Nordstrom Leaders Take FBOD’s Lean Tour

Touring other Lean organizations is one of the best ways that we in the Lean community learn from each other.

“This trip has been more helpful to me than everything else I’ve done the last 18 months.”

In the past three months Nordstrom’s IT Department, the State Auditor’s Office and King County Metro Transit have sent their Lean staff and operational managers through the King County Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD) Lean tour.

After the Nordstrom team’s original tour they asked FBOD to set up a “senior leader” tour to discuss leader standard work and how FBOD leaders are supporting the program from a “top down and bottom up” perspective.

On January 22, a leadership team from Nordstrom as well as State Auditor Troy Kelly and leaders from Metro Transit went on this senior leader tour. County Executive Dow Constantine and Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett accompanied the group.

Ken Guy sm

FBOD director Ken Guy (right) describes FBOD’s Leader Standard Work to senior leaders from Nordstrom, State Auditor Troy Kelley, and Metro Transit leadership, as County Executive Dow Constantine and Fred Jarrett look on.

As Jarrett pointed out, that people from the private sector are taking learning tours of a public sector operation indicates just how revolutionary FBOD’s Lean journey has been.

As leaders themselves, the Nordstrom team was especially interested in how FBOD director Ken Guy and deputy director Carol Basile had learned to become Lean leaders.

Some of the questions they asked Basile and Guy:

How did they get started? And how do they sustain momentum when things don’t go perfectly?

Guy’s answer: We admitted a mistake and pressed reset when our initial tools-focused Lean launch plan didn’t pan out.

The thoughtful relaunch focused on culture, building trust with employees by creating an environment safe to make problems visible and by leaders modeling Lean, showing that we too were learning (and that that was awkward at times for us as well).

(Kevin Fisher from Nordstrom’s Continuous Improvement Team said of the reset “it’s an amazing thing to admit defeat,” and called the decision “brave.”)

How do they justify devoting the time and resources to focus on Lean?

Basile joked that the same question was asked in the early days of desktop computers.

“This isn’t a what,” she explained. “This is how I’m doing work. How would you not use a computer? How would you not lead in this way every day.”

The Nordstrom team also asked about visual management and FBOD’s leader kamishibai board.

Basile: “Leader standard work is about holding leaders accountable to a new set of behaviors.” When at least 80% of these checks have turned from red to green in a month, she explained, everyone knows that she and Guy are upholding their commitment to those behaviors.

“This is incredible,” said Connie Kristovich, a senior director with Nordstrom, thanking the FBOD team. “This trip has been more helpful to me than everything else I’ve done the last 18 months.”

Three FBOD teams—the Project Control Office, the P-Card Team, and Accounts Payable (AP)—also presented their work based on A3 problem solving and PDCA. These also resonated with the tour group, especially the “My Way” Process Map that AP had used to develop standard work for a team of six.

In this short video, the group discusses the My Way Map that Accounts Payable developed to standardize their Invoice Entry process. As FBOD’s Cheryl Schmit notes in the video, the standard work that resulted from this process improvement reduced the cycle time on processing invoices from approximately 10 days to as little as a day.

Those joining the tour and discussion included Nordstrom Senior Director Connie Kristovich, Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley, Nordstrom Directors Brenda Glasgow and Gina Cox, Nordstrom Lean team members, Kevin Fisher and Leslie Soule, King County Metro Transit Director Kevin Desmond and Deputy Director Rob Gannon, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett.

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