KaiNexus Continuous Improvement podcast, this time featuring another conversation with Mark Graban and Greg Jacobson.

They discuss:

  • Thanksgiving turkey frying safety tips and process
  • Highlights from the recent AME International Conference
  • Books that made a huge impact on them



Continuous Improvement: Enhancing Lives and Business

Continuous improvement, a practice deeply rooted in the framework of personal and business processes, stands as a testament to the philosophy of constant, incremental progress. It's an idea that finds its applications in diverse areas—from the adrenaline-driven environment of the emergency room to the traditions of Thanksgiving turkey preparations.

The Essence of Continuous Improvement in Daily Life

Continuous improvement (CI) is a core principle embraced by industries, but its significance spills over into personal routines and family traditions. Take, for example, the art of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. What once started as a simple family activity of frying a turkey can transform into a complex process intently focused on safety, efficiency, and culinary perfection. Over the years, this process often undergoes meticulous refinement, adopting CI practices, whether explicitly recognized or naturally integrated. The result is a safe, delicious, and stress-free holiday highlight.

Standardizing the turkey preparation through the establishment of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and checklists can ensure that each step is executed flawlessly, mitigating risks and enhancing outcomes. Even a seemingly domestic task like this benefits immensely from the discipline and foresight that CI methodologies promote.

Checklists and SOPs: Critical Tools for Safety and Efficiency

Incorporating checklists and SOPs is fundamental in carrying out complex activities, particularly in scenarios prone to risk, such as frying a turkey. Checklists act as a safety net, reminding individuals of the important steps to prevent mishaps. They serve the purpose of ensuring that the necessary precautions are in place, from using proper gloves to maintaining a stable frying base. Moreover, an SOP provides a comprehensive guide for executing tasks, potentially detailing step durations and sequences for more intricate or timed operations.

Another aspect of the CI process involves innovation in the form of technology integration. For example, adopting a remote temperature sensor for turkey frying can considerably reduce the dangers of maintaining the necessary oil temperature, eliminating the need for physical proximity to hazardous materials. By melding traditional cooking practices with modern technological advancements, proponents of CI can achieve new levels of safety and efficiency.

Continuous Improvement at the Dinner Table and Beyond

The application of continuous improvement and industrial engineering techniques can reach as far as the dinner table during festive seasons. The use of tools like Gantt charts to manage the timing of various dishes underscores the versatility and effectiveness of CI concepts in everyday practices. Scheduling, timing, and sequencing play into the preparation of a grand meal just as much as they do on the production floor of a manufacturing plant, revealing a universal benefit—stress reduction.

Choosing to prepare meals from scratch or to 'make or buy' decisions such as purchasing prepared turkeys and sides offers a glimpse into the trade-offs and thoughtful planning that exemplifies CI. Participants at the forefront of continuous improvement converge at conferences like the AME to exchange practical insights, reflect on progress, and remain abreast of innovations. Professionals benefit from exploring new products, nurturing creativity, and learning from the experiences of others—validating CI as an everlasting educational journey.

In sum, continuous improvement transcends the boundaries of industries, embedding itself in personal traditions and contributing to safer, more efficient, and highly enjoyable human experiences. Whether honing a holiday tradition or enhancing a product line, CI remains an indispensable ally in the pursuit of excellence.

The Evolving Dynamics of Conference Engagement

The act of attending conferences has perennially been a platform for education, networking, and innovation. However, the dynamic of conference engagement has seen a notable shift, especially when discussing the interaction between attendees and exhibitors. Conferences offer a unique opportunity to dive deep into the operational challenges organizations face, especially in the realm of continuous improvement (CI).

The Transition from Conference Attendee to Exhibitor

Stepping into an exhibitor's shoes offers a distinctive perspective that is often overlooked by conference-goers. Exhibitors are typically seen as salespeople, eagerly awaiting to pounce with their latest products or services, but this stance is rapidly changing. With a more discerning approach to visiting booths, attendees now actively seek out potential solutions to the problems they are grappling with. This proactive exploration underscores a more mature understanding of the symbiotic relationship between vendors and industry professionals.

Understanding Organizational Challenges Through Engagement

Real conversations at conference booths can swiftly determine the viability of products or services, filtering out what is or isn't applicable to an attendee's needs. This genuine interaction not only enriches the conference experience but also allows for a deeper understanding of the common pitfalls organizations encounter within their CI endeavors.

Many discussions revolve around how businesses organize and manage their improvement work, highlighting the demand for robust solutions that extend beyond basic problem recognition. In many circumstances, the solution providers themselves gain insights into evolving requirements, shaping their offerings to better address these emerging needs.

Technology Acceptance in Continuous Improvement

The role of technology in continuous improvement has undergone a radical transformation. Not long ago, there was a hesitation towards technological solutions with a preference for traditional approaches such as paper and pencil. This resistance has dissipated over time, paving the way for technology to play a critical role in CI strategies.

Spreadsheets and Traditional Methods: While still popular, traditional tools like Excel and SharePoint have shown their limitations. These tools, despite being powerful, often fall short in collaborative environments, highlighting issues of version control and fragility when expanded across larger groups.

KaiNexus: A Case Study in Technological Shifts

KaiNexus stands as an example of how technological solutions can address the weaknesses of conventional methods. By offering a platform designed to cope with the demanding needs of CI practices, KaiNexus appeals to organizations seeking to streamline their processes.

  • Customers of KaiNexus: Enterprises such as Sherwin Williams, Cleveland Clinic, and many others have adopted KaiNexus to manage their CI portfolios effectively.

Leadership, Mistakes, and Learning: Key Takeaways from Keynotes

Conferences often feature keynotes that provide inspiration and direction. Entrepreneurs like Rich Sheridan and Bob Chapman each deliver a compelling message that echoes throughout the CI community.

  • Importance of Learning from Mistakes: Embracing errors as part of improving is crucial. It personifies the CI ethos and is especially powerful when coming from influential leaders.

  • Truly Human Leadership: Bob Chapman's approach, focusing on caring for employees and fostering a principled business environment, reflects the potential for financial success that naturally follows principled leadership.


Focusing on Identity and Results in Continuous Improvement

In the end, the theme resonating from the conference conversations and keynotes is clear—success in CI and business is rooted deeply in identity. By emphasizing the right values and behaviors, financial outcomes become a byproduct, rather than the sole focus.

This philosophy is akin to personal habit change; declaring oneself as a healthy eater can be more effective than simply trying to eat better. Similarly, focusing on core values and principles within an organization is likely to yield the desired results, echoing the idea of shaping identity to shape outcomes.

In conclusion, the various strands of discussion from booth engagements to keynotes underscore a transformative period in the realm of continuous improvement. This evolution is a testament to the maturation of the field, the acceptance of technological aid, and the reinforced belief in principled leadership as a catalyst for sustained success.

Cultivating Influence and Leadership to Drive Change

The concepts of identity and purpose in the realm of continuous improvement (CI) extend well beyond metrics and financial gains, encompassing leadership and the cultural elements that shape organizations. Influencing change and driving improvements require skills and approaches that can be learned from experts and thought leaders.

Influence Versus Manipulation in Leadership

The idea that intentional influence constitutes leadership underscores the importance of steering organizations through positive change rather than coercive measures. Understanding the distinction between influence and manipulation is paramount for those looking to lead effectively while maintaining integrity and respect.

  • Intentionality: Intentional influence is about making conscious choices to lead people toward a common goal.

  • Transparency: Influential leaders are open about their intentions, fostering trust within their teams.

  • Ethical Leadership: Ethical influence ensures that actions and decisions are made for the benefit of all, rather than to deceive or take advantage of others.

Books and Resources for Aspiring Leaders

Educating oneself on effective leadership practices can significantly transform how one goes about influencing behavior and instituting lasting change. Books like Crucial Influence: Leadership Skills to Create Lasting Behavior Change offer guidance on how to lead with intention and purpose.

Other notable texts include:

  • Never Lose an Employee Again by Joey Coleman, focuses on employee retention through onboarding and integration into company culture.

  • Drive by Daniel H. Pink, delves into human motivation and the factors that compel us to excel in what we do.

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear, emphasizes the power of small consistent changes over time.

Finally, foundational reads like Kaizen by Masaaki Imai remind leaders of the roots of continuous improvement and lean thinking.

The Importance of Understanding Variation in Management

When talking about continuous improvement and business metrics, it’s hard to ignore the significance of understanding variation. Books like Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos by Donald Wheeler offer essential insights into interpreting and responding to data. These materials are instrumental in:

  • Decoding Metrics: Gaining an accurate picture of what the numbers represent.

  • Avoiding Missteps: Preventing overreactions to normal fluctuations in performance data.

  • Data-Informed Decisions: Making well-founded decisions based on process behavior charts.

Practical Application of Habit Science in Leadership and CI

The use of habit science is not isolated to personal life and self-improvement; its principles are equally applicable within the professional environment. Habits established among employees and leaders can drive continuous improvement and forge a strong organizational culture.

To cultivate a habit-centric CI culture, consider implementing the following:

  • Cue-Routine-Reward Loops: Establish clear triggers for CI behaviors, followed by routines and rewards that reinforce these actions.

  • Small Wins: Recognize and celebrate small improvements to encourage incremental progress.

  • Identity-Based Goals: Just as individuals may identify as non-smokers or healthy eaters, employees can embody the traits of problem-solvers and innovators.

Anticipating the Next Evolution in Continuous Improvement

Looking ahead to future conferences and gatherings, the continuous improvement space is primed for ongoing evolution. Emphasizing identity, leadership, and understanding, businesses and CI professionals can expect to see further integration of these elements alongside technological advancements. Leveraging influence, solid leadership frameworks and habit science paves the way for innovative approaches that achieve more substantial and sustainable outcomes.

Callouts from recent conferences, including testimonials from influencers, authors, and leaders, reinforce the lessons gleaned from these various domains. As the community anticipates upcoming events, the knowledge pool continues to expand, promising new insights and strategies for continuous improvement that resonate with the consulting theme of shaping identity to shape results.

The Role of Process Behavior Charts in Modern Management

Building upon the foundation laid by Donald Wheeler in his seminal work, Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos, modern management approaches have embraced Process Behavior Charts (PBCs) as a critical tool for understanding and responding to variations within business processes. PBCs, also known as control charts, enable leaders to:

  • Distinguish Signal from Noise: Through PBCs, leaders can determine which variations in data signify an actual change in the process and which are simply random noises.

  • Maintain Process Stability: By monitoring PBCs, managers can focus on achieving and maintaining a stable process, which is essential before any improvements can be made.

  • Prioritize Efforts: PBCs guide leaders to focus their efforts on significant changes rather than reacting to every fluctuation, thus avoiding the waste of resources on inconsequential variations.

Process Behavior Charts serve as a powerful complement to the continuous improvement frameworks and are an integral part of the modern management toolkit.

Furthering the CI Journey Through "Measures of Success"

Expanding upon the teachings of Donald Wheeler, Mark Graban’s Measures of Success offers a contemporary look at Process Behavior Charts in the context of real-world applications. This book builds on Wheeler’s expertise by providing:

  • Refreshed Examples: Incorporating modern data sets and examples relevant to today’s industries.

  • Practical Guidance: Detailed instructions on creating and interpreting PBCs for those who are new to the concept.

  • Expanded Applications: Insight into how these tools can be integrated across various aspects of an organization, from operations to human resources.

Graban acknowledges the influence Wheeler’s work had on his own understanding of management and improvement. By sharing additional case studies and applications, Measures of Success serves as an ideal companion for those seeking to deepen their grasp of this indispensable continuous improvement tool.

Connections Between Habits, Leadership, and Data Understanding

The interplay between habit-building, leadership, and the understanding of data demonstrates the multifaceted nature of effective continuous improvement. Echoing the importance of habit science in establishing a CI culture, books like Atomic Habits can provide leaders with techniques for building positive habits that support the organizational goals of improving processes and maintaining quality improvement.

When combined with the deep comprehension of variation through PBCs, leaders can:

  • Develop More Effective Responses: By fostering organizational habits that react appropriately to significant variations.

  • Strengthen CI Culture: Encourage a mindset that looks beyond the numbers and sees the larger patterns and trends.

  • Inspire Continuous Learning: Cultivate an environment of perpetual growth and development, harnessing the collective power of data-driven habits for organizational success.

Anticipation for Growth in the CI Community

As the discussion between Mark Graban and Greg Jacobson illustrates, the continuous improvement community always looks forward to the next step. Upcoming years are expected to bring new resources, workshops, and maybe engaging opportunities like webinars featuring influential figures such as Don Wheeler.

These interactions will likely continue to refine the principles of lean management, process understanding, and leadership development within the community. With a focus on learning and sharing knowledge, professionals within this sphere can anticipate enriching their expertise and networks through future conferences and collaborative events.

Sharing insights and favorite resources, as encouraged by Graban and Jacobson, allows the CI community to create a vibrant repository of wisdom that can benefit current and future professionals interested in shaping processes and results within their organizations.

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