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When all else fails, be brutally honest

At LeanTech, we recently signed up for Office 365 (as a side note, I didn’t think I’d find myself back in Office products…was trying to go all in with Google apps, but it’s really turned out to be a great experience…except for OneDrive for Business, which is a complete mess).  Kale was working on getting some things setup in our O365 environment and was looking at the online documentation and encountered this:


Gotta love the honesty here:

The box might be tricky to grab, and moving it might take you a few times.

As it turns out, it was impossible to grab.  Kale never got it.  But at least they were up front about it.

So in the spirit of being up front…Thrive has never had great documentation.  Thankfully, we’ve had very patient and understanding users.  However, we’re working on turning that around.  You can begin finding it here:  Looking for help on something you’re not finding on the docs site?  Drop us a note.  We’re working on improving panel 6 of this comic:



“We are not here to make money”

One of my favorite segments from Paul Akers’ 2 Second Lean book.

Perhaps one of the most controversial concepts I push is that we are not here to make money. Profit and money are a by-product of an effective Lean culture. We are here first and foremost to improve the quality of the customer’s life. Internally, we are here to grow our people.  If we do both of these at a high level, we will be profitable. However, profit is not the reason to do Lean nor is it the reason a company exists. If I told you the number of times I have encountered businesses that have gone south, with good products and capable people, you would be shocked. Ultimately the problem stems from the leadership focusing on profit and themselves, forgetting why the business exists in the first place. Take your mind off the numbers, focus on your customer, your people and serving others, and you will be surprised how everything else will work out.  [emphasis added]

This resonates with me because I have valued this same thought since day one of Lean Technologies.  And often I feel like I’m from another planet when I try to communicate this.  Over the last twelve years I have heard numerous comments like the following:

  • What is your exit strategy?  I got this question early and often within the first couple years of my business.  Why would I exit?  I’m just getting started!  It seems like people have found it hard to believe there wasn’t a deliberate end goal.  My goal in starting the business was to alleviate my own personal frustration with manufacturing software, and to help others encountering the same pain.  To quote Paul again, fix what bugs you!  I didn’t get started just to quit.
  • Your pricing structure is completely wrong.  This comment was targeted at the price being too high (or too low; see below) for Thrive.  The idea being communicated was that anyone with a $1,000 spending limit at a manufacturing company should be able to jump online and buy Thrive.  Again, the approach here seemed to be to fleece customers.  Get people to buy, but who cares if they ever get any value out of your software.  This again did not align with my values.  I wanted people engaged in improving their organizations, not suckers with a ProCard.  Interestingly, I often get the flip-side argument which is that the software is priced too low.
  • You should be charging for every user.  This certainly works and makes sense in a lot of industries.  However, typically those scenarios involve very specific applications (think email, Pandora, Dropbox).  The reason this bugged me in a manufacturing environment is that people’s engagement with the software varies greatly.  You have “power users” who are in an application every day and you may not mind paying the full license fee for.  But then you have the “long tail” of users who are only in the application from time-to-time and now you need to shell out a bunch of money.  Ultimately, I didn’t want to stick companies in “user management” mode, which just means they are trying to find ways to trick the system and use generic accounts or spend lots of time trying to manage user licenses.  The data is their data…you own the software and data, just start using it!
  • You maintenance contracts are setup wrong.  This is another one I wanted to fix from personal experience.  I didn’t like (and still don’t like) expensive software contracts that I felt added no value.  I also didn’t like not receiving the next major upgrade of a product and having to pay for it.  Ultimately, from a lean standpoint, it is easier for both the customer and the software company if everyone is on the same product.  So don’t tick off customers by making them pay for your next big thing!  A great notable example of this is Microsoft’s recent change to Windows 10.  They want people on Windows 10.  They don’t want a whole bunch of people on 8 or 7.  They already experienced a significant portion of their user base clinging to Windows XP for years.  Similarly, we want every customer on our latest Thrive iteration.  This year we’ve been focusing on getting everyone from Thrive 2 to Thrive 3…and it’s just part of the maintenance agreement!

My biggest issue with most of these questions and comments is that they are not customer focused.  They are business and profit focused.  And the moment those internal goals become the focus you start losing sight of the customer.  You begin focusing on wringing out one more user out of each client instead of thinking about how you can help them.

I have seen plenty of large organizations where the customer is some distant afterthought.  The company is so focused on hitting a certain profit margin, or internal budget goal, or some other number that has no connection to the pain of or value delivered to the end customer.  They have lost sight of why they are in business in the first place.

Maybe I’m just a bit altruistic, but as Paul says, if we focus on improving our customers’ lives and developing internal people, we will make money.

March 2015 Webinar

user_earthJoin us for the latest Thrive webinar on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Thrive customer Connie Walerius will be discussing her use of the Thrive quality module.

Spreadsheet Chaos?



  • Panicked Employee to IT: “I have lost my Excel document….can you recover it?”
  • Hopeful Leader: “I think we are doing well, but I will know for sure when we get the numbers at the end of the month.”
  • Puzzled Employee to Boss: “I know I updated the graph with the latest numbers. They must not have saved.”
  • You get the point.  Feel free to say the other 20 examples we didn’t list!

We know these pains, because we have lived them.  Thrive solves these issues.

  1. Simplicity and Flexibility   Sure, everyone says this, so judge for yourselves
    • Share your Dashboard graph with team members.
    • One-click drill down feature to find the info you want.
    • Personalize the naming of your fields.
    • Quick search features.
    • Mobile-friendly for point of use (audits, uploading pictures….).
  2. Tracking Work Flow or Closing the Loop
    • Measure – Monitor – Communicate (Real-Time)
    • Capture Data  – Assign Improvements – Complete Improvements – Report

                        Learn more about how Thrive will add value:
MaintenanceReportingQualitySafetyContinuous Improvement 


E.R.P. Pain?

Thrive is not an ERP.  It complements your ERP  to accomplish your shopfloor goals!

Thrive vs. an ERP?

  1. An ERP is designed to manage financial data while Thrive is designed to manage your shopfloor processes.
    • We like to say the ERP tracks the money and Thrive helps make the money. We are shopfloor people who designed a very useful software tool to help create a lean manufacturing culture and save money.
    • Thrive was built on Microsoft ASP.NET architecture and SQL Server database. Thrive links to SQL Servers.  We currently link with Epicor, JD Edwards, Oracle and others.
    • Thrive is web-based and mobile-friendly. It requires little hand-holding. Everything from installation to usage on the floor is simplified so you can spend less time learning software and more time making profitable decisions.
  2. Simplified Pricing: ONE price, ALL of your users. Pricing Info

Learn more about how Thrive will add value:
MaintenanceReportingQualitySafetyContinuous Improvement 

Process Gaps?

MaintenanceThrive Contains a Full CMMS – Cost justify with this module alone…remember no user fees Pricing Info

ReportingEasy-to-Use Reporting Across All Areas – Personalized Dashboards and reports are easy to share

QualityGain Control of Your Shopfloor Quality – You will make your quality team happy and drive improvement

SafetySafety Information in One Spot – Manage your safety processes and people

Continuous ImprovementUse Real-Time Data to Take Out Cost – We make it easy to leverage and communicate data

Personal Portal

Personal Portal

Each user can log into the Thrive system individually. Once logged in, you can view your personalized page called “My Thrive” which includes company and department announcements, calendars, project timelines, work schedules and more. The personalized home page keeps each individual informed of events and information from the company-wide level down to an individual employee’s project list.

User Specific Content

Each Thrive user has the ability to build their personal ‘My Thrive’ with information that is relevant to their role within the company. After logging into the system their personal project list, calendar, personal dashboard and reports are easily accessed or viewed from the ‘My Thrive’ page. Any news, alerts, bulletins or events that pertain to this user will be communicated on their ‘My Thrive’ page.


Value separation

How do you as an individual, “be different”?  As a company?  How do you create value that stands out from others providing your services?  And if your services fall in the same category as others, you must not be different, right?  Shouldn’t you then be in your own category?

Catching up on some blog reading, Brian Buck (@brianbuck) posted about a new book by Youngme Moon called  Different.

One clip in the video caught my attention:


However, simply being a smaller version of the bigger thing isn’t going to do it.  For me, “smaller” as a software company may in itself be different, but I need to do things that the big companies can’t do.  For me, I have always tried to focus on:

  • Going to the “software gemba”: this is where it all started for me.  My own personal frustration with software companies and the applications themselves.  I got frustrated watching users fight with applications that should have improved organizational processes, but sometimes seemed to only hinder.  I still get the most value by talking with users directly and with observing how they use software to manage their information flow.  My “best ideas” are simply insights gained at the “gemba”.
  • Action: Have an idea to enhance the product?  Something not working as expected?  Want a new feature?  I love ideas.  I strive to get ideas implemented quickly, something I think is significantly easier for a nimble organization than a large one.  Product changes are implemented in days instead of “in the next release sometime next year.”  I have even implemented something new while in an on-line support session with a client.  You won’t be routed to a call center overseas with LeanTech, you have direct access to someone understanding not only the product, but your individual business needs.

The “Different” video has gotten me thinking about other ways to differentiate.  I always want to find ways to give clients the best possible experience of working with a software vendor.  I’ve started cataloging some value-creating excellence here

The video below is one of the items I bookmarked recently.  It shows an amazing way to stand out, in this case for a photographer, but it should definitely get the creative juices going for your own organization.

Casey Templeton Photography 2010 Promo from Casey Templeton on Vimeo.


Promotional video for “Different” is embedded below:

Heads up, your business may be drowning

My friend Sam Duregger (@duregger) pointed me to an article about the obsessive-ness people have developed with their smartphones.

The article opens with a story about a man who was so engaged with his smartphone he didn’t notice the bathtub water he was filling for his daughter was overflowing onto the floor.  Why is this technology so engaging?  What is going on in peoples’ heads?  The article explains it with this:

It is because they are human, and human beings tend to repeat actions that are pleasurable and rewarding, particularly if they get our endorphins flowing. The complication is that we devalue delayed rewards — the feeling, for instance, of looking back on lovely moments with family — in favor of the immediacy of the new. In this case, it’s data. It makes us high.

Meeting short-term expectations of investors or the board is the smartphone of the business world.  The short term rewards feel good, and people want businesses to produce similar results time and again.  The reality is those short-sighted goals can lead to painful long-term results (and not always for the people setting those objectives, unfortunately).  This description at least gives me some perspective on why any business could possibly be short-sighted…this smartphone mentality simply transfers to their approach to business.

Hey, and for fun, the article even gives an example you can try out on your friends!

Get some friends together and tell them you will give them $100 now or $200 next year. Most of them, he said, will take the $100. Now tell them they can have $100 in 10 years or $200 in 11 years. Most will take the $200 because there is nothing immediate, or more exciting, fogging up their calculation about which is the greater reward.

Lean is for the long haul.  Lean focuses on building long-term value: for customers, for employees, for stake-holders.  You may not see the results in Q1 of implementation.  Endurance is needed.  But if you stick with it, the results will come and will be sustained long after the other guy’s bathtub is spilling onto the floor.

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Jakob Nielsen on Agile/Lean

Today’s Alertbox on discusses how Agile software development is improving the focus on user experiences, and provides summary data showing the internal organizational satisfaction with the methodology.

Here’s the data:

Project Methodology Integration of
User Experience
with the Method
Waterfall 2.5 2.9
Agile 3.1 3.7
Iterative 3.2 3.8

What is this saying?  Responses are on a scale of 1-5, with 5 “indicating the highest level of integration or satisfaction”.  It is comparing the different methodologies a development team can use, and how satisfied the teams were with the methodologies.

It shows that teams were much more satisfied with how much the customer was considered through the “Integration of User Experience” metric.  It also shows the team satisfaction is much higher using Agile.  I’m not really sure the distinction between Agile and Iterative in their research, as their methodologies are largely similar, but it’s clear which principles “win out”.  Both internal and external customers benefit from the approach.

More about Agile

Agile software development has many similarities to lean, and is one of the primary elements of the Lean-Agile method that NetObjectives uses.  You can see the similarities to lean in the principles of Agile development:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.