Archive for the ‘Continuous Improvement’ Category

The elegance of the sticky note for problem solving

September 4th, 2015 by John Gallagher 3 Comments

So many technological tools out there right now with the laptop, the tablet, and the smartphone, to name a few.  There are spreadsheets and slide decks and projectors and software as well.

But, there is just something about the simple elegance of the sticky note for visual problem solving as a tool.


Here are 5 reasons I often like the sticky note over technology:

  1. It moves freely – Often, when coaching I build process flow maps or matrices and when a step is missed, or a better idea comes up, you just lift it off the wall and move it over, down, across and re-stick it!!
  2. It forces conciseness – Much like a Twitter post, your characters are limited if you want to be able to read it from a distance.  Verb and a noun! That’s all you need.
  3. It improves brainstorming – By giving everyone in your group one of those little stacks, you are sure to get all of their thoughts.  And, it is easier to move them into themes once you ahve the ideas.  (Refer to reason 1)
  4. It makes for a good reminder – You can’t hit ‘dismiss’ on a sticky note.  Just recently, I needed to remember to get something out of the fridge before I left, so I wrapped that sticky around the car keys and, sure enough, I would have forgotten!
  5. It is symmetrical – the 3 x 3 is my favorite, but that is the engineer in me.

This might be overdoing it, though:

sticky notes overdone

Are you a fan of sticky notes?


April 1st, 2015 by John Gallagher No Comments



I had a friend ask me recently about a simple process they might be able to use with their team to review “How are things going?”  Often times, individuals or organizations don’t invest enough time in a formal review process that, done correctly, can make minor course corrections in tactics that get you back moving toward your objective.  Rather, they feel things aren’t working and make drastic changes and end up further off course then when they started.  Antique Compass

The 6-step process below will help get you back on track and can work with self-reflection or team reflection.

1) The simple “+/-” tool.  Draw a T-diagram with a plus on the left side and a minus on the right side of a piece of paper, a flip chart, or dry erase board and ask 2 questions:  1) what is going well (+) ? and 2) What isn’t going well (-)?  Try to list out all of the things that are going well first before moving to the what isn’t going well question.  (NOTE: If you are doing this with a team, it could be important to have each team member write each one of their thoughts down on a sticky note – 1 thought per sticky.  This ensures that you get input from ALL voices).

2) K,S,S (Keep, Start, Stop)– After reflecting on the list, list out one thing you should KEEP doing, one thing you should START doing, and one thing you should STOP doing based on the T-diagram.  The natural tendency is to START making drastic changes and do a lot more things.  Resist this urge.  You are probably already very busy.  Try hard to have no more than one Start for every Stop.  This ensures that you don’t overburden yourself or your team.   A wise friend once told me that “You can do ANYTHING you want… you just can’t do EVERYTHING you want”

3) What, Who, When – Assign accountability and due dates.  What needs to be done?  Who is responsible for doing it, and When will it be done?  Try not to extend the due dates out past 90 days.  If you have to go further than that, the task is probably too big.  Keep the list visual.  This also helps with accountability.  Post it on a flip chart in your office.

4) Ask for help –  Share your things you need to do with someone.  Share it with God in prayer…Ask for help.  Share it with your spouse…ask for help.  Share it with a mentor…ask for help.  Share it with a family member…ask for help.  Share it with a friend…ask for help.  Key thing.  Don’t try to do it alone.

5) Schedule regular reviews – Check in with yourself or others formally — weekly (maybe Friday mornings at 7:30) or monthly (3rd Monday of every month).  Keep the reviews brief.  Are you on track or not?  If you are, move on.  If you are not on track, develop a countermeasure and ask for help.

6) Continuously improve – When you get all of the items complete, did they work?  Make the new activity (or those activities) part of your new routine.  Then, repeat the process… go back to Step #1


Try it out.  Let me know how it goes. What steps would you add to this process?


January 28th, 2014 by John Gallagher No Comments



Over the holidays, I completed The Lean Turnaround – How Business Leaders Use Lean Principles to Create Value and Transform Their Company.  For the most part, it was a refresher for me in terms of Lean implementation as I have been directly involved in Lean transformation for the better part of 15+ years.  But, it was a refreshing refresher!

lean turnaround

There were lots of stories from the author’s Lean journey that resonated back to my days in manufacturing, as well as reiterated some of the things I currently work to communicate to leaders in Healthcare as a consultant for a Lean Transformation organization.  Things like: “Shifting from a tradtional to a Lean strategy is simple and straightforward.  The problem is that it is hard to do.”  So true.  Often, leaders are looking for that silver bullet to transform that organization… you know the one… it’s the magic pill that will help us to lose 35 pounds without exercising and being able to eat all that we want.  That’s right.  The silver bullet doesnt’t exist.  A Lean transformation is a multi-year effort.  The principles of a Lean transformation are fundamental:  Work to Takt time, One-piece flow, Standard work, Connect the customer to the work.  I especially liked the author’s experiences as I was familiar or knew some of the consultants he had worked with in the past.

Where I became intrigued and where my belief lies, though, was the last chapter.  “All companies, whether manufacturing or nonmanufacturing, are alike.  They are all composed of processes that, taken together, allow them to do what they do as a business.  In fact, even processes such as hiring, ordering, accounting, invoicing, and similar functions, are common to both types.”

This belief is what continues to drive me in Healthcare.  Clearly, the resistance is much higher in this environment, especially to the thought of standard work.  Associates consider themselves “experts” in their field, and I just don’t understand.  I mean how would I, right?

“John, you aren’t a doctor.  You don’t understand what is needed for me to do my work.” or… “John, we aren’t building cars or widgets.  We are treating people and they are all different.”  To an extent, I agree with both of those statements, AND… know that despite that, all companies are composed of processes full of waste that make their jobs harder, and make their customer (patient) experience difficult, at best.  As a patient, when was the last time you went to any doctor’s office and had your appointment start on time and the time the provider spent with you was greater than the time you spent sitting around waiting for something to happen?  Ask my son who just sat with me as he waited 40 minutes past the scheduled start time of his recent orthodontist appointment how good of an experience that was..

Well, I went away from the book review…,  but these thoughts are what the book triggered in me.  Lean transformation works in any industry.  I love doing what I do to teach that so that I can help our clients achieve their goals and somehow help our US Healthcare industry realize how messed up it really is.  Don’t even get me started on variation in how they provide care… That’s another book!  For now, I highly suggest The Lean Turnaround as a primer to Lean practitioner’s.  It was a thought-provoking read.

What industry do you know that would NOT benefit from a transformation of the wasteful processes currently in place? 

5 Key Actions of Successful Lean Leaders

December 12th, 2013 by John Gallagher No Comments

Recently, I had a chance to attend a large conference and speak to a small group and discuss challenges that leaders face in attempting to transform the culture in their organizations.  The leaders were part of a larger group of over 5,000 Healthcare leaders at a two-day conference learning tools & techniques to improve quality, reduce cost, and improve the experience that patients receive in Healthcare.  There were lots of resources… over 100 books for sale, 100+ vendors, 400 story boards and 200+ workshops.  Lots of learning opportunities.

leadership key

When I had my chance to talk to a small group, I described actions necessary for leaders to be successful in transformation.  When leaders turn these actions in to regular behaviors, the chance of success increases exponentially

1) Lead by example – To transform an organization, you will need to ask your team to change behaviors…some they have learned over years of work and education.  Are you willing to lead by example and change as well?  Your team must SEE your willingness to learn

2) ‘Round’ for improvement – This was a Healthcare conference, so ’rounding’ was a familiar term.  To transform an organization, you won’t be able to do it from behind the desk in your office.

3) Follow Leadership Standard Work – What are those disciplines you need to repeat on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to achieve success.  Write them down… check them off. This is not natural or easy, but is rewarding.

4) Ask coaching questions – As the leader, you don’t have to have all the answers.  Challenge your team to solve the problems.  You must ask them coaching questions to get them to think and act differently

5) Relentlessly reflect – When was the last time you sat down and spent time ‘alone’ reflecting on how things are going?  You must plan reflection time in your week.  Put it in your calendar.  Protect it and treat it like other important meetings you have.  Ask yourself, “What is going well?”, or “What needs to improve?”  Write these things down and then develop a plan to keep doing the good and changing what needs improved!

Do I think this is an all-inclusive list?  No.  But, if you can develop the discipline to complete these 5 actions, the other things will come easier.

Are you completing these actions in your leadership?  What do you need to improve?  What is going well?  What is a critical action you would ADD to this list?  Let me know in the comments.  I will choose one commenter at random on December 25 to receive a ‘Christmas present’ from me.  A copy of Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation by George Koenigsaecker, who has been an influence on my leadership development.


March 2nd, 2013 by Gallagher John No Comments

During my run this morning, I was listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast entitled: “The Fine Art of Delegation – Part 1”.  I had wished I had pen and paper to take notes on this one.

delegation sticky

Mike described the 5 levels of delegation as:

  • Level 1: Do exactly what I have asked you to do.
  • Level 2: Research the topic and report back
  • Level 3: Research the topic, outline the options and make a recommendation.
  • Level 4: Make a decision and then tell me what you did.
  • Level 5: Make whatever decision you think is best.

This is a great way for leaders to set expectations, as well as delegate.  When you assign a task as a leader, do you use these specific expectations?  Imagine how effective you could be if your reports knew exactly what YOU wanted as an output.  That’s a novel idea, huh?

Maybe you are a not a leader in ‘title’.  How often are you assigned a task where you don’t know the exact output?  Use these levels to manage ‘up’.  When you are assigned a task and the output is unclear, ask your boss the question… Do you want me to make a decision on this (level 5), or just research and make a suggestion (Level 3).

How frequently do you ‘think’ you know what your direct report or your supervisor ‘wants’, and come to find out that the output is not what was expected?

I love when I learn something new and find myself saying, “If I had learned this 2o years ago…”.

So, whether you are a leader in position, or influence, do two things: 1) subscribe to Mike’s podcast.  It is fantastic.  2) Try out these 5 levels of Delegation.  Let me know how it goes by commenting below.