It’s the X-Matrix.
As leaders and from my personal experience leaders of safety programs, we are responsible for the one-year plan, the metrics to improve, and setting a long-term vision for the department. I personally love an X-matrix to help evaluate and visualize the process of setting these goals. I was very skeptical at first of if this process would actually work. What I found was that once other team members and leadership have seen the vision and agree, the x-matrix helps to keep everyone focused.
One of the troubles that I have seen and heard from other safety people is the overall leadership’s ability to quickly change priorities. In safety, they are focused on the fire that is in front of them rather than the reasons for the fires. For every injury, there is a sudden and intense focus to drop everything and fix that issue. I will be clear here, for every injury there should be urgency. An urgency that helps to drive a root cause and robust corrective action. But a new injury should not completely change the fundamental trajectory of the entire program’s strategy.
I have seen it so many times, where an incident occurs and then there are fast and unwarranted changes to system programs. One of the first principles of lean during a problem-solving event is to ask “if there a standard?” If the answer is “yes.” The next question is to ask “was the standard followed?” If the answer is “yes”, the standard needs to be updated. If the answer is “no”, the focus should be on the motivation and environment to encourage or discourage the use of the standard. The immediate reaction should not be to completely reinvent the entire program.
I have digressed, through. Let’s talk about how to complete an x-matrix. This exercise is best completed in a small group where the team understands the operation and the needs of the department. Many times, the safety person is the only person in the department. In that case, it is all yours to control. The process works through filling in the bottom five topics, then working clockwise. There are five topics per section. There can be fewer, but I would never recommend more. When thinking about strategy, you do not want to become ineffective by having too much to do. Focus on what is important and work the plan. I have found that five is the right number.
The bottom section is where the process begins. This is where you focus on the five items that will be your 3-5 year breakthrough objectives. Breakthrough is the keyword here. These are items that in the next 3-5 years that will create big gains on your department and the safety of your organization. Think about changing culture, driving learning, and systemically reducing risk. I love the idea of “begin with the end in mind.” If you have a great safety system in place in 3-5 years, what would it look like? What systems would be in place? What engineering changes would be implemented? These are the 3-5 year objectives that can make a big difference.
Next is the left-hand section of the matrix. This is where we would take a closer look at the next 365 days of progress. What is it that you need to get done this year that gets you closer to your 3-5 year objectives. We cannot fix it all today. Safety especially is about culture and motivation. As much as we want to do it all today, it is not something that can happen. This section is about this year. What is nice about this section is that you can use it to create headings in a year-long Gantt chart and set tasks under each of those categories to show progress. The tools work together to help create the vision, long-term strategy, and actions to drive the change.
Moving to the top section, we want to define the top-level improvements or priorities. These are the values of the organization or department. For example, it would be items like no injuries, no spills, robust corrective action process, everyone reporting hazards, etc. This section for me has always been about the culture that I want to see that aligns with the values of the organization. It is important to not forget that safety should be a core value.
The final section to complete is the right-hand side. These are the metrics that we want to improve. Think about your current safety key performance indicators. Generally, I do my best to focus on proactive measures. How many hours of safety learning? How many hazard reports were filed? What were the audit scores? Were incidents investigated in less than 24 hours? I also will admit that normally I do add reduction in injuries. Even though it is a lagging indicator, it is a KPI that I want to vastly improve. I want fewer and fewer injuries until there are none to report. I do not simply want a number. I want a system and culture that has created an organization that does not hurt people. This section is not to define your KPIs, it is only listing the KPIs that you are planning to make the most improvement in during this 3-5 year journey.
Now that we have discussed how to fill in the x-matrix, I will discuss in the next blog the tiny blocks that are around each section and how these are used to bring the x-matrix to life. All these items that we just spent so much time thinking about and filling in are now going to be interrelated. It is an interesting and eye-opening X-perience 🙂
As a safety person, I have found myself wearing many hats for an organization. I was the one that had to set the vision, make the plan, and lead the work to be done. Early in my career when asked to do all the things, I had no training or tools at my disposal. I had to make it up as I went and hope that it was right. Honestly, the planning process for some organizations was me taking the OSHA recordable incident rate and reducing it by 10% each year for 5-years. Then, praying that I could achieve those numbers with no real investment, support, or leadership training. For many years I would then report a statistical miss on the 5-year plan, get yelled at on a conference call, then perform the same 5-year 10% exercise using the current OSHA RIR.
It was later in my career that various organizations started teaching real lean theory and how to use the tools to benefit the safety organization. What I love most about lean or six-sigma is that there are so many tools at my disposal. That is also a problem, though. Not every tool is needed every time. It is up to the practitioner to choose the right tools for the right application so that they can be effective. One of those tools that I have used many times to help create the vision, plan, and tactical steps for a safety program is an X-Matrix or Hoshin X-Matrix.
First, a quick side-story. While completing my MBA, I was in a statistics class. The professor was lecturing on the importance of knowing which method to use for which scenario. Which even to this day confuses the heck out of me. He was telling a story of a Ph.D. student he was mentoring. He has asked the student what their plan was for their dissertation. The student expressed that they would gather sets of data and run pretty much every statistical model they had learned on the data. The professor let them follow that direction. Long story short, the student discovered that not every statistical model was needed to create good conclusions.
This is the same with using lean or six sigma tools. Not every tool is needed for every job. It is necessary to know the tools and their uses. That way when there is a situation where planning or data is needed, the person is aware of the tool. These methods of organization are tools just like physical tools in a toolbox. If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. But if you have a well-stocked toolbox, then you can adapt to the job and the circumstances of the work that you need to perform. Part of being a mentor is to help equip someone with the tools they need at this stage of their career and the future they want to create for themselves.
It has taken a while to get to the point. The X-matrix is not a tool that is used in every single circumstance. If you need to help focus on the 3-5 year goals, your 1-year objectives, the metrics that need to be influenced, and your top-level priorities, this is a tool that can help bridge the short term to the long term. It helps to crystalize the actual plan. When I have been in a position where I was setting these visions, the x-matrix is invaluable. I routinely review the matrix with the top-level leadership to remind all of us about the top-level priorities. It helps to keep the safety mission on track while still making the necessary course corrections.
Next time I will walk through the process of using the x-matrix, but until then here is the blank copy that I use. Enjoy! 🙂
When I started the series of mentorship blog posts, I never expected to find such a personal passion for planning and prioritizing. It was quite strange to realize that over the years I have developed a layered approach to keeping myself on task and track. I also look back and see all the tools, tricks, and mistakes that I made in trying to keep myself organized. What I thought would be only part of one blog posting is now evolving into so much more.
Being a mentor is about helping teach and coach skills that would benefit someone through the rest of their career. The ability to prioritize all the work that we do is critical to success. The beginning of good organization for me was my digital bullet journal. When I take notes throughout the day and during meetings, I am capturing all of the items that will need to be completed, followed up, researched, planned, or remembered at some unspecified date.
A RAIL is a “rolling action item list”. I have a reference page dedicated to actions that need longer than one business day to complete. This is where technology has been amazing, With the click of a bookmark, I can review and update my list. Hopefully, the actions that have been created in my journal are ones that I can complete before I complete my workday. Oftentimes, there are tasks that I am not able to finish or know will need more time. My RAIL is dedicated to those actions that will need more time. During the first part of the day, I will review the day before and find the actions that I was not able to complete. Those actions are now added to my RAIL.
These separate page(s) in my bullet journal are dedicated to following through on items that I need to complete. I want to be completely transparent in my process and also to show that I am far from perfect in my methods. Sadly, I have found this specific method can have benefits. I call it the 48-hour rule. I also must admit that a wonderful mentor of mine taught me this technique. The premise is that some tasks will resolve themselves in 48-hours.
It is important to distinguish the tasks that have to be done by a certain date and those that can “hang out” for that 48-hour period or even longer. Maybe the project never gets off the ground. Maybe the priorities shift. Maybe the person finds a different path. It is amazing how some tasks simply go away after someone has had a couple of nights’ sleep. The human mind never ceases to amaze me. There are times where something that seems vitally important one day, seems trivial after something as simple as sleeping. That is part of the beauty of a RAIL. I have not lost the item. I still plan to do the item. But I am letting a little bit of time help dictate which tasks take priority.
I have found many benefits to keeping a dedicated RAIL. I do not have to go back through pages and pages of notes to find my running to-do list. I do not have to look through scraps of paper or post-it notes to find the task I am looking for. If someone asks me about a task, I can quickly look for its status. If I am asked what I am working on, there is a quick reference to talk about. If I find a bunch of themed items in my RAIL, I can use those to see if that program should be of escalated importance. I can also find if there are significant time wasters or non-value-added items that I am supposed to do. All this is data that keeps me working forward and helps relate to the organization the safety priorities.