When habits go bad – walking the extra mile


Let your mind do the walking by jzcj5

So, it has been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve post to the blog.  Some times, inspiration is simply hard to find.

Other times, your mother-in-law takes your wife and 2 sons off on a trip and you get a whole week to yourself.  Such has been the case around here.  As it typically goes when the family takes off on an adventure without me, the fist half of the week is grand and glorious.  Napping, eating at crazy hours, sleeping at even crazier hours and, of course, the chance to knock some long overdue projects off the list.  The second half of the week, however, gets to be downright boring and lonely.

In the midst of the boring and lonely part, I needed to pick up my car from the mechanic’s this weekend (having it serviced was one of those projects that is much more convenient when only one car is needed for the week).  The shop is a bit of a walk – about 40 minutes, but not too bad once you get going.  While I could have easily called a neighbor or a friend for help, I simply felt like getting the exercise, so I hoofed it through the neighborhood and cut through a field to get to the shop, picked up the car, and drove home.

That, of course, is not much of a story.  But it did lead to an interesting observation.

What did strike me about 2/3 of the way there, however, is the thought –  “Why in the hell didn’t I just ride my bike??”


Seriously, I should have.  The car I was going to pick up is an SUV.  There’s plenty of room for the bike once I get there.  It would have saved about half the time, at least, and still afforded plenty of good exercise.  Especially since I made the trek early in the morning when there was little traffic to worry about, too.  Of course, I could rationalize and say the exercise was great, or the slow pace was cathartic, or whatever else we all tell ourselves when we haven’t though through all our options only to realize later that there was a better way to go about our business.

And that’s the point when it comes to trying to understand how and why we all do, what we do.  Habit tells me that to get places without my car means I have to walk.  If I rode my bike more often, the thought to get on the bike and ride down to the mechanic’s shop would have been as natural as the thought that tells me I have to put on shoes before I go out the door most mornings.  Also, I could say, if I’d developed a better habit of stopping and thinking…to weigh alternatives….before doing….then I would have realized I didn’t need to hike all the way down to the shop.  I might still have wanted to, but I would not have needed to.

So, in a way, my habits let me down.  It makes you wonder how many other things we prevent ourselves form consciously choosing because we are unconsciously eliminating possibilities.  When habits rule, the likelihood of seeing other options simply diminishes.

It might even get you left all along on the roadside.

The paradoxical inefficiency of thought


Imagination by silverin87

One of my life’s great frustrations is the number of good ideas that get lost throughout the course of a normal day.  Before I can find a voice recorder, pencil, or something to write my ideas on, they fly away and my train of thought is lost forever.  It’s not an unfamiliar tune – authors, artists, musicians – all of them frequently relate stories of how much goes through their minds that is simply lost before they get the chance to write it down or record it.  Such is life for anyone any kind of a creative bent – be it an innovative scientist, a performer, or even a part-time blog writer who likes to ramble about life’s daily struggles.

My own difficulties with the passive annihilation of good ides got me thinking about how good ideas can be actively squelched as well.  People who are asked to “be professional”, not make a “Career limiting move” by speaking their minds, or who are asked to just live with a problem or not step on someone’s toes – all of these sometimes innocuous messages serve to do one thing – actively decrease the number of ideas that get poured out.

When I do get to writing down or recording my thoughts, I also often find that a lot of those really don’t have any legs and never go anywhere.  So, too, the number of ideas you get might result in only a few gems – but therein lies a certain discovery that needs to take place.  That is, that you can’t demand good ideas.  You have to sift through all the ideas to find the really good ones – because generating good ideas comes about only through the process of crafting them.  Also, the value of an idea is not something that is inherent and internal to the idea itself.  Rather, it is a function of time, place and circumstances that make any idea valuable.  What seems like a really, really good thought and the solution to all our problems today might be utterly ridiculous tomorrow.  Nonetheless, that value judgment can’t take place as the idea is being formulated in someone’s head.  It has to come about and be judged under the lights of the here and now.

This is something of a paradox, I suppose – that in order to attain high levels of ingenuity in products and activities, the environment in which those ideas are created must support an endless ocean of thoughts that yield very little value, in the hopes that, eventually, a single very good one will be produced. Generating ideas is an inefficient process, even if those ideas are generated around improving efficiency.

Therefore, the efficiency of thought should never be pursued.  Only the efficiency of implementation.

Raising awareness of ROWE and Lean


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.

Since you built it, they will come

Pseudo City

Pseudo City by IronMaiden270 on deviantart.com

In manufacturing, there is an awareness that capital investments in equipment and machinery are often met with a need to run the machine as much as possible, in order to justify the expense of the equipment – regardless of the need for whatever the machine produces.  This can lead to stockpiles of finished-goods inventory with no place to go as plant managers try to drive their numbers down and keep their staffs from being laid off.  This waste of Overproduction is familar to Lean and is described well in Eli Goldratt’s classic, The Goal.

I have to wonder if those who are trying several approaches to changing the workplace through practices such as ROWE, flexible work arrangements, telecommuting or even something as simple as purging the cubicle farms in most office places are hampered by the capital investments companies have made in buying, building and leasing their current structures?

It would be a hard sell to tell any company, whether they have built an 80-story tower or have set up 300 cubicles or signed a 10-year lease that the best ting to change the culture of their organization would be to let most of their workers perform their functions where they want, when they want, and that the need for all that office space is, for the most part, gone by the way side.  Nonetheless, in an era when information is available nearly instantly, nearly anywhere, what value does a billion-dollar office building have?  Billions in real estate to produce that which no one can demonstrate adds significant customer value, and only prestige, seems like a practice of putting a lot of resources into something with little demonstrable value.

I suspect just as much work gets done just as well by those in small companies working in converted strip malls.  I’m also certain good work gets done (especially in those white-collar industries where there are more knowledge workers who could work anywhere, any time) by people who are sitting on their couch, in a coffee shop, a library, or on the beach.  After all, if you believe people are dedicated and intrinsically motivated, then you have little reason to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a building that adds nothing to the value of the product you produce.

Imagine home much infrastructure has been built, and must be maintained, at tremendous public expense, simply because of the perceived need to horde people into a specific location, for a specific amount of time.  Every major and secondary city in the United States contends with rush hour traffic problems – and all persist simply because of a misplaced perception that white-collar, knowledge work has to occur in a specific place, for a specific period of time and the equally misplaced perception that the larger, more expensive the facility that work takes place in, the better the company must be.

Understanding that Results are an absolute

Different Slave, Same Outcome

Different Slave, Same Outcome by Seniorgodlenspark on deviantart.com

As I continue to contemplate the machinations of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who are trying to understand how ROWE works.  While I am far fom an expert, I have come up with a few things in order to share my understanding.

Typically, there are a few concerns, if not outright objections – and I believe all of them are easily answered, because all of them are really just reflections of a symptom and, therefore, are ignoring the underlying causes.  It’s easy to treat symptoms.  It’s much harder to push through the denial and get the patient to admint they are suffering from a horrible disease – especially if it’s the patient who is responsible for the spread of the disease.

Here are some of the things I’ve encountered recently, and my thoughts on each:


There are, inevitably, times when you need to be able to reach out and get a hold of people right now.  This necessitates that people are in the office where they can be pulled together to get things done.

For one, if you are always “firefighting” that’s an indicator of disorganization and a lack of preparedness.  If, however, you have optimized everything and the nature of the beast is simply one of quick response – then people who enjoy that type of work will still be responsible for the results.  If, however, you find that people just don’t seem to perform in that environment – keep in mind that people don’t like unnecessary emergencies and will quickly lose interest if that’s the case.  Plus, let’s face it, technology has developed to the point that a cell phone and a laptop have made just about anyone accessible from anywhere.  Also, if you believe people are responsible for things they care about, they’ll return to work if that’s where they need to be.


What about underperformers who just aren’t self-motivating?  If you leave them to their own devices, you’ll never get anything out of them.

So, you have some slackers who don’t produce results?  If they are not performing up to snuff it’s either because they are simply a bad person who is indifferent to the impacts they make on others, or there is something ridiculous in the environment that they can sense, even if they can’t articulate it and, consequently, they won’t support what they perceive as having no value.  If that’s the case, it’s worth examining whether or not what’s being asked of them is really necessary, or only a result of “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking based on someone pulling rank without concentrating on just what adds value and what does not.  If, however, no amount of intervention can produce good results – then it’s time to part ways.


Certain work can’t be accomplished independent of time and place.  If people don’t show up when required, we can’t service customers well and we will always be chasing after problems.

First off, don’t kid yourself – you’re already always chasing problems.  Secondly, ROWE is really about Responsibility.  People are responsible for getting the required work done.  If that means they need to be in a certain place at a certain time, they are responsible for being there and doing what is needed.  If they can’t be there, or won’t, then the desired results aren’t being produced, and it’s time to take a closer look at the person, the environment, the processes, or all of the above.


It’s not just results we need to focus on, since good, consistent, high quality results are the outcomes of good, consistent, high quality processes.

A more mature organization will understand that a good process generates a good result.  Process discipline isn’t lost in a ROWE – it’s amplified.  If deviating from the standard process yields a poor result, then there’s clearly something wrong with the process.  A focus on the process is really just focusing on the result – processes are done to yield good outcomes, not bad ones.  No one would want to sustain a great process that yields a lousy product.


The Results ONLY concept is an absolute – you are either getting the results you expect or you are not.  Why you aren’t getting the results you want is a subject for a future post….