A conversation with Howard Kincaide. Retired Product Manager at Solar Turbines
“Winston Environments tell us how to behave. Others in the environment reinforce the messages given by the physical space.” –Howard Kincaide
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Howard Kincaide about his long career in Product Leadership. He starts with how his nature to always be making things served him throughout his career. Later, Howard discusses his long journey introducing teams to Lean Product Development Methods. We then discuss using cultural values to create high-performing teams. Listen in for more tips on how to create change within any organization.
[2:17] How Howard Got His Start In Product Management
[16:50] How New Initiatives Fade Away.
[29:01] How To Create Lean Cultures.
[38:22] Why To Speak With The People Doing The Work.
[41:30] How Word Can Get In The Way Of Change.
Links | Resources
Howard on Linkedin
About the Guest
Howard Kinkade has nearly forty years of Engineering, Product, and Process leadership. Most recently, he was Manager, Products Management, Gas Compressor Business for Solar Turbines Inc. (A Caterpillar Company). Howard’s work includes extensive application of traditional and innovative Lean Product Development Methods. Having spent the last 15 years leading teams and organizations through innovative change and re-birth, Howard believes in the importance of leadership’s engagement in creating high-performing cultural values that continuously evolve and constantly improve toward a common vision.
At Solar Turbines, Howard incorporated lean principles and developed teams with unique cultural values. His leadership and lean methods have been benchmarked by numerous companies from around the world and featured in the book Designing The Future (Morgan and Liker). Howard led a cultural transformation in Engineering and other organizations, including a transition from a traditional “Push and Chase” culture of managing our workflow to a true pull system. The new approaches to workflow management have resulted in productivity gains from fifty to over 100% while also improving employee engagement. He is well versed and inspirational mentor of many lean methodologies, including A-3 problem solving, Obeya, Kanban, Set Base Engineering, Visual Communication, Standard Work, and Value Stream Mapping.
Howard recently retired from Solar Turbines and now lives on California’s beautiful central coast, yet still excited to inspire others who seek to create great products through organizational and process improvements.
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Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control The Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.
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Today, I’m with Howard Kinkade, recently retired from Solar Turbines with nearly 40 years experience in people, process, and product development. During the past 15 years, he’s been a thought leader in the development and introduction of lean principles beyond manufacturing and into our transaction office work. Designing the Future, book by Jim Morgan and Jeffrey Liker documents this innovative work and the positive impact in the business productivity. Welcome to the show, Howard.
Howard: Well, thanks for having me, Douglas, and looking forward to the conversation. When you were out here on the Central Coast of California, I was really inspired by some of our exchanges, and it got me motivated and my juices flowing. I’ve been retired, but I still have the passion and love for this stuff.
Douglas: Yes, I could really tell when we dug in that it’s still a big part of your identity and it was really fun hearing from someone who has such a deep experience working in lean and applying it in a lot of different ways. I think that listeners will really enjoy hearing about the diversity by which you have brought some of these ideas to bear. So, as usual, let’s get started with hearing a little bit about how you got your start. How did you get into this work of lean and then starting to apply it in new ways?
Howard: Well, that’s interesting. My formative early years, and maybe I’ll take you on a journey of how I got here. It’s never a straight line, at least it’s never been for me, never a straight line approach to these things. It wasn’t like I took a class and all of a sudden, aha, I get this stuff and now it’s my new passion. But for me early on, I was a creator. Always a creator and innovator. If you ask my dad, probably at the age of five, I was putting stuff together in the garage. I was playing with electrical stuff. Probably shouldn’t have been. Had radio control boats and planes and everything going around the house and taking stuff apart. My dad would probably say I took more things apart than put them together. So early on, I had this passion to create. And then through the years, that matures into new passions, or at least supporting passions.
So early on, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. And thankfully, I was good at engineering type of courses, math and science. And found my way here to Cal Poly and [inaudible 00:03:21], California, which is the place I have now retired to, which is interesting, so a 40 year journey from there and then back. At Cal Poly, I got excited. And in the world, the engineering opened up a little bit. To me it wasn’t just the design aspects. It was the technical problem solving and the diversity and scope of the problem. And I think that’s something that has always motivated me and drawn me in, is problems and the complexity of problems. At first, it’s the technical. And I was always inspired about creating things. Always looked up to the sky, think, “I want to be that guy in the aerospace.” Still remember those moments.
And some of the listeners probably do too if they got gray hairs like me, is the man that walked on the moon. I still remember that to this day. It was so inspirational. Dreams fulfilled pretty early, right out of school. And I’m designing things for planes, doing a lot of cool stuff with analysis. I worked for a company called Garrett AiResearch, now Honeywell, and they let me do a lot of creative things. I was surrounded by people that actually did help the man walk on the moon, which was an awesome inspiration. Eventually found our way to San Diego. My wife and I moved to San Diego. She was in computer science. And we had a couple great opportunities there. Worked for a fantastic aerospace company again called Sundstrand, now Hamilton Sundstrand, got to do some really cool things.
And it was right around then, I was getting more into leadership roles. I had some leadership roles at Garrett, but started gravitating towards leading programs and people and I began to really enjoy that. It was chaotic and frustrating at times, but it fed my desire to learn more. And problems kept getting bigger and my involvement had to expand as well. And then maybe there’s a new chapter in my life. And right about there as I was channel surfing as a lot of us did back then. There weren’t as many channels to surf as there are today, but I came across PBS and there was a show about a book called The Machine That Changed the World. So if any of your listeners are involved in lean and all, they’re probably familiar with that book. In that book, the phrase lean was coined. So lean comes from that book. The study of Toyota, and not just Toyota, but North America, Europe and North American automotive market.
The book was written by Womack, Roos and Jones. And I’m not a big reader but I watched this show. It was fascinating to me. And it talked about comparing and contrasting the creation and the manufacturing of cars and I was enthralled by it. So I pick up the little silly book called The Machine That Changed the World. Don’t read a lot, but I think within a week I had consumed the book. And a watershed moment for me, one of those changing vectors in my life, was I walked in the back of the assembly floor. That’s usually how I got to my desk upstairs at Sundstrand. And all of a sudden, the world was looking different to me. Not only different but much bigger. So I looked at the manufacturing floor and I began to think about the influences that I had on their lives, their efficiencies, and what they’re trying to do and my drawings and working with them.
And then I walked through supply chain on the way up to the desk and I go, “Wow, there’s a huge relationship between me and supply chain, what they’re trying to accomplish and what their suppliers try to accomplish.” And then of course, as a customer, in many other organizations. So the world blew up to me and the problems got more complicated. And as a leadership role, I saw that I had to venture off and engage more people in the process. Fortunately, there was an interesting little initiative we had for old timers like myself. We called them flavors of the month. So if you’ve been in the industry more than 15 months to 15 years, you see changes and initiatives come and go. And we’ll talk a little bit about that maybe later in this conversation. But they had this initiative called dimming problem solving. And I don’t know, it was 13 steps, nine steps or five or whatever.
Every problem solving has a certain number of steps. And I let it … A continuous improvement initiative to increase the velocity of our testing. And that was eyeopening, just following these steps mechanistically. And we’ll talk about initiatives. And when you first engage with initiatives, they’re formulas, they’re tools, they’re in mechanisms but there’s something much deeper that supports. We’ll get in that maybe a little bit later. While follow these mechanistically we made some incredible process improvements. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but we’re taking test times down to 30% of what they before, improved quality and everything else. That was really motivating, exciting to me. Unfortunately, the aerospace industry was going through a pretty big nose dive. In 10 years I already been through a couple of those. And unfortunately saw an organization with 1,300 people, go to 500. A friend of mine had just joined Solar Turbines and tapped me on the shoulder and say, “Howard, how would you be interested in coming over here and helping us out?”
And I took a look into it and I made another career change. And so I’ve been with Solar Turbines or had been with Solar Turbines for 28 years. It’s an incredible company. A lot of people are probably thinking about Solar Turbines. Oh, you do solar cells. You do wind turbines. Well, no. Solar Turbines been around since the late 1920s and we were called the prudent aircraft company at the time. And then the name changed to Solar. I won’t give you a long history of Solar. But we are the world’s leader in industrial gas turbine manufacturing in the intermediate size. That’s about 30,000 horsepower. And we’re all over the world. And so, joined that company, great company. And again, my challenges keep getting bigger and bigger. This company is extremely diverse. It handles it all the way from the sale of the equipment to the installation.
Sometimes certainly the installation and the maintenance. And we buy equipment back and refurbished it in that whole cycle. It’s a very vertically integrated organization with tons of different engineering organizations and service organizations and things of that nature. So the opportunities were just endless, so excited to get over there. I started out my career there. And again, more team leadership program and product management type of activities, but I was still practicing very traditional what I’ll call, Gantt chart management. All right. You get an assignment and from the top down, someone says, “Okay, we need this product in the market in two and a half years and Howard, go.” And so, I’d symbol on my team. Sometimes, they would show up to the meetings and all that good stuff. I’d go from cubicle to cubicle, gathering information. I’d put together a GAMP chart. It all fit.
We’re going to do this two years and then I would start the meetings and the push and chase would begin, right? And the ownership wasn’t there with the team members. It was always a struggle. Usually, I was very successful but the amount of energy it took to execute those programs was just mind boggling. And the chaos in big organizations and the chaos in small organizations as well was really a challenge. So it was more of a test of perseverance possibly than orchestration. I certainly can persevere and so very successful, but still it was a difficult journey for everyone. And then my career went on to some managing of organizations. I got exposures to organizations, which is eyeopening when you actually have to lead organizations and work with others lead organizations. And again, your problem statement gets far more challenging as well.
Now you have the accountability of mentoring and developing people, process improvements in organizations. And so moved on from there a little bit into project management, got to feel our customers, so from the customer facing perspective. You can sit in engineering on these other organizations and you can be well intended and well engaged with the customer, but until you live in their space, sometimes you don’t get the silly things you have to do that don’t make sense. So that was a wonderful experience but I still yearned to get back into product development. That was my passion. Here was where lean comes into the whole journey. I got tapped on the shoulder, the director of Gas Turbine Engineering, a large organization, several hundred people in it. He just got that position. He tapped me on the shoulder and says, “Hey, Howard, I need some help.”
We had worked together on a prior project and hit it off real wall, says, “We need to improve the process of improving the quality of our products in the field and the speed of which we do it. We need to make sure that our customers don’t endure any pain.” And that was pretty much the moniker there at Solar Turbines. We were insanely customer focused and that they still are to this day. And he says, “I want you to come down and help me develop some teams and processes in order to accomplish this.” And that involved… I mean, this company’s over 8,000 employees. There’s the field sites all over the world. There’s multiple organizations. And again, we touch our product all the way from the point of sale, all the way to servicing and in many cases refurbishing their products. So it’s extremely complex.
And when you do engineering of products that have that type of lifespan, our products out there 30 plus years, it becomes a really complicated problem to make sure you’re doing the right thing for the new product as well as existing product. So I was up for that challenge and he threw an NPI program, new product introduction program upgrading one of our turbines in the mix. Okay. I definitely get my teeth into this, but here’s what changed. After two weeks in that job, I sat down and he’s asking me how I was doing and there’s this book that started creeping across the table towards me and I went, oh no, I got homework. And I’m not a huge reader. And I’m just going, oh, this is not good. I already got to do some reading or what the heck does Mike have in store for me.
And the book matter of fact, it’s sitting to my right. We just move in the house and unpack some boxes here and it’s called lean product process development by Allen Ward. And Allen ward has passed away. He was a professor in University of Michigan, but some of his students, and John Shook, they’re with Sobek, John Shook brought this book that Allen was writing into publication. And so what’s interesting about this book is when you read it, it was written in a way that I can totally emotionally connect it. So I talked about those frustrations of the world of push and chase and try to get your work to organizations and try to get engagement from different organizations to add value, to create great product services for processes. And when I read this book, I felt like the person was sitting right next to me, talking to me. I could feel his tone and his passion emotion. And the pain and the challenge that he reflected on in traditional ways of managing development of product and process really resonated with me.
I felt that experience through the years. I was probably 25 years into my career at that point, and it resonated all the way to the point where when Mike sat down with me and say, “Hey, how’s the book going?” I told him I’m all in. I am all in. This is either going to take me to be the CEO of this company or I’m going to get fired. Somewhere there. The reality is somewhere in between the two, which is probably a good thing, but I was all in. And I can see in that book and I can feel in the book, the things that worked and the things that didn’t work and why and what the behaviors look like and what the organization felt like. So jumped in at the new NPI program, developing a new turbine. We played around with fun little tools, Obeya, great tool, anyone familiar with visual management and Obeya, and there’s all sorts of different versions of it.
Fantastic tool, A3 thinking, great problem solving tool, even a better mentoring tool, 5 Whys, Value Stream Mapping, 5S, Visual Management, ties in, Gemba, Pulse Systems, all those things we played with. And the team that I ran it was the most productive team I ever run. Well, probably the most rewarding. It was probably one of the first, if not the first, NPI programs at Solar Turbines that was under budget. We were under capital budget. We were under material expensive budget. We were slightly above on labor. Our product cost was a fraction of our target, which almost never happens. A lot of people that do product development, you do the product development and then what happens after the product development program? You have the cost reduction program, which is interesting. Why don’t you have the cost reduction program at the front of the product development program?
And someday maybe we could talk about the subtleties of that and the power of that. But the team was also very engaged. It was the first time I had a team meeting and I still remember this today. I had a team meeting and we go around the room in the Obeya and people would be talking. And I noticed that the members of the team weren’t talking to me, they weren’t delivering any of the message to me. They were looking at their colleagues across the way, and they were engaged with each other. So this is the first time I really experienced a team on the board where they’re all stroking together. They’re all swimming in the same direction. They’re all stroking together. They know how they interact with each other and they were taking tremendous pride in that. That was a wonderful experience and I attribute a lot of the lean tools, but maybe more subtly.
And we’ll talk about in a second, the lean values, the cultural values that supported the tools. So things are going great and the teams were getting great accolades. We were getting attention all the way to back Caterpillar, Caterpillar’s our mother company, executives from caterpillar are coming out and seeing what we’re doing. Everyone’s getting real excited about this, and Kaizen events and A3 thinking tutorials. Everything was exploding within engineering and then something happened. And I think maybe for a lot of listeners, they’ve seen this before. It started to wane. All right. And I was at lean evangelist and I walked down the hallway and now it was here, comes how Howard. Quick, duck. Close the door. It felt like that. Now, I was running another NPI program and we were doing really well, but it was the culture within the team and the values in the teams and their sense of experimentation within that team.
But you got outside of the team and this enthusiasm was beginning to wane. And so there you go. Another flavor of the month. As I said earlier, I was all in. So why is this waning? Why do programs and initiatives fade away? And I really wanted to understand that because I really believed in this one. And so I did a little reflection on a reflection event. So for a lot of you maybe listening and you’ve been on similar journeys, whether it’s with Lean or other initiatives, maybe it’s Agile and other process improvement techniques. If you see them begin to wane, think about doing a reflection on the reflection events, and that’s what I did. I’m a weird guy. And so one weekend I was really frustrated in how can I get my finger on the pulse as to why we were losing the momentum here? And I did a reflection, event reflection just that. I grabbed, I think it was half a dozen Kaizen events we did on different processes or problems we’re having with products and all the different techniques that we used to solve them.
And they all were great programs. And so I looked at it from a PDA cycle. We did great planning. We understood what the problem was. We understood what the root cause the problem was and we implemented a great solution and we trialed it and it worked fantastic and everyone got accoladed, but four or five years later why weren’t we following that process anymore? Why did we revert back to those old wagon wheels and the ruts they formed. And looked at five or six of those, and fortunately every once a while stars aligned. I just read a book called Toyota Kata by Dr. Rother, another University of Michigan professor. And I woke up in the middle of the night and an aha moment struck me. So we’re talking about chapters of my development and how it’s drawing me in more and more to the people process and tools versus the product.
And I got up, grabbed the napkin. This is a true story. Grab the napkin and I drew a house. So for some of you probably know the TPS Toyota production system house, I think Ryker coined that visual first, and at the top is the customer. We do everything for the customer. So if we’re not adding value to the customer, why are we in business? This isn’t the charity. And then there were pillars that held that up. And I drew on the left pillar, I drew a pillar of continuous flow of value added work. Why would we do anything other than creating value for a customer? So that gets to the reciprocal of don’t do waste. So that’s value of that. And then the Kaizens look for that. On the right pillar, I put in built in quality, which is basically get to the source of your defect.
We want zero defects. I would argue that’s a little bit of the left column, but yeah, we put that one there and I did not put the column and we should always think about that. I did not put the column of people development. That’s very, very important, but I had those two pillars there. And then the bottom, and this was my aha moment. I wrote down standard work as the foundation and leveled work as a foundation principal. Now, when I mentioned standard work for a lot of your listeners, please don’t run away yet, listen in. Standard work was instrumental. And what I looked at on all these Kaizen events and process improvements, we never really documented new standard work. And if we did document standard work, it wasn’t always followed after the fact, we didn’t have that cultural value of falling standard work. So if you do process improvements, where are they going to reside for reuse?
Where are they going to reside for further improvement? How is that going to permeate into your organization? How is it going to permeate in the way you do things today, tomorrow and five years from now? And that was missing. So what you’re left with this is probably another phrase a lot of people think about. What you’re left with is the tribal knowledge of those who are directly involved in that Kaizen event. They learned it, they understood it, but it didn’t permeate within the organization. So there was a cultural value there that I saw miss. Now Solar Turbines is a fantastic company. Don’t get me wrong, an incredibly efficient company. I could have never done this thing without the type of support for improvements that we have . It’s fantastic. But yet there was a cycle improvement we need in the world is standard work. And then the thing on the right side there, the workflow of management system, and we had chaos, we had push and chase.
We had priority meeting after priority meeting and next week was another list of top priorities. And everyone came to work, had three things to do and they ended up with five things to do at the end of the day and there was this weird chaos, and that was hard to lead in and that was hard to work in. And so I had leveled work on the bottom side. So I walk into the office the next morning with this piece of paper, and I open up the Toyota book. I like her and I hadn’t looked at that book probably three years. I read about three years before and I found a house and it was just pretty much fundamentally the same thing that I drew that night before. And the aha moment for me was, when I read that book, and for everyone, think about this, when you read books, a lot of times I read the paragraph and explained the house and the importance, all the different pillars and everything else.
And it talked about the importance of standard work. And I would nod my head up and down. I get, it makes sense, but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t see it, so I could not at that point associate with what we were doing in the workforce that was not supportive of that principle. So fortunate to have that, and then ran some challenges in my career. And the challenge was the leadership around was changing, nothing along with the new leaders, all great leaders of the company. We all bring wonderful perspectives and value, but the person, Mike, that I had was onto another part of the organization and he was my mentor and he was probably my biggest supporter, helped me through some really large cultural transformations and gave me some leeway. That was going away and I felt pretty alone there and it was getting challenging.
Now I had the team I was working on, it was fantastic, team was doing great things but what’s next. And the stars aligned again for me, a old colleague that I worked with in the past just was assigned the director of gas pressure engineering, which was an engineering in operations organization. So it’s a fairly large organization, not huge, but fairly large, quite diverse. And he taps me on the shoulder and says, “Hey, Howard, I just did a survey with all my leaders and they’re saying that we have too much work to do. We have priority problems. We do too much wasteful things, yada, yada, and painted it all out.” And he goes, “Hey, can Lean solve these problems?” “Yeah, sure. Not a problem. Lean can crush these problems.” “Oh, great. What do I need to do?” I don’t think he liked this answer.
I said, “Well, you need to read some books first and after you’ve done some reading, I’ll tell you what, you can buy me a beer and we’ll talk about it.” And I’ve had that segue with people before and I haven’t gotten too many beers out of that. And so I did get a tap on the shoulder, about a month later and he still says, “Hey, I’m just about through with the Lean product and process development by Ward, I want to talk.” I went, oh wow. Someone read it. So we sat down and not only did he read it, but he study it. Like it was a textbook. There was underlining, there was question marks. There was cross throughs, you name it. And here was someone who was really trying to understand these principles and he didn’t necessarily accept them at face value either.
All right. So he was with the struggle. And so about three to six months of me going up there late at night after work and we sit in his office two, three hours and talk about these things, he decided that he wanted change, and not just change the mechanistic way they do things, not just change the organizational structure, he really wanted change the cultural values, the thinking values of an organization. And let’s get back to flavor of the month. To me, my argument was, the reason that a lot of the lean ideas and tools were losing their engagement was our cultural values did not necessarily align with the cultural values that the tools needed to sustain them. And that’s big. And then I look back on a lot of the other initiatives I had been involved in through my years. I talked about the dimming problem solving.
We can talk about TQM, we can talk about zero defects. They’re probably a plethora of different initiatives that went on through my 30 plus year career at that point. And almost all of them I think died because our fundamental core values of people and leaders were not aligned. And so I will contend is if you make a list, and I’m a big Lean proponent but there’s a lot of other good initiatives. If you made a list of all the tools. I mentioned A, Obeya and A3s and 5 Why’s, Value Stream Mapping, Visual Management, Kaizen, go to the Gemba, pole and flow. If I had none of those tools, I had notebooks that told me about those tools. I had no one to mentoring those tools, but I had certain fundamental core values, I bet you I’d create those tools myself. And so that was a little bit, my aha moment and Bill was coming along really quickly and he says, “I want to model my organization around those values.” And the values that he wanted to model the organization around was continuous flow of value added work.
That sounds pretty darn simple, but what the value really was is developing an eye for where your value is and where your waste is, and developing a culture and organization to identify and find those. And of course you want to identify and find those, you do things value stream mapping, the visual management, and they start coming out. And then he also wanted to build a culture of standard work and manage our workflow better. So we didn’t have the chaos and the push and chase and all the waste that was involved in that. And then he tapped me on the shoulders and says, “Hey, by the way, I have a couple retirements in my group and I’d like you to run the product management group. I want to form a true product management team built around the concept of chief engineering.” And boy, that’s a lightning rod of a conversation point within engineering groups, but he really wanted to build an organization around these principles.
And of course I said, yes. And that led me to I think some of the most rewarding experiments and changes that I had ever been a part of my life. And that was the last five plus years of my career and we introduced workflow management system that had incredible efficiency games. I think to my bio there about, we’re talking about 65% improvement in velocity of work through an engineer organization. And this is based on metrics they had kept for over five years prior to the initiatives.
So some really, really incredible things. So if you look at my journey, how did I get to this passion for people process tools? It started with the passion of creation. And then when you live on the journey of creation, you realize that what you create gets complicated and then teams come involved, you realize you can’t do it all yourselves and now you have to orchestrate a team and bring all that value into it. And eventually I got to the point where my passion is creation again, but the creation of the organizations and the people and the process and the values that create products and services. That’s just an awesome experience.
Douglas: That was really fascinating listening to that journey from the creativity and the problem solving, and some of your points around the interconnectedness of the work and how that’s born out of the complexity and people are working on all sorts of different things and they had to be brought together. And it was really profound when you mentioned this observation that, oh, wow, people are now talking to each other. And so love to hear a little bit about why you think that is. Why is it different that people begin to start talking to each other when some of these tools and approaches are brought to bear?
Howard: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Matter of fact, I talked about the meeting where they’re talking across from me versus to me, there was a cultural difference on that team. And the difference was, and I mentioned in the journey was I used to run projects the same way, very tops down. I was given a date and I’d rock around, talk to the experts and say, “Hey, we have to do a bunch of different development. How many wheels is that going to be? How long going to it take and stuff.” And everyone’s throwing out numbers and everything else and some estimates. And I go on some of my own experience and lead times and all, and I put together this Gantt chart. And inevitably, there’s a lot of wishful thinking in there. And then you just start to put program together where you’re managing a risk.
How many things can you do in parallel? When can you kick something off, and you’re squishing it into this fan chart or other tool or technique that you use, and then you get your team together and you present the plan and ask yourself this question, whose program is that? That’s your program. It’s not their program. Although, they’ll usually go, “Well, Howard, that’s wishful thinking, I can’t do this. This isn’t happening. That’s going to happen.” There’s no buy-in. It’s not their program. It’s the program lead. It’s the executives. It’s their program. It’s not the teams program. And so something that we did, it came out of value stream mapping, and value stream mapping’s a really great continuous improvement tool where you look at a process of the past and you bring the people in who did the work, don’t bring the managers in because they don’t know what’s going on.
And I’m a manager, I understand that. Don’t bring to people in that manage the people, bring the people in that did the work. And then you have them put their little stickies up on the wall, what they did and really simple little effort. If you train them on way star, where was your rework? Where was your over processing? Where was your waiting? And then they throw all the little red stick up there. And what we did with this team, the team that worked so well together is they watched this whole journey of a prior development team, very similar development effort on another turbine. And they listened and they watched and they talked to the people that had the previous program. And then we did something called future state map. Okay. I’ve got my team together. I said, “What are we going to do and when? And I emphasized the word we. I wasn’t giving them a final date.
I was just saying, what can we do? What can we do differently first, right? Because we don’t do anything differently than the previous team. We’re going to end up with pretty much the same results. They had some great ideas and we can talk about the role of the Obeya there and a few other things, but what can we do differently and what would that future state look like? So they put all their stickies up and magic happened for me. It is all of a sudden I’m watching people put stickies up and they’re looking for a sticky as an input to one of their stickies because you can’t put your sticky down when I’m out of the drawing done because I need the analytical results first. So they’re looking at the analyst guy. And what happens in that room? They start talking to each other, they start learning from each other.
They start developing some empathy for each other. And at the end of the day, you end up with something called a plan. And it’s not my plan as a program manager, it’s their plan. Now I got a lot of feedback. I got a lot of skeptical feedback on this approach. A lot of my stakeholders are like directors and VPs. They would say, “Hey Howard, you can’t do this. They’re going to sandbag.” Now, what I found was interesting is when individuals are free to plan their own work and truly feel empowered. They have a tendency to be who maybe be a little too sporty versus sandbag, right? You sandbag if you feel you’re losing control, you don’t sandbag if you feel you are in control. Matter of fact, most of the time I had to bring some reality in their lives, and by way it’s not the only program you’re going to be run.
Think about the typical interruptions you have, what your work life’s going to be. So anyway, I think the key to bringing people together and a team together is you have to plan together. It has to be a collective team agreement. And as a leader, you need to facilitate this and you need to listen real closely to the things that they’re scared about, the things that they’re worried about. And then you need to take that as action is how can I get some of these obstacles, real obstacles out of their way. Because if I can’t get those real obstacles out of their way, I certainly don’t want them committing to something that requires that obstacle to not exist. So empower the team, and everyone’s heard that before, empower the team. Well, no, really empower the team, listen to them and you’ll be amazed what happens. So when we put this plan together, it represented the prior program from this is just the development phase from the kickoff to first test, which is a key milestone or hardware development is from the kickoff.
The design phase to test was let’s say 27 months. When we planned out the program, the team planned it out for 18 months. I’ll tell you, executive leadership was pretty excited about those results and was 18 months and I was a little worried that, wow, that’s pretty sporty and aggressive. And then of course in product development you end up with surprises and we ended up with a huge tooling surprise, very negative tooling surprise that affect us tremendously, but the team rallied. And what is amazing is that was a huge impact the lead time stuff we were to test in 17 months. That was unheard of. And so empower your team, listening to them and that takes a lot of work and there’s some tools and techniques to bring that out naturally and bring through people through the steps and the journeys, but you really need to engage the knowledge and the passion of your team members. And if you turn it over to them then I’ll tell you you’ll really, really, really be surprised what great things happen.
Douglas: So I want to come back to your point around standard work and leveled work, and you had mentioned that there was this need that you saw around documenting and making sure you’re codifying and following these processes or the standard work in a consistent way. And I guess I’m curious if you have any advice for folks that are in similar situations where maybe they need to be a little more rigorous around how they capture those moments and then how they make sure that they’re continuing to do those repeatable things in ways that are consistent.
Howard: Early in the Lean journey, just a few years into it, we were trying to do a checkbox. How many different things you have to be to be Lean, right? Standard work was one of them and Lean is not a check box event. But anyway, obviously we did that and we assigned people, and I remember someone was assigned to standard work. And this was one down in the larger engineer organization. And there’s several hundred people in this engineering organization. It’s very diverse. It’s very big. And you think about how much standard work would happen in all these different organizations. It’s a plethora of stuff, and there was some standard processes and there was some culture of falling, some of them some of the time but we assigned one person to do standard work. And what does he do? He goes off and interviews everyone.
And this creates a culture of policing and big brother, all right. Someone’s going to come to your organization and let’s say you’re in a layout design group. And they’re coming to your organization, they’re going to preach to you the values of standard work and how to do that and you need to fit into my system of standard work because it’s going to be a searchable database. This is going to be a wonderful thing. What do you think the organization’s doing? They’re going, oh my God. And they’re usually going, one is you don’t know what we do and how are you to come in and tell me how to do my standard work. Two is I’m not a fan of, I don’t know, electronics or databases or whatever, and you don’t get a buy, you’ll get a poll and you want poll. And so what’s the best place to get poll?
It’s the people doing the work again. And an example that I’d like to talk about was one of my colleagues and my last role. I was the manager of the products management group and one of my colleagues in the analytical organization he had about eight people in his group. He bought in real quick this concept of standard work. And he had an organization that had zero standard work. And you think about we’ve been doing these products for decades upon decades upon decades and yet there was no real standard work. There were engineering reports here and there that you can gleam some sense of standard work from, but it really was not a culture. And it was very much tribal knowledge. So Mike goes, “Hey guys,” one of his team meetings is, “I want to experiment.” And by the way, for everyone listening, that’s a very, very, very powerful word because the word experiment means you’re going to learn something and it isn’t necessarily going to come out the way you think it’s going to come out.
If you go in there saying, “Hey team, we’re going to do standard work. This is what we’re going to do and these are all the great things.” It puts people on guard because it creates a sense of pass and fail. And I don’t think that’s the best way to build something. So he used the word experiment and he says, “We’re going to do this.” So next time you pull something from a workflow management system, hopefully get a chance to talk a little bit about that. I want you to write down what you did and how you did it. I want you to document that and that will be our first iteration of standard work and let’s say this is for empower stresses or whatever.
And I don’t care how you do it. Why put a tool as an impediment to exploring and getting started on your journey. And so some of them were handwritten documents, others people did PowerPoint and who knows Excel spreadsheet here, there, whatever tool was comfortable to them or felt that worked well for them, a document, don’t let that get in your way. So let them use what they want. So they would go through the work assignment, they would document it and the end of it, as a team, they would reflect on what happened. This is the process I use. This is how it worked. And the team would say, “Hey, I really like that. Let’s embody that as our first iteration of standard work.” And Bill, the director of the organization, he used the phrase and I like this phrase, it’s a recipe.
So you go in the kitchen, use someone’s recipe. Sometimes you decide that you need to add more salt. So you’ll cross something out and you put two teaspoons of salt versus one and a half teaspoons. So the concept, a lot of times words get in the way and they create emotions within people. So we de-emotionalize this with the concept of recipe, right? Because everyone’s a frame of, that changes an experiment. So to this day, and I haven’t talked to Mike in a little while, about a couple months, but to this day I know he went from zero pieces of standard work to over 30 pieces of standard work probably in a year and a half to two years with this very simple grassroot slow growth. If you look at a standard work today, they all use a very similar format. It’s all searchable and all these other things but it was a grassroots gestation and it was done by the people that do the work and the leader took the pain out of it.
And so it’s a very small gestation. If you go to organizations and say, “Hey, by the end of this year, we’re going to have 30 pieces of standard work. Here are the things we’re going to do. And Jack, Jill and Harry here, go do it.” I can tell you that journey’s not going to go very long, but if you do it very small growth piece, small wise with the people doing the work and you take the inhibitors away from them, amazing things happen. Now, is there any value in them? He discovered some incredible value he didn’t expect. One was the dialogue that occurred when people reflected on the work people did. So there’s great learning. There’s a great alignment and great growth through that. So there was natural iterations and natural alignment of people doing the work the same way. Typically, an organization, you have five people do the same thing.
They all do it differently. They all do it best by their perspective. It began to bring people together on it was their work, right? Not any individuals but it was their work. The benefits he saw was not only the learning, but when he onboarded right in our company, engineers and all, we like to go to different parts of the company, a very growth oriented type of company. And so the engineers would go to different roles in their careers, usually very long careers or a company. And so occasionally he would lose people of his group and he’d bring someone new. The onboarding and the training and the growth of individuals with the standard work was tremendous. He said that people came up to seed much, much faster, learned much, much quicker and were contributing much faster as well. And a lot of it’s offshore work these days.
Engineering, it’s all pretty popular thing. And it’s got its pluses and minuses. He found, and we had a relationship with an offshore engineering firm who actually had some direct relationships to us too and he was able to take the standard work and share it with them as well. So they were able to come up to speed and align very, very quickly with the values and the quality of our work, where in the past that was a really difficult and arduous journey. So the key I think to getting standard work off the ground or your recipes off the ground is, don’t overly complicate it, empower the people, don’t make the expectations too high, just have them write something down, start the journey, the dialogue and it will begin to grow very quickly, but you have to use it every day.
Douglas: It seems like a lot of people mess up that piece of trying to get the system or trying to perfect the place where it’s going to be all put.
Douglas: Instead, let’s just get people thinking that way. And who cares if they’re all living in different places or whatever because if we build that mindset, the growth and the values will start to build and get instilled. So that’s really powerful. I want to bring us to a close here because we’re running short on time, and I want to make sure to leave you with an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.
Howard: So if I look at my trajectory and where I am today and what enabled the organizations I work with, the people I work with, the teams I work with to innovate and to really bring the needle forward, it was a cultural value and a very simple one and I’ve used the phrase already is in 10 to one the people are listening. You’re all change agents, 10 to one you won’t be listening unless you want change. You’re a change agent. So this stuff’s difficult. So one message I would say is get started tomorrow. Start thinking about maybe what this has inspired you to do and make a step forward.
What’s your next experiment? Run experiments and run small ones, not huge ones, run small ones and bigger ones and whatever and learn. You will learn from them. So start tomorrow, start running experiments, start exploring and learning. Maybe pick up some of the books I suggested if you’re interested. And I think I’ll leave everyone with this thought is, always be respectful of others. Sometimes that’s difficult for us who are passionate about change. Always be respectful of others, don’t forget that, but remain passionately persistent and wonderful things will happen.
Douglas: Thank you so much Howard. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you today.
Howard: Yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed it. We have to do this more often.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health and working better, voltagecontrol.com.