If productivity systems don’t produce the desired results for most people reading this, how do we possibly get things done?
How do we stay organized? This is the incredible challenge. Fortunately, there is an answer. It started way back at the end of World War Two at the car company, Toyota. Now stay with me here because how we get from Toyota, the car company, to you being more productive than you’ve ever been is a fascinating journey.
After World War Two, Toyota realized they had to make changes in the way cars were produced because quality was so poor. A car would go right through the manufacturing line and a person who was on the manufacturing line would do one job. They’d do that one job their whole life. Their whole career might be putting a wheel on the car. They never changed their job, so they just did that one thing. As the car would go through the production line, nothing would be fixed. At the end, when the car rolled off the production line at a Ford factory, all the defects would be fixed at the end of the line. They would have teams of engineers who were highly skilled to be able to fix all the little errors and all the little defects.
Toyota realized this doesn’t make sense. Before Toyota the thought of stopping a production line to fix a problem was heresy. If you stopped the production line, you got sacked. The line must move. Raw resources in one end, car out the other end. Toyota said, “No, if we fix the problem, if we actually restrict the number of cars that go through so that we fix the problem when it occurs, we’ll actually have much better cars and we will improve our processes over time.” This revolutionized car production and, indeed, manufacturing in general. It changed the world. That’s why Toyota became the number one most profitable car manufacturer in the world and their cars consistently have the least number of defects in them. Now, of course, all cars are manufactured this way. How does this relate to us? Well, we need to look at the industry which has shown the greatest growth in history. If you look at the last few years, there’s no question the thing which has shown the most innovation, the most advancement, is software. We’ve already talked about the miracle of our smartphone. Cast your mind back 10 years ago, when a program updated and a new version came out, it was a major deal. It might happen every 12 months.
Fast forward to now, how many updates do you get every single day on your phone. The software on your phone is constantly improving all the time. Facebook, for example, updates every two weeks like clockwork. How does this happen? Well, a group of software developers in 2000 had a look at what Toyota had done in their production line in involving the workplace, getting people to love their jobs, switching jobs all the time, making them feel involved with the whole process, and thought, “What if we apply that to software. Would it work?” Well, the short story is, it worked incredibly. Of course, software is not physical. You can’t see what’s going on in software, so they had to create a shared visual board so people could see what everybody else was doing on the project, you could see what was going on. That board was called the Kanban board, named after the process that Toyota used to track parts through their system. They literally used physical tickets. Kanban was a revolution. You could tell if parts were getting low because the cart that held them was right next to the worker who needed it The American car companies spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on software which just had to be changed all the time. Of course, it took years in those days to change the software, whereas a simple ticket that somebody writes on and you could visually look at the line
and say, “Wow, that’s where all the tickets are. There’s a bottleneck right there. We need to figure out how to make that bottleneck not be a bottleneck.” It was way more effective and they could make changes overnight. It wouldn’t take two years to retool an entire process, so they could afford to stop the line. Software developers were able to apply this exact same process. The lean manifesto created a revolution in software development. From there Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMarie Barry wrote the book Personal Kanban. Jim thought, “Hang on. What if I take all these principles and apply them to individuals? I’ve never been able to get a productivity system to work. I need to be able to track what’s going on, but I’ve never been able to get it to work. I don’t get it. What if Kanban is the answer to that—a visual way of tracking what needs to be done?” Personal Kanban was born and when I came across the Personal Kanban book, it was a revelation. I started applying it to myself. If you’ve seen any of my videos, you’ll notice above my shoulder, in the back of my office where I can see it, is a board with a bunch of Post-it notes on it. That is my Kanban board. If you implement the Kanban board, as now hundreds and hundreds of my students have, and all my private clients have, you will see a dramatic, dramatic change.
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What I find is it’s often the things that seem the most counterintuitive, that go most against the standard advice, work the best. This first one will blow your mind. We must get you to do less work so you can output more. That’s right, less work and you’ll achieve more. It’s about the concept of flow. Most of us, when we’re tracking things, use a todo list, whether it be electronic or on paper and pad. We try, it doesn’t work that well, but we try. Think about this for a second. If I were to ask you to find the railway station on a map, I could hand you a map, probably of any city in the world, it wouldn’t matter what country, and you could look at that map and you’d see the black line that represented a railway line, or a couple of lines, and you’d be able to see a train station. You’d be able to point to the train station and say, “Yep, look, there’s a little symbol of a train. That’s a train station.” You could probably do it within five, 10 seconds. It may take you 30 seconds to find a subway stop or a train station on a map. Now, if I gave you a list of every single house and every single railway station and every single business in that city and said, “Please find me the railway station,” and you had to go through, alphabetically, and look through this list, which would probably be a sheet of pages, probably 30, 40 pages thick, how long would it take you to
find the railway station? It might take you hours, because you must go through until you find something called railway station. That’s the difference between seeing something visually, where you can recognize it in an instant, like a map, as compared to a list. When you look at a to-do list, all you see is this huge amount of stuff that needs to be done. Guess what, at the end of the day with a to-do list, it’s still there. The vast majority of things are not done. How do you think that makes you feel? As it turns out, this is traumatic for your brain, but we’ll come back to that. Where have we talked about people being visual and not being so good at following processes – It’s highly likely your eOS is attuned to being visual and productivity systems just never stick. The vast majority of entrepreneurs are very visual in nature. Kathy Kolbe talks about this extensively. It hit me - what if using a Kanban board like software developers is the answer! I thought, “Hang on. The big problem with all productivity systems is they are not visual, they’re not like a map. They are lists.” Often what happens when you tick a list, it disappears or it’s just a big list that sits on a notepad somewhere.
It completely doesn’t work the way an entrepreneur works. What if we could use this visual process where you could look at a Kanban board, once you know what you’re doing, and in a minute, you’ll see exactly what you must do next, what’s important this week, and how you’re doing, how you’re going? Having a visual board was key to the process. It had to be physical because, guess what, entrepreneurs love to be able to get up and pace around. Are you the type of person that loves getting up on a whiteboard and planning things? Or often you’ll find yourself drawing and scribbling different things and ideas if you’re thinking. Well, you’re not alone, that’s most entrepreneurs. We’re unique in this way so we need a unique way of visualizing what we must do and a Kanban board does this beautifully. The second realization, and this is what Toyota figured out, was that at some point in any system, any manufacturing process, there’s a bottleneck. Let’s say, for example, it’s the engine. Building the engine is the bottleneck for a car manufacturing process. It doesn’t matter how many parts you produce, how many bits of inventory you have, if you can build 10 engines a day and you’re delivering parts at a rate of 20 engines worth of parts, guess what, you’re going
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to have a stockpile of inventory and it’s going to grow by 10 every single day. That’s incredibly inefficient. It costs a lot of money. Conversely, if you don’t get enough parts, everything downstream of the engine building, are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Customers are waiting for orders because they want the 10 cars and they want the 10 engines to go in those 10 cars. You’ve got unhappy customers and you’ve got people who are twiddling their thumbs. It’s not efficient. The most efficient way of working in any manufacturing process, delivering anything, is to work with the bottleneck. You can only work to the pace of the bottleneck. It makes sense to work on the effectiveness of the bottleneck first. Guess were the bottleneck in your business. If you’re raising your hand right now you are correct. Spoiler alert: you are the bottleneck. When you’re starting out, you’re doing everything. As you build a team, you slowly start to remove yourself as the bottleneck in your business. This is where we want to get to. Right now, as you’re reading this, you are going to be the bottleneck in your business, so we have to manage the flow of work into you because you’re the bottleneck of the business. Did I mention it YOU are the bottleneck.
Jim and Marianne in Personal Kanban use the imagery of a stream. If a stream is running with the right amount of water, it’s a healthy stream. Fish are in it, it’s beautiful, the farmers can take water for their crops. Everything works well as a system. Now, if there’s too much water, and what’s too much water in inventory terms? A flash flood. Suddenly, that’s a disaster. The houses along the river get washed out. The fish die because they’re just blown out of the creek. The ecosystem of the creek may take years to recover from a flood. Now, entrepreneurially, we have floods all the time. You’re probably in a flood situation, some people call it redlining, right now. You seem like you’ve got this incredible number of things you have to do all at once—not just in your business but in your personal life, in your health, everything. The concept of work/life separation is rubbish. It’s not realistic, particularly when you’re starting out a business. We’ve got this huge tidal wave of stuff to do and obligations to meet. That’s not healthy. The other way, of course, is what happens if the creek dries up and it becomes stagnant? Then the fish die because there’s no water.
That’s also a problem. Less of a problem in an entrepreneurial business, as a general rule, but it
can happen. If we get the flow right, if we understand that your capacity, particularly when you’re starting out, if we make sure that you are working to your capacity, or slightly less than your capacity, you will experience flow. That’s what we’re trying to get.
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