Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Avoiding Difficult Problems

Response to: Toyota is Admired for Good Reason… But About Those Rotating Job Shifts…

Thanks for another good post. It points out that while Toyota does many things very well they have opportunities to improve. And I am sure they agree they have a huge number of things to improve.

I agree, this rotating shifts seems like something important to try and improve. One of the things that happens in many organizations is that working on things that are going to make lots of people mad are often avoided. This rotating shift work seems like something that is likely to make people upset.

Even if you worked on improving it, likely during those PDSA cycles many people would be annoyed. And if you were working on it, you could get blamed, you could be tarnished as someone people didn't like it and didn't appreciate "you doing this to them." If, on the other hand, no one is making significant efforts to improve, even if people are annoyed it is at some amorphous policy and usually doesn't stick to 1 person.

If the dis-satisfaction does accumulate toward 1 person (say the plant manager) that person then often will push through and deal with it - or assign someone to deal with it and stay on them to make sure they do the difficult work (even if doing so will make that person's life much more difficult).

Now I would hope Toyota is better managed than that and doesn't shy away from important work just because the people that would take the lead have strong reasons to avoid working on that task.

There are often so many things to improve that it isn't too hard to shift the focus away from something that no one wants to take on. Sometimes though things are so important they must be taken on. Usually those would be more direct and obvious problems. Systemic problems that cause great damage but in a less visible way (such as rotating job shifts) are less likely to be addressed.

Coping with this issue (of avoiding unpleasant, systemic and long term rather than acute problems) is one of the things that separates great corporate culture from decent or bad corporate culture.

If there are fairly obvious or fairly easy improvements those would likely be acted on. There are, rarely, but still sometimes, instances where those vocal or politically powerful individuals who would lose out in a fairly obvious improvement will prevent action.

I am pretty sure Toyota doesn't have fairly easy improvements on this issue, that they must realize is important, that they are just not getting to. I am a bit less confident that Toyota isn't avoiding trying to find solutions using a PDSA type effort because it would be really hard and risky work for whoever takes it on. Also Toyota can try to rely on the good will built up through their many efforts to expect enough employees to say that they will accept the suffering caused by this policy for the good of the everyone.

I am not convinced there are not ways to improve the situation. And I am pretty confident it is important enough to try. And I believe (though I might be wrong) with a concerted effort of knowledgable people improvements that would make a big difference in the quality of life could be achieved. I am not so certain those people involved in leading the effort would be seen in great lights though even if they "succeed." People are much more likely to remember negative consequences to them personally, even if they gain much more than they lost overall. And most will remember the effort negatively if they lost only a little but overall the gains (to the overall organization) were much bigger: in such cases many will hold onto feelings that they were harmed by those that took action.

Related: Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism - The Importance of Critical Thinking and Challenging Assumptions - Unpacking the Components of Hard Work to Design Better Work Conditions

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Creating Web Sites That are Reliable from a Usability Perspective

Comments on: Applying Kaizen to My Various Websites, Trying to practice what I preach...

Good job actually practicing what we recommend others do (kaizen, customer focus...). More management consultants need to do so. I found another thing I think can be improved, this screenshot shows how a floating box (to the left of the screen) blocks the main content:

That covering box moves as you scroll the page so it is always covering part of the content.

[Update: further testing showed this was a temporary glitch - it didn't replicate even on my machine. See comments on the original post for more details. Browsers are not perfect in executing code that is meant to be on the page, sometimes it doesn't quite download everything right, or it misses one action (such as onmouseout) and then behaves oddly...]

One of the big problems I see for web sites development is a failure to understand and test how a wide variety of users will experience a webs site. Often they are designed to look nice for the conditions that the designer has (perhaps huge screen, perhaps low latency, which can mask code issues for users that have high latency internet connections) and that they share with those who approve designs.

It is one thing, for a blog from 1 person to have less than ideal usability for a wide variety of user views. I can completely understand that. Granted I do believe those of us that encourage others to continual improve also need to do that ourselves. What I can't accept is how many web site with huge budgets have very poor coding that results in many users (given the very large user base) have to suffer from bad usability issues.

Those big budget sites should know better than to code in a way that fails to value basic web concepts such as the extremely wide variation in how users will view the web site (screen size, operating system, browser, window size, font size preferences of the user...).

We have an epidemic of bad coding practices that result in failures which then are excused by those responsible as edge cases. Good coding practices would avoid the errors. But instead we code using needlessly complex and error prone ways and then say that we can't deal with the edge cases that only impact a few people. The problem isn't that those few people are requesting some special feature. The problem is the practices used are creating solutions that look nice for some subset of cases but that are not acceptable for other users. Coding with the entire user base in mind from the start would avoid any need to treat those "edge cases" that were only made into edge cases because the coding solutions are not designed for the entire spread of variation in users needs.

The most cost effective and reliable way to deal with this is often to just avoid extra complexity. Having the popup box with additional content can be cool and it can be coded in ways that don't create the issue I see here. But to do that in a way that doesn't create bad usability for some users is complex. Sometimes you can rely on fancy Wordpress themes that have properly dealt with all those complexities. But in my experience, that is very rare. They do ok with a large set of the users but create really bad usability issues for users that don't fit what they considered the normal use case (and created "edge cases" that have bad usability). Or if you are a big budget site you can try to code all the extra complexity yourself. That can be done successfully but I find it fails often. They create fragile systems to deliver and then are overwhelmed at how to deal with all the users that don't fit their expectations for users and they just decide to let those users suffer.

I run across these bad usability practices on big budget website every single week. It isn't some rare poor practice, it is epidemic. It is similar to USA manufacturing practices in 1980: poor practices are so widespread that everyone thinks such poor practices are acceptable. Hopefully this epidemic can be replaced by much better practices fairly soon.

Related: Use Urls – Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z Instructions - Functional Websites are Normally Far Superior to Apps - Bad iTunes Usability and How to Submit a Podcast to iTunes - Usability, Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search - Making Life Difficult for Customers - Designing In Errors

Saturday, January 20, 2018

REITs Value When Interest Rates are Rising

Comments on: Debunking REIT Interest Rate Myths

Well argued. I am new to investing in REITs as an investor but I agree that the "conventional wisdom" doesn't make sense. I primary have dipped into only apartment REITs.
As with many misleading claims there is some truth behind the claims about REITs and interest rates.
It seems to me that the 3 biggest explanations for REITs declining if interest rates rise are
  1. lowered value of REIT assets - this one makes the least sense to me. I get the cash flows (if they are set for years into the future) will be given less value but for my particular focus (apartment REITs) the cash flows could well increase (over the longer term) as the same factors causing rates to rise allow rental rents to be increased.
  2. lower value of the current yield - this makes perfect sense, though it seems to me it vastly under-values the real LONG TERM impact. For a bond this is just true that the value of the future payments are worth less if interest rates rise. But for REITs if rates rise do to a stronger economy and thus they are able to raise rents and raise dividends then you do see a drop in the value of near term dividends but in the longer term it is much less straight forward. It may well be that the gains for the REIT in the long term exceed the lowered value of the reduced value this years dividends (though it may also be true that the payments do not increase to even out the comparison to new expected yields). This will of course be dependant on the REIT type and individual REIT portfolio.
  3. As you say the increased costs do to higher rates are not baked into all REITs. It does seem to me (again I am new to REITs) that they often are going to experience higher costs but it isn't immediate. As you say often they have fixed rates but also it seems (again maybe I am wrong) they often have fairly high amount of debt coming due in say the next 5 years that has to be rolled over - and also new purchases will have these higher rates.

Related: Looking at Real Estate in This Challenging Investing Climate (2015) - Looking for Yields in Stocks and Real Estate (2012) - Landlords See Increase in Apartment Rentals (2010)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Failing to Adopt Better Methods is Sadly a Common Management Practice

comment on Is Andre Drummond a Better Free Throw Shooter This Season?
Using "Process Behavior Charts" to Answer This Question

There is also a fairly convincingly better method to shoot free throws - underhanded. As I stated in my post, Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

People can be very attached to the way things have always been done. Or they can just be uncomfortable with the prospect of trying something new.
Wilt Chamberlain was 28 for 32 from the line shooting underhanded in his 100 point game (the most points anyone has scored in a NBA basketball game).

He was a career 51% free throw shooter (almost entirely shooting traditionally).

But he had a good reason not to use underhand style more often. He felt like a sissy using that style and making them. I am sure the Boston Celtics were happy to let him focus on being scared of looking foolish while they won championships. You are correct if you don’t think I really meant he had a good reason.

This reluctance to use better methods is not limited to underhanded free throw shooting. Managers fail to adopt better management methods every day that are equivalent to failing to improve free throw results using a proven method.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Coaching: Helping People Improve the Results of the System

Comments on: Lean Quote: Coaching is about...Others

I wouldn't put it as "their own problems and improve their own performance." I do agree it is about helping others. But especially for management I think it is more about helping people improve the results of the overall system.

That does include helping them grow and improve their capabilities. But a huge part of what is holding back the performance of our organizations is the limited understanding of how to improve the overall system. Just improving yourself doesn't necessarily improve the overall results.

In a similar way an athletic coaches focus is on how to improve the team. A big part of that is how to improve each team member but the interactions (how everything works together) are often more important than the individual improvements.

It is important to give people the tools they need to understand how to improve the system including how they fit and how important interactions are within a system.

Related: Helping Employees Improve - Manage the System to Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Has - Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke Basketball - The Psychology of Change is Often the Trickiest Part of Process Improvement

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quit Looking for Silver Bullets and Get to Work Improving Management

My comments on There Are No Silver Bullets:

It is somewhat amazing that nearly everyone would agree with the sentiment that there are no silver bullets but if you evaluate what they seek for management improvements they want silver bullets :-(

If you like to find the silver lining amidst clouds this tendency to want magic solutions means that you can make great progress if you are willing to do the work. Others are not using well known management improvement strategies not because they don't work but because they are not silver bullets.

Related: Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively - The Quick Fix Doesn't Exist - Everyone wants instant pudding

Thursday, September 07, 2017

People and Robots Together

Comments on: The Coming Auto Industry Battle: Toyota’s People vs. Tesla’s Robots?

Toyota's method is the best and will continue to be.

However, I believe we have reached a turning point where the effectiveness of industrial robots has greatly improved. For several decades it was pretty easy to predict wholesale adoption of the robots will save us mantra would be followed by failure. I still strongly believe Toyota's method (thoughtful use of robotics to enhance people is the best strategy). But the ease of using robots to succeed in the long term is much enhanced these days.

Robot first strategies are going to be succeeding quite a bit going forward. Yes those efforts might not be good enough when competing only with companies using the best strategy well (but that will be rare).

I wrote some about this in a recent blog post: Technological innovation brings great opportunity for improving results and our quality of life. But transforming potential benefits into real results comes with many challenges...

Essentially I see people today too dismissive of the usefulness of industrial robots. And they have past examples to point to in showing how a large commitment to robot first failed. It isn't that today robot first is the best strategy but I do believe the real world conditions have improved to make the blanket assumption that such efforts will fail as unwise.

A big part of this is that while we can simplify the argument to "robot first" or "robots helping people" it really isn't that simple. There are many reasons why today the conditions are different than they have been. Technological and software improvements are a big part of that. But also there is more thoughtful consideration of the advantages Toyota's management philosophy brings. Sadly not enough, but still companies are better today at thinking and acting as if their employees have brains than they were 30 years ago. Granted there is still a long way to go, but still progress has been made it seems to me at the macro level.

Related: GMs huge investment in robotics in the 1980s ($billions) has been an example of how pinning hopes on technology often doesn’t produce the desired results. - Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair - Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leading Change in the Face of Fear

Comments on the comments related to "How to Combat Fear" podcast with Ron Pereira

"whose skepticism will override the possibility that a change will actually be an improvement"

This feeling is often the result of many previous changes promoted as improvements that were not successful. Most people learn to be skeptical of management claims (sure a few people are pre-disposed to thinking this way but for many more it is a learned response).

I would add to the idea that we need to work with those more willing to try new ideas (early adopters) that last we need to have visible success with those early adopters to gain evidence that this time is different.

Related: Transforming a Management Culture - How to Help Instigate Change in an Organization - The Sociology of Organizational Change