Sunday, March 21, 2010

Amazing what you don’t need


Did you know that a full 50 gallon water heater can last for five brief hot showers and a few shaves without refill? Did you know that in a time of need, a standard window screen can be slipped into slots cut into a couple short of 2x4’s to create a fireplace screen? Did you know if you keep a fair amount of ice in your freezer that it will keep your food frozen for many days if you don’t open the door during a power outage?

Many of you know that I’m in the first year of our “Connecticut Adventura” (or as a SoCal friend calls it, living in the “upper right”). If you saw the news last weekend, many parts of Fairfield County CT was heavily hit by the storm and lost power. New Canaan lost power to over 56% of households. It was interesting at first, a pain later on and just life by the third and fourth day. There was a generator sign in the center of town providing residents with updates. It mostly said that schools remained closed.

What does this have to do with leadership? I was reminded how much we have we really do not need. America is a consumer nation. While power is something we do need, I was able to solve each of the challenges presented once I thought about it. I imagine the same is true in the workplace. We need to provide our teams with the tools to accomplish their jobs in an efficient manner. Some nice to haves are important. Too many are not required.

What types of things have you found fall into the “excess” category?

PS – Maybe later in the week I’ll share my staple inventory blog post.

22 comments:

Karel Goodwin said...

After reading your post, a thought entered my mind. Leadership is what happens when you can make something from little or nothing. I've spent the last six years of my work life looking for leaders and not knowing why I couldn't find them. Well, perhaps it was because the company for which I worked had lots of backlog, plenty of cash, and a fairly good position in the market. Maybe that was what was causing the company to have an excess of managers and not enough leaders.

I look forward to reading your posts as I continue working on my MBA degree. I will need lots of influences to help me formulate the thoughts I express in my research papers and discussion room postings. I admit I'm getting this degree a little late in life, however, what I'm finding is that it is much more interesting now that it would have been when I was younger.

Regards,

Karel Goodwin

Chris Metcalf said...

Paper. Email. Information.

Joan Pixton said...

What is "excess" at UTC cannot easily be disposed of. Meetings, to many of our meetings are excess, with no purpose, and waste valuable time that would be better spent satisfying our customers. Unfortuantely, what is not "excess" is time. More time spent in meetings is less time spent on customers, and we do not have an "excess" of those.

Anonymous said...

I can't recall a single time where I got slowed down by having a tool being in my way. I can give you many examples of times where I rebuilt or re-created resources that were eliminated due to the desire of getting a 5 on the "Shine" box in a 6S score card.
I think there is a good reason why "Sort" comes first and "Shine" is the third down on the list. A lot of really good useful resources has fallen victims of less understanding managers inspecting and driving "Shine" while forgetting that "Sort and Straighten" has to come first. "Sort and Straighten" requires one to understand what is going on in the workplace and might not be all that easy to measure for someone not familiar with the activities. Even the most clueless person can (and they do) have an opinion of level of “Shine”

Fastest way to a good "Shine" score is to throw away as much as possible but that is going to hurt when that snowstorm comes and you got rid of that kerosene heater you never used for years...

jimmy barrows said...

The grid. If UTC Power allowed me to buy a unit they brag has capacity for 100 homes. My neighborhood has underground utilities; by putting the unit on one of our "green spaces" in the 'hood alone save the 20% lost during distribution. Honda has a unit waiting to go in the US which converts propane or natural gas into hydrogen. They have had this for four years I know of.

Bloom-box funded by the founders of Google with $400,000,000 already is serving e-Bay and a few other companies. They expect to supply the masses within three years for $3,000 per household. When it was known five years or so ago UTC Power brought in an automobile purchasing manger I personally was thrilled.

There is nothing in a fuel cell that could not be mass produced within a 90 days including tooling and machinery - everything has been invented including the low cost ceramic coatings replacing platinum.

If we installed one in our neighborhood we would save between 50 and 70% of energy costs just for our homes. Honda also supplies some fuel cell cars with this method; adding the cars each of us could save $200-400 per month. That would certainly boost our economy on so many levels.

How much did the storm cost just because of out-dated technology posing as high-tech? Anyone lose work? Just think of the cost of copper or defense costs protecting the grid compared to 100,000 or more neighborhoods to take-out before an enemy disrupts nations power?

Yah, the grid is not needed - a dinosaur.

jimmy barrows

Lisa Madsen said...

Lack of accountability tends to be in excess. No pain - no effort - no goals met - no growth.

Redundant and excessive approvals for nominal $$ products and services are primary complaints of mine in a large corporation. Delegation of authority is not utilized well.

I concur with Joan Pixton that some meetings are totally not necessary and without an agenda. I have also seen some tend to be ineffective due to poor managment, lack of actions/actionees, and overpopulated with unnecessary staff. Nothing worse than wasting an hour trapped in an ineffective meeting.

My newest effort is to hold 10 minute meetings. I meet/call someone on an important topic, we tackle it, and I plan my day accordingly. It ensures that my important topic is on their calendar and they are available. Sometimes email is not the best media to resolve an issue.

Brian Leapman said...

Just loved this thread of thought.

This is the Lean Life Question.

Is it better to Warren Buffett or J-Zee?

If I wanted to be flippant I could say Helicopters, but it would be like throwing stones at glass houses, I've been all my life in consumer goods and fashion!!

I think there is so much excess that it might be easier to ask the question the other way round. A bit like Desert Islands discs, what are the 10 most important things that you would take with you to a desert island?

My inlaws were blown away in NJ at the same time. I think they would say heat, shelter, food and each other as company as essentials.

Best Brian

Rod Satre said...

we don't need redundant, "back up" systems when we don't sell full capacity of the factory to begin with....
We don't need to make a full years supply and leave it sitting in a warehouse 8 months in order to have "economic lot size."
however, we do need to have spare parts to return things to normal quickly. UNLESS the vendor of spare parts keeps inventory only a few hours away.

John Bushling said...

Many meetings fall in the 'excess' catgory. Most meetings could be accomplished in 10 minutes if you: Send out a pre-meeting agenda, participants come prepared, they start on time and get to the point. Many meetings could / should be handled with a memo. Also, I prefer stand-up meetings vs. sitdown meetings. Eliminate the excess.

Rod Satre said...

Also, do we really need a new operating system every year?

Nathan Parker said...

I read an interesting article recently about 10 examples of tremendous leadership (http://www.wisebread.com/small-business/10-examples-of-tremendous-business-leadership). I wanted to share it with your readers because it was very inspiring to read.

After reading this post though, it seems like most of these leadership actions that the article talks about are simple actions that don't require 'excess', just common sense, doing the right thing, and sticking to the golden rule.

Tom Donnelly said...

What types of things have you found fall into the “excess” category?

Bottom line: there are too many to describe. Why?

In the LEAN world and through VSM it is not unusual to discover that about 95% of the time spent on any process is Non-Value added.

This leaves lots of time for work around! Certainly we can get by with less.

On the other hand, what is it that we need?

In the workplace as a manager of people, I believed the most important thing I could provide was time, time for the folks to do their job. Only their job.
In other words, eliminate the distractions, chaos, and obstructions that prevented them from remaining focused.

Eliminate Mudda.

I agree 100% with you John that we need to provide the necessary tools. With proper methods, obstacles can be overcome, and with that we can concentrate on improvement rather than just getting it done,,,, and probably getting it done late.

In addition to time and tools, we need clear and proper direction. Did I lend confusion by changing my mind to often on what should they work on next? Can we show alignment between their actions and the goals? Do they know why, and therefore can they now see why not and what we don't need?

Certainly there are nice to haves, somethings make life and work easier, more pleasant and more efficient. Something like, necessary but non-value added.

Focus, direction, process.

The rest as they say is waste.

Mike Osborne said...

You mean Starbuck's, IPods and Oprah on TV are not necessities?

It is amazing how luxuries today become necessities tomorrow. It is equally amazing how frequently our tools get in the way of doing the job.

Thomas Donnelly said...

What types of things have you found fall into the “excess” category?

Bottom line: there are too many to describe. Why?

In the LEAN world and through VSM it is not unusual to discover that about 95% of the time spent on any process is Non-Value added.

This leaves lots of time for work around! Certainly we can get by with less.

On the other hand, what is it that we need?

In the workplace as a manager of people, I believed the most important thing I could provide was time, time for the folks to do their job. Only their job.
In other words, eliminate the distractions, chaos, and obstructions that prevented them from remaining focused.

Eliminate Mudda.

I agree 100% with you John that we need to provide the necessary tools. With proper methods, obstacles can be overcome, and with that we can concentrate on improvement rather than just getting it done,,,, and probably getting it done late.

In addition to time and tools, we need clear and proper direction. Did I lend confusion by changing my mind to often on what should they work on next? Can we show alignment to between their actions and the goals? Do they know why, and therefore can they now see why not and what we don't need?

Certainly there are nice to haves, somethings make life and work easier, more pleasant and more efficient. Something like, necessary, but non-value added.

Focus, direction, process.

The rest as they say is waste.

Frederick Knauf said...

John,

In my experiences, this is one of the primary reasons I enjoy going backpacking and canoeing in the mountains --> to get away from all of life's "new" contraptions & sophistication. Spend four or five nights "out there" without power, fresh water & a roof, even in the winter, and you will come back with a different view on work, life & the technological changes to the world over the last 140 years.

The key is to use technology and not abuse it. In the company I work at, we've spent years redefining the whole business (some call this a transformation) and changed the model from moving & refilling stockpiles to making what the customer wants and needs tomorrow (the pull system). The only way to remove the Muda is to go away for a while and come back with a different view-point. And of course, to not be afraid to question everything once you've come back & see differently.

Spring is here, time to plan another trip up to them mountains.....

Anonymous said...

Hi John: Thanks for the suggestions listed in your Discussion. Regarding excesses, have you ever tried to donate walkers, canes, wheel chairs, transfer seats to agencies for the disabled, veterans, Red Cross, Wounded Warriors, Marines? In a time of rising health care costs and controversial legislation, noone will accept these donations for "used" equipment which would reduce medical appliance costs across the country. (By the way, I am a former SA employee who conducts searches for them for critical skills)

Richard Vernon said...

Sometimes the excess is too much management.

Large OEM's, like UTC, pride themselves on hiring the best but then do not empower them. Leadership should provide capable people with direction...not stifle creativity by micro-managing. Too often, as stated above, the goals and objectives are poorly communicated...which wastes everyones time.

jimmy barrows said...

I left because of the "golden-handcuffs" and found out they were only plated. My life since has been intensely free and focus is more for survival than pleasure.

My work was completed sometimes two weeks early during the month. Were I ran into trouble was thinking and trying to act on well thought out, logic and made good business sense everywhere except .....

Returning on occasion for consulting, I usually found something thought of years or even decades before.

And GE is a light bulb maker...sometimes x-ray machines.

Enikő Pongrácz said...

Recently I have audited a company, where the production manager answered to the question of how he is cooperating with sister companies from other countries, that " I do not know my counterpart, since I have not been there yet". What about tel, tel-conf, skype, video-conf ?. 90% of the travel costs could be cut at majority of the companies.
A few years ago, I have adjusted all printers in a company to print both sides of the paper - almost 50% paper cost savings. Control of printing documents bigger than 10-20 pages ( I know, they would realize quick to print just by 10 pages, but still the hassle is a barrier - do I really need to print this?) .
I would regulate by low, that companies should pay fully the travel costs of people interviewed ( we know, for C level the airplane usually is paid, however I mean the costs for blue collars as well). I am sure HR would switch to more skype interviews to, would have less 121 meetings - less sqm used overall. May be even one person less in the organization?
I would forbid the sales of unhealthy drinks in canteens ( school or workplace) - just supply clean water, which can be brought from a closer source than soft drinks or beer. Bring a mini barrel of milk, from the closest milk producer.
etc
At home, you do not need so many cleaning things - I just buy the cheapest all purpose liquid detergent (5 liter), which I mix according to needs with ash (from fireplace or chimney ), washing soda, sodium bicarbonate, flaxseed oil, borax, vinegar, alcohol, salt - and can sort all my duties. And do not have to care about expiry dates!
What about FMCG's to switch and sell only concentrates ( dishwashing liquid, liquid detergent, fabric softener, all drinks w/o gas,) what a transport, handling and storage saving?
And many more.......

Scott Wisler said...

John,
I enjoyed your post here, but didn’t fully grasp the context, so I checked out your blog leadershipisaverb.com . I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts.
750,000 people in Cincinnati lost power for a week when hurricane Ike came through 18 months ago. It was glorious September weather, and my family survived – no, thrived – with a Coleman camp stove and running water. It was relaxing and peaceful to such a degree that we considered throwing the main circuit breaker off for a week every September. I was surprised at how stressed many of our neighbors were. How one is ‘being’ in the situation makes all the difference in our experience. I suspect America’s fixation on excess actually inhibits our thriving.
Taking this to the workplace is intriguing. I suspect you may have vein worth mining here. There is a caution, though, about removing excess. At GE, they developed a fiendish and deliberate culture of restricting resources year over year in an exploration of removing excess to find out what was really needed. As usual with GE, if it works a little then they turn the up dial and take it to the extreme. My conclusion was that they created a culture of scarcity, and people operated with a scarcity consciousness, often resulting in paralysis. I chose to leave to create a place where I could thrive. I think it is entirely possible to remove excess in the workplace and open up conditions to thrive. It is important to keep a close bead on the pulse of the culture, because one person’s comfortable lean living is another person’s cramped scarcity. Most important, is not to confuse productivity and thriving.

Doug Hatch said...

You don't need many of the new features found in automobiles sold in the US, but we have, through legislation and "consumer demand", come to expect many items to be standard fare in new vehicles. Essentially we need cars to travel greater distances and carry goods from point A to point B. Getting that done comfortably and with a high margin of safety is our choice. I recall hearing a story on NPR about a GM van made and sold in China ( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123823287 ) that cost only $5000 and got 40mpg. However we would never choose this car in the US, as it only has a 43hp 3 cylinder engine, no air bags, and no rear seat belts.

I find some of the same conundrums in making airfield signs. What is needed is a sign that meets the specification (FAA or ICAO) and properly informs ground traffic where they are on the airfield, and in conjunction with controllers, planes are directed in a safe and organized fashion to avoid collisions. What is purchased are the airfield signs that win the bidding process, being of lowest cost to the purchaser. My goal at AGM is to provide the best built and most power efficient sign in the industry. Meeting this goal and lowering costs, (making a profit and providing a product that can win bids), is a constant battle between needs and wants.

There is no true incentive within the industry to push innovation. Traditionally, if you have a product that meets the spec. and you can manufacture it easily, there is no reason to spend any money to make it better, as any radical modification will require costly retesting to maintain certification. I believe that you can make a better product and reduce production costs at the same time. Any monies involved in testing can be made up for in volume. The real challenge is bringing this to the attention of the industry and creating the demand for better products.

Turning a want into a need is something we have continually experienced throughout civilization. Taking a step back and really evaluating your want and need choices to determine what is in your best interest in the long run is not just necessity, it's smart. We have not evolved as a civilization just by meeting the necessities, but by continually making better products and processes to continually improve our quality of life.

pitcrew79 said...

Taking an applied psych course in the late 70's, the MCC prof assigned a paper "if you new you were going to be stranded on an island and had $2,000 to spend, what would you buy with the $2,000?"

First thoughts were survival; that meant food and tools, Maslow's theory crept in; entertainment, lucky for me survival and problem solving is enjoyable under the right circumstances. When I break this down even further it is the planning and what I call "preparing-to-prevent" Thirty years in Quality demonstrates the value of preventing problems. At least an 800% payback.

Thoughts then turned to efficiency, value and effectiveness. Tag sales, used quality tools and logic based reference material. An old set of leather-bound "Mechanics Illustrated" my dad had showed how to make a generator, treddle lathe, treddle power, how to harness power from a river, make a boat, lathe tools from files, saws - just real basic stuff. My dad showed me how to make a bandsaw from roller-skate wheels and lawn mower parts.

Tubing from when I redid my well, raw wire, switches, low-voltage light bulbs, raw metals in various shapes, rolls of heavy gage plastic, library books or used paper backs, cutting tools, makings for a loom, (I was a weaver befor P&W, used fishing gear, lots of rope, tarps, magnifying glasses, first aid kits and home remedies bookss, seeds, several pairs of sheep and goats, bike to hook up to generator so I could watch tv and listen to 8-tracks or albums. (VCR's cost about $1,800 then)

I felt really foolish when my professor told me that wasn't quite what he had in mind, every one else picked favorite things. "B" for paper but I gave myself an "A" because it hit the spot for me and profoundly rearranged my priorities for quite awhile.

It is like the enjoyment I get when I buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot is $200,000,000 - my thinking turns to "what can I do to change the lives of others - project wise - Since I saw the show "The Millionare" and "Richie Rich" comics when I was a kid I wanted to be a philanthropist. Can't be one without the money though.

No money, and many times it is not about the money, I do my best and it has made a difference in some folks life. If nothing else this is selfishly-selfless-leadership and quite rewarding when anonymous.

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