Author Archives: GBMP

About GBMP

GBMP Program Manager & Blog Administrator

Celebrity Toast Kaizen

I’m not so sure how I feel about a story I heard this morning of Jim Nantz’s toast visual aid, but it’s so rare that anyone in the public limelight offers a story that touches Lean thinking, particularly one about toast, that I am compelled to share.

actual toast.jpgApparently, Mr. Nantz, who likes his toast burnt (as in #1 on the toast scale), carries a laminated photo of his preference in his wallet.  Whenever he orders breakfast, he passes the photo to the wait staff in order to convey his unusual taste.   I also like burnt toast (around 3 on the toast scale), but somehow could not resort to the use of visual aids when ordering breakfast.  For me, a strong verbal instruction usually does the trick.  My wallet is already stuffed with so many business cards, credit cards and receipts; I’d just be wasting time looking for my toast visual every time I ordered breakfast.   And, truth be told, I’m not quite as particular as Mr. Nantz about these things.

However, in defense of Mr. Nantz,  “The customer determines value.”  No doubt, the toast problem is more consequential for him; he has many more occasions than I to be a customer for breakfast.  (I generally make my own toast.)  He’s even calculated the annual accumulation of wasted time – forty-eight hours – he has suffered by returning his toast for rework; not to mention the added insult of either eating his breakfast out of sequence or alternatively letting it get cold while his waits 10 minutes (his estimate) for the toast to be appropriately burned.  As he notes, “Time is currency.”   He’s apparently on the clock when he’s having breakfast; I generally eat out for fun and see breakfast a time to relax.

Although over 100,000 copies of Toast Kaizen have been sold since its release in 2004, it’s highly unlikely that Mr. Nantz would ever have been a viewer.  Yet, his celebrity story is in many ways an extension of our video.  So this holiday season, GBMP will send him a present: his own copy of the toast video.  (I may also include a discrete warning that burning toast produces acrylamide, a known carcinogen.)

For all our customers of GBMP and readers of Old Lean Dude, we wish you a lighthearted and relaxed Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate.


Rosie the Robot

Speaking at the 2003 Shingo Conference, Guy Briggs, General Manager of North American operations for General Motors lamented,

“We spent the 1980’s ‘counting robots’ before we realized that it’s people that make the difference in our business.”

He was alluding to the thirty-five billion (yes, billion) dollars that GM had invested in the 1980’s over a three-year period to develop “lights-out” robotics technology.  As Toyota sought to elevate employees, GM tried to automate them out the picture.  Ultimately, GM’s lights-out people-less ‘flexible manufacturing systems’ were deemed unworkable and were mothballed.  All told, GM spent 90 billion dollars in the 1980’s to “modernize” its operations, touted by many as Industry 3.0, the third industrial revolution.   At the beginning of that revolution, GM was the lowest cost US auto supplier.  By the end, it was the highest.  The greatest shame in this saga was not so much the money squandered on equipment, but time lost by adopting the wrong philosophy: one that idolized technology while disrespecting people.

Rosie2The recent increase in Industry 4.0 buzz has me reflecting on that now ancient history of GM’s ill-advised strategy and thirty-year slide that culminated ten years ago with a $50 billion government bailout and the firing of its CEO.  To be sure, the multi-techno advances since the 1980’s are startling.  There are bright promises of robots that learn, linked multi-sensory process coordination and instant informative feedback; of analytics, complex simulation and additive product development and manufacture.   Today’s Internet of Things dwarfs the early attempts at General Motors to automate its factories, and the science just keeps accelerating.  So this should be cause for optimism.

RosieRobotUnfortunately, history gives reason for skepticism as well.  First, CEO math has not changed since 1980: Rosie the Riveter is still an expense, but Rosie the Robot is an investment!    Industry 4.0 proponents are quick to point out that smart robots will work alongside humans, not in place of them.  As Guy Briggs noted in 2003, we should not fall prey to counting robots.  But, notwithstanding Mr. Briggs remark, I wonder how far most organizations have progressed with an enlightened social science to support the rapidly evolving IoT and complementary production technologies.  As the glitzy new 4.0 technologies become more accessible, will they be viewed as an enabler for human capabilities and development, or will make the same mistakes we made with industry 3.0.   What do you think?


PS If you’re in the New England/Massachusetts/Rhode Island area, I wanted to highlight a great training event GBMP is putting on next week. It’s a two-day Improvement Kata workshop on Monday & Tuesday, December 4-5, being hosted onsite at Boston Orthotics & Prosthetics in Avon MA. Read more about it here.

Also, GBMP is offering a Holiday special on membership through New Year’s Eve. Use coupon code “Save50” to join our awesome Lean Community. Read more and sign up here.

Happy Hollow Lean

hollow leanToday is a favorite holiday for me, full of make-believe supernatural and candy, and unencumbered for the most part by significance.   For this Halloween, I’m recalling a few spirits from the past, links to earlier O.L.D. posts that may bring a smile to your face.  Some deal with the effects of management’s horrific misconceptions of about humanity and humility, and others with a too-often shallow approach to Lean tools.   A couple more focus on management myopia, and finally one or two question the infallibility of Lean consultants like me. For one night only, please join me in the Haunted House of TPS.

Hollow Lean is like Halloween, in that grown-up children dress up their organizations and pretend to change.  Looking good is important.  Risking change, not so much. Hollow Lean is that time when Lean Wizards wind their spells to lure unsuspecting customers to the dark side; to a place where respect of people implicitly means respect for some people.   The Gemba is invisible.

Sometimes managers are so fixed in their beliefs that the can’t see what is right in front of them, yet they are quick to adopt more traditional academic schemes to optimize inventories or reduce FTE’s or avoid costs.   They chop heads for short-term gain, rather than commit to fundamental long-term change.  Their traditional remedies lack the common sense and vision necessary for good decision-making, but they are comfortable choices for managers that seeking paths of less resistance.

Finally, beware the polished pitches of Lean Gurus, glib PowerPoint presenters, and motivational spellbinders.  Content actually matters. Ultimately, it’s what you, the customers, understand that’s critical; not us sensei-omatic subject matter experts. Still, I enjoy sharing; it keeps me sane.  If you have a few minutes tonight for some lighthearted Lean laughs while you’re doling out candy to the neighborhood goblins, then read away. Trick or treat!


P.S. I’m really looking forward to teaching the Shingo Institute’s “Continuous Improvement” Workshop on November 15-17 and there are still a few seats available. Learn about our terrific host site O.C. Tanner here and learn more about the workshop and register here.

Tools or Culture?

With our annual Northeast LEAN Conference just a few days away, I want to relate a personal story about the theme of this year’s conference,

The Integration of Tools & Culture:

The first two books I ever read about Lean were Zero Inventories by Robert Hall and Japanese Manufacturing Techniques by Richard Schonberger.  In 1985, these definitive academic works were among just a few sources of information about what was then referred to as Just-In-Time, or JIT for short.   As I was just starting to manage a factory at that time with inventory turns of less than one (really), these JIT “how to” books seemed like the solution to my problems.    I owe Hall and Schonberger a debt of gratitude for their early reports about technical aspects of Toyota’s incredible improvement system.  But, for me, the single most important shred of information from these academic texts was a footnote in Hall’s book that referred to a then unknown industrialist by the name of Shigeo Shingo.  Hall cited Shingo’s book, A Study of the Toyota Production System: From an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint.  This book presented the technical aspects of Lean in a context of revolutionary concepts and principles.  The original 1982 version was a crude translation from the Japanese, but reading it created a sense of excitement about a wholly new way of thinking about work.   To be sure, Shingo’s explanation of tools echoed reports from Hall and Schonberger, but as one of the key inventors of TPS, Shingo shared a deep understanding that was grounded in unique personal experience and wisdom of a creator.  While he is most often remembered for introducing technical concepts like quick changeover and mistake-proofing, Shingo’s greatest contribution to my learning was in providing an integrated image of TPS, a system that was both technical and social science – tools and culture.  One could not exist without the other.  Beyond that, he conveyed his personal struggles to overcome what he referred as “conceptual blind spots” of his clients, Toyota among them.  He gave us the Law as well as the Gospel:  Lean is an immense opportunity but equally a daunting challenge to rise above status quo thinking.  “Keep an open mind,” he reminded us.  According to Mr. Shingo, management’s #1 job was “volition,” i.e., a passionate commitment to creating an environment that favored improvement. These were lessons that supported my organization and me as we learned new tools and unlearned old concepts at the same time.

Today I’m often asked, “What do we work on first, tools or culture?”   I answer, in context of the Toyota Production System, neither has substance without the other.  They are two sides of the same coin. We need to learn them together.   Our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is dedicated to reinforcing that message.   Lean tools are essential as means for improvement; Lean culture is essential to enable us to see beyond the status quo. If you haven’t already registered, here’s a link with more information:

Hope we see you next week in Worcester, MA for a couple of energizing, informing and inspiring days.


Lean Society

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

This quote from George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm, occurred to me recently as I listened to a design engineer explain to me how he was taught in college that engineers have a special responsibility to help their less able co-workers.  Not intending to single out engineers or generalize from one data point, this example demonstrates what I observe to be a longstanding preoccupation with degrees, certificates, and belts.  We may refer to employees on the front line as “value-adding”, but too often it’s the ones with letters after their names that we actually value.

In 1957, Peter Drucker dubbed the latter group knowledge workers, “high-level employees who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal education,” thereby inadvertently differentiating the thinkers from the do-ers, the high level from the low level, the brain trust from the variable expense.

My personal experience with this distinction developed over a period of years as I changed jobs, first from marketing to IT and then to production.  In the eyes of my fellow managers, I morphed in the process from an imaginative idea person into a brainy techno-geek and finally to a slow-witted grunt.  The adjectives are important because they connote associated stereotypes.  I joke that I started near the top and then worked my way down, IQ dropping along the way.  Paradoxically, my knowledge of value and waste increased each time I got further from that theoretical and analytical knowledge and closer to the floor.   John Shook noted at the 2016 Northeast LEAN Conference, the persons who do the work are the real knowledge workers, as they are the ones with a first-hand understanding of the work.   (Incidentally, our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is on the horizon. Check out the agenda.)

Whether in a factory or an office or an operating room, the knowledge is contained in the work.  In that sense, all work should be knowledge work if we are thinking about it and trying to improve it.   Steve Spear refers to Lean transformation as “theory proven by practice.”  Both are essential and should be inextricably linked.   Our Lean transformation should have room for both the theorists and the practitioners.   Unfortunately, when it comes to transformation, some employees are “more equal than others.”   We favor the theorists and mostly ignore the practitioners.  Perhaps our love affair with a college education and degrees and certificates and belts has baked in a two-class society where only a select few employees are heard and seen; the rest fall into that eighth waste category of “lost human creativity.”  I’ve assembled a short list of nouns and adjectives commonly used to describe these classes. Can you think of others?  Please share.


P.S. GBMP is a licensed affiliate of The Shingo Institute and we are teaching their 5 courses on 17 occasions over the next few months (with new dates and locations being added all the time). I am a certified instructor along with other GBMPers Dan Fleming, Pat Wardwell, Mike Orzen & Larry Anderson. We hope to see you at a workshop soon. Here’s the schedule; visit and click on Events to learn more. The Shingo Institute courses are a great way to learn how to embed Shingo Model principles into your Lean program and create a road map to sustainable Enterprise Excellence. Read what past attendees have said about the workshops and GBMP’s instructors.

The Final Frontier

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first US astronaut to journey to the “final frontier.”  Atop a Mercury rocket, Shepard launched into a fifteen-minute suborbital journey reaching an altitude of about one hundred miles before returning to earth.  His space capsule, Freedom 7, was a wonder of science weighing a little more than one ton and loaded to the max with avionics and life support apparatus. Yet, this pioneering venture into endless space would also afford almost no space for the passenger.  According to launch engineer, Guenter Wendt, “astronauts entered their capsules with a shoehorn and departed with a can opener.”   I remember watching footage of Shephard squeezing into his capsule.  The memory still creates pangs of claustrophobia.

Ironically, space constraints faced by NASA fueled a revolution in miniaturization evident in almost every innovation of modern society – from laptops to cell phones to transportation to medical devices to all things Internet.  The need to pack more utility into a small package has changed everything.  Or almost everything.  Here are some recent exceptions:

“We’re adding a new wing to manufacturing,” a colleague related to me recently, “we’re running out of space.”   As I glanced around a shop floor crowded more with material than machines, I asked, “What are you going to put in the new space?”  “We’re just going to spread out,” he said.  “This is a good time to build before interest rates start to climb.”

Another manufacturer advised recently that he was building a Lean warehouse.  “What’s that?” I asked.   “We’re relocating all of our raw material to a location that’s closer to the main highway,” he said. “We need to add several machines, so were Lean-ing out the space.”    “Aren’t you just adding more space and moving inventory farther from your floor?”  I asked.  His response: “Warehouse space is cheap.”

A major hospital requested Lean assistance to re-design its perinatal services in order to accommodate more patients.  After reviewing the current operation, I recommended that existing space could be repurposed to handle the projected growth. “No,” they said, “We’re cramped. We need more space and the budget is already approved.”

It seems that decisions regarding space are driven more by claustrophobia or perceived worth than actual need.   Flow distance may double or triple as a result of expansion, but additional space somehow still equates to growth.   More space is viewed as an investment, an alluring addition to the balance sheet, or a badge of success.   Only on rare occasions do I encounter a growing business that is interested in reducing space. Perhaps, then, space is the final frontier.  Not more space, but less.   I wonder how much Lean progress would be made if space were seen as a constraint for business as it was for NASA’s Mercury launch.

How much space do you have?  Too much?  Too little? Share a story.


PS I’m teaching the Shingo Institute workshop “Continuous Improvement” at MassMutual in Springfield next week and a few seats remain if you’d like to join us. Learn more here.

PPS I’m also looking forward to presenting my monthly “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar on June 20th. It’s free! The topic is “Silver Bullet Mania”. Intrigued? Read more and register here.

Systems Tinking

At GBMP’s launch of the Shingo Institute’s BUILD EXCELLENCE workshop, it occurred to me that perhaps systems thinking might be more aptly named systems rethinking.  Workshop participants offered up current systems in their organizations that actually impeded continuous improvement, each time expressing frustration with the difficulty to create system change.  For larger organizations with more explicit codification of systems, the task to create a change was more onerous.  One class participant commented, “Our standard procedures are documented in dozens of binders – all of them covered with dust.”   But even in smaller organizations, creating a new system will mean undoing a de facto process that, despite its shortcomings, feels normal.

According to the Shingo Institute, these systems are the domain of managers who should be reviewing them regularly.  But, when business systems are ingrained as part of the corporate fabric, the idea of changing even one of them instills concern regarding the global effects.  Will changing one system negatively impact others?  Concern for unanticipated consequences will trigger risk-averse behavior.  Add to that challenge the fact that existing systems may, in fact, have been authored by the same persons who are now charged with evaluating their effectiveness.  When Shigeo Shingo declared that subjective inspection of one’s own work is not good practice, he might have included the work of managers along with that of front line employees.    It would be better apparently for these organizations to have no systems to start their Lean journeys than to be saddled with status quo systems that evoke the wrong behaviors.  So, what can be done?

According to the Shingo Institute:

First, stop basing the design of systems purely on local results.  This practice creates silos and disharmony.  Each part of the organization is rewarded as if it were its own company, rather than for its contribution to system goals.   Speaking at a Shingo Conference many years ago, Russ Scaffede, formerly an executive at General Motors (and later at Toyota) quipped, “At GM we used to say ‘All of our divisions made money, only the corporation lost its shirt.’”   That is the status quo condition for many organizations: local bogeys driven by systems that simply don’t knit together.

Second, consider the foundational principles beneath the Lean tools, or, as Shigeo Shingo noted, first ‘know-why’ before you ‘know-how.’  Many organizations parrot the tools without understanding the philosophy that makes them effective.  Simply layering tools on top of a faulty philosophy also generates disharmony rather than real results.   Many organizations, for example, have invested time to develop a quality system like ISO including QC tools and problem-solving methods; but employees are afraid to report problems for fear of reprisal.  Shingo Principles articulate the culture that must be present to make systems work.

sytems_tinkeringFinally, to avoid concerns regarding the interdependency of systems, i.e., the unanticipated consequences make the changes small; in the words of Masaaki Imai, “create many small changes for the better.”   Don’t let the policy books gather dust; review and update them often.   To use a metaphor from knitting,  check and adjust your systems one thread at a time.  Don’t let the knitting unravel.  It’s called tinking, the process of taking knitting back stitch by stitch to correct a problem in the fabric. (Tink is knit spelled backward.)   In this case, let’s call it “Systems Tinking.”


P.S. Speaking of the ‘know-why’ before the ‘know-how’, GBMP’s  Lean conference is coming to Worcester MA on September 19-20. The theme for our 13th annual event – “The Integration of Culture & Tools” – will be an exploration of the value of Lean tools when embedded with a Lean culture. I know September feels like a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. The event features four keynote presenters including Paul Akers, author of ‘2-Second Lean’ & Brian Wellinghoff from Barry Wehmiller, plus 30+ breakout sessions and more than a dozen poster presentations for yokoten in our Community of Lean Lounge. Simply put, it’s the best opportunity for Lean learning and networking with professionals just like yourself – passionate Lean practitioners. Early bird registration discount (save close to $200!)  in effect through May 31. That’s tomorrow folks. I hope you take advantage of the savings. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the agenda at a glance, testimonials and photos from last year’s event and much much more on the website and decide for yourself. I sure hope to see you in September!