July 07, 2016

The never ending cycle

This a completely different blog, to what I usually write. I came across an interesting concept today, which involves a combination of literally everything I have learnt so far this year. I have learnt that improving a company internally by itself is simply not enough. Optimising and improving manufacturing processes and products is simply not enough. As excellence models suggest, this optimisation should occur through the full product life cycle, from suppliers till the final end consumer. This consequently suggests that some form of knowledge sharing should occur. The customers will be able to give views and feedback on the kind of product they desire, and the sort of needs they require the product to fulfil. In the context of my reading, this involved the carbon footprint of the product. Sometimes manufacturing processes are optimised to reduce environmental impact, but what is not taken into account is the impact that the final product has, when it is in the hands of the consumer/customer. An example of this are the famous trucks of the United States, the guzzlers as they are so known. They were designed optimally, the manufacturing processes had very little environmental impact. But the final product exceeded all savings and reductions.


Reading further, this is what the Design for Six Sigma base of Design for the Environment is all about. It is about considering final use environmental impact as well during design stages. And what an important role knowledge sharing plays here in support. Information must be retrieved from as many stakeholders as possible. This involves first creating support mechanisms to generate the knowledge, and a review and analysis of this data to ensure reliability. The final stage involves application, which starts the cycle again, moving from an external to internal structure, where now the suppliers as well as people within the organisation can now share the generated information and apply it. And the never ending cycle moves on…


July 04, 2016

Let's preserve and protect our Earth

Throughout my life, I have only observed asset management to be considered from a financial perspective. Everyone around me always talks about how managing their assets increases their wealth, and is often confused with the modern term of wealth management. So for me, it took me by surprise when I came across the term asset management in this module. But all the categories discussed make sense, especially when I think about it from an engineering point of view, which I’m sure by now you are all aware is my previous background. It was sort of comforting to see that areas linked to the health and safety of employees, the security of employees, as well as environmental concerns were being considered as part of asset management.


I am a true believer that our earth and all its natural resources must be conserved, preserved and treasured. Due to rapid globalisation and urbanisation, our planet is being destroyed through atmospheric pollution, water contamination, deforestation, amongst others and natural causes. Living standards and the development of the human race has led to higher pressures on industry to produce to demand, increasing industrial waste and pollutants. These must be reduced in every way possible, in order to protect our earth and the natural resources it bears. Organisations today must therefore also include environmental management systems in their strategy. For the basic reader, this involves the removal or minimisation of as many sources of waste and pollution as possible. This could include carbon dioxide emissions, waste water, toxic chemicals, as well as intangibles such as noise pollution. One thing that I believe is a perception of the older generation, is that all such measures come at high costs to the business. In effect, this is true, as most measures require initial fairly large initial investments, and payback is not seen for a few years after. However, reduction of wastes actually involves improvement of processes, products and services, which means lower overheads and therefore savings to the cost of doing business. This is very simplified, but is the point that needs to get across to the world out there today.


Several standards have been implemented as a result of this, as can be seen in ISO 14001 and 50001. If we want to continue doing business on this earth, let us not use these standards as basic guidelines to follow, but actually believe in the principles that govern these standards and practice them. If we kill our earth and deplete all the natural resources available, there won’t be another earth for us to continue doing our business on.

save earth


Definitely a world of knowledge out there

Over the course of this year, I have been faced with several tools and techniques aimed at continuously improving organisations as a pathway to achieving sustainable excellence. Looking back, I cannot say that either of these have one specific focus, but they are all, individually, an integration of a broad spectrum of considerations. They all take into account several aspects related to a wide range of stakeholders. This, in effect, needs to be converted from an external view to the internal operations of the company, and is where I believe the topic of knowledge management must be appreciated. The most effective use of any tool or technique is when an entire group of people is knowledgeable, be it specialist or basic, to one strategic objective or vision. This will involve the generation of knowledge, the sharing of knowledge, the distribution of knowledge, and the application of knowledge. These are the founding principles of knowledge management, and should therefore be found at the heart of the organisation. How scarce this is in the real world out there. All the knowledge is available - take it, and make the most of it.

world of knowledge

Looking back at some of the tools, such as QFD, I constantly hear one phrase - “the voice of the customer”. I came across a similar topic under the branch of knowledge management which involves generation of knowledge about the customer, the target market, and through the process of feedback, customer preference. This relates to the production process, but can be applied to both service and manufacturing industries, and is what essentially a business is out there to achieve, and how it aims to survive. The sale of a particular service or product will only be rewarding if this customer knowledge has been passed through the knowledge cycle. This is a perfect example of how external views from stakeholders, in this context the customers, are converted into the product design.

I often come across the question of how knowledge management practices fit into the business strategy, and whether they are really useful or just perceived to be a waste of time. As in the example above, the same principles can be extended to: the processes of the business, the outgoing products of the business and the whole NPD cycle, the people who make up the organisation, and the assets of the organisation. With all these areas, knowledge is the key focus, without which, none of the business operations would happen, without which none of the businesses strategic objectives would be met. Without knowledge of the processes, core business functions may end up being dysfunctional, leading to several losses being incurred. Without knowledge of the product/service, customer’s needs will not be met, and the product may be classed as a fail. The knowledge embedded within the people of the organisation must be exploited in order for the business to function at maximum capacity and capability (the intellectual capital of the organisation). Which will then facilitate knowledge generation on the asset capability of the organisation, leading to better utilisation of all assets for greater rewards (not only financially, but who doesn’t like to know that the bank account is getting larger!)


June 12, 2016

What goes around.. Comes back around

I sat down to take a break from a very exhausting week, only to end up listening to one of my favourite songs - "What goes around.. comes around" by Justin Timberlake. What a title to sum up the end of my final module at WMG. The only thing I could think of was how something so small triggered so many other feelings inside me. It was a spark of creativity in my mind. Isn't this the sort of environment we have been learning to create? An environment where something is generated out of creativity and innovation, a significant portion of the topic of knowledge management.

So many companies out there are falling shy of their competitors by their lack of attention to innovate, perhaps due to the perception that this sort of competition is non-existent. But if they only care to look deeper into the minds of their people, their most valued assets, as well as their other physical assets, they will always see room for improvement. This is the theme that I have noticed having been subject to self-improvement over the last year. With the help of shared knowledge from my project supervisor as well as other practitioners in the field, I have been able to help my own family business better manage their assets and focus on the removal of waste in their manufacturing facility. This once again is a significant portion of the cycle of knowledge management. I could only help but relate this to the title of this entry - the knowledge that was generated and created could now be shared and distrubuted to better manage the assets of the firm. With how vast the range of assets can be, from health and safety to environmental management, these need to be supported with true leadership. Relationship-oriented leadership and transformational leadership are what I perceive to be a good combination of starting to form the necessary leadership characteristics to support adequate sustainable management.

From the point of view of many directors I have witnessed, their main focus is always on financial performance and obtaining physical assets. In my opinion, the greatest and most sustainable prospect is to utilise the knowledge management cycle, invest into people as their most valued asset, who can then drive the organisation towards better results, economically and socially.


June 07, 2016

I wasn't aware of that

This is precisely the claim that I have heard so many times, and have also used so many times, regretfully. The situational awareness workshop triggered this thought, alongside jogging several memories and recollections of this year as well as my entire life. The workshop was based around information gathering, interpretation and anticipation of the future. Of course this sounds so very simple, but this is actually quite hard, if done properly and correctly. As a result, we are often prone to so falling victim to errors of all sorts.


One of the biggest source of errors is in the gathering of information, which falls into four categories: information not being available, information not being observed, information being difficult to detect and memory errors. Errors are further caused by incorrect mental models and the failure to anticipate future events. I link this to the concepts I learnt with regards to robust decision making processes. A lot of errors or faults in judgement are as a result of individual biases. These are a result of beliefs formed in our childhoods and early teenage years, consequently forming our core values and beliefs. They influence our personalities and can, as an effect, also play a part in errors from incorrect mental models. Our experiences have formed a picture of expectation of how a situation is to be, or turn out, which makes us, as individuals, respond in a default manner. It is thus highly essential to be aware that this can happen and not to take things for granted, or be overconfident (a source of bias in itself).


In my opinion, the greatest source of error is that in information gathering, and is as a result of the process being subjective to the judgement of the collector. If individual biases are playing on the mind and leading to other biases such as confirmation bias, the information being collected will involve biases and hence errors. It is therefore so important that we always have a method of preventing this from happening, such as a mechanism in place to check that the data is reliable and can therefore be replicated. Being an engineer and having performed several experiments, this is the different between accuracy and reliability. Another source of error is what was discussed as ‘buddy-buddy training’, which involves one person transferring his/her tacit knowledge onto the next generation. In organisations, this is an intangible asset, which cannot be replaced nor replicated. If one manager is going to leave his role, or an experienced technician leaving as well, all the knowledge gathered in their experiences will not have been documented. They exist in the form of tacit knowledge. It is of great use to the company that the next generation is able to make use of this information in order to ensure sustainable productivity. However, care must be given that this doesn’t go wrong. This can be because of incorrect information being passed on, or short-cuts handed over or duplicated. This is an example of mentor training gone wrong.


Back to being aware of information, several times I say I don’t know something or where can I find something. This information is most often available to me, only I haven’t bothered to truly search for it. After all, all the information in the world is available out there for anyone to access at any time. I find myself criminal to this, especially when building things. I never look at the manual, and then complain when I something goes wrong. This is an example of information not being observed.


To finish off, it is so easy to identify situations where things could have been done better. The real skill is noticing this before it happens, the anticipation. Looking back, so many times I could have shared or used knowledge that I had somewhere inside my brain to prevent something from happening, however minor. But divulging and using this seemed to not be of urgency. And then comes the realisation that I could have done something to prevent it.. Why didn’t I think of that??


Shocked


Reflecting – A change worth considering

Today made me really think about how important ‘blogging’ is to me. Actually, I am not a big fan of the concept of blogging, but the true hidden meaning behind it all is the process of self-assessment and reflection. And I have seen the true meaning and power of reflecting on what I have learnt, and how I can benefit from this learning in the future. But I can only do this if I have actually written it down. I noted to this effect that I regularly note down bits and bobs from time to time which I find useful and want to take home with me. But not in the true art of blogging. So what is truly stopping me?


Am I so lazy to navigate a few web pages in order to reach a designated blogging portal? Its not even that bad - its quite user friendly, and more attractive than other blogging portals I have come across in the past? No! This is not me, or so I keep telling myself. Maybe the bigger issue behind this is the resistance to change a particular way of thinking and doing things. This is only representative of the world out there, where people are so resistant to any changes to their ways of thinking and ways of lives. In an organisational context, this is the process of managing change. Having the right people in the right places in order to support change. People, just as I found myself, do not like to be changed. We don’t like doing things we are told to do, I strongly believe this is just human nature. As I was once told, and totally agree with, “The greatest pleasure in life is doing the things we are told not to do”.


Taking this theory further, our organisations will need to undergo some sort of change in order to become a ‘learning organisation’, or to instil a culture of knowledge: a culture where knowledge is easily generated and shared. But how hard do I expect this to be, if in this particular case, I couldn’t even change to do one simple small task, even though I have appreciated the true power of reflection. I used to see so many difficulties in creating an organisational culture where people are willing to share, perhaps it was for this very reason - the reluctance to change. I believe we have all been brought up in education systems which are highly competitive, the gradings, the marks, trophies and awards for best students. So how can it be expected that this does not transfer into the workplace?


The art of reflection, as I will now refer to it as, is a very simple way to share knowledge and experiences between colleagues. I am able to share my learnings, not only with myself for future reference, but also to friends and the rest of the world so they may perhaps take something away from what I have said, or spark another channel of thought to develop my understanding. I can only say that this is very useful, how exactly to encourage this, I am still to figure out…


An 'excellent' journey

I have nearly come to the end of my taught section of my master’s degree, and I must say, what a journey it has been. Not only in terms of friends and getting to where I am, but also in terms of what I have learnt. Sometimes I feel I have learnt more in the one year of doing my masters than I have my whole life. What a shocking thing to feel. Maybe it really is the environment in which I am learning. How knowledge is shared between friends and peers, as well as from experienced professionals and tutors.


I find myself linking things from everything I have learnt the whole year. Perhaps because the foundations of my learning are based on a very strong framework. I find myself linking design for six sigma to any situation where we deal with anticipation and prevention of risks and errors. This anticipation is evident in design for safety where it is absolutely crucial that no mistakes are made in regards to the safety of products. Another example is where we predict outcomes in order to try and remove any chances of negative outcomes after product launch, and incorporate the mechanisms for prevention in the design. In regards to knowledge management, this is only truly possible with adequate and reliable sharing, generation and evaluation of knowledge. Another example where this communication is needed is in the removal of wastes, as in the six sigma methodology. If wastes are noticed, but not communicated across to responsible managers, there is an evident lack of knowledge transfer in the organisation. Improving this will only result in more productivity and efficiency, leading to improved financial performance.


And once again, it always reverts to the very important role of leadership in governing, guiding and inspiring the rest of the organisation and others to achieve shared goals. In this case, it is the vision of a culture of learning, which is often regarded as a learning organisation. The learning never stops. It is a continuous cycle and there is always room for improvements and opportunities for learning, so the theory states. But practical cases suggest pretty much the same thing, so long as implementation is done correctly.


So how was I able to remember all this? I analyse this down to the very root in my opinion, that it is because I have been shown a different way of learning, a safe environment in which I feel comfortable to let my voice be heard. Somewhere I am able to learn from my colleagues with little/no judgement being passed. The experiences I have faced in this environment have led to a more relaxed way of learning, and hence transferring and sharing knowledge. Truly an ‘excellent’ journey.


June 02, 2016

So little knowledge for too many assets

One of the most common phrases spoken in the business world is "people are our greatest asset", a statement which, in my opinion, is never truly acted upon. The evidence points out that investment into people is often considered as a cost, and hence not truly implemented to the standard necessary.

Asset management has so many different definitions, all hovering around systematic activities and processes through which organisations optimally manage their physical assets and their associated performance. But who manages these assets? This task lies in the hands of the people within the organisations, with their own individual skill sets, combining together through teamwork and a shared understanding. This is the integration of adequate knowledge management to help support this. Knowledge management is the efficient handling of information and resources in the context of an organisation. Efficient, reliable management of this knowledge is necessary in order to be able to store and apply any generated information from anywhere in the organisation.

From my previous experiences, I usually find the majority of improvements to do with Asset Management in manufacturing (as an engineer) to have come from the operators/technicians and engineers themselves. They are the ones who experience problems and observe opportunities for improvements to processes and products as well. It is hence highly important that there is a channel and pathway mechanism in place for the transfer of this knowledge to other areas in the organisation. This knowledge front is often regarded as unimportant, and not enough emphasis placed on the benefits that this can provide to the organisation as a whole and to the individuals themselves. Taking note from Deming, this in effect will help break down barriers between departments and encourage two way communication, increasing effectiveness and productivity.

As Benjamin Franklin once stated: "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest"..


March 17, 2016

The future of tomorrow is in our hands..

Whilst reading into contemporary theories, I found a common element to be that of understanding the people. Reading further into this, I stumbled upon a very interesting article. This article suggested that mature people are the way they are, with particular focus on their behaviours, as a result of their past experience and childhood. The article discussed that the way a child is brought up, from their education and school-life, to the way they are treated at home and by friends (socially), has a great impact on their futures, and further went on to suggest whether or not they will have the potential to be future leaders. This got me really curious - so does this mean that leaders are leaders because of the way they were brought up? How can this be? Why is this the reason?


Further reading into the article showed me that our childhood is the period during which most leadership values are instilled and embedded into our cultures, making us the individuals we are today. Isn’t this theory supportive of the behavioural theory? That anyone can be taught to be a leader by teaching them the most appropriate response for any given situation? Therefore, as leaders of the current world, should we not embed leadership cultures and practices into the daily routines of our young for a brighter future? We should encourage the use of creative mechanisms that create a safe environment where children are able to think outside the box and innovate, building on their intuition and common sense. Embedding this creativity in their mind will enable them to be open to any situation in the future and consequently help them develop good problem solving abilities. Expose the generation of tomorrow to as much as possible, as their experiences will only help them become more effective leaders in the future.


It's too much, there's too many possibilities

So many leadership theories, so many approaches, so many views on what ‘good’ leaders are. One thing that I’ve learnt is that none, or all may work or be applicable, it is all dependent on the situation. Great leaders shape the future, after predicting and accounting for not only the realities of today but all those possibilities of the future.

But for me the majority of leadership theories were developed in the past, or at least it is history from where I am standing - they were developed way before I was even born. So I decided to look further and investigate contemporary theories, and to great surprise, it seemed to me that there is still no one common view on leadership. They only developed into more possibilities on the ways in which leadership should be practiced. So which one should I use when asked to provide a suggestion? Its just too much confusion.. Too little time, too many theories, its blowing my brain apart!!


Confusion

So I decided to take a different approach. If leaders are to influence people to the achievement of a shared goal, then why not start by understanding the people? Be a better listener and communicator and know the people whom you are trying to lead, whilst also understanding the situation and what the leadership is needed for. This will then help to understand the most suitable type of leadership to apply - does not necessarily need to be one single theory or style, but can be a combination of all the positive attributes that can be obtained from different styles. This is what I found is the most suitable in today’s world, where theories of old are combined with practices in real life to come up with the most effective leadership approach.


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