Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: June 28, 2024


Thanks, as always, to Ryan McCormack for this. He always shares so much good reading, listening, and viewing here! Subscribe to get these directly from Ryan via email.

News, articles, books, podcasts, and videos about how to make the workplace better.

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

Skunk Works

Truly the most satisfying experiences of my career have come from a few discrete projects where I was part of a specialized team given the autonomy, resources, and permission to take risks and rapidly turn around a prototype to solve a problem. Innovation thrives when teams are protected from the administrative bureaucracy of large organizations and given the freedom to be creative. Lockheed famously developed Skunk Works to rapidly develop America's first fighter jet, and it didn't stop there. “Skunkworks” has become synonymous with innovation everywhere. Check out the Lockheed Skunk Works Story – 80 Years of Innovation. Give your talented teams the space, time, and freedom to solve hard problems. 

A history of the XmR chart

I'm happy about the movement to democratize data and reporting. It should make it easier for teams and managers to make data-driven decisions to improve their performance. But, the proliferation of Power BI dashboards is relegating the Shewhart chart to the historic dustbin in favour of high-speed 3-D bar charts and chartjunkpreferred by business leaders and marketers, often obscuring signals in the noise or confusing noise for signal. 

The XmR chart remains a valuable and flexible tool for those seeking to understand or improve their processes, regardless of underlying distribution. It is indeed a “Swiss Army Knife” of process behaviour charts. Dr. Wheeler shares the history of the chart for individual values.

Formula 1 Pit Crews 

The Canadian Grand Prix ended this month with another Verstappen victory. I traditionally haven't been interested in Formula One, but some colleagues convinced me that it offers up a lot to learn regarding strategy, engineering, teamwork, and improvement. 

Pit stops have long been shown as an example of using set-up reduction techniques to improve performance. I recall watching an educational video in 2000 of how pit crews were able to get their times down below 10 seconds using SMED (single-minute exchange of ties) techniques. Fast forward to last week's F1 race – pit crews are now consistently sub 2 seconds! How do they do it? Here's a great step-by-step breakdown of the 2 second pit stop

This video shows the evolution of F1 pit stops from the 1990's to 2023 – continuous improvement in action.

Creating a Culture of Improvement

Whole Foods CEO Seeks Problem Solvers

Jason Buechel, CEO of Whole Foods, shares that the number one characteristic he looks for in employees is a love of problem solving. I wonder how much time Whole Foods invests in nurturing and practicing problem solving. 

Research Shows Humble Leaders Boost Employees' Status

Edgar Schein promoted “humble inquiry” as a method for reducing differences in status in “helping” relationships and helping others take ownership of problem-solving. A recent study shows that humble leadership can indeed elevate the status of employees and motivate them to take charge – presuming this is something your organization may want to do of course.

Can Southwest Airlines Preserve Its Employee-Centric Culture?

Under Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines became a vaunted business school case study for its employee-centric culture, low prices, and high levels of customer satisfaction. Since he stepped down as chairman in 2008 and his passing in 2019, the landscape of the airline industry has evolved and many believe Southwest's culture has deteriorated over that time. Can Southwest Airlines find its way again?

Henry Mintzberg believes that culture gets managed in the beginning, primarily by the founder. In situations where the founder sets a strong culture, it can be revived or rebuilt when there is still a remnant left, even after the founder is long gone.

Commission sides with worker fired for failing to meet KPIs

The Fair Work Commission sided with a “vacation specialist” after they were fired by a tourism company for failing to meet KPI targets – targets that changed after being hired. The employee cites a lack of training and support required to meet the ever increasing targets, while the organization argued that the employee had plenty of opportunity to achieve the target, even though they assured the employee at the time of hire that there was little pressure to meet the targets. This case reminds us of the dangers of setting individual goals and targets and holding employees accountable when there may be systemic causes preventing them from achieving targets.

Coaching – Developing Self & Others

AI in Coaching and Change Management

Can AI chatbots provide leaders with the insights and advice to get them unstuck? Maybe. But it's time to evaluate AI's role in the future of coaching and psychological support

Meanwhile, a poll shows that few change management professionals are currently using AI for work

Our Ambivalent Desire to Change

Organizations fool themselves by believing they are responsible for inspiring people to change. Change is deeply personal and complex. There are real paradoxes and possibilities for transformation

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Ryan McCormack
Ryan is an operational excellence professional with over 18 years experience practicing continuous improvement in healthcare, insurance, food manufacturing, and aerospace. He is an avid student of the application of Lean principles in work and life to create measurably better value.


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