SAM

Today, I am giving you the case study of SAM. SAM is in all caps to distinguish him as an avatar. SAM is an avatar I use to demonstrate how tools work.  I like to use avatars because no one wants me to put their real information out to the public

I am often asked, who do I write for and who do I design my courses for. The people who ask these questions often want to know the age, gender, what the people had for dinner last Tuesday night, and specific problems of my students. I am not sure that that truly captures the people I work for and with.

I am writing for people who find themselves wishing or needing a transition from one stage to another in life. For the majority of people, you might say, someone over 55 is looking to transition from full-time work to retirement and possibly part-time work or a business of their own. For those between 38 and 43, the desire is often a new profession. For those between 26 and 32, there is a desire to ensure they are on the right path to their goals in life. And, those just exiting formal training for the first time, whether high school or college, want to ensure they emerge successfully into the job market.  I promise to share case studies for each of these as time goes on. I just want to remind you that we are people and not statistics.  Some people do different things at different times.  That is all right.  It is known as being human.

For now, we are going to start with Sam who graduated college at age 24, is about to turn 26 and finds himself unhappy, frustrated, and unable to find a path to where he wants to go in life. Finances, location, lack of local employment, and other factors all play into this. Yet SAM is lucky because SAM has friends, and friends know how to find the paths.

SAM

Sam’s Background

Sam is a regular guy from Any-town, USA.  He just graduated college about a year and a half ago. He married his high school love and got one of the few jobs the town had to offer, a food service worker, at the Dairy Duke.

Sam wants to be a writer. He wants the American dream. Unfortunately, a new family in a small town just starting out life finds there are many hurdles to overcome before dreams start to come true.

Sam’s not happy because he can see that he and his wife are not going anywhere and seems not to be able to find a better path. Sam’s wife isn’t happy, she thought marriage was going to be bliss. Sam’s mother-in-law likes Sam, yet she wants to see him reach out and do something for himself and her daughter.

A couple of friends who were studying process improvement offered a game or two which might help Sam out and help him and his wife to find their path. Sam was not sure at first; however, when his car refused to start for the third time in a month, he figured, “what do I have to lose.”

The team came over to his house and talk to the assembled folks. Sam had invited his mother-in-law, and his sister-in-law tagged along to see what was happening. The team explained about what they were learning in school and offered their services for free to help Sam and his wife find their way.

After talking for a little a while, the team played the affinity game with them to see how everybody felt and what problems there might be. And yes, there were some problems.

Sam's Affinity chart

 

Everybody had fun with the affinity game, and new ideas started to spring up. The infinity game (chart above) led to a Fish-bone diagram (below) which led to many other interests. I would tell you more now, except that may spoil some of the things to come. Therefore, we will start by taking a look at the affinity chart, and the Fish-bone diagram and that will start us on the way to helping to solve Sam’s problems.

Sams Fishbone

Tomorrow we will press on and see where this leads.

 

Enjoying Fish Bones

Have you played the affinity game?

Now is the time to do something with the data that you got from that game. Remember the five areas for the headers of all the Post-it notes that everyone placed on the board? Those headers were Plans, People, Processes, Prosperity, and Papa Nature. Well now, we can use the information you gathered to fill out a cause-and-effect chart.

The cause-and-effect chart is often known as a Fish-bone diagram. That is because it often looks like the skeleton of a fish. The one I have above probably bends that rule a little bit. The area where we have the effect is what you can think of as the head of the fish. And all the bones of the fish are all the things that we are filling in. This area is known as the causes. Thus, the cause-and-effect chart.

I should take time right now, to let you know you don’t have to be a master draftsman or artist to do this, or any of the charts and diagrams that we are going to make along the way. Each person does their best at arts and crafts. There will always be someone better and always be someone worse along the way, yet that never matters. The whole idea is that you are doing what you can when you work on these goals and games.

Go ahead and draw the outline for your Fish-bone diagram (Cause-and-effect chart.) And place the labels on. If you notice I wrote the word Effect below the line so you can write in what the effect is above the line. Please remember everything to the left of the head(effect) are the causes. When drawing the chart out, you do not have to put in the small horizontal lines coming off the ribs until you need to do so. I placed them in mine so you can have an idea of where they will go when you need them.

The effect could be, “We need to save more money.”, “We need to save more time.”, “I need to make better grades in school.”, Or anything else that you’re looking to improve. What this chart will show, as you fill it out is that all the causes equal the effect.

At this point take your post it’s, and start to fill in the five ribs on the cause side of the chart. At this point, the better the data that you put into the chart, the better the outcome. The whole idea of the chart is to see what’s happening now, and what effect that has. If you start doctoring the causes, or not putting some important data in, the chart will not be as effective.

The best thing about The cause and effect chart is that it is a very easy visual. You see what is happening, and what it causes. Too much late-night TV, not enough sleep, too many video games, not enough book time, it is easy to see what to change, to possibly raise your grades. Too many credit cards, not being paid regularly, a few emergencies, it’s easy to see what you can do to better manage her money. ‘My business is stagnating’ could equal, too many distractions, fewer classes, and more work, not enough interaction with the public, need to join some Facebook groups.

Everybody’s chart will be different, depending on the person, where they are, and where they want to go. There is no right and wrong in this. There is only where you are and where you want to go.

Tomorrow, I will introduce you to Sam. Sam’s been having a problem and wants to get back on track. We will use Sam as a case study. I will give you his affinity diagram, and his Fish-bone diagram. (Remember, the Fish-bone diagram and the cause-and-effect chart are the same things, and either name can be applied.) I am doing this because as we go on, it will be good to have some data to talk about.

I look forward to next time when we will go over Sam’s information and figure out the next step in helping him out.

Hope you have a wonderful day.

On this day, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence

Hi, because today is a holiday, I wanted to pass along this holiday note for the fourth.  We continue our normal blogs tomorrow.

Long distance relationships almost never last.  Mine did not last, although we are still good friends.  The relationship between England and the American Colonies did not last, although Britain and the United States are the best of friends now.

On this day, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence. Actually, it was signed on the second of July.  With no mass communications and no copiers in 1776, it took a couple of days to write copies and to get the word out.

It makes me wonder.  If long distance communication were available at that time, would it have made a difference?  Money is the root of many breakups. Could, however, the economic problems, between England and the Colonies be settled amicably before they grew so large that the two entities had no choice except the War of Independence and the legal separation, which was akin to a divorce of peoples?

This sounds like an academic quandary to be debated, and yet, we are on the cusp of the exact same problems in the very near future.  The people of Earth are planning to colonize the Moon and Mars.

The distance to the Moon and especially the distance to Mars will test the ability of communications. Not that communications are as slow as the 1700’s, there is a lag time that will start out as a nuisance.

Just as with England and the American Colonies. When the colonists of the Moon and Mars mine their ores, their focus will be on their work and not as much on the massive cost the Earth spent to get them to their colonies and provide for them as they began.  The Earth, like England, may be in a rush to reclaim the money spent to set up the colonists.

Special care needs to be planned for the missions to ensure a premium is placed on collaboration and communication.  These must be real communication and collaboration processes, not just buzz words.

Understanding what lead up to the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago is vital to future plans of colonization.  George Santayana reminded us why, when he said, “Those who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it.” (Wikipedia, last updated, 2/13/2006)

A special thank you to Paul Nielsen for his discussions and suggestions on this blog.  Thank you.

The Affinity Game

Howdy!

I am very proud of all my sons.  They have each graduated college and are doing fantastic in their fields of endeavor. Especially my son who is a Ph.D. and a tenured college professor. I was amazed that he was published three times as an undergraduate. In all three times, the papers dealt with games. I knew I should’ve stayed in college. That is okay I am developing some new games that we can play.

I hope you were with us in our last session when we discussed and went through a scenario on solving a problem and overcoming a Band-Aid fix.

Every time you have a problem pop up, and is reoccurring, it is developing what we call a hidden factory within your normal life. The hidden factory is something you don’t normally plan on, and yet it happens. Hidden factories steal time and money.  Usually both.

Sometimes we have so many small problems that keep vying for our attention, we don’t know which one to fix first. Sometimes we end up focusing on a small set of problems that are annoyances while missing either more costly problems or items that may be safety issues.

To help keep the larger problems from creeping up on us from behind, it is good to keep an eye on them, and even rank order what you need to fix first and what may be able to wait a little while until you have a better time or better money. To do this, you can play a game with an affinity chart. You can get the whole family, significant others, and/or friends involved in this. I like to make a party out of the affinity game. Have some soda and popcorn or some coffee and cake, or just good friendship. The game requires some post-it notes, a place you can put the Post-it notes, and something to write on them with.

This is a problem hunting game. Think of it this way, what items are giving me grief, taking my time, or taking my money? If I want to save time and money, I need to identify them and start to fix them. If there is something that would cause harm, or flood the house, I want to fix that one first. If I have a screen that is loose, I do want to fix that, I just may need to fix something else first.

In the affinity game,  use five headings.  The headings are People, who are those who are affected, family and/or friends. Plans, they are the overall goals, not just the problems. Processes, how we do things such as pay bills, buy groceries, etc.. Prosperity, the paycheck and other resources we use. Lastly, Papa Nature, the environmental concerns such as living in tornado alley or near a flood plain. You want to write these five areas on separate Post-it notes and place them on a whiteboard, a wall that won’t be marred, or some other flat surface where you can put plenty of other Post-its below each one.

To start out, go around the room, and each person puts one Post-it note under a heading with one item they think could be done better. Just list the item. Don’t give ideas for fixes or long written descriptions now. It is probably good to have somebody act as the facilitator for this. You could even spark interest by having the child or teenager be the facilitator. The facilitator also places post-its on the chart when it is his or her turn.

If more than one person hands in a Post-it note with the same item or nearly the same item on it, that is okay. Put those Post-it notes on top of each other. The fact that there are multiple Post-it notes shows a deeper concern in that area.

You can limit the affinity game to an hour, or you can keep on going until no one else has anything that they can think of to put on a Post-it. The more Post-its, the better because you’re getting ideas out there. And every idea is of value to the person who had it. Every person is also valuable to the family or team as a whole.

When the game is done, everybody should thank each other and tell each other that everyone is important to the family or the team. The nice thing is now you have information.

You have gathered data. It is believed, and talked of, and is yet to be proven. It is, however, valuable data because it is a start.

Next time we will take what has been learned here with the affinity diagram and learn how to use it in our next step.

Thank you for being with us.

Everybody loves to learn something new

Everybody loves to learn something new. It makes us feel good to know something new. Learning keeps us young in heart and soul. Although we love to learn, no one likes to be taught. There are several negatives which have a tie to being poorly taught. My goal is not to teach you. My goal is to help you learn.

As soon as you mention things such as TQM, 8 – D, Six Sigma, or any of the other quality and process improvement techniques, you automatically find yourself the only person standing in the room. Everyone else ran. Most hate these classes.

Everyone who was ever ordered to take a process improvement class has a right. And everyone who wasted time sitting through endless meetings trying to figure out something to change has a right. And, all those who put up with the corporate politics of leaders who would never let the change happen, has a right to hate the subject.

We are not going to do that here.

You are a smart person. And you are responsible. Everybody has different responsibilities. You may have a house or an apartment, a family and/or a pet, and bank accounts and credit cards which you maintain. You are pretty good at the things you regularly do. And you’re probably a whiz at some others. Don’t let anyone put you down.

Everybody has things that go well and things which tend to go off the rails from time to time. I’m here to show you a few ideas you can learn to do, which will keep the same thing from going off the rails every six weeks or so.

Ever have a small problem that interrupts the momentum of your morning? For me, about once every six weeks I can’t find my car keys. When I come back to look for them, I am accused of losing them for good, and we will never be able to drive the car again!

They usually have fallen out of my pants pocket. Or, were left in a jacket or pants which I had used the day before. On rare occasions when I’m carrying things in both hands they end up left stuck inside the front door knob overnight. Good thing I lock the screen door.

To this annoyance, I usually apply what’s known as a Band-Aid Fix. Something super fast, super cheap, and something allows for the annoyance to be ignored until the next time it happens. The bad thing about this type of a fix is that it guarantees whatever the annoyance is it will happen again, and probably sooner than later.

My Band-Aid Fix to this is to set out a bowl on a table or nightstand which I plan to put the contents of my pockets into nightly. How often does this actually happen? Usually, the first night I set the bowl out and occasionally the second. I’m not a bad person, I just get busy and forget. Therefore, it is only a Band-Aid cure and guaranteed to happen again at regular intervals.

Because I work for myself (I think that is called a vow of poverty,) I have time to look for the keys. If I had to be somewhere at a particular time, I could be in trouble. So what is a better thing that I could do to ensure I knew exactly where my keys are first thing in the morning?

Are we going to write a long and lengthy process and perform follow up on it every six months? Absolutely not! What’s the smart thing to do? Because it’s my wife and me, we could take a few minutes and think about it.

Some ideas could be as simple as having a key rack with hooks by the door, where I place my keys when I come home and take them when leaving. The key rack could be in plain sight so we could both keep an eye on whether or not we were using it.

Another option, we could hide keys outside the house because if the keys are hanging inside the house, sooner or later, we will end up locking ourselves out. Unfortunately, neither one of us are trusting enough souls to hide keys outside the house.

Another option might be to purchase a key finder. Amazon has a plethora of key finders that work with everything from a whistle to your smartphone. Cost is usually somewhere between $15, and $24.  There are more expensive and less expensive models.

So on a five-minute conversation with your significant other, (maybe 10 minutes,) you discuss the situation with someone and come up with three good ideas. Which is best? It’s not for me to say, it is whichever method is most foolproof for you. Usually, the best processes remove human intervention.

Just a side note, when I can’t find my smartphone, I use the house phone to call the smartphone, and then I walk around the house trying to hear it ring. Always great to have a backup.

Thank you for being with us today.  Until next time, we wish you well.

The Right Tool Always Works Best

Do Not Try This at Home.  Have you ever tried to put a nail into a board by pushing it in with your fingers? Or maybe just banging it in with your fist? It could get painful. Have you ever tried to drill a hole for dowel with your fingernail or really dig into it with the thumbnail? DO NOT try any of these methods. There are better ways. Just a few minor manual tools such as a claw hammer and a hand drill would not only be safer and less dangerous, they would get the job done a whole what faster.

Tools are a wonderful thing. Tools are there to assist you to do a job that you want to get done. The right tool always works best when used for the right job. There are manual tools and power tools, a screwdriver will open a can of paint, but it can also slip and cut your hand. Believe it or not, most stores will give you for free a little key to open your paint can easily and safely.

You don’t have to have fancy power tools all the time. A cordless drill always helps, or the circular saw if you cut a lot of wood. Yet, there is nothing more fun to watch, nor anything more enjoyable than seeing the happiness in a kid as he uses his first manual tool set to build his first birdhouse or his first sailboat. Although inexperienced, the young one is thrilled with his first tools.

Tools aren’t limited to carpentry. Mechanics have many types of tools to help every day. And, we have other great tools at our disposal.  I had a birthday yesterday which helped to remind me I am not the youngest rooster in the barnyard. I do not mind the slow walk toward senior citizenship, it does bother me when I feel I am acting the senior citizen stereotype.

The nice thing is, there is help using the right tools to keep me on point. Just like the carpentry tools, these tools can be very simple and manual or very complex and powerful. We need to play with them to understand which ones are right for each of us. Whatever we use, these tools should not cost us an arm and a leg. It doesn’t matter how much we would like to turn in that arm or leg for new one.

The last three weeks, we looked at goal setting and building a map to where we wanted to go in life. This week started out with a wonderful tool called a decision tree which helps you to record how you work on a problem or solution. The work can be done on a piece of paper, a notebook, on a tablet or a computer.

The decision tree doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.  Simple is just as good. I’m sure there are people designing software to make the tree quite complex.

The simple fact, the decision tree is a tool. It won’t do everything for you, but it will help you with the task you’re trying to complete. I would like to show you some other tools you use to accomplish what you want to do, help keep your tasks straight, help show  what should be done first, help determine what is value-added, and what is not value-added. And, a few other things

If the tools start to look like something from process improvement class, you are probably right. Are we going to force everybody into groups to talk for hours each week and drag out long decisions over storyboards and printed slide presentations?  Oh, heavens no! We are going to simply take some tools and mold them, so they work for the needs of each of us. This means you’ll get to customize your tools to better do what you want to be done. In the end, the tools will help you to be on time, pay the bills when due, keep in touch with others, make better decisions, and save some money by spending it more wisely.

Bottom line, I’m not writing about the tools, is much as I’m writing about what you can do with them.

Have a great day and tomorrow will start with our next tool.

Thanks for being with us.

 

Ever Play 20 Questions?

When you were a kid did you ever play 20 questions? It was a fun game to help pass the time. It basically worked by everyone agreeing on a topic (person, thing, activity, etc.) One person would pick something based on the topic. Everyone else playing the game would ask the person questions for a yes or no answer. A few years ago, an electronic game of the same name, and played the same way was a hit in the marketplace as a holiday gift.

Today, I promised you forests of decision trees, and here I am talking about games. The neat thing is, the 20 questions game is the same decision matrix which is used in the decision tree. You ask a series of questions for which there can only be a yes or no answer. You do need to verify the answers as you go. This, though, is often the easiest, and smartest way to discover root cause, or help you decide on a course of action.

If you look at the trees, each junction has two branches. A red branch which we will call the ‘No’ branch, and, a green branch which we will call the ‘Yes’ branch. It is always good to draw your decision tree as you go.

You can do this in your notebook, on a whiteboard, on your computer, on a tablet, or on your smartphone, depending on what type of software you have loaded. I like to put mine either in my tablet or in my notebook so I can refer to the decision tree later.

Remember, a no is not always the end of a line of questioning. You can explore a no route, although it is often easier and more correct to follow the yes trail. By doing so, you stay on a positive path. If you do this, ask the questions in a way that yes leads you on, and no helps you to eliminate something. In that case, and it is the case I recommend, your tree will look like the one on the right above.

Let’s run a practice decision tree just to test one out. This is something that happened to me last night, and although I did not draw the decision tree at the time, these are the steps I took.

Last night the pencil to my iPad did not work, I was frustrated. It cost hundred dollars, and I was in no mood, nor prepared to buy another one. So this means I had to figure out why and make the pencil work again. This decision tree will be the one on the right, not the forest on the left.

  1. Is the pencil not working properly? Yes, not working
  2. Is the pencil charged? Yes (I charged the pencil for 15 minutes to ensure it was charged.)
  3. Is the charge port working? Yes (I could charge the iPad)
  4. Does charging the pencil external to the iPad work? No (tried it, this means it’s not the charging port)
  5. Is there an explanation in the pencil guide online? Yes (I followed the instructions)
  6. Does the pencil now work? Yes

I learned new things last night. I also learned not to be the cliché of the guy who reads the instructions only as the last step. Next time, I will move reading the instructions further up the list.

Whether I do it consciously or subconsciously, I like the decision trees.