Getting Things Done – Managing Tasks and Projects

“Too much to do, too little time!” is a cry that we hear more and more often recently.  When you’re trying to tackle a dozen projects, a hundred initiatives and a thousand “to do” tasks, it can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to even make a start.

So here’s a “quick and dirty” way to make sense of it all.

  1. Make a list – a full list. The first step is to face up to the challenge and list out all of the projects, tasks, initiatives and “to do’s”. It might look like a long list but don’t be put off – this is the first step towards regaining control.
  2. Split the list into two – “Tasks” and “Projects”. Tasks are things you know how to tackle, don’t take up a lot of resource and can be achieved in a few days. Projects are things that take longer, maybe need some research or data collection, and involve more people.
  3. Take the “Tasks” and prioritise them using an “Ease and Effect” grid. Start with the tasks that are Easy to implement and have the highest Effect or Impact. Then tackle the tasks that are Easy to implement and have a medium Effect. Put these tasks into an Action Plan and track progress using “traffic lights” (also known as RAG – Red, Amber, Green) – Red items haven’t yet been tackled, Amber items are those currently being tackled and Green items have been successfully completed.
  4. Translate the Projects onto a simple timeline or “Gantt Chart”. Split the timeline into three – (a) items to be tackled in the next 12 weeks, (b) items to be tackled in the following 12 months, (c) items to be tackled in the following year. Agree who will be accountable for each of the projects and set realistic start and finish dates.

That’s it! Yes it’s rough and ready but it’s the quickest, most effective way to regain control of “too much stuff” – try it!

And if you need some help to manage and deliver some of those projects, contact

The Number Two Motivator – “I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job right”

People want to do the job right and they expect to be provided with the right equipment so that they can do just that.

Sadly this is still a real wake-up call for some manufacturing owners and managers. Here’s my advice:

Tools that aren’t easy to handle and clothing or PPE that’s uncomfortable become a real problem after a 8- , 10- or 12-hour shift. If you’re serious about quality and serious about treating employees well, invest in good quality gear – go for good value not just the cheapest. Would you want to wear those cheap nasty safety shoes day after day, week after week?

BYOT (Bring Your Own Tools). Get with it folks – this is the 21st Century not the 19th! Do you really expect your people to buy and bring their own tools to work? How do you control the quality? What if a tool fails and injures someone? What about sharing tools? What about 5S shadow boards? What about theft and “borrowing”? In my view, employers need to supply all of the right kit to do the right job to the right standard. Period.

The Number One Motivator – “I know what is expected of me at work”

Expectations detemine outcomes, Expectations motivate us, Expectations keep us on track. So it’s no secret that the best organisations – and the most effective Leaders – are all over this.

So here are some simple tips – aimed here mainly at manufacturers.

Long-term: make sure everyone clearly undertands the common goals of the organisation and why you do what you do. Is there an answer to “Why am I here” and “What’s in it for me”?

Medium-term: spell out the three most important goals this year, this quarter. Back them up with SMART objectives for each and every team member (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timescaled).

Short-term: provide simple visual “target and actual” measures in each workplace. Every team member needs to see for themselves what’s required and how well they are doing. At the end of each shift / day / week every team member should know – without waiting to be told – how well they’ve done, and what they need to focus on next time.

What really motivates them (and us!) – part 1

“Bosses get the workers they deserve, and workers get the bosses they deserve!”. I first heard this at the age of 18 and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Far too often I hear “They’re only interested in money”, “You can’t motivate that lot”, “I / We / Managers / Directors are motivated by challenges, doing a good job, a sense of achievement… but that lot are only motivated by money – that’s all they’re here for!”

The reality is that most of us in the workplace are motivated by the same things, A huge amount of research has been carried out in the field of motivation but for me one of the most useful approaches – based on many years of research with thousands of employees – are the Top 12 Motivators.

“First Break all the Rules” is a great book that describes these Top 12 and I’d recommend it to anyone in a Leadership role. Let’s look first at Number 1 – the Top Motivator for most people:

“I know what’s expected of me at work”

This seems so simple and abvious that many folk I work with don’t actually believe it! But think about it for a moment. How desperate it can be when you really don’t know what you’re aiming to achieve. If your organisation and your boss don’t explain the “what and why” of your role, you don’t have anything to aim for and you feel directionless, lost, and not important.

So the first task of a Leader in any organisation is really simple – make it very clear to each and every person exactly what is expected of them, and why. It really is that simple!

Brexit – immediate actions for UK Manufacturing Leadership

Manufacturing clients that we’ve been working with at a strategic level already have well-rehearsed plans in place for Brexit. For those who are still reeling with shock here are some of the short-term actions that Manufacturing Leaders might consider – the “Six R’s”:

Reassure: the first essential role of Leadership in turbulent times. Ramp up the communication, make yourself available, get out and about in the workplace. Let people know that despite recent rhetoric no-one’s job will be lost this month or next. In particular, reassure migrant workers that they are valued and wanted and will continue to be so.

Resilience – time to update your business risk assessments and make sure that you have robust plans in place and contingencies for the things that won’t go to plan! In particular, consider broader supply chain risks (see below).

Rates 1 – Exchange Rates: the pound will be weaker for a while so ramp up the exports and continue to use Lean to in-source materials and components. De-risk the Supply Chain and take manufacture and control in-house.

Rates 2 – Interest Rates: we simply don’t know if interest rates will go higher or lower so shorten your payback periods slightly but keep on investing. Short-term turbulence often leads to cheaper asset prices so look out for bargains – don’t put off that acquistion but instead go flat out and bargain for a lower price.

Routine: now is the time to reinforce Standard Work, One Best Way and all of the “boring but important” daily disciplines that make for successful long-term business.

Remember: turbulence doesn’t change the world but it makes for bigger opportunities and bigger threats – update your SWOT review, spot the opportunities and act decisively.

Courage mon brave!

The Three Stages of Lean Transformation

As our knowledge and practice of Lean has developed, many of us have come to the conclusion that there is no standardised “one size fits all” roadmap or sequence that details every step of “how to implement Lean” for every organisation. But there are three vital stages that it makes sense to follow. Here they are:

1. Grasp the Current Situation. A full understanding – by all team members – of the current situation, is the essential starting point for any improvement activity. Questions to ask might include: Exactly where are we now? What are we trying to do here? What is our purpose, our mission? How do we add value for our customers? Honestly, how are we performing now? Are our measurement systems capable of telling us? Are we collecting (only) the right information to help us to make decisions and to take action?

2. Achieve Stability. What are the most important processes in your business? How do you develop new products or services? How do you deliver them? How do you plan, execute and measure the vital few? How do you manage your people, from cradle to grave? Are these processes capable, under control and stable? How do you sustain “One Best Way”: do you provide clear instruction, effective training, regular monitoring, wide-spread mistake-proofing?

3. Implement Lean. Only now can you begin to change the way you work, with a real prospect of success and sustained improvement. Once you have stable, repeatable processes you can analyse them and find ways to do them better. With the right tools and support the team can simplify and streamline the processes so that you become more efficient and more productive, and achieve better outcomes.

The detail of how to do it – and the exact tools to use – are gained only through years of experience. If you don’t yet have that experience you’ll need to hire it in, but make sure that you coach your people so that they “learn by doing”. By following this approach, and by rigorously following the PDCA Improvement Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act), you can genuinely transform your organisation and make Continuous Improvement a way of life.

Coalition And Floating Voter – Not Just General Election Buzz Words But Relevant To Lean Manufacturing Too

coalition blog graphic

By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

With British politics moving away from three main parties and fragmenting into much wider choice, the prediction is that this week’s election will end up with another coalition Government.

However, politics and governing a country are not the only arenas where a coalition framework can be adopted – Lean Manufacturing needs a ‘Guiding Coalition’ to succeed.

This is because the hardest aspect of creating a truly Lean organisation is creating the right culture – a positive “can do” approach that challenges accepted norms and continuously seeks a better way.

And the hardest step is always the first.

That’s why it’s essential to start working with the right people.

At the most senior level, top management must be committed to making Lean happen – there needs to be a critical mass; what Dr John Kotter calls the “Guiding Coalition”.

Once we have that commitment, we need to understand how people will react to change, and we need to know how we should manage them.

In any group of people faced with significant change, we can expect a whole range of responses. If we drew these on a graph, they’d often follow what statisticians call a “normal distribution”; more commonly described as a “bell curve” or 2:6:2 curve, as shown in the diagram.

At the negative end of the curve we have a small number of people – typically 20% of the total – who actively oppose change. They’re sometimes referred to as the CAVE-dwellers: Completely Against Virtually Everything.

And keeping to the election analogy, in the middle we have the bulk of people, perhaps 60% – the “floating voters” who can be swayed in either a positive or a negative direction.

And over at the positive end of the spectrum we have another small group – typically 20% of the total – who are positive about change and at least prepared to give it a go.

Here’s the key point that many managers don’t understand: if you want to make change happen, work with the willing – the positive 10%.

These people are the Change Agents – at The Lean Consortium we call them the Lean Leaders – and they’re absolutely crucial to the success of Lean in any organisation.

These are the people that we work with to start the ball rolling, and get some “quick wins”. And this is what they look like:

• Keen to make a difference
• Accepts the need for change
• Eager to learn / seeks development opportunities
• Respected by peers and management
• Influential, with good people skills
• Able to overcome resistance and get things done

At the same time, it’s vital that you avoid getting bogged down with the CAVE-dwellers at the other end of the spectrum – these “energy vampires” can suck out every last ounce of positivity if you let them.

By all means listen to what they say – they just might have some good ideas – but don’t spend too much time with them, and don’t waste time trying to convert them to the cause. Your time is much better spent with the other folk.

By working with the willing you’ll find that life is a lot easier: you’ll get some “Quick Wins”, the “floating voters” will begin to get on board and you’ll build up the momentum that you need to sustain continuous improvement across the organisation.

How UK manufacturers can manage their energy usage for competitive advantage

Stephen Beard - Copy

Stephen Beard, from Gazprom Energy UK, explores how UK manufacturers can gain a competitive edge through effective energy management.

With energy prices on the increase, effective energy management plays an important role in almost all UK businesses – and this is the case in manufacturing businesses outfits more than most. A recent report by Siemens uncovered that 90% of UK manufacturers discuss energy management at board level, with almost 80% agreeing that managing energy is now a business-critical function.

While business continuity is considered key for this recent surge in interest, for many, the ability to gain a competitive advantage is the main driver in their energy efficiency efforts.

In this post, I’m going to run through a few of the ways that UK manufacturers can take control of the energy usage for a greater competitive edge and a higher profit margin.

Effective energy procurement
As many manufacturing professionals will well know, understanding the volatile wholesale energy market, negotiating with suppliers and choosing the best contract type can present big challenges and can be a significant drain on resources. Yet cost reduction in the purchasing process is vital to ensure competitiveness.

Depending on consumption levels, some businesses choose to appoint a dedicated member of staff to energy procurement. However, the use of energy partners or ‘brokers’ is considered a more cost-effective way of staying on top of the energy spend. A broker can talk to you about the range of contracts available from various suppliers and, more importantly, the value of each against the short and long-term forecasts for the market.

Appointing ‘energy champions’
Harnessing the energy spend by choosing the right contract is an essential starting point in making progress in energy management – but for serious energy savings, the work doesn’t stop there. The cost-saving benefit of internal monitoring and management on an on-going basis shouldn’t be underestimated. For those serious about gaining a competitive edge through reduced production costs, a company-wide behavioural shift is crucial.

It’s for this reason that some firms are starting to appoint ‘Energy Champions’, i.e. members of staff that are given roles and responsibilities designed to ‘champion’ energy-efficient behaviours amongst their colleagues. Depending on how much resource can be allocated to this, ‘Energy Champions’ might be responsible for anything from developing ideas for day-to-day awareness and improvement, to implementation of energy-saving strategy and feedback and reporting.

Providing the roles are taken seriously, ‘Energy Champions’ can be really effective for embedding the importance of energy efficient practices through the company.

Energy auditing
Likewise, to stay effective your energy-saving programme should be subject to continuous review. A good evaluation process should include regular energy audits, during which you look at:
Assessment of bills and meter readings: To establish peaks and troughs in consumption over several months
Compiling a checklist: Of energy-using equipment and machinery to be inspected for efficiency. Include even the most everyday expenses like office lighting and heating, as well as cooling and ventilation, equipment, machinery and processes.

An audit should highlight any inefficient or energy-sapping activities. This could be something as simple as the office lights not being turned off out of hours, or as critical as energy draining machinery being turned off and on again rather than using energy efficient standby options, in between production runs.

As well as allowing you to identify where savings can be made, regular audits also allow recognition of successes, which can often be passed through the business as morale-boosters.

Parting shot
There is no quick fix when it comes to energy efficiency improvements in manufacturing and it takes time before you can see a tangible return on your efforts. However, in an energy-intensive industry, the benefits of harnessing usage and spend can be extraordinary.

Though, according to Siemens, it seems most manufacturers have really started to take hold of energy management, I’d urge production managers and procurement specialists to take an even closer look at the energy spend and consider the options. With foresight and planning, taking control of energy usage can make way for a greater competitive edge and a higher profit margin.

About Gazprom Energy
Gazprom Energy is one of the UK’s leading business energy suppliers, offering a range of competitive business gas and electricity contracts for manufacturers.

The future’s bright, the future’s Lean

Andrew Nicholson
By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

After more than three decades of applying Lean in the West, perhaps the most important thing – and one that we’re still learning – is that Lean is a philosophy and a way of life, not just a set of tools and techniques.

I strongly believe that Lean has a bright future as it is more relevant now than it’s ever been in today’s fast-changing, quality-driven business environment.

We seem to live in a society where many citizens have a deep distrust of politicians, government and business.

In response, many of us actively seek out people and organisations we feel we can trust, whose values and objectives we share or at least feel we have some common cause with.

This is one reason why I believe that genuinely Lean organisations will survive and prosper.

In my opinion, organisations that value an open, learning culture and have respect for people – one of the key tenets of Lean – will almost naturally adopt Lean as part of their way of doing business.

Because they learn, Lean organisations will adapt and improve, and most will ultimately succeed.

Their employees become genuinely engaged, they “buy in” to the values of their organisation and they continually ask “What’s the Lean way to do this?”

Customers receive real value from a Lean organisation and are actively consulted – even directly involved – in future developments. They also “buy in”, becoming loyal followers, advocates or even zealots.

We’ve also learnt that Lean means much more than just Lean Manufacturing.

Although many manufacturers first use Lean tools and techniques in their production facilities, those who “get it” soon realise that there’s a lot more to manufacturing than production or assembly.

They go on to apply Lean across every area of their business, and then on through their Supply Chains, forming long-term partnerships with others who share their values and who also “think Lean”.

And Lean is spreading far beyond manufacturing. Healthcare, law enforcement, government and the military, software development and education are just some of the many areas where Lean principles are transforming traditional ways of working.

I see this as a continuing trend: applying the Lean philosophy to more and more organisations and sectors, and ultimately to more and more aspects of our daily lives – another reason why I believe that Lean has a bright future.

Finally, and particularly important in an economic downturn, we’re understanding that Lean is not about cost-cutting, outsourcing, off-shoring, down-sizing and lay-offs.

On the contrary, most of our clients are using Lean to grow, to in-source and to re-shore.

They understand that the true meaning of Lean is about delivering Value: truly understanding their customers’ needs, providing them with more and more genuine value, and exceeding their expectations.

Pulling all of this together then, into what you might call a Lean Mission Statement, I’d say that today’s Lean pioneers understand that their future success requires the marshalling of Purpose, People and Processes, to deliver value to customers, to employees and to stakeholders.

That’s why I see a bright future for those who truly embrace Lean. And in my next blog I’ll explain how this combination of Purpose, People and Processes is driving the future success of Lean organisations.

What opportunities does the Circular Economy offer Lean Manufacturing?

By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd

A fundamental shift is taking place within a range of industries, not least, the manufacturing sector.

The traditional way of working has been in a linear fashion where resources are obtained, shaped into products, used and disposed of.

However, as raw materials diminish and become more scarce or expensive, businesses are turning their attention to making the most use of what is available.

As a result, a new model is emerging that has been dubbed the ‘Circular Economy’ where products are remade, resold or recycled in some cases many times over.

The circular economy is all about doing more with less and minimising waste with new products assembled from materials obtained from old ones through reclamation, remanufacture and recycling or the operational life of a component is extended through refurbishment.

So does this offer any opportunities for the ‘Lean Manufacturer’?

In my opinion, the answer is most definitely yes.

From an efficiency point of view, it does not matter whether what is being used as the basis for a product is from an original source or is reusing or recycling materials.

Any type of manufacturing can be scrutinised and fine-tuned so that wastes of time and effort are eliminated from the entire process – which means from the minute a customer’s order is received to the delivery of the finished product.

The scope for employing lean principles will widen as they easily and effectively can be applied to industries that decide to embrace the Circular Economy as part of their operations.

Indeed, the values and ideology behind Lean Manufacturing and the Circular Economy are comparable. The Circular Economy is about minimising waste through reusing components rather than disposing of them while Lean is about making sure that time and effort is not wasted during the manufacturing processes.

These demonstrate the compatibility of Lean and the Circular Economy. And as the Circular Economy grows, which I believe it will, the use of Lean has the potential to expand proportionately.