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5 Steps Transport Managers Can Take to Get Stuff Done

Sometimes people come up with great new ideas but we are too busy to even look at them. After all we working late just to get everything done.

If this feels familiar don't worry you are not alone most Transport Managers feel the same way. The good news is you could be like those Transport Managers who do not have these problems as there is another way.

You can use a technique developed by Toyota to change from a team that gets nothing done to a team that gets everything done.

Toyota developed a technique to better manage their supply chain that has proven to be very successful with organising work. Transport managers are able to take this technique and use it successfully for resourcing and not lose thousands of pounds. It is flexible and can be adapted to suit the needs of the organisation. The technique is called Kanban, which is the Japanese word for billboard.

Why Kanban works

Kanban works by tasks being placed in a list depending on their current status. The lists are Proposal, To Do, Doing and lastly Done. These lists are four steps that task will take as the move from idea through to being completed. Tasks start at Proposal and move through the lists (steps) in order as progress is made.

The board gives a visual view so everyone can see the status and who is assigned to each individual task. It is also clear what the deadline and priority of each task is.

While Kanban provides a transparent visual guide on what work is being done the benefit of it is how it enables people to collaborate and work together. It is easy to learn, understand and use which means anyone in the team can use it.

With this approach the work being done is matched to the capacity of the team which means team members are focussed only on the work in progress. This reduces the likelihood of people needing to work late which leads to a happier workforce. For the company having a focussed workforce leads to faster output and by being transparent with what is being worked on there is a single version of the truth.

One of the early benefits of implementing Kanban is it quickly identifies where the bottlenecks are such as skill sets or waiting for a response from other teams/ departments/ other companies. If work cannot move forward it stops other work from starting. By being able to see these inefficiencies in advance allows them to be addressed before problems occur. This also results in less waste because you will see what you do not need and trim accordingly.

How Kanban Works

The first list on the Kanban board is Proposal and this where all future work begins. Any ideas from the team, requests from senior management or other departments goes on here. Each request/ idea is a task on the list. This provides a transparent list of the amount of work the department needs to get done which can be used as evidence when requesting additional resources.

The person who controls the proposal list is known as the Product Owner and this could be the Transport Manager in charge of the department. They are free to prioritise and re-prioritise the tasks without disrupting the team because the team are working on tasks that are not on the proposal list. The proposal list of tasks is known as the Backlog and as it run by the Product Owner it is often referred to as the Product Backlog. As long as the Product Owner keeps the most important tasks at the top of the Backlog the team know that the tasks they are working on are the most important and therefore they know they are delivering the maximum amount of value. This boosts team member motivation as they know they are a valued member of the team.

While the Product Owner can prioritise the Backlog on their own the purpose of Kanban is collaboration, therefore it is a good idea to hold a planning meeting to prioritise the tasks on the Backlog. The important output of the meeting is transparency so everyone knows what is being worked on next.

The meeting may or may not include people who are doing the actual work tasks. However it is a good idea to include them as they will be able to provide input on how something will be done and therefore how long it is likely to take. However as long as you have someone who can assign the work and someone who understands the task you do not necessarily need the people who actually end up doing the work.

After the planning meeting the next Kanban meeting is the Daily Stand Up. This meeting takes place every day at the same time and place regardless if people can make it or not. The meetings are time boxed and last between 5 and 15 minutes. Everyone stands up to encourage the meetings to be as short as people struggle to stand up for long periods of time.

The purpose of the stand up is not a status update but a chance for team members to communicate and collaborate. While a short progress update is given the main focus is on any obstacles that are likely to hinder progress. By having the issues discussed openly as a team it ensures there is transparency and make the team share responsibility so there is not one person responsible. Transparency is important as it ensures no issues are left hidden and therefore hinder the tasks being completed. Prior to the stand up meeting it is good practice to update the status of the tasks. This makes it easier in the stand up to see who is available or if someone needs help because they are overloaded.

In the transport industry there are a lot of repeatable interruptions like resolving Driver issues at the beginning of the morning shift. Drivers tend to try and solve these problems with their first manager. These issues are too small and sometimes too urgent to create a task for each on the Kanban board and a better approach is to create a role like “Driver's Captain”. With this role there is a Captain Hat that is passed each week to a different person. With the Captain Hat Drivers know who is the responsible person who can help them with their issues in a particular week. During the standup the Driver's Capitan can give a quick update on issues of the week. For larger issues a task should be created and put on the proposal column of the board.

There is nothing worse than a task that never gets finished on time or even worse never gets finished at all. With Kanban rather than waiting until something is finished before revealing the completed product there are regular opportunities to review progress. These review points are called retrospectives. The retrospective takes place at regular intervals such as at the end of the week or the end of the month. For example it could be once a task has been started as more is understood about what is required. This would be a great point to review if the task is going in the right direction. The time between these retrospectives are called iterations. The advantage of iterations are it enables a chance to implement feedback from the retrospective and make changes. Good practices and behaviours can be continued and bad practices and behaviours can be changed. The duration of the iteration is not fixed, it can be days, weeks or months and it all depends on what the task is.

With people under pressure to get things done sometimes people do not say anything in a retrospective. People holding back will lead to bad behaviours/processes continuing and will not enable people to learn from the good behaviours/processes. One way to ensure everyone contributes is to run an action orientated retrospective.

To run an action orientated retrospective have three columns on wall. One column should be titled Start, the second Continue and the third column should be titled Stop. Give each team member post it notes and ask them to write down at least one thing that the team should start doing, stop doing or continue doing. Each team member then places on the wall their post it notes. By getting everyone to do it together it is an anonymous who has placed what in which column. This is likely to make people more willing to share their thoughts.

Once everyone has put their thoughts on the wall the next step is to group them as chances are some will be very similar. With them grouped have the team then vote and rank them in order of importance. Starting from the top item assign one member of the team to own and action the output to ensure it is implemented.

It is important for future tasks to learn from previous tasks to ensure the same mistakes/ bad practices or behaviours are not repeated. Therefore it is a good when running a planning session that outputs from recent retrospectives are reviewed to ensure the actions are applied during the planning sessions.

In summary the 5 steps Transport Managers can take to get stuff done is to use Kanban. The 4 steps refer to the 4 lists on the Kanban board;

  • A task starts on the proposal list and moves across the board as progress is made on the task.
  • A planning session run by the Product Owner decides which tasks move from Proposal on to the To Do list. Tasks on the To Do list are arranged in order of importance. Tasks are taken from the top of the To Do list and moved to the Doing list while they are in progress. Once a task is completed it is moved to the done list.
  • To ensure tasks do not run into difficulty a daily stand up meeting takes place at the same time and place. The purpose of the daily stand up meeting is to encourage collaboration between team members and remove any obstacles that may be prevent task progress.
  • Rather than waiting until the task is complete a better approach is to review progress so you can change bad behaviours/practices and do more of the good behaviours/practices. The review is known as a retrospective and the time between the retrospective is called in the iteration.
  • Repeat the process over and over again.

Barry Hodge is a business transformation change and senior project management consultant with over 15 years' experience of delivering projects in differing industries including Retail, Distribution, Pharmaceuticals, Housing, Telecommunications and Defence.

Through training, coaching and mentoring he now dedicates his time to helping others be more efficient at getting projects done.