Organizational Features of a Lean Plant

I’m reading The Machine That Changed the World : The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos. It is an extremely interesting book.

I ran into this small paragraph yesterday that for some reason stuck in my head as something important:

The truly lean plant has two key organizational features: It transfers the maximum number of tasks and responsibilities to those workers actually adding value to the car on the line, and it has in place a system for detecting defects that quickly traces every problem, once discovered, to its ultimate cause.

I’m telling you, the Poppendeick books are great, but there is nothing like going right to the source for an explanation of lean. I’m about 100 pages into the current book and I am absolutely fascinated at how much of todays current corporate structure (multi-level, many people with very specific task sets or responsibilities) is based on things that Ford and Sloan did with their companies.

In IT, this management style is manifested through all the different groups one hears about all the time from people in the field: Development, Infrastructure, Business Analysts, Quality Assurance. Each its own little silo, with its own responsibilities – and never should one group know how to do, or be privy to, the information in one of the other groups. Handoffs occur between the groups via very large documents.

Sometimes it goes further than that. I was talking to a friend once (who worked at another company, BTW) who told me about how their DBA’s were responsible for uptime and performance of the database and had decided that developers were not allowed to use ORDER BY clauses in their SQL because it effected the performance of the database. These developers were actually forced to sort their results within the application, rather than use the capabilities of the database, adding additional complexity to an already complex application. Worse, management seemed to buy into the decision, as I don’t think I would have been hearing about the situation if it was overruled. Ridiculous.

Another quote from the book, same page:

In old fashioned mass production plants, managers jealously guard information about conditions in the plant, thinking this knowledge is the key to their power.

Again, shocking how much of this mentality you read about in corporations not even connected to automobiles. This sounds like just about every company I’ve talked to people about (or worked at) over the years.

I’ve come to the decision over the years that ultimate transparency is the key to breaking down silos. It only breaks down your silo, but hey – thats a start, and at least you are setting an example.

Its definitely very beneficial, I’m finding, to read about things that are completely outside your profession to give you some distance from what is being taught. The lessons flow in easily this way, because you don’t have the predisposition that you “already know how things work”.

I recommend to anyone in IT to pick this book up. Its absolutely fascinating.

Building Scalable Web Sites by Cal Henderson

I have about three books that I am reading on and off but have been unable to focus on any of them for any length of time. Tom The Architect mentioned a book to me a few months ago called Building Scalable Web Sites: Building, Scaling, and Optimizing the Next Generation of Web Applications by Cal Henderson, engineering manager for the Flickr photo service, a service that I have used extensively since being turned on to it by, you guessed it, Tom The Architect.

This was the first book in a long time that I couldn’t put down, mainly because everything in the book is geared towards teaching you about how to create really, really, big web sites and the issues involved in scaling them. It was also quite intriguing because the book covers tools you use all of the time, like PHP and MySQL that are hard to find really good books about how they scale.

Cal covers a lot of material in this book, from layering your web application architecture, to creating an environment for developers to work in, which includes source control, issue tracking, coding standards and the like. This section was quite encouraging to me, as we have implemented almost everything that Cal mentions in the book (sometimes its nice to get some external validation). Cal then goes on to talk about internationalization and localization, data integrity and security, using email as an alternate entrance into your application, and how to build remote services.

All of this was great, but the next few chapters I found really valuable. Cal talks about identifying bottlenecks in your web application, scaling applications such as MySQL (where he covers quite a few replication strategies) and scaling storage. He also covers measurements, statistics and monitoring. Finally, Cal talks about adding API’s into your application to support mobile applications, web services, etc.

Cal references quite a few tools that are freely available in these discussions – tools that I didn’t even know were out there, that you can use to simplify your monitoring environment. I was most intrigued with the Spread Toolkit, a self described “a unified message bus for distributed applications” that allows you to unify logging across your applications. Anyone who has tried to debug an issue on a site that has more than one box would appreciate knowing about this tool.

This is the first book that I’ve read in a long time, technology wise, that hit the sweet spot between talking about real issues that I have been facing and possible solutions. I highly recommend grabbing this book and in the very least just keeping it on your book shelf for future reference. This is one thats going to be a constant companion for me in the coming months.

Now I’ve Heard It All: Management Lessons from RoadHouse!

One of my favorite “bad” movies that I just cannot switch past when its on is the movie “Road House“. As a matter of fact, we went out and bought the DVD so that when it is on TV, I can pop in the DVD and watch the “unedited” TV version of the movie – thats how addictive the movie is to me for some reason. I just cannot “not” watch it when its on.

So imagine my surprise when the latest episode of Manager Tools used Roadhouse as one of their examples when discussing Handling Peer Conflict When Your Directs Are Involved. The example was around one of their steps in handling conflict, which was “Turn the other cheek”. In the movie, there is a scene in which Patrick Swayze is laying down the rules for working in the bar now that he has been hired as a cooler. Oddly, the scene really does illustrate the point Mark was making quite well:

DALTON:

1. Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.
2. Take it outside. Never start anything in the bar unless its absolutely necessary.
and

3. Be nice.

EMPLOYEE:
C’mon

DALTON:
If someone gets in your face and calls you a <bleep>, I want you to be nice.

EMPLOYEE: OK …

DALTON: Ask him to walk, but be nice. If he won’t walk – walk him – but be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you – and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that its a job. Its nothing personal.

EMPLOYEE 2: Uh, huh. Being called a <bleep> isn’t personal?

DALTON: No. Its two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.

EMPLOYEE 2: [laughs] Well what if someone calls my mama a whore?

DALTON: Is she? [pause with employee laughter] I want you to be nice until its time to not be nice.

EMPLOYEE 3: Well, uh, how are we supposed to know when that is?

DALTON: You won’t. I’ll let you know. You are the bouncers, I am the cooler. All you have to do is watch my back – and each others … and take out the trash.

See video below.

I guess it just goes to show you that there are leadership lessons everywhere, you just have to be looking for them. Road House, honestly, would have been the last place I would have looked, but damned if they aren’t there as well.

As an aside, I’ve just started reading a book called Leadership Sopranos Style: How to Become a More Effective Boss. Again, another place I would not necessarily look for leadership lessons. The book is pretty good so far. I’ll probably write something up on it when I finish it.

I like books and lectures that use pop culture to make the concepts more accessible. We need more of this in the world, rather than the dry theory of most leadership related material.

Starbucks Green Apron Book

Photo by rbieber

Did you know that you could just walk into your local Starbucks and request a "Green Apron Book", that outlines the principles of Starbucks? I heard about this little booklet from a recent book I had read about the company and went in to my local Starbucks and asked for a copy. I was a tad surprised when the employees were extremely happy to give one to me. There’s something to be said about a company that is not afraid to share their core principles with their customers. There’s much more to say when they do it so enthusiastically.

I was totally impressed with being able to walk into my local Starbucks and get a copy of their “Green Apron book” after reading The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.

I did find another review of the book and it was really cool to me that the reviewer offered the same observation that I did around the structure of the Starbucks principles:

After reading it that afternoon, what impressed me the most was the absence of rules. In their place were suggestions, goals, and the empowerment to make every customer’s experience a memorable one. It was at that moment that I realized the significance of Starbucks’ philosophy—not only for business, but for life in general.

This really parallels my thoughts on what I had read:

One thing that comes out fairly strong in most of the books I read about Starbucks (and Toyota as of late) is the acknowledgment of senior managements importance in setting the culture, ideals, and principles of the overall business while giving the “people doing the work” the ability to act within the framework of the principles.

Another cool thing I noticed. When you dig down into the detail of the Be Welcoming principle, you find the following:

Get to know your customer by drink or name.

This completely impressed me – because I experienced it. As a matter of fact, it impressed me so much that I wrote about the experience in the post “ Reaching “Norm” Status – The Ultimate in Customer Service” back in March of 2005.

Studying Up On Ruby

Photo by rbieber

I’ve been focusing on Ruby a lot over the past 3 days (Rails specifically). What a great environment to work in!

This was taken about a month ago. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and experimenting with Rails and I have to say, I love it. While I’m still at the stage of figuring out “how” to do things, once you do it you get why its done that way. That can’t be said for many environments.

The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick

Over the last few months I’ve started a lot of books. There is so much interesting reading out there that between the usual blogs that I read, the effort I’m spending learning Ruby on Rails, and the interesting books I run across in my usual ritual of trolling book stores, I’m finding it hard to focus on a book from start to finish. I think the only ones I’ve been able to read completely over the past few months have been Fight Club, Practical Subversion, Second Edition (reviewed early last week), and todays pick, The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin D. Mitnick and William L. Simon.

It is rare that a book conjures up such paranoia in me. The book is described on the back cover like this:

The worlds most celebrated hacker delivers the lowdown on today’s most serious security weakness – Human Nature.

Boy does he ever.

When one thinks of computer security, one normally thinks about things like closing unnecessary services / ports on your systems, using strong passwords, and things like that. All things of a technical nature that are necessary, but aren’t truly secure because of the people that surround the technology.

Mitnick and Simon do an excellent job in walking you through extremely realistic social engineering scenarios and make you realize that the basic pieces of human nature, like sincerely wanting to help others, fear of crossing someone in an authority position, or just plain carelessness can open up your systems to security breaches no matter how well of a handle you have on the technology aspect of security in your company.

Each scenario is followed by a section called “Analyzing the Con”, where they explain, in detail, the factors that contribute to the scenario being played out and your systems being compromised. There is a lot of interesting information in these analyses that you may not have thought of before.

The last chapter of the book gives you approximately 70 pages relating recommended corporate information security policies. This chapter was excellent, explaining the different policies you can enact and, more importantly – and something you don’t get very often from corporate security – the reasons WHY they are important to implement.

For me, this book was a total eye opener. It is interesting to think about the amount of information that can be “leaked” that seems unimportant at the time one can be in a conversation that can be pieced together later on for the purposes of compromising a computer system or a business.

If nothing else, this book will definitely make you think about the next conversation you have with someone. It shows you the dark side of human nature, where people can seem completely sincere in their interactions with you but deep down have only one objective. To get information. It also illustrates the effort in which people can put forth to put together a con with so much detail, over such a length of time, that the individual interactions seem innocuous, but in the end compromise your systems security.

This book is a must read for everyone even peripherally related to IT. Let me rephrase that. This book is a must read for everyone who has even remote contact with people. Its extremely informative and engaging – so much so that I could hardly put it down.

I’ve already recommended this book to numerous people at work and will be putting it on the required reading list for this year for my teams. Its an area of computer security that is often overlooked and I’m glad to see it covered in such detail – and in a very non-technical way. Anyone can relate to the content in this book.

Do yourself a favor. Take the time pick this one up and read the whole thing. I can guarantee, no matter what your role, you will get something useful out of this book.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

I just finished reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

I remember the first time I had watched the movie. I never actually wanted to see it. Jonna had run across it by chance and told me that I HAD to watch it – that it was a movie right up my alley and that I would love it.

I remember not really believing that it was something I wanted to see but I watched it anyway. The movie blew me away. I thought it was brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. I was completely impressed.

I bought the DVD soon after that and have watched it numerous times since then – always saying to myself “I definitely have to read this book sometime”.

Well, Jake wound up buying the book for some reason and after he read it handed to me and said I just HAD to read the book. So finally, I read it.

The book is absolutely brilliant. More than that, overall the movie stuck pretty close to it, something I was very glad to see. The one thing that I hate the most is when you read a book to find that the movie makers completely trashed it. This one made it through the movie making processes pretty well intact.

If you liked the movie, you will absolutely love the book. The writing style is extremely disjointed – just like the movie. You actually feel like you are on a ride through one mans complete mental breakdown.

While the movie did a fairly good job of exposing you to the main characters inner dialog, there is nothing that compares to actually reading it for yourself.

I will say, its pretty difficult to read the book and not hear Ed Nortons voice as the narrator. Then again, he had the perfect voice for it.

If you liked the movie, you will absolutely love the book. On a scale from one to five – I give t a ten. It’s that good.