Tag Archives: lean thinking

How the Baldrige Process Can Enrich Any Management System

The “Baldrige Crystal” in a hall at NIST (Gaithersburg, MD). Image Credit: me.

Another wave of reviewing applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) is complete, and I am exhausted — and completely fulfilled and enriched!

That’s the way this process works. As a National Examiner, you will be frustrated, you may cry, and you may think your team of examiners will never come to consensus on the right words to say to the applicant! But because there is a structured process and a discipline, it always happens, and everyone learns.

I’ve been working with the Baldrige Excellence Framework (BEF) for almost 20 years. In the beginning, I used it as a template. Need to develop a Workforce Management Plan that’s solid, and integrates well with leadership, governance, and operations? There’s a framework for that (Criterion 5). Need to beef up your strategic planning process so you do the right thing and get it done right? There’s a framework for that (Criterion 2).

Need to develop Standard Work in any area of your organization, and don’t know where to start (or, want to make sure you covered all the bases)? There’s a framework for that.

Every year, 300 National Examiners are competitively selected from industry experts and senior leaders who care about performance and improvement, and want to share their expertise with others. The stakes are high… after all, this is the only award of its kind sponsored by the highest levels of government!

Once you become a National Examiner (my first year was 2009), you get to look at the Criteria Questions through a completely different lens. You start to see the rich layers of its structure. You begin to appreciate that this guidebook was carefully and iteratively crafted over three decades, drawing from the experiences of executives and senior leaders across a wide swath of industries, faced with both common and unique challenges.

The benefits to companies that are assessed for the award are clear and actionable, but helping others helps examiners, too. Yes, we put in a lot of volunteer hours on evenings and weekends (56 total, for me, this year) — but I got to go deep with one more organization. I got to see how they think of themselves, how they designed their organization to meet their strategic goals, how they act on that design. Our team of examiners got to discuss the strengths we noticed individually, the gaps that concerned us, and we worked together to come to consensus on the most useful and actionable recommendations for the applicant so they can advance to the next stage of quality maturity.

One of the things I learned this year was how well Baldrige complements other frameworks like ISO 9001 and lean. You may have a solid process in place for managing operations, leading continuous improvement events, and sustaining the improvements. You may have a robust strategic planning process, with clear connections between overall objectives and individual actions.

What Baldrige can help you do, even if you’re already a high performance organization, is:

  • tighten the gaps
  • call out places where standard work should be defined
  • identify new breakthrough opportunities for improvement
  • help everyone in your workforce see and understand the connections between people, processes, and technologies

The whitespace — those connections and seams — are where the greatest opportunities for improvement and innovation are hiding. The Criteria Questions in the Baldrige Excellence Framework (BEF) can help you illuminate them.

Eliminating Waste using Zombie War Analysis

If quality and continuous improvement are important to you, you should have a fundamental understanding of zombies and the role they play in quality management. Furthermore, understanding zombies might help you understand yourself better too. In fact, performing a zombie war analysis (on either yourself or your organization) could be the next great lean tool for identifying and eliminating waste from processes.

Huh??!?! Zombies… are you sure? Yeah, I’m sure. And no, I didn’t know much about zombies either until yesterday, when I read My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead in the New York Times by Chuck Klosterman. (The savvy zombie thumbnail at the left by AMC is from his article.) In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a zombie movie before. That might change, though, now that I see the zombie concept has a direct bearing on understanding modern work life.

Here’s why: battling the endless barrage of emails, texts, requests for your time, and sorting through the steady stream of social media chatter is like a zombie apocalypse. They just keep coming and coming, and you just keep fighting and trying to let it all not overtake you and drive you nuts. And the whole thing might never end:

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principle downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principle downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do…

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything … or everything.

The only way to WIN the war is to reduce the number of zombies that you have to deal with. So, my appeal to quality managers everywhere: Ask your people what processes feel like zombie wars, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies so you don’t have to shoot so much. By tapping into the highly sensitive emotional wisdom of everyone who has to work with or deal with a process, you can call out the zombies and start eliminating them.

My appeal to PEOPLE everywhere: ask yourself what aspects of your life feel like a zombie war, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies. You’ll eliminate waste from the processes that the zombies are appearing in, while saving on ammunition, reducing stress, and possibly even increasing the joy in your life.

The simple act of thinking about the “things you’ve got to deal with” in terms of which ones are zombies (and which ones are not) might be just the innovative boost you need to identify and eliminate critical packets of waste floating around your organization. Or your life.