Monthly Archives: September 2013

10 Ways to Find Time for Lean Six Sigma

time-to-exerciseOne of the most common challenges I face when working with belts, primarily part-time green belts, is they seldom tell me they are looking for more work and this Lean Six Sigma “stuff” has come at a perfect time to fill that gap!  The challenge typically comes from finding time to do their “normal” day job in addition to a Lean Six Sigma project.  I find that most organizations don’t send the people who have a lot of free time to training, but instead send those who are already overloaded.

This should be no surprise because those who are busy (at least appear to be busy), from my experience, tend to be perceived as high performers, and those who are looking for work tend to fall on the other end of the spectrum.  The problem then centers on how someone who is already busy 40-50 hours a week finds time to successfully take on a project and get certified.

I’ve personally faced this challenge many times throughout my career working full-time while going to school, taking classes for certifications, building my own business, writing a blog and working on a book, speaking at conferences, teaching classes online, publishing papers in academic journals, and not to mention all the time I’m traveling to and from client sites.  People often ask me how I find time to do all of this and keep my sanity, which has led to this post and the sharing of how I find time to get it all done at a level both my clients and I find acceptable.

The following are my top 10 tips for finding time in your day, specifically focused on getting more Lean Six Sigma activity complete, but they can also be used in a more general sense of simply getting more from your time each day.

1. Select a project that is linked to your “normal” job.

When Lean Six Sigma becomes that “extra” objective on your annual performance plan it starts to take on a life of its own.  Instead work to find projects that are linked to what you do each day; better yet, look for projects that are linked to what your manager is challenged to do each day!  I often find that one of the roadblocks to getting a project completed is a belt’s manager who does not allow ample time for a project to be completed.  Often the manager views the project as low priority work that should be done once the “important” stuff is completed.  To alleviate this issue find out what your manager is being challenged with completing and center a project around it and you’ll be amazed at how much time you will be given to succeed.

2. Learn how to say “no” more often.

Sometimes it’s hard to say “no” because we want to help, but saying “yes” all the time can lead to disappointment and stress.  The challenge becomes how to say no without being perceived as not being a team player and wanting to help others.  When someone comes to me with a request I like to start by asking them why they want what they want.  Often times you don’t even need to say no once you help them determine what they are asking for is something they really don’t need in the first place.  A second tactic is helping them find a way to accomplish the task themselves by asking them “have you considered doing a, b, c, etc.”.  Finally, if you just can’t say no, gain clarity around when they need what they are asking for and commit to a realistic completion date based on your current workload.

3. Schedule a meeting with yourself.

This is a simple way of making time for yourself and letting others know you are busy.  Most organizations I work with use some type of shared calendar system (Outlook, Google, etc.) that let’s others know when you are free and busy.  A simple tactic is to schedule time for yourself each day to focus on project activities.  I like to schedule time at the beginning and the end of my days when I’m less likely to be interrupted by others.  You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish with 30-60 minutes at the start and end of each day dedicated to meeting with yourself!

4. Determine what you should stop doing.

I found this tip reading Gary Harpst’s book Six Disciplines.  In the book, Harpst is focused on helping organizations succeed in which his first step is to decide what is important.  From there he suggests they stop doing anything that is unrelated to those objectives.  We can apply the rule to our personal and work lives much the same as Harpst suggests organizations do.  A simple way to do this is to review your key objective (tip #8) and determine what you are doing that adds little to the chances of accomplishing them.

5. Quit chasing perfection.

After reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries it became quite apparent that I, like most process improvement professionals, am a perfectionist.  This should come as no surprise, especially if you prescribe to the fifth principle in Womack and Jones’ Lean Thinking of constantly pursing perfection.  The problem with perfection is that it’s a huge time killer, and realistically you can never achieve perfection.  There is always room for improvement!

The concept Ries describes in The Lean Startup is what he calls a minimally viable product (MVP) that is essentially something that is “good enough” to get started.  Much like the traditional concept of lean, Ries argues that we should not spend an excessive amount of time strategizing, planning, etc. because these are all waste in the value stream of getting something started.  What I have found is my reason for striving for perfection is that I’m a huge competitor and want my work to seem better than that of others, but what I’ve come to realize is that in many cases just getting something done puts you ahead of most others who are doing nothing at all.

6. Log out of distractions and into focused activity.

Technology has made us a 24/7/365 connected world, which has led to a virtual leash we carry around with us almost everywhere we go.  I’m talking mostly about the smart phones almost all of us use to communicate with one another, but tablets and laptops also fit into this problem.  For some reason we feel the need to be connected to one another at all times, which in and of itself is not an issue.

What is an issue is that many of us feel the need to react to each and every text, email, and phone call as they come to us throughout the day.  I have yet to find anyone working within the Lean Six Sigma space that needs to react to these distractions.  There is no such thing as a Lean Six Sigma emergency!  Stay connected when you need to, but when you really need to get things done log out of email, put the phone on silent (not vibrate which is just as distracting as ringing), log out of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and focus on what is in front of you.

7. Spend time reflecting every week.

When was the last time you spent time quietly thinking by yourself.  When you’re going 100 mph every day finding time each week to take a mental break can create greater clarity around what is important in both your personal and work life, which can lead to greater productivity.  For myself I find that Saturday mornings is the best time to reflect on the week and review the progress I made in achieving my key objectives.  Much like an athlete needs recovery after a hard workout, we too need time to re-energize to perform optimally.

8. Set 3-7 high level objectives to gain clarity and focus then plan your day around them.

I’m always surprised to find that most people I work and play with don’t set personal goals.  I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions type goals; lots of people establish those, and most fail to go beyond a month or two in progressing toward accomplishing them (go to a fitness club in January then visit again in April if you want a visual example).  What I am talking about is looking out several years at where you want to be both personally and professionally, and working backwards to what you need to do in the next 90 days to succeed.

Keller and Papasan created a great road map for doing this in their book The One Thing that illustrates what I’ve been doing for the last several years in setting short-term goals that lead to long-term results.  The authors describe the process as living by priority.  It starts with a “someday” goal and works down to a “right now” goal.  Having right now goals will lead to better use of your time because you will be able to evaluate what you are doing right now in relation to the goal.  Try setting one some day goal and break it down into a right now goal and work it into the other tips outlined in this post.

9. Share your objectives and progress toward completing them with others.

Research done by Dr. Gail Matthews suggest that those who write their goals are 40% more likely to complete them.  Those who share goals and progress toward them are 76% more likely to achieve them.  This does seem to make logical sense doesn’t it?  We don’t want to look like a failure by telling others what we are going to do and then not accomplish what we said we were going to do.  Having a “buddy” to share your objectives with is one simple way of keeping each other focused.

Another simple tactic is posting to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn for the world to see what you’ve set out to accomplish.  I’ve also found an interesting, but kind of spooky in a way, website that allows you to send yourself emails in the future.  For example, I sent myself an email that will arrive next year describing my current feelings about life, work, etc. and outlining where I want to be in relation to my goals when the email arrives in my inbox next year.

10. Start your day earlier.

Sleep is overrated!  Just kidding, well, sort of anyway.  We all need to get proper rest, but early mornings, is a great time to get things done.  Stanley and Dinko in The Millionaire Next Door found that income only explains about 30% of the variation in wealth.  There are myriad other factors that determine wealth, one of which is how millionaires spend their time.  Despite what we see on television, most millionaires in the US are first generation.  In other words, they’ve worked for what they have, which translates into-if you want to succeed you have to put in the time!

While your goal may not be to become a millionaire we can learn from their success by simply starting the day earlier.  One of the ways I’ve been able to manage mentoring dozens of belts, writing this blog, working on a book, teaching online, etc. is by getting up most days at 6 AM.  Those extra few hours before the “normal” day begins have been a huge boost to what I get done.  Of course this also means you need to go to bed earlier to ensure proper rest, but believe me when you’re up each morning at 6 you won’t have any trouble getting to bed earlier.  I’ve also found that starting my day by making progress on my goals also boosts my energy level throughout the rest of the day.

practiceKeep in mind getting more done doesn’t happen on its own.  It takes deliberate practice to become a master of your time.  Pick a few of these tactics, try them for a month, and measure your progress.  You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done by simply focusing on using your time well.

Also keep in mind these tactics are all antecedents and / or behaviors that need to be reinforced (see my previous post about ABC’s).  Without the proper reinforcement you are unlikely to sustain this behavior long-term.  Find a way to reward yourself or have someone else reward you when they see you taking these steps to become more productive.

There are a multitude of other ways of finding time to do Lean Six Sigma, and I’d love to hear your comments on what you have found to work well.  I’d also like to hear where you have had struggles making time.  What keeps you from being successful?  What challenges have you faced in making time for Lean Six Sigma?


Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 4

angry-manIn this final installment (click here to read parts 1 – 3) I discuss managing emotions, which for many can be the most challenging aspect of increasing emotional intelligence.  We all know people, ourselves included, from time-to-time, who lose control of their emotions.  They tend to be incredibly passionate about what they do, but have a hard time managing their emotional outbursts.  A great example of this is Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.  Before reading his biography I would have never guessed he had a hot temper and liked to yell and scream profanities at those who worked for him, but, according to the author, he was a real jerk to be around some of the time.  You no doubt have also worked for or with someone similar to Jobs who doesn’t have the ability to control their anger, and has emotional outbursts that leave those around them wanting to run in the opposite direction.

Researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey, the academicians who coined the term “emotional intelligence”, argue that managing emotions is the most challenging of the four branches they use to define emotional intelligence (identifying, using, and understanding are the other three branches).  People who are great at managing emotions have the ability to psych themselves and others up and inspire other people.  When I think about someone who stands out in this ability I think about Dr. Martin Luther King and his “I have a dream” speech.  Listening to this speech gives me goose bumps even 30 years after he delivered it!



Emotions are a powerful source of energy for action!

As Lean Six Sigma professionals we have the opportunity to tap into our emotions and those of others by managing our feelings and not becoming a slave to our emotions.  Do you have the ability to psych yourself and others up?  Can you tap into positive emotions from a previous event and use those positive emotions to get through challenging situations you’re currently facing?  Can you make positive emotions last for long periods of time?  These are all great questions to ask yourself in evaluating whether or not you can manage emotions well.

How can you increase your ability to manage emotions?  Four techniques I use and prescribe to my clients for improving their ability to manage emotions include writing an emotional journal or blog, routine exercise, emotional mind mapping, and taking routine emotional clarity breaks.

Emotional Journal / Blog

Writing about your emotions is a simple way to get a better understanding of why we feel the way we do.  David Caruso and Peter Salovey, authors of The Emotionally Intelligent Manager, suggest the act of writing is not what is important.  What is important is the element within the writing.  Caruso and Salovey offer several suggestions for what they call “emotionally healthful writing”.  The elements include:

  • Using positive words frequently
  • Moderate use of negative words
  • Using causal words and phrases such as “led me” or “caused me to”
  • Using insightful words and phrases such as “realize” and “understand”

Routine Exercise

Exercise is another tactic for improving your ability to manage emotions.  Research suggests those who are active tend to be in positive moods more frequently than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.  This exercise doesn’t have to be anything extreme like running marathons; simply taking a walk once a day for 30 minutes is enough to get the blood flowing and help free your mind from the challenges of the day.

Emotional Mind Map

As Lean Six Sigma professionals some of you may be familiar with the mind map tool for brainstorming.  This is another great way to understand who, what, when, why, where, etc. around an emotional loss of control.  For example, you can start in the middle of the map with a situation in which you lost control of your emotions.  Next, expand the map out to who you were with, what were you talking about or doing, when did it happen, etc.

In many cases we lose control of our emotions because of a “surprise attack” that we didn’t see coming.  For example, I was once in a series of budgeting meetings and when we would get to the line item for training that I was responsible for the CFO would started to question the dollars for Lean Six Sigma training, and I would start to lose control of my emotions.  After I mind mapped the situation an discovered it was an emotional “hot spot” for me it became easier to control my emotions in future meetings.  I would sense the line of questioning by the CFO coming as we worked down the line items in the budget, but knowing it was coming made it much easier to control my emotions.

Routine Emotional Clarity Break

We all need to take a break once in a while.  Personally, I like to schedule these for Friday mornings and use the time to write, read, and just think about life in general.  The challenge we face in the busy lives we’ve built for ourselves is finding the time to do this.  I highly suggest scheduling a meeting like you normally would in your calendar only this meeting is just with yourself and no one else!  This technique also allows you to utilize the aforementioned tactics in that you could walk to where you take an emotional clarity break and then use the time to write in your journal.

Managing emotions is a challenge because we have such passion and energy for what we do, but sometimes that passion and energy can get the best of us and we lose control.  Deliberate practice of these techniques will provide one way of helping you become an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional.

Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 3

Members of a community welcoming a new member.In parts one and two of this series I talked about identifying and using emotions, respectively.  In this installment we shift our focus to understanding emotions.  Having the ability to understand emotions is critical in “connecting” with other people.  This is perhaps one of the most impactful elements of becoming an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional.  From my experience, the clients I work with who have the ability to “feel” what others feel tend to be more successful with their projects.  When you can feel the pain others feel it begins to help you understand the problem from their perspective, which also adds to understanding how best to improve the situation using Lean Six Sigma techniques and tools.

How well do you understand the emotions of others?

People who are great at understanding the emotions of others know the right thing to say in most situations and make correct assumptions about others.  These people tend to be those whom we share our deepest problems with because they have the ability to put themselves in our situation and feel our pain.  They also make us feel better after we have confided in them.  So how do you stack up against these measures?  Do people come to you with their problems?  Do you have the ability to feel the pain others feel, and make them feel better after talking with you?  If so, these are great indicators that you understand emotions well.

Erin-BrockovichOne of my favorite examples of someone who is great at understanding emotions is actress Julia Roberts in the movie Erin Brockovich.  Roberts plays the role of a law firm employee who becomes obsessed with a case file she uncovers related to pollutants in the groundwater of a small California desert town.  Eventually, she builds enough evidence to bring a lawsuit against the alleged California power company responsible for the toxins, but to make the case worth pursuing she needs to convince citizens of the town to sign on to the lawsuit.  She does this by visiting residents one-by-one and showing an unbelievable amount of empathy for what they are going through in the way of health issues allegedly caused by the contaminated ground water.  She has an unbelievable ability to feel their pain and relate to what they are going through.  The clip in this video shows a great contrast between her boss Ed, who has a low ability to understand emotions, and Erin who is a master of understanding those whom they are talking with.

Understanding Emotions and Lean Six Sigma Success

So what does any of this have to do with Lean Six Sigma?  I would argue that to become an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional you need to be empathetic and have the ability to feel the pain those you are striving to help through the tools and techniques used in the DMAIC process.  If you are not genuine in convincing others you truly want to help them it will be a challenge to build a trusting relationship with those who will be critical to successfully implementing the solutions developed by your team.  With this in mind how can we become better at understanding emotions?  Two simple ways to improve include 1) listen more and talk less, and 2) focus on asking “great” questions and less so on having “great” answers.

For many of us it can be difficult to keep our mouths shut when getting started on a new project.  We’re excited to get started, we want to quickly move through the DMAIC process and start seeing the results of our efforts, not to mention begin counting the financial benefits to the business.  With all this energy built up it can be hard to keep quiet and instead listen to the voice of the customer, process, business, and employees, but we know it is vital to the success of the project to fully understand the problem from all of the stakeholder’s perspectives.

To battle this challenge we need to shift our focus to asking “great” questions; forcing us to listen for answers instead of providing them.  What I consider great questions also center on creating empathy for those we seek to help through our knowledge of Lean Six Sigma and the power of the DMAIC process.  The right questions can help build empathy for the pain those you are trying to help.  Questions such as:

  • What worries you most about what you or your team do for this organization?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • When you’re not at work what thoughts related to work gnaw at you?
  • What is your biggest frustration at the moment?

questionsIncreasing your empathy is key to better understanding emotions, and asking questions that show another person you actually care about their pain and frustrations is a starting point for getting them to share their feelings with you.  Some other suggestions for increasing empathy is to always maintain eye contact with the person who is talking with you, and occasionally ask affirming questions such as “are you saying that…?”  It’s also important to pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and the tone of their voice-all of which are giveaways to their current emotional state.

One final tip is to keep score on how well you understand the emotions of others.  For example, after you ask someone how they feel about a certain topic you’ve been discussing (i.e. a recent news story, LSS project, company policy change, etc.) take note of whether you were correct in your assumptions about how they felt.  Over time you should see an increase in your percentage of correctly assessing the emotions of others.

The ability to understand emotions will pay dividends in your Lean Six Sigma activity in a number of ways.  First, you will show those you are helping that you truly care about their situation, and that authenticity will drive a greater engagement by everyone you encounter who can help make the projects you work on more successful.  Second, showing empathy for the problems of others will open their minds to opportunities to use the DMAIC process and help build project ideas that lead to an increase in organizational performance and more likelihood that Lean Six Sigma will become part of your culture and the way you naturally solve challenging process problems.  Stephen Covey stated, “When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.”  Understanding emotions is the start to providing the air to breath life into Lean Six Sigma opportunities found by listening to others and providing an empathetic ear to listen to their need for help.