5.28.2020

Can Lean and Agile Techniques Be Applied to Sales?


In April, I had the opportunity to speak with Brad Jeavons shortly before the publication of his new book, Agile Sales: Delivering Customer Journeys of Value and Delight. Brad's book is the first to address incorporating enterprise excellence (Agile/Lean) into sales. Organizational excellence journeys have not included sales teams up until now. Brad's book provides a proven step-by-step approach for integrating Agile/Lean practices into sales to amplify customer experience and sales-team performance. The book contains many case examples from companies achieving amazing results from integrating agile into their sales teams.

During our conversation, I asked Brad what results have been achieved by applying Agile/Lean techniques for sales. Here is his response:

The best example I have seen is a retailer rocketing from 0% sales growth year on year to a growth of 70% year on year. I have seen sales teams in a highly commoditized market elevate their approach and bring value back into their dealings with customers. They went from 2% growth year on year to over 15% year on year with a 10% elevation in gross margin. The results are amazing and speak for themselves. My book Agile Sales provides good detail to help an organization bring agile into their sales team and optimize their results.

In addition, I followed up with: Why does Agile/Lean work well in sales teams similarly to operational teams? 

Agile and Lean philosophies share many common beliefs, tools and techniques. They both help people to collaborate, innovate, and amplify performance. The role that people are working in does not matter; people are people in operations as they are in sales. The Agile and Lean approaches to excellence are proven to help in sales as much as operations. Agile lends itself to sales as it evolved through major global technology organizations adopting more office-based practices. I made this connection several years ago after initially learning and applying Lean practices. I moved into an executive role within the organization I was working and started to work with my sales leaders and team members to apply Agile/Lean techniques. The results we saw were amazing. I genuinely believe that Agile can help a sales team optimize their results.

Throughout the book, I give this evidence -- analyzing many successful organizations that have applied Agile/Lean techniques to their sales teams and customer engagement approaches. I describe how all levels of an organisation can sustain their energy and effort on their key customers, how they can focus on what is most important and establish a culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and ultimately, performance.  Agile Sales provides many practical examples of how agile concepts have amplified customer experience and sales team performance. I have worked to make it easy for the reader to take the learnings and apply them to their organization.

The current environment requires us to think differently and pivot for future success. Agile Sales is a must-read for anyone directly involved in or leading sales teams. It provides ideas to help sales teams get back in the game, deliver greater value and delight and amplify performance and results.

Sales improvements will help organizations survive and thrive for the future, which may prove more vital than purely operational improvements.

What do you think of Brad's perspective? Have your sales teams applied any Agile or Lean techniques? What have the results been? 

4.27.2020

Why is Lean Needed in Higher Education?

A few days before William Balzer published the second edition of his groundbreaking book Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes, I had a chat with him about the successful applications of Lean concepts at major universities. During the conversation, I asked him directly: "Why is Lean needed in higher education?” Here is his complete answer:

Lean provides a proven problem-solving framework to address challenges in any organization or business sector, and higher education is no exception. Universities must be more responsive, efficient, and effective to address the growing number of external challenges disrupting higher education including: 


  • Eroding financial support from the government coupled with freezes or caps on cost increases.
  • Rising costs at universities to maintain their educational mission coupled to the growing price sensitivity of students and families worried about the long-term burden of student loan debt.
  • Attracting and retaining the best faculty and staff in a labor-intensive operations where we have not resolved how equitable compensation increases can be offset with gains in productivity.
  • Greater competition such as online universities and free Massively Open Online Courses that compete for a shrinking demographic of college-aged students and employers who question whether a college education is really the best preparation. 

As we speak, COVID-19 is already sending shock waves through the higher education community.

The application of Lean to improve processes in higher education, grounded in the principles of continuous improvement and respect for people, offers a way forward, as documented in my book by 16 exemplar universities from around the world that are using Lean. When correctly implemented, practiced, and sustained, Lean Higher Education (LHE) will meet – and even exceed – the expectations of those served by these processes, engage and develop university faculty and staff who deliver critical academic and support processes (including teaching, curriculum development, and research), and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the university through cost avoidance, cost reduction, and greater revenue generation. 

The potential of LHE is great at any university regardless of mission, size, and resources; in the 10 years since the publication of the first edition of Lean Higher Education, LHE has demonstrated that it can help universities reinvent themselves to earn or grow their reputations as preeminent institutions that should be valued and supported. 

Are any readers affiliated with universities or colleges that have implemented some type of Lean initiative?  Have you experienced the benefits that William Balzer described? 

3.26.2020

Why are Leadership-Development Efforts Relatively Ineffective?


Michael Couch and Richard Citrin recently published an important new book entitled Strategy-Driven Leadership:The Playbook for Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders. This book places business strategy first and maintains an emphasis on building leadership programs around what it will take to make the business successful as opposed to implementing a program in the hopes that it will benefit the strategy.



I spoke with Michael and Richard this month and asked them: “Given that most organizations spend significant resources on developing their leaders, why are most leadership-development efforts relatively ineffective in the long run?”



Here is their complete answer:



In Strategy-Driven Leadership, we cite several factors related to the ineffectiveness of most leadership development initiatives. Let’s discuss three of the most critical factors.


First of all, many approaches to leadership development ignore context. By this we mean that any development initiative must be built from a strong and clear strategic or business case. Designing effective development starts with the question, “Why exactly are we doing this?” -- so that the intended business impact of any investment in development is established at the get go. We call this “framing” the development.


Related to context, a second factor that is important to the effectiveness of leadership development is to have learners understand and focus on leadership competencies that are directly linked to the strategy of the business.  Strategies vary across organizations and the strategy of an individual business can change over time. For development to make a difference, strategy must be translated into the unique skills required of leaders to execute the strategy.


Third, organizations often take a one-size-fits-all approach to developing their leaders by buying an off-the-shelf program and requiring all leaders to attend the training. You’ll see this kind of program something like “these 5 factors are essential for every leader to possess.” This approach is seldom effective because it ignores the fact that the development needs of individual leaders vary greatly. There’s just no way that a single program can address those diverse needs. In addition, and probably more importantly, critical leadership competencies cannot be learned in a classroom. Real leadership skill-building occurs through navigating and learning from a challenging job or assignment. Our model for developing strategy-critical leadership skills, called Intentional Leadership Development, capitalizes on learning from experience so that development is built into everyday work and not bolted on as something extra to do.

What do you think of Michael and Richard's views on leadership development? Has leadership development been successful in your company?

2.27.2020

Creative Problem Solving and Lean Thinking


There has long been a debate in the Lean community about creativity. Clearly, a Lean organization thrives on standard work, and it is easy to assume that following standard work means that creativity must be curtailed. In her new book, Creatively Lean: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Drive Innovation throughout Your Organization, Bella Englebach argues that creative thinking is fundamental to Lean thinking, and that using tools and approaches from the adjacent field of Creative Problem Solving makes for better Lean thinking, and better Lean thinkers. Recently, I asked her: "What is Creative Problem Solving and how it can be applied to Lean thinking?" Here is what she explained:

Deeper Thinking
In my book, I tell a story that many of us in Lean have heard, or even experienced. A Lean learner proudly presents their countermeasure to their coach or sensei, only to be told, “Go back. Think deeper.” That can be very frustrating. What does it mean to think deeper?

Creativity Has a Natural Rhythm
I believe “thinking deeper” means to take advantage of the natural rhythm of creativity, which requires developing skills in both thinking broadly (divergent thinking) as well as thinking convergently, which is to select and strengthen ideas.

Creative Problem Solving
Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a proven method for approaching a problem or challenge in an imaginative and innovative way, and it explicitly teaches convergent and divergent thinking. Like Lean, the CPS approach has distinct steps for solving a problem. Each CPS step deliberately uses divergent and convergent thinking. In my work I have found that paying attention to the divergent thinking/convergent thinking creative rhythm and using CPS tools with Lean approaches like the A3 and the improvement kata drives deeper thinking, and more innovative countermeasures.  And who doesn’t need more innovation?

What have been your experiences with creativity and Lean? When you need an innovative improvement, what approaches, and tools have you used?