July 31, 2014

Raising awareness of ROWE and Lean

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Introduction

Introduction by BlackPandah on deviantart.com

Last week, I posted a question on Linked In:

Are Lean/Six Sigma and ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) complimentary, or competing, approaches to workplace transformation?

Both place a heavy emphasis on value and the elimination of any activities that don’t produce that value. Lean, however, advocates an engaged management that is able to “go to Gemba.” In gemba, leaders can observe where value is created in order to find waste and identify areas for improvement. ROWE, however, places a heavy emphasis on worker autonomy and freedom, as long as the Results are achieved. This could lead to the Gemba being anywhere and everywhere, especially for knowledge workers.

If good results come from good practices, and good practices are created, sustained and improved by observing work in Gemba, does that indicate Lean is incompatible with ROWE?

 

I asked my connections whose backgrounds were centered in either Lean or ROWE to weigh in on the discussion.  People from both backgrounds frequently indicated they had little knowledge of the other.  That was not much of a surprise, but I hope this discussion helped to raise some awareness. Here’s what some of them had to say:

 

Mark Graban (Consultant, Speaker, Blogger, Author of ‘Lean Hospitals,” Chief Improvement Officer at KaiNexus):

One question I have about ROWE (based on an admittedly superficial understanding from having read a few business magazine articles about Best Buy): When is individual performance ever truly individual? If I’m part of a team, how do you measure individual results? If I’ve done “my work” and get to go home, how does that impact a team that’s dependent partly on my work or additional effort?

Joe Dager (Creator of the Lean Marketing House program)

@Mark Is not Kaizen and Teamwork an individual process. Do you not have to take individual responsibility and ownership before you can help the team? I use the term iTeam and clearly discuss that the I (individual) comes before team. So to me ROWE is leaving the worker pull the Andon chord versus being “supervised/monitored”. Completely supports team theory since that is who responds to the Andon.

Note: Joe has asked me to share my thoughts on an upcoming edition of his podcast.

Kimberlee Bush (Digital Imaging Specialist at The Raymond Corporation)

For knowledge workers, I do not think LEAN and ROWE are incompatible. It requires a thorough understanding of the purpose and goals of both if applied together. Knowing what the priorities of the position and organization are, for both the worker and the leader, will help define the results expected, while leaving room for autonomy to makes process improvements on an individual level. Knowledge workers are not usually confined by the repetitive processes of a shop floor (gemba), but will often benefit from a true Value Stream Mapping exercise.

 Cali Ressler (Co-Creator of ROWE and co-author of “Work Sucks and how to fix it: The Results-Only Revolution“)

ROWE and Lean can, and should, co-exist. When you try to implement Lean practices without a ROWE in place, things will be good for awhile – but then, because everyone has to fill time anyway, there’s no incentive for being efficient/remaining Lean. So people start to fill up the time again with things that don’t matter. In a ROWE, Lean practices are sustained because people are rewarded for efficiency, streamlining processes, etc.

Mark Hamel (Lean Implementation Consultant, Award-Winning Author, and Blogger)

Well, your question made me try to learn a bit about ROWE (I had never heard about it before). I am definitely a proponent of a meritocracy, which ROWE appears to facilitate…in spades.

Not sure how the results only (one video I watched said ROWE was about productivity, productivity, and productivity) jives with lean principles such as standard work, respect, humility, flow and pull, etc. I presume that there is a danger with an overemphasis on productivity, especially depending upon team size/scope. For example, will it drive sub-optimization? What about the application of SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust)? Etc.

Guess I need to learn more about ROWE. Bottom line for me though is if it is inconsistent with lean principles, it’s DOA.

 

Thanks to all the respondents, there were others who posted there ideas, too, and the question is still open.  Feel free to post your own thoughts.

What the responses revealed to me is that both the Lean and ROWE approaches have some similarities, especially when it comes to the Respect for People principle of Lean thinking, as well as the elimination of useless activities – both tangible and intangible.  It also revealed, however, that there needs to be more awareness and information shared so that experts on either side can determine how the two approaches can come into alignment.

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  • http://www.leanblog.org Mark Graban

    Thanks for the recap, David, as LinkedIn didn’t notify me of any follow ups.

    @Joe Dager – No, kaizen is a TEAM process. Who truly works on an island? Kaizen is a collaborative process, between you and your teammates and supervisor. You can’t make changes as an individual. Does kaizen require some individual initiative? Of course. But it’s not an individual process.

    The thing I don’t understand about ROWE is, again, whose work is truly solo? If I get *my* work done and go home early, where is the team in that? Is *my* work (even in a knowledge worker setting) the equivalent of a certain tonnage of pig iron that needs to be shoveled before I can go home? If so, Frederick Taylor would be proud :-)

    • KellyK

      I don’t think ROWE implies that anybody’s work is truly solo. It’s more that people should decide how, when, and where to collaborate in order to meet specific goals, and that they shouldn’t be punished for being efficient. 

      If someone gets done everything that’s on their plate for the day and checks in with their team members to make sure they don’t need anything from them (or lets them know how to contact them if they do), why shouldn’t they go home early?

      But by the same token, a huge part of ROWE culture is support and teamwork. You cover for your team members when they’re unavailable, and they do the same for you. You make sure that your team members get what they need from you in order to do their jobs.
       

      • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

        Thanks for your thoughts! There hasn’t been much feedback from the ROWE community on this, so it’s great to see a pt of view from the other side.

        I more than understand that sentiment that says once you’ve finished your work for the day, you ought to have the freedom to decide for yourself whether or not to head home.  Been there and done that, all too often.

        What that situation indicates to me once I put my Lean hat on, however, is that the utilization of resources is terrible.  I mean just really, really awful (and yes, been there and done that, too).  It says that resources aren’t leveled, that there’s no sense of system vs. transaction, that there’s no effort to grow people in other directions via crosstraining, etc. such that any one person can do any other job in the organization. 

        The list could go on for a very long time.  I think the short the shortcomings in traditional management and leadership are well known and well researched.  Whereas Lean seeks to change the methods of management in order to extract the greatest possible value from people’s efforts, ROWE, at times, feels like it’s acquiescing to terrible management practices.  

        True, ROWE certainly is a very humanistic approach that understands how people want to work – that is its strength.  Rather than try to make better managers, however, ROWE might be trying to make better people at the expense of eradicating bad workplace habits.

        • KellyK

           

          I more than understand that sentiment that says once you’ve finished
          your work for the day, you ought to have the freedom to decide for
          yourself whether or not to head home.  Been there and done that, all too
          often.

          What that situation indicates to me once I put my Lean hat on,
          however, is that the utilization of resources is terrible.  I mean just
          really, really awful (and yes, been there and done that, too).  It says
          that resources aren’t leveled, that there’s no sense of system vs.
          transaction, that there’s no effort to grow people in other directions
          via crosstraining, etc. such that any one person can do any other job in
          the organization.

          Thanks very much for that explanation of the Lean perspective.

          So in a Lean workplace, how do you know when you’re done for the day? (As an exempt employee, that is–if you’re hourly, it’s usually a lot clearer.) Because if you’ve been cross-trained on a bunch of different jobs, the amount of work you could do is potentially limitless. In the model that ROWE is pushing back against, when you’re “done” is based on either an eight-hour day with a specific start and end time or on the idea that you need to show commitment by working late. Not necessarily accomplishing more, but being physically present, not leaving before the boss, etc. If you’re not basing “done for the day” on face time or looking busy, and you’re not basing it on your own to-do list (which includes supporting coworkers), what is it based on?

          I would absolutely agree that if someone’s working a lot less than eight hours a day on a regular basis, they’re probably being underutilized. If that’s happening, someone needs to look at how to use people more effectively or figure out what’s causing that discrepancy. But I think the decision about what else they should be doing has to be focused on what would be beneficial to the organization, not on a set number of hours they’re supposed to be working.  On the other hand, there are certainly busy periods and slack periods. If you’ve just worked your tail off to meet a crucial deadline, and now there’s nothing urgent, a couple short days might be a really good way to recharge. Or, if your work depends on someone else finishing theirs, it might be a better use of your time to go run errands and check back in later.

          One thing I think that gets overlooked with ROWE is that people in a ROWE generally work more hours than they did before switching to ROWE. But because they can work when and where they need and don’t have to focus on face time or meeting attendance, they’re happier and better able to juggle all the other stuff in their lives. (I know from personal experience that my brain tends to fry by about three o’clock, and my last couple hours in the office are not ideally productive. If I had the option of going home at that point, taking a nice long break, and then doing some work later in the evening, I think my productivity would increase.)

          Also, as valuable as cross-training is, there’s a limit to it. I can’t picture *everyone* being able to do *every* job, particularly  if those jobs require a lot of technical expertise or if they require very different skill sets. To give my personal background, I’m a tech writer and copy editor. So I’m often the only “non-technical” person on a project. Certainly, there are project management tasks that I contribute to, and I do a lot of black-box software testing too, but if my documents are as “done” as they’re going to get until an application version is developed, I can’t exactly jump in and help with coding. Nor is a developer likely to be able to help me with a manual while his code is compiling.

          • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

            Hi, Kelly,

            You’ve posed a punch of questions with a bunch of complex answers! All are good, though, and I appreciate the quest for knowledge. Here’s my best crack at addressing your concerns. (Lean gurus….please jump in!)

            – if you’ve been cross-trained on a bunch of different jobs, the amount of work you could do is potentially limitless.
            YES! Think of what that does for an organization. No matter what work comes along, you can move people to that function in order to accomplish the most critical needs or handle unanticipated emergencies. Also, as markets change and new skill mixes are required to be successful, the business does not have to go through recruiting booms or layoffs….the necessary skills and resources are already in-house. “Continuous Improvement” is really “Continuous Learning.” If that ideal is embraced, the organization gains tremendous capability and flexibility, as well as the ability to adapt to changing needs.

            – If you’re not basing “done for the day” on face time or looking busy, and you’re not basing it on your own to-do list (which includes supporting coworkers), what is it based on?

            Think of it this way – your situation is indicative of a manger having no idea how to manage workflow through a group in order to ensure that everyone has plenty of things to produce for today, tomorrow, the next day…and on and on. If you were required to run a group of machines, you’d certainly see there’s no value in running a machine that has nothing to produce that day. However, if the machine had nothing to do because you were running everything you could through one machine while letting other simply catch the overflow, you’d be guilty of failing to level out the workload so that all machines ran at a reasonable speed, rather than pushing one or two to the brink of failure while the others sat around rusting. The types of machines, and the work they perform, would be “levelized” and, in addition to producing units you would have time built in for upgrading the machines and performing maintenance.

            This is not much different than making sure work among people is evenly distributed, that you have the optimal mix of people in place to prevent overuse or underutilization, and that you also make acquiring new skills a part of how you go about the work of the organization. Simply put, there should always be a full day’s worth of effort in front of a person. This should not be taken to mean that people should perform busy work. Busy work adds no value to the person or the organization – something ROWE would agree with 100%

            If you’ve just worked your tail off to meet a crucial deadline, and now there’s nothing urgent, a couple short days might be a really good way to recharge. Or, if your work depends on someone else finishing theirs, it might be a better use of your time to go run errands and check back in later.
            This is straight out of the Lean concepts of Mura and Muri – uneven flow and overburdening of resources. Practices such as heijunka>/em> are designed to level the flow. There are many resources out there for learning about these terms. Simply put, if a person had to work their tail off – there’s a huge problem. Certainly, responding to a crisis deserves some time off. Unfortunately, what so rarely happens, is that no one ever bothers to look and see how that crisis was created, and what could have prevented it, or how the flow of work can be more efficiently executed to accommodate unforeseen troubles. It seems possible, however, there are hundreds of stories of people learning to Think Lean and see waste in a process who whittle down inefficient activities from what used to take days or weeks into mere minutes or hours. Doing so not only eliminates many of those crises, since inefficient processes are usually the precursors to such problems in the first place, but it also makes responding to legitimate crises much less of a panic.

            Also, if you are waiting for someone to finish their work in order to start yours – once again – it is bad management of the system. Waiting is one of the 7 traditional wastes identified in a Lean system. For example – if that other group was more efficient, they’d meet your input needs on time without holding up the next step in the value stream.

            One thing I think that gets overlooked with ROWE is that people in a ROWE generally work more hours than they did before switching to ROWE. But because they can work when and where they need and don’t have to focus on face time or meeting attendance, they’re happier and better able to juggle all the other stuff in their lives. (I know from personal experience that my brain tends to fry by about three o’clock, and my last couple hours in the office are not ideally productive. If I had the option of going home at that point, taking a nice long break, and then doing some work later in the evening, I think my productivity would increase.)

            I don’t have much to disagree with here. My only thoughts are, however, that if people are burning out by 3pm, there’s a problem. Certainly, we’ve all done things that keep us energized and focused for hours on end. We don’t even notice the time passing by. That is what organizations should be after – creating that environment of constant flow. That concept is discussed well by Dan Pink in his book

              Drive

            .

          • http://www.markgraban.com/ Mark Graban

            In many “lean” environments, such as healthcare, you go home when your daily work is done. For example, nurses are done with their scheduled hours and they might have to finish up their charting (in a truly Lean environment, they’d be able to chart as they go during the day, preventing delays in that information flow and being able to go home on time). So Lean can be VERY compatible with work/life balance.

            I work for myself as an entrepreneur. My daily “done” point is far more vague. I can’t (and won’t) work 24/7. I have to prioritize the best I can and do what must be done that day and as much of my other work as my brain and body allows. I’m not punching a clock for anybody, yet I have responsibilities to clients that drive my work and priorities.

            What throws me with ROWE is the description of somebody who finished “a month’s worth of work” in two weeks. Clearly, it wasn’t “a month’s worth of work” unless that person worked 16 hours a day before going off to follow a band around…

  • http://www.gorowe.com Stacey Swanson

    Great post! Just to give some ROWE insight. In a ROWE, the entire organization is focused on a greater outcome. Because each person is tied to the overall outcome for the organization, they work together as teams or to support each other to achieve those goals. I work for CultureRx, the consulting firm that helps organizations implement ROWE, and was trained on Six Sigma at GE. I think that ROWE and Lean complement each other well. I would recommend implementing ROWE first to shift the culture to results. Once that’s in place, Lean will be a great focus for the organization.

    • http://www.leanblog.org Mark Graban

      The one way, at least language-wise, in which ROWE might appear to be in conflict with Lean is the “results only” focus.

      Lean teaches people to focus on the process… then the results will follow. “Do whatever it takes to get the job done” is not the Lean way, because we need some semblance of what we call “standardized work” (which should not be misinterpreted as being robotic or overly prescriptive or inflexible).

      I’ve found most organizations are basically “results only” focused – they ignore process and, therefore, the results are terrible.

      I can’t really endorse “results only” although some of the aspects of ROWE certainly seem better than traditional management.

      • KellyK

         ROWE is less “focus on results as opposed to processes” and more “don’t do anything just for the sake of doing it.” I don’t think a company with horrible results can be “results-only.” If their results are terrible, then clearly they’re not focusing on results. They’re focusing on getting “something” done, without considering the quality of that “something.”

        I think ROWE actually ties in well with process improvement . (My process experience is CMMI rather than Lean, so I may miss some of the focus of Lean.) You don’t do processes for the sake of doing processes, you do them to obtain a particular result. Standardization of work, for example, gives you things like more consistent products and fewer problems if a task is done by different people. It also gives you the repeatability that’s needed to actually measure things meaningfully and make useful improvements.

        • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

          Thanks, Kelly.  I think these are well articulated thoughts.  FWIW, my initiation into process improvement began about 12 years ago with a CMMi implementation.  I am familiar with that model.

          The thing about a lot of what I see from the ROWE community that is a little surprising is the focus on individuals meeting results, without any sense of how the organization’s leadership is also held to results.  I think there’s some common ground between the Lean and ROWE schools there, but without anything coming directly from the ROWE crowed on that, it’s hard to tell.

          It’s ironic that Best Buy, where ROWE began, is leading the brick-and-mortar electronics retailers, but losing ground to Amazon in a big way.  It is very curious that the company where ROWE began doesn’t seem to have a focus on systemic issues leading to bad business results.  

  • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

    Thanks, Mark.

    My take on your question is that there is a danger in a ROWE environment of exactly what you’re describing taking place – that the individual person achieves results – but only those that were assigned directly. If done correctly and mismanaged, it becomes a focus on individual goals without any connection to organizational goals.

    What I believe ROWE is intended to create, however, is an environment where the larger impacts are known and understood. If the worker is charged with delivering “results” then those results have to take place within the larger scheme of things. A knowledge worker doesn’t necessarily need to be on site, but does need to be available. A doctor, shop floor worker or school teacher clearly needs to be on site – but has the freedom to arrange his own schedule as long as systemic processes are not interfered with and customer needs are met.

    For example, you could say to a group of factory workers, “Be here at 6 AM to build that 1,000 lot of widgets” Or, you could say, “We have to deliver that 1,000 lot by 5pm.” Assuming the group is well aware of the flow of materials and processes throughout the organization, they’d be able to determine for themselves what they need to be doing when in order to meet the objective. If coming in at 8:30 instead of 6:00 doesn’t hold anything up – then why not show up later?

    Obviously, having that level of knowledge and visibility into systemic processes is rare, and not necessarily easy – and in a way is exactly what Lean attempts to create: worker engagement and responsibility, based on intrinsic motivations, and enabled by visibility into the larger process.

    Although a lot of the ROWE language that is put out there, even by the creators themselves, at times seems to emphasize individual freedoms without regard for sustained corporate performance I don’t think that’s the intent. In fact, I think ROWE is a bit mis-named. Rather than “Results Only” I think “Responsibility Only Work Environment” might be a bit more accurate.

    As such, anyone who would be content with shoveling their required amount of pig iron and going home would be guilty of a very shortsighted interpretation of “results.”

  • http://www.leanblog.org Mark Graban

    Thanks for the reply, but I’m sorry that factory example seems completely unrealistic.

    It seems that ROWE would work best for people with individual quotas – like salespeople. Even then, we could question if individual quotas are really more harmful than good (I believe Dr. Deming’s argument that they are).

    It seems ROWE has to be tied to team goals incentives to avoid some of the dysfunctions that could occur.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks again!

      One of the things I struggle with is how to apply ROWE in a manufacturing setting. My example isn’t particularly robust and might be a bit too optimistic? I suppose I could say that, if people understood how the company benefited from having the day’s production requirements filled, they would do what was needed to fulfill them. Assuming workers have skills necessary to do the work, little management oversight would be needed to watch over them – they’d do the work without prodding or incentives because of their innate desire to achieve the goal.

      Maybe a bit too much rose-colored glasses to be realistic. Nonetheless, I have this feeling in my gut that the heavily people-centered aspects of ROWE “should” align with Lean, at least in theory. Still trying to prove out that they do.

  • http://business901.com Joe Dager

    @Mark – We will get to the same place, just a little circular reasoning but I believe Teamwork is an individual sport. Successful Lean teams are iTeams – read my comments, Christopher Avery and listen to Michael Balle: http://business901.com/blog1/successful-lean-teams-are-iteams/

    I wanted to investigate ROWE because I believe individual responsibility comes first and team work second. I think individual responsibility is what makes people willing to engage and willing to be ready and willing to pull the Andon chord. Just my take.

    • http://www.leanblog.org Mark Graban

      Joe, it’s maybe a bit chicken-and-egg… pulling an andon cord does require individual initiative to fire the synapses that lead to the muscle twitches that pull the cord.

      But one would be a fool to actually pull the cord in an environment that says “keep the line running at all costs!”

      http://www.leanblog.org/2007/02/bbc-on-lean-production/

      I think culture and team environment comes first and that’s necessary for individuals to thrive.

      • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

        “I think culture and team environment comes first and that’s necessary for individuals to thrive.”

        B-I-N-G-O

        And that is why I have started this investigation into what ROWE & Lean can do for each other. When I read the “Work Sucks” book, it seemed like a profound deep dive into how to create the culture change that seems so elusive. It appeared to address the culture change problems that remain elusive for any approach to transition an organization – Lean included.

        Most organizations experience “Fake Lean” or “LAME” – which is the first problem. Does True Lean embrace culture change? From what I understand, absolutely. (and I admit, I am much more theorist than practitioner)
        Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that most Lean journeys ever arrive at that culture change. Tools are introduced in the hopes that momentum is sustained long enough to transform the culture, but it rarely gets to that point and Lean initiatives flounder.

        So, I see ROWE’s focus on culture change first and I wonder if there’s an opportunity to accomplish 2 things: 1) Address a shortcoming in Lean’s ability to get to culture change, and 2) address ROWE’s shortcoming in that it doesn’t have a defined method for sustaining performance.

        Obviously, if the culture doesn’t improve, the performance suffers. If the performance doesn’t improve, any attempt at culture change will be abandoned, too. If, as I believe, these two approaches represent the best ideas from their areas of relative strength (Culture Change and Process Improvement, then it seems worth exploring how they can be combined.

        • http://www.leanblog.org Mark Graban

          The one thing I’ll disagree on is the statement “lean’s ability to get to culture change.” Lean is just a set of principles (and a powerful set of cultural principles, with deep roots in Dr. Deming’s teachings). Arguably, the Deming Method or TQM didn’t lead to significant “culture change” either.

          I’ll pin that on the leaders, or lack of leadership you find in most organizations. Weak leadership isn’t going to be successful with ROWE or Six Sigma or any approach.

  • http://beyondlean.wordpress.com Matt Wrye

    Great discussion on ROWE and Lean. Like most of the respondents that focus on lean, my knowledge of ROWE is limited. From what I have read, I do believe ROWE and Lean can and should work together. ROWE can show a side of the respect for people pillar of lean. There are other similarities that are mentioned above as well so I won’t rehash them.

    One conflict I see is the ROWE seems to focus on results only and not how the results were gained. Lean is a focus on not just results but how the results were achieved, so the process can be repeated with the same results being gained. No standardization means no baseline to improve from either. I believe you should not standardized everything and there are situations where individualism can work. The key is understanding both and when to use them in a mixed ROWE/Lean environment.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks for the inputs, Matt. (long time, no see – how are ya?)

      FWIW, your thoughts have been voiced by others, too. I think Mark Hamel & Mark Graban have both commented that Lean derives consistent, high quality results through consistent, high quality inputs & processes. There is a danger that focusing just on the results can create individual “panics” as people try to acheive targets, or a constant off-loading of all work onto high performers without any effort to understand systemic problems causing low performers to struggle. This is an area where I certainly see elements of Lean improving the ROWE concept.

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  • http://www.globalpeopletree.com/ Tanvi Gautam

    What a fantastic discussion. Forced me to consider aspects of both ROWE and Lean simultaneously. 
    To my mind, one of the most important things is to understand for both parties is: where is the waste and un-productivity coming from. Lean seems to focus on the ‘process’ related aspects given its roots in manufacturing. ROWE seems to focus on the ‘employee relationships’ and norms of facetime=productivity given its roots in knowledge work.  Also, I don’t remember reading ‘Work Sucks’ and thinking that it was antagonistic to the idea of ‘team’ just that it was never really tackled to the extent it should have been.  For that matter I find most discussion on flex work etc side-lines the discussion on inter-dependent work execution. Like one of the posts below said ‘no one is an island or works on an island’. Somehow this does not come across strongly in most discussion on flexwork etc.

    I think Mark’s idea of team goal incentives is a good one and can work for both Lean and Rowe.

    Again, thanks for starting this really interesting discussion !

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks for your comments.  I am enjoying this conversation greatly.  As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it “feels” like ROWE and Lean ought to mesh, but it’s a bit perplexing to understand the exact way in which they can.

      More than that, however, is the reality that the workforce, especially knowledge workers, is trending towards more remote-work and flexible workplace environments.  How remote work intersects with Lean, which is heavily dependent upon observation and interactions, is an interesting topic to pursue.

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